In this fast-paced, ever-changing world, people have a tendency to make quick fixes in terms of problem-solving and decision making. However, there is also the possibility of dealing with negative consequences as a short or long-term effect of too much simplification. Major concerns, therefore, need critical thinking.
In 1987, the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking came up with formal definitions of critical thinking as:
- the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action
- something based on, in its exemplary form, universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness
- entailing the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference
- being incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking
History has it that the philosopher Socrates paved the way for critical thinking some 2,500 years ago. He is the man behind the Socratic Questioning, the teaching method in critical thinking being referred to as “the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well”. Another known philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, stressed the importance and power of critical thinking during the Middle Ages in his writings and teachings, which expounded that critical thinkers would only question beliefs that are established yet weak in reason and basis. European scholars in the Renaissance period such as Erasmus, Colet and Moore followed suit as a new breed of critical thinking practitioners, while Francis Bacon of England strongly suggested that gathering information is way better than allowing the mind think naturally. Other noteworthy personalities that contributed to the development of critical thinking through the years include the likes of Descartes (Rules For the Direction of the Mind), Sir Thomas Moore (Utopia), Machiavelli (The Prince), Hobbes, Locke, Robert Boyle (Sceptical Chymist), Sir Isaac Newton, Bayle, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations), Comte, Spencer, Charles Darwin (Descent of Man), Sigmund Freud, William Graham Sumner (Folkways), John Dewey, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Apart from Socratic Questioning, Bloom’s Taxonomy can also be a guide to proper critical thinking by developing necessary skills such as formulating the best questions. It is composed of three domains: Cognitive, Affective, and Psychomotor. The Cognitive domain gets people to think at an advanced level, Affective makes them react positively by developing a keen interest in learning, and Psychomotor is about turning their ingenuity ideas into action.
Critical thinking is essential in daily living, especially in school and at work. It occurs early in childhood as a young individual’s motivation to learn about himself and his environment is driven by curiosity, considering his sponge-like mind (learning through play or from experience). In a bigger picture like the corporate world, employees of any rank are expected to be mature and level-headed in creating solutions to problems and decisions when it comes to projects and job promotion offers – leading to possible outcomes e.g. a more harmonious relationship within an organization. Best examples of critical thinkers are entrepreneurs and people working in courts and the government. Forbes.com enumerates critical thinking as one of the most in-demand skills among employers in hiring professionals.
Improving one’s critical thinking skills involves eight basic steps: 1.) Self-questioning (how you’d cope if you have no options available to do what needs to be done), 2.) Understanding own purpose, 3.) Analyzing another person’s purpose with empathy, 4.) Being aware and in-the-know about helpful alternatives, 5.) Being more logical in making every analysis, 6.) Learning critical jargon for a more concrete and focused critique, 7.) List down good, bad and interesting (GBI technique) points, and 8.) Justify and offer suggestions for improvement every time you are not in favor of an idea, concept or method. These ten simple exercises in developing critical thinking would be of great help as well:
- If you were to die tomorrow, ten things you would do today
- You are left stranded on an island. God grants you three things that can be kept with you when alone. What would they be?
- If you were given the chance to exchange roles with your best friend/partner, would you like it? Why?
- Connect the dots
- Count the shapes within a shape
Socratic Thinking (Choose a particular national or global issue)
- Making counter-arguments
- Creating and justifying opinions
- Fact or perception?
- Sorting and grouping
- Compare and contrast