Critical thinking is a process that involves mental inquisition that is objective in nature as regards beliefs and analysis of facts. It is a process that involves evaluation, interpretation, inference and meta-cognition which requires reflective and systematic thinking about an issue (Scharfersman, 1991). It is therefore a well structured and controlled method of pursuit for knowledge that can be applied in all areas of life in general.
The general characteristics of critical thinking involves objective analysis of facts, impartial judgment of character, consideration of evidence, deductive reasoning based on facts and informed an conclusion (Scharfersman, 1991). The skills that are necessary for critical thinking include; high intellect, ability to think logically, impartiality, open-minded, imagination, courageous, good problem solving skills, curiosity and strategic thinking (Scharfersman, 1991).
All these are key characteristics of an effective critical thinker; curiosity for instance is a necessary characteristic that is required to motivate a person to relentlessly pursue evidence wherever it leads without fear and regardless of the consequences.
High intellectual ability is also a key factor that is necessary and which enables a person to be systematic in reviewing information and in the process of evidence investigation. The purpose of this paper therefore intends to discuss in general what critical thinking entails, process of critical thinking and analyze the three major approaches to critical thinking.
The process of critical thinking can be described to occur at various levels, however it must involve four important elements decision making, judgment, investigation and problem solving (Scharfersman, 1991).
At its most basic level, a critical thinker must exhibit the ability to provoke original ideas, systematic gathering of data, analysis of relevant information, ability to test available evidence, logical conclusions and ability to communicate effectively with team players during brainstorming of ideas (Scharfersman, 1991). These are the features of critical thinking that we shall compare to the three commonly applied approaches of critical thinking to determine the approach that is most ideal.
There are three branches of life that critical thinking process can be described to emanate; critical thinking as a behavior, as an experience or as a learned skill (Scharfersman, 1991). For each of these three approaches the underlying concepts of critical thinking are preserved but the methods and processes of thinking differ with each and every approach.
Critical thinking as a learned skill is certainly a re-emerging branch that is in its own right entirely structured around the modern day principles of critical thinking. It is probably one of the oldest professionals that have been in existence since the ancient time.
Indeed the art of critical thinking as a profession is well documented in ancient Greek history where the most notable philosophers such as Descartes, Plato, Socrates and Aristotle among others are known to have been born and raised. What is not in doubt about all this ancient philosophers is that they were well schooled, well cultured and attended the best taught academies of their times.
Plato for instance is said to have been taught by the “most distinguished teachers of his time”; among who included prominent philosophers at the time such as Cratylus throughout his early years of education and even later in life (Keith and Guthrie, 1988).
In fact this is the reason why most of these ancient philosophers ended up teaching in leading high institutions in Greece.
Aristotle on the other hand came from an aristocratic family and his father was the personal doctor to the King of Macedon, Amyntas (Keith and Guthrie, 1988). In his early years he attended the best school in Macedon and would later be taken oversees to be taught by Plato himself. This therefore is a confirmation that indeed the art of critical thinking is essentially taught or perhaps provoked with “intellectual light”, as education was once described by Descartes (Keith and Guthrie, 1988).
In critical thinking as a behavior, a person is naturally talented with the characteristics of a good critical thinker without necessarily being educated in order to become an accomplished critical thinker.
There are very few thinkers that can be described to be of this type, however what is not in doubt is that it is the talents of a natural critical thinker that are sharpened by training the intellectual mind in order to produce an accomplished thinker. It is only when these two aspects are combined that the full potential of a critical thinker can be realized, but since critical thinking is assumed to be a natural behavior in this case it is taken then that it cannot be taught.
Finally we can learn critical thinking through experience, this means that a person will gain the skills of a critical thinker through application of critical thinking skills, for instance through solving problems. But even in this case the advantages of intellectual training, which we have realized to be very influential, are lost.
It is therefore clear that critical thinking as a learned skill is the most effective among all the others. This can best be illustrated where the nature of information that requires interpretation is technical in nature or even coded, in such a case the benefits of intellect cannot be overemphasized in the art of critical thinking.
Keith, W., & Guthrie, C., (1988). A History of Greek Philosophy: The Earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans. California, CA: University of California.
Scharfersman, S. (1991). An Introduction to Critical Thinking. Retrieved from http://www.freeinquiry.com/critical-thinking.html