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The ability to analyse arguments, evaluate evidence, and distinguish between fact and opinion is a valuable skill. As a result, critical thinking is a highly sought after ability that can benefit you at work and in your personal life. But what is critical thinking? And how do you think critically?
We explore some of the key concepts behind critical thinking, examine some examples, and outline how you can improve your own skills in this area. We’ll also highlight some useful courses and resources that can help you think critically.
Let’s start things off with a critical thinking definition. Depending on where you look, you might find differences between definitions. First, we’ll rely on a simple definition: critical thinking is the analysis of factual evidence to form a judgement.
However, a closer inspection of the term and its meaning shows that there are many aspects to critical thinking. What’s more, studies have highlighted a broad range of definitions. A thorough way of defining critical thinking is made by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. They summarise the core concepts of critical thinking as the process of ‘careful goal-directed thinking.’
We can also turn to our open step on critical thinking at university, which features this definition:
“Good critical thinking includes recognising good arguments even when we disagree with them, and poor arguments even when these support our own point of view.”
The open step goes on to outline some of the critical thinking processes that tie into the definitions we’ve seen. These critical thinking skills include:
As you can see, the characteristics of critical thinking are numerous, and it’s a skill made up of many other abilities.
Creative thinking is often contrasted with critical thinking. However, the two certainly have their overlaps. Thinking creatively often requires exploring new possibilities, finding unique angles, and using unconventional solutions.
Critical thinking is more focused on a logical and rational process of evaluating that which exists already. However, both types of thinking can be used to solve problems and make decisions, and a combination of the two is often helpful.
So, in essence, critical thinking is about thinking in certain ways to make informed judgements. But why is this such a valuable skill? In a world where we’re provided with an almost constant stream of information and decisions to make, the ability to think critically can help us make the right choices and understand the world around us.
As highlighted in our course on logical and critical thinking, assessing the reasons we are given to do or believe things calls upon us to think critically and logically. We are constantly being told to believe things, such as to buy a product, support a cause, accept a job or judge someone innocent or guilty, and so on. Critical thinking helps us choose whether to believe these things.
Whether you’re working or in education, critical thinking is a desirable soft skill. The benefits of critical thinking are that it can help you:
What’s more, critical thinking and problem solving often go hand-in-hand. Employers are always looking for people who possess both skills.
Examples of critical thinking are all around us. On a daily basis, we process information to determine its validity and whether we believe what’s being told to us. However, it’s useful to see the process of critical thinking in action.
In our open step on good and bad arguments, there are several such examples of critical reasoning. These examples follow a particular set of steps to evaluate whether or not an argument is valid and/or sound. This includes:
This process can seem quite complex, but many of us do it without thinking. There are other practical examples of critical thinking we can highlight as well, for example:
So, critical thinking is a valuable skill and one that many of us practise on a daily basis. However, that doesn’t mean it’s something that we do all of the time. There are some common psychological obstacles and reasoning fallacies that trip even the smartest among us up.
According to our open step on critical and logical thinking, some of the most common obstacles to thinking critically include:
If you want to try and avoid some of the common obstacles to critical thinking, there are several methods you can use in developing critical thinking skills. Below, we’ve outlined some of the steps you can take to analyse arguments, evaluate evidence, and distinguish between fact and opinion.
Although the critical thinking process will differ between individuals, there are some useful steps:
The steps above seem simple enough, yet with the various obstacles and emotions involved in decision making, it can sometimes be hard to let your head rule above your heart. So how can you improve your critical thinking skills?
There are several ways that you can achieve the benefits of critical thinking, including:
It requires little effort to accept things at face value and believe what you’re being told. However, doing so is not particularly helpful for critical thinking. Instead, you should question what’s in front of you, ask what the motivations are, and how accurate the information is.
It can be difficult to make effective decisions or draw informed conclusions when you’re surrounded by inaccurate information. Using your critical eye and scepticism, you can start to discount the bad arguments and biased claims.
When you’re researching a topic to make an informed decision, always pay attention to the source. Look at evidence-based information from reliable outlets and be careful of how statistics are presented to you. Try and explore past the surface-level claims of studies to find out what they’re actually telling you, and whether there is enough of a sample size to make a conclusion.
Active listening is a technique that ensures the listener concentrates, understands, responds to, and remembers what’s being said. It’s also about observing behaviour and body language. This type of active listening can help you fully understand what’s being said and why, and what the pros and cons of the argument are.
Being able to put yourself in the shoes of another person allows you to understand their point of view, motivations, and aspirations. In doing so, you’re better able to appreciate why they hold a particular belief or think in a certain way.
So, critical thinking is a valuable skill that can help us make better decisions and judgements. However, all of us must overcome some thought-obstacles to be able to think critically and creatively. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways in which we can do so, as outlined in this post. If you’re interested in learning more about critical thinking, our logical and critical thinking course is a great place to start. You’ll learn more about how to think more critically and construct and evaluate arguments. You can get a professional certificate course in Introduction to Critical Thinking here
Source: Future Learn
Image Source: Getty Images
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