What is Critical Thinking?
Forgive me if this is a really silly question; after all, I’m just a business major, and as research shows, business majors lag behind in terms of developing critical thinking skills in university. But forgive me my handicap and answer me this: what is critical thinking?
Critical thinking seems to me to be this nebulous term of superiority that one wields against one’s opponents. From a higher education pedagogical perspective, it seems that “critical thinking” is the term used by proponents of liberal arts curricula against the employment-geared or trade-based curricula of other fields (like say, engineering, accounting, or finance).
However, I see this term used elsewhere. In discussions about religion, for example. Main Street Plaza recently had a discussion about another rather nebulous term: faith. Chris had a blog post providing one such answer to the question. What’s interesting (or, more often, frustrating) about both discussions is how so many people are apt to find others’ definitions unfit.
But that’s about faith. What about critical thinking? In MSP’s earlier post on brainwashing (which led to the post asking about faith as a splinter), Seth pointed out that indoctrination is something widespread in society — and that even parents who dislike indoctrination may do. Jonathan suggested that instead of indoctrinating, parents could encourage…there’s that word: critical thinking.
If you teach children critical thinking skills and allow them the space to exercise them, then you’re not indoctrinating them. Parenting doesn’t need to be synonymous with trampling your child’s ability to think for themself.
While quibbling about the definitions of “faith” and “brainwashing” and “indoctrination,” who would quibble over the definition of critical thinking?
I mean, I get different feels for what this kind of parenting entails. The parent advocates for his or her own views, but does not hide other views from the child. The parent is ok with the possibility that the child will take different views than him/her. Seth raises a point that I often feel (at least, the second half):
Yeah, except that in my case, learning to have “faith in the Lord” happened to involve a lot of critical thinking skills.
Or is this one of those instances where “critical thinking” is actually being used as a code word for “agreeing with the atheists?”
I guess it’s similar to the idea of “skepticism”? Can one be a “critical thinker” or “skeptic” and also believe in God?
It seems to me that many atheists, if they believe no, do so because of the bias of their own position. After all, if someone has evaluated certain data and come to one conclusion believing it to be the most “reasonable” position, then wouldn’t he be more likely to suppose that others who came to different conclusions simply weren’t being critical enough?
When any ex-Mormon argues against the historicity of the Book of Mormon and other Mormon scriptures, for example, they do so under belief that theirs is a critically thought out position — whether it is or it isn’t. So, even if one says that critical thinking can lead to someone believing different things, as long as someone believes there is an objective right answer out there and that there are tools to find these answers, it seems to me that one might always have reason to suspect the critical thinking faculties of anyone who comes to a difference of opinions.
Maybe critical thinking is about challenging whether one has adequate tools to find objective answers? In this case, maybe the reason why liberal arts majors develop greater critical thinking skills over time is not because they are somehow better programs or because they utilize better pedagogical methods, but because critical thinking is conducive to certain assumptions with which liberal arts align and other majors don’t. If critical thinking is about “thinking for oneself” (however individualistic and, perhaps, solipsistic, that might become), then fields that emphasize ambiguity, the constructed situatedness of discourse, or multiplicity of perspectives would naturally be better fitted to developing that than fields that emphasize (at least the appearance) of objectivity or essentialism.
In this way, I am reminded of a couple articles that react to some people’s opinions that philosophy is useless. What interested me was not that some people argued that philosophy is, to the contrary, quite useful, but rather that the terms of its usefulness were the same things others were using to argue its uselessness. Consider:
…I take the widespread disregard for philosophy as evidence that very few people actually understand what it is and how it differs from technology and science. To me philosophy is less about finding answers than it is about identifying and grappling with heavy questions. Have some philosophers (and perhaps entire schools) taken this to the extreme and backed into dark corners? Sure, but that doesn’t in the slightest take away from the experience students at my school (for example) have as they read and discuss some of the great (read: timeless) books of the western canon.
To me, to concede that philosophy is “less about finding answers than it is about identifying and grappling with heavy questions,” or, from another comment, that in an ethics class, there might not be any mention of resolving or answering ethical questions (remind me to talk about ethics classes though…I bet even a philosophical ethics class that doesn’t attempt to resolve or answer any ethical questions is still FAR better than the tripe that passes for business ethics classes), that is a concession that will immediately alienate a lot of folks.