We hear so often how important critical thinking is for succeeding in the job market, in the world, however you want to say it. Critical thinking is put forward as a difference-maker that separates success from failure. And for good reason – by definition, critical thinking is the practice of not taking statements at face value and using careful, tried-and-true methods of sifting through information, finding the truth amidst confusion, and finding good solutions amidst a sea of bad ones.
As much as there is talk about things like critical thinking… what actually is critical thinking? And how do we go about developing our critical thinking skills?
One way to engage in critical thinking, and the one I perceive to be most common in education, is through problem-solving. By forcing yourself to think through a complicated problem, there is a natural tendency to develop stronger critical thinking skills, just as going to the gym has the tendency to make one stronger and more athletic. This is one very important aspect of critical thinking. Learning problem-solving helps you think more quickly and helps to assemble useful ideas in useful ways.
But this is not all that critical thinking is. There is more, and it is the aspect that I’ve noticed seems to be much more lacking in modern society. This is the critical thinking skill of recognizing and avoiding bad reasoning. There are a great many ‘patterns of thought’ out there – and they are not all equal. Some help you find truth, others are obviously flawed. There are some that look like they work, but really don’t, and some that don’t look like they work but actually do. There are some that apply in every situation, and some that apply in some cases but not others. And I cannot remember even once in my education learning anything about any of these critical thinking tools, at least not prior to studying mathematics in college. And even then, I still didn’t know most of the philosophical tools that I use in my writing and thinking now – and I fell victim to many of these sorts of bad ways of thinking. Hopefully, I don’t anymore, but at least by knowing about them I can do a better job trying to prevent myself from slipping into them.
I’ve previously done a series on types of mathematical proofs, and this series is meant as an extension of that into a landscape of ideas broader than mathematics. Through the weeks, months, and possibly even years that I hope to work on this series, I hope to cover a wide variety of areas and how experts utilize critical thinking in their own fields, as well as a variety of commonplace flawed patterns of thinking that we all instinctually fall prey to. I also hope to provide useful examples of commonplace fallacies in order to help people think more clearly about issues in the public square as well as in more personal matters.