Sunday, August 26, 2012

Critical Thinking - A Definition

Critical thinking is disciplined, self-directed thinking which uses point of view, purpose, questions, information, data, implications and consequences, assumptions, concepts, and interpretation and inference. When critical thinking skills are applied, I arrive at cogent, logically consistent, and empirically and experientially adequate conclusions or solutions.  According to Wikipedia, critical thinking can be traced in Western thought to the Socratic method of Ancient Greece and in the East, to the Buddhist kalama sutta and Abhidharma. The following YouTube video introduces Socrates, who wrote nothing of his background or philosophy (it was all documented by one of his most famous students – Plato).  His style of seeking the truth or the right course of action by questioning was credited with the beginning of critical thought in the West. As outlined in Wikipedia, his pupils learned to use critical thinking by ascertaining the right questions to determine whether claims to knowledge could be rationally justified with clarity and logical consistency.

An Introduction to Socrates

The point of critical thinking is to improve life (or the lives of others) by choosing the right thing to do, the best course of action, or the truth as best understood (truth being defined as that which adequately describes reality).

Over the course of this week in “virtual conversations” with several of my colleagues and professors, I have come to a couple of realizations to help me grow as a thinker. First, the use of material and perspectives that don’t fit neatly into my conclusions is vital to the process of critical thinking. These “out of my box” perspectives challenge the outcome by forcing me to consider other concepts that weren't in my realm of thought. As an example, in one of the “dialogs” on bias detection, one of my colleagues, Larry Taylor, suggested the use of Gestalt therapy as an approach. However, I have a bias against the use of perceptions and feelings as indicators of reality. The following YouTube video is an example of how perceptions are not always accurate.

Perceptions Can Fool!

After reading the material that Mr. Taylor included in his posting, in particular his reference to G. Yontef's work with Gestalt therapy, what I had not seen before because of my own bias, is that feelings and perceptions as a part of a larger system of thought do have their place in validating reality. Further, the larger system of concepts used by Yontef, Inclusion, Presence, Commitment to Dialog, and Living the Dialog are integral to Gestalt therapy and have a high degree of correspondence to the process we’re going through as a class to develop of our critical thinking capabilities. In thinking critically about thinking, biases and assumptions can be so subconscious that I don’t always see what needs to be challenged. Our dialog, as a class, is helpful to discover those areas. It’s a lesson that critical thinking can’t take place in the “box” of  just my own experiences and concepts.

The second realization is that questioning and self-adjustment are not “events” but part of a process for me. As an admirer of Dr. Edward Deming and his concepts around continuous improvement., I realized there is a strong correlation between his concepts and the critical thinking process of self-adjustment (as a response to questioning and reflection).  Dr. Deming proposed that quality comes not merely by inspection and sampling of particular steps of production, but through a commitment to a continuous process of quality improvement at the system level. He also pointed out that a “system” cannot understand itself.  Any transformation requires a view from outside. So it is with questioning and self-adjustment in the “system” of critical thinking. Questioning is facilitated by an “outside” view of my concepts, principles, and conclusions.  This process of transformation helps “[me] to pull away from [my] current practices and beliefs and move into [a] new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past."

The roles of questioning and self-adjustment in refining my thinking and getting to “quality” processes are outlined by Paul and Elder in their article Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life (Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2001).  They make a case for maturing as a critical thinker by using nine strategies in a fluid process of constant exercise, reflection, practicing, questioning and adjustment.  Among the tools they suggest using, Reshaping [My] Character, Dealing with [My] Ego, Redefining the Way [I] See Things, and Analyzing Group Influences in [My] Life, all intersect at the continuous improvement processes of questioning, reflection, and adjustment. 

Over the coming weeks, I will endeavor to use conscious efforts to get out of my “box”, and to solicit questions which, upon reflection and internalization, help me to adjust in ways that get to the best path forward.

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2001). Modified from the book by Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2001). Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life. Retrieved from

Yontef, G. (1993). Awareness, dialog and process.  Gestalt therapy: An introduction. Retrieved from:

Wikipedia: Critical Thinking. Retrieved from

Wikipedia: W. Edwards Deming.  Retrieved from:

YouTube Febreze Commercials.

YouTube: Socrates - Encyclopedia Channel. Retrieved from

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