What is critical thinking?

I first mentioned Alec Fisher’s fantastic introduction to critical thinking back in April 2011, in the second ever post on this blog. At the time I was just beginning my Open University journey, and was undertaking some extra-curricular reading by working my way through Fisher’s book.

Everyone with a curious mind should read this book. Instead of just accepting things the way they are, it teaches you to question everything, and never accept something at face value. In fact, critical thinking is so important I’d go as far as to say everyone with a curious mind should read this book several times throughout their life.

Reflective thinking

John Dewey (1909) cited in Fisher (2010) called it ‘reflective thinking’, and Fisher (2010) expands upon this idea, describing it as:

  • An active process
  • Thinking things through for yourself
  • Raising questions yourself
  • Finding relevant information yourself

What matters are the reasons we have for believing something and the implications of our beliefs. Critical thinking attaches huge importance to reasoning, to giving reasons and to evaluating reasoning as well as possible. Skilful reasoning is a key element of critical thinking.

An attitude or disposition

Edward Glaser (1941) cited in Fisher (2010) builds upon this, speaking about critical thinking being:

  • An attitude or disposition to be thoughtful about prpblems
  • Application of methods of logical enquiry and reasoning

Fisher points out how having certain thinking skills is important, but more important is being disposed to use them!

Thinking about thinking

According to Fisher, Richard Paul cited in Fisher (2010) draws attention to the fact that the only realistic way to develop one’s critical thinking ability is through ‘thinking about one’s thinking’ – often called ‘metacognition’ – and consciously aiming to improve it by reference to some model of good thinking in that domain.

A skilled activity

Michael Scriven cited in Fisher (2010) defines critical thinking as an academic competency akin to reading and writing. He points out that thinking does not count as critical merely because it is intended to be. Critical thinking is a skilled activity that has to meet certain standards of clarity, relevance, reasonableness, etc.

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