Critical thinking is a rich concept Developed throughout the past 2,500 years, Yet the term “critical thinking” has its roots in the mid-late 20th century.
A critical thinker conceptualizes, applies, analyzes, synthesizes, or evaluates information gathered from observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, and uses it as a guide to believe and act.
It’s based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.
It involves examining 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; frame of reference.
It’s a family of interwoven modes of thinking that includes scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking, in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes.
We can think of critical thinking as having two components: 1) a set of skills for generating and processing information, and 2) a habit of using those skills.
As a result, it’s different from 1) acquiring and retaining information alone, because it involves a specific way of looking for and retaining information; 2) possessing a set of skills, since you have to use them all the time; and 3) using those skills without accepting the results.
Critical thinking depends on your motivation. When it’s rooted in selfish motives, it often manifests in masterfully manipulating ideas to serve one’s own, or a group’s, vested interests.
It’s usually intellectually flawed, even if it’s pragmatically successful. Fairmindedness and intellectual integrity make it a higher order intellectually, though it can be called “idealism” by those habituated to selfishness.
Every individual has episodes of irrational or undisciplined thinking; critical thinking is never universal. In essence, its quality depends on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or a particular class of questions.
No one’s a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, and prone to such-and-such self-delusion tendencies.
Developing critical thinking skills and dispositions is a lifelong process.