by Jon Atack
Objective Analysis and Evaluation
Critical thinking, sometimes called healthy skepticism, is a learned skill, using reflective, analytical thinking to make a reasonable, rational decision on what to believe or do. Even the most intelligent people have to learn it and practice it consciously. Once learned, critical thinking helps us to resist emotional appeals that might otherwise undermine our reasoning.
The Hidden Agenda
Where manipulators use undue influence to control people, critical thinkers use due or ethical influence to inform and educate. Manipulators have a hidden agenda; honest persuaders simply want to share everything they know. “Critical” thinking does not mean thinking in a negative way, but rather examining the evidence carefully before making a decision.
The Critical Thinking Essentials
The essential elements of critical thinking in everyday life are:
- Willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads
- Application of systematic analysis to problem solving
We can always learn something new, no matter how knowledgeable we are. We should be open to new information, so that we can change our opinions. When we are curious, we enjoy looking at things from different perspectives, because it will improve our understanding and expand our knowledge. Curious people keep asking questions, like “What if the opposite is true?”, “What if I am wrong?”, “How sure can I be about this explanation?”, “How did you come to your conclusion?”, “What would it take for me to question my opinion?”
2. Willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads:
This is the willingness to explore the facts we’re given and see what conclusions they might lead to. Instead of discarding evidence because it doesn’t fit in with our cherished assumptions, we need to be open to anything that might contradict our existing information and beliefs. The wider the variety of pieces of evidence that we can find, the better adapted and more nuanced our view of reality will become. This attitude leads us to a realistic outlook on life, and a capacity to interpret and predict the wealth of facts and information we must deal with every day.
3. Application of systematic analysis to problem solving:
We must reflect on problems from different angles to work out the importance, goals, actions and outcomes in a rational and reasonable manner. Systematic analysis means we don’t make decisions based on assumptions, emotions, or wishful thinking. Instead, we evaluate possible outcomes to see if there might be a better approach. By reviewing our past actions, we will improve our future responses. Strategies include: looking at problems from other people’s points of view, applying logical reasoning skills, holding back when we feel a need to act on the basis of an emotion such as guilt, fear, shame, infatuation, or loyalty, and analyzing carefully how rational and fair other people’s arguments are. Critical thinking skills help us to avoid mistakes and to lead a better life.