What Is and What Isn't Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking allows us to make more reasonable and unbiased judgments. What exactly is it and how to develop it? Learn the answers here.
What Is and What Isn't Critical Thinking?
Maria Alejandra Morgado Cusati

Written and verified by the philosopher Maria Alejandra Morgado Cusati.

Last update: 21 June, 2022

Critical thinking is a highly valued quality in this day and age. With so much misinformation in the world, it becomes necessary to question everything we are told and to support our arguments on solid and truthful grounds.

In other words, it consists of the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking and to understand the logical connection between ideas. So, how can we develop this type of thinking? Here’s how.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking involves analyzing the structure and consistency of arguments so that they’re based on solid, truthful foundations. In other words, it’s a reflective and rational mentality in which the person questions the information received to create a more reasonable and unbiased position.

In this sense, it’s linked to skepticism, since it leads people not to accept the information they receive without questioning its veracity and validity. However, it should be clarified that it’s not a matter of not believing in anything and disagreeing with everyone. Rather, it’s about being able to develop one’s own point of view based on checking and contrasting data.

¿Qué es el pensamiento crítico?

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The characteristics of critical thinking

To better understand what critical thinking is, here are its main characteristics:

  • It’s a type of conscious and voluntary thinking.
  • Critical thinking develops with practice.
  • It’s a procedure, not a belief, in which the person analyzes the premises of the information, questions its veracity, and establishes well-founded conclusions.
  • It involves setting aside fallacies and biases to focus on seeking a truth that is as justified and reasonable as possible, through proofs and evidence that support that what’s been said is true.
  • The information assumed to be true is supported by reliable sources of data, information, and evidence.
  • Critical thinking represents a way of interpreting reality based on logical arguments.
  • It’s manifested in clear communication with a logical order of ideas.
  • It seeks objectivity. Therefore, it leaves aside subjective and persuasive elements that other people -or even oneself- introduced in the analysis of information.
  • It doesn’t try to homogenize knowledge. On the contrary, it seeks to gather information from a wide variety of reliable sources. In fact, those who practice it listen to those who disagree in order to establish a more comprehensive and solid point of view.

Skills needed for critical thinking

Now, what skills do we need to develop critical thinking? Let’s take a look look at the most relevant ones.

1. Flexible thinking

To develop critical thinking, it’s important to be able to doubt the information we receive and support. At the same time, it’s also necessary to know how to accept the possibility that there are other perspectives different from the one we already have. Therefore, flexibility and open-mindedness are essential to avoid falling into dogma and naivety.

2. The capacity for reflection

Likewise, we must have the capacity to think carefully and thoroughly about the arguments. This is so that we can have a deeper understanding of the information, as well as the implications that this may have with other issues or realities.

3. Curiosity and motivation

On the other hand, if the information received matters to us or is meaningful to us, we’ll have a greater motivation to question its veracity and investigate its foundations.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t be critical of a topic that does not matter to us. However, in the latter case, we’ll be less likely to be interested in finding the most truthful and reliable position.

4. Logical reasoning

Likewise, logic is an excellent tool for developing critical thinking. It allows us to see the fallacies and biases that often go unnoticed in arguments more clearly. For this reason, many traditional critical thinking courses include logic in their curriculum.

5. Metacognition

Finally, another capacity that contributes to critical thinking is the ability to self-evaluate and self-regulate the cognitive processes that influence learning.

For example, to the extent that we are able to enhance our capacity for attention and concentration, we can analyze the information we receive in a more optimal way and, from there, draw better-informed conclusions.

How to develop critical thinking

The development of critical thinking is crucial for many areas of life. For example, it plays a very relevant role in academic life. Fortunately, there are some strategies to enhance it. Let’s take a look at them.

Encourage open-mindedness

Not everyone shares the same perspective on reality. Each person interprets facts and makes judgments based on his or her experiences, education, culture, personal traits, and so on. Therefore, we can’t pretend that our version is the only one, much less the most accurate one.

In this sense, the key is that we’re open to listening to other positions and, based on this, draw more integrated conclusions in accordance with reality. A good way to start is to get to know other cultures and try to understand the foundations that support their beliefs.

Attend debates

Debates are an excellent way to enhance critical thinking, as they allow us to confront different opinions on a given topic, present our point of view on solid grounds, and analyze the basis of the arguments of others.

Practice empathy

It’s also essential to have the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others to really understand their point of view without judging or trying to impose our own. Remember that we’re dealing with a perspective that doesn’t have to be the same for everyone.

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Analyze different information content

Analyzing texts, news, videos, movies, images, and other materials also helps us to develop this type of thinking, as it allows us to reflect beyond what’s presented to us at first glance.

A useful exercise could be to compare news from two different sources and analyze the arguments used by each to support the information presented.

Questioning stereotypes

Society is loaded with fallacious stereotypes that we often assume to be true without questioning. For example, the belief that the elderly are unproductive, dependent, and sickly is a bias that determines the treatment these people receive to a large extent.

However, when we analyze this in detail, we realize that it doesn’t have to be true. On the contrary, many older people have been shown to be independent, healthy, and productive. Thus, this evidence is more than enough to doubt the veracity of such generalizations about the elderly.

Thoroughly investigate the information received

A fairly common phenomenon is to accept a discourse as true just because most people believe in it or because the speaker is a  figure of authority. However, this is an attitude far removed from critical thinking, since we aren’t analyzing the veracity and validity of the arguments presented.

For this reason, no matter how reliable the person who is giving us the information is – or how much the majority supports it – a true critical thinker will doubt the data and investigate on his own the veracity of the assertions presented.

Hombre pensando

What critical thinking isn’t

To conclude and prevent confusion about the concept, we also want to make clear what critical thinking is not. Thinking critically is not reasoning negatively or with a predisposition to find fault or flaws.

On the contrary, it’s a neutral and unbiased process that allows us to evaluate opinions and statements as objectively as possible. It doesn’t imply replacing or minimizing feelings or emotions, as some decisions involve emotionality.

Finally, we shouldn’t confuse critical thinking with the ability to persuade. In fact, persuasive arguments move away from objectivity because they appeal to authority, emotions, and other fallacious tactics to make others believe that the information presented is truthful, when in fact it isn’t.

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