What is Critical Thinking?


Of course every election season has me asking the above question, especially this one, but that is not why I am asking.

Several years ago I was asked to teach Critical Thinking at my college and I agreed to do so.  The textbook I was given looks at the subject from a philosophical standpoint.  It starts with “What is an argument” and includes things like Venn Diagrams, Truth Tables and several chapters on formal and informal logical fallacies.

The book touches on (very obliquely) Bayesian and other statistical reasoning which I expand on quite a bit.  It also touches (very obliquely, again) on some of the modern work in cognitive biases, which, again, I do expand on.

My question to all of you is: Is there other areas of Critical Thinking that you feel are important?

What have been your most important lessons in Critical Thinking?

What do you wish you knew about Critical Thinking?

Any and all responses would be most helpful to me and my students!

Thanks!

Comments

  1. Richard Simons says

    I don’t have experience of a ‘critical thinking’ course, but years ago I wrote an article for students in agriculture/natural resources to give advice on assessing the reliability of a scientific paper. It included things like ‘were they measuring what they thought they were measuring’, ‘is the statistical analysis appropriate’, ‘are their citations correct’ and so on, with real-life examples. It was accepted for publication, but the journal faded away and it was never published. Part of the difficulty was finding a journal that was appropriate in terms of audience and topics covered, but I moved to another position and it became very out-dated in terms of the citations included.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    I haven’t had formal training in Cee Tee, but I strongly recommend digging up examples in balloon-popping from the likes of Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, Barbara Ehrenreich, Ta-Nahisi Coates, et alia, to show how it can be fun as well as necessary..

  3. R.C. Olwen, normally agender says

    This piece shows exactly why “Critical Thinking” has a negative image.
    Even to include Pierce R. Butler´ s examples will not make it working.
    You have first to admit that human brains have several modes of functioning:
    – there is imprint. The word has been used for epigenetics, but was invented (in German, “Prägung”) by a behavioural scientist, Konrad Lorenz. He described what happend when he raised several bird species from a very young age – some accepted him as parent, and after a very short time they could not be brought to accept a grownup member of their own species as parent, some other species were not that hard in their reaction; and he (and a.f.a.i.k. his students) did never come to a consistent theory on imprint regarding sexual choices. I have always assumed that this reserarch went too closely to the human species.
    But imprint would be a good description for behaviour we try and cannot get rid of – openig ways to cope a bit with sidelines and mental tricks as soon as one is prepared that nothing is a once-and-for-all healing. Often medication PLUS mental tricks are needed for a temprorary working (food bingeing as my personal most-developed problem), the problem of learing languages after a certain age comes up here, too.
    – associative thinking:
    It is suppressed so much that it runs amok. But how do several species know what herbs help them (horses as best documented) Humans fave a lore about much of this, time-tested as in causal and this often works. And of course “ancient healing methods” and weather prediction fall apart if people migrate!
    – only third is the try toward causality, which can be bettered by peer review and statistics.
    Indogermanic languages allow religious leaders to put lots of non-sequiturs, as if they were causal, and fear of maths do the rest.
    It is worthy to try against it, but you should try if a full approach works – so that your students know how thex come to some idea, are not ashamed, but able to realize is it proofes dysfunctional (towards an also clearly defined purpose or value)
    I doubt if I ever come to writing my book about the ethics of self-determination, therefore use at least this.

  4. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    What have been your most important lessons in Critical Thinking?

    I think the most important lesson is right there in the name: “thinking that is critical”. Critical of what? Myself. Critical thinking is all about asking the questions “Am I wrong? And how would I know if I’m wrong?”. It’s about being critical of oneself. It’s about being critical about all of your beliefs, and about everything. It’s about being a skeptic. (Of course, don’t tread too far into radical skepticism territory.)

    IMHO, if I wanted to teach such a course, offhand, I would probably try to frame everything in this context. All of the things that you mention in the OP would be included – they are great things – and I would also add how and why these are useful in the context “oneself might be wrong, and this is how you go about figuring out if oneself is wrong”.

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
    – Richard Feynman

    PS:
    I would personally focus more on known cognitive biases, and especially basic statistics, common statistical fallacies, and common statistical mistakes / cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, sharpshooter fallacy, selection bias, publication bias, data mining and the odds of finding statistically significant results by change, etc. Knowledge of statistics is woefully lacking in the general public, and this lack of knowledge is so easily abused, and doing proper statistics is surprisingly hard.

  5. AnnT says

    Congratulations! Critical thinking is the single most important skill to a rigorous higher education.

    My teaching of Critical Thinking has gone beyond the aforementioned basics per Bloom’s Taxonomy. Throughout the course, students used the basic skills for Critical Thinking to put together parts to form a conclusion/plan. The plan must then be presented and (here is a key point) defended based on a set of measurable criteria. The learning on both sides of the podium from this exercise is immeasurable.

    The course then culminates at Bloom’s highest level, Creativity. Being able to apply/use the defended relationship/plan to other relationships is the truest form of mastery. It is a very telling end-of-course evaluation.

  6. lclane2 says

    Everyday reasoning is mostly rationalizing (giving reasons to support what we already believe.) Being aware of and avoiding rationalizing will go a long way toward promoting critical thinking.

  7. says

    The most important lesson for me in critical thinking is that any one can be fooled. If you can accept that, then I think you’re more likely to be open to the possibility that you made a mistake.

      • says

        I’m an adjunct professor at the University of Denver, where I teach a course in Critical Thinking (among other things). Like you, I was asked to teach the course several years ago and started digging around to figure out what CT means to different people. I’ve accumulated a number of books and articles and realized that CT has almost as many definitions as there are observers. Recently, I bought The Palgrave Handbook Of Critical Thinking in Higher Education. The introduction, by Martin Davies and Ronald Barnett, gives an excellent overview CT, how the field has evolved, and various perspectives on what CT is or should be. I wish I had discovered this when I first started teaching CT and recommend it to you highly.

        I also write about CT on my blog at http://traviswhitecommunications.com/critical-thinking/. I hope you’ll find some of the articles useful. Bets of luck with your teaching.

  8. says

    I’m an adjunct professor at the University of Denver, where I teach a course in Critical Thinking (among other things). Like you, I was asked to teach the course several years ago and started digging around to figure out what CT means to different people. I’ve accumulated a number of books and articles and realized that CT has almost as many definitions as there are observers. Recently, I bought The Palgrave Handbook Of Critical Thinking in Higher Education. The introduction, by Martin Davies and Ronald Barnett, gives an excellent overview of CT, how the field has evolved, and various perspectives on what CT is or should be. I wish I had discovered this when I first started teaching CT and recommend it to you highly.

    I also write about CT on my blog at http://traviswhitecommunications.com/critical-thinking/. I hope you’ll find some of the articles useful. Best of luck with your teaching.

    Read more: http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasoner/2017/01/09/what-is-critical-thinking/#ixzz4WFdiwu3I

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