Critical Thinking – Tutorial with Examples

Time to read: 4 Minutes
Critical-thinking-definition

Critical thinking is a concept used in philosophy and academic writing to designate a critical attitude towards any assertion or information and the intellectual capacity that allows reasoning correctly, drawing conclusions that are not premature but considered, and supported by arguments.1

In addition, it provides intellectual autonomy and an ability to make decisions not tainted by cognitive biases.

Defenders of critical thinking believe that it is essential for everyone to develop their critical sense and for schools to teach students to reason correctly rather than making them assimilate content. The practice of philosophy from an early age would be one of the means for them to achieve this.

Critical Thinking – In a Nutshell

Critical thinking is the conscious intellectual process that consists, actively and effectively, of

  • conceptualizing,
  • applying,
  • analyzing,
  • synthesizing,
  • and evaluating

collected or generated data by

  • observation,
  • experience,
  • reflection,
  • reasoning,
  • or communication,

to guide one’s beliefs and actions.

  • Critical thinking defines as a primarily rational activity based on questioning and challenging prejudices and “ready-made” opinions.
  • It requires the exercise of reason, therefore, the mastery of language, argumentation, and conceptualization.
  • In addition, critical thinking helps to deal with simplistic, conspiratorial, Manichean, obscurantist theories, etc., which can easily convince the masses.

Definition: Critical thinking

Critical thinking can be defined as the ability to think clearly and rationally, and to understand the logical connections between ideas. It is the ability to enter into an independent and reflective thought process.2

Thinking critically requires the use of reasoning skills. It is about active learning and not just being a passive container for the information received.

People who use critical thinking question the ideas they receive instead of accepting them at face value. Critical thinkers are also determined to test their ideas, whether they are accepted by the majority or not.

Examples of methods used by critical thinking:

  • A clear and precise formulation of questions or problems
  • Collating relevant information
  • Verifying the credibility of sources
  • Cross-referencing specialist opinions
  • Identification of presuppositions
  • Argument analysis
  • Detection and avoidance of fallacious reasoning
  • Development of reasoned conclusions and solutions tested by relevant criteria

The importance of critical thinking

This skill can be helpful for writing essays, debating other people on political issues, or arguing whether red or white wine is better!

It allows students to present a balanced view that considers all angles and means giving an opinion based on the evidence rather than bias.

Critical thinking is a skill that every human being must develop because it has qualities that help us solve problems better, become more analytical, understand how to classify information into viable and non-viable, become more curious, and question the world around us.

From an academic perspective, becoming a critical thinker is essential. A critical thinker can, for example:

  • Identify strengths, weaknesses, and biases in information and can assess their relevance.
  • Challenge the status quo and analyze the facts to better understand data production contexts.
  • Reflect and construct a structured argument summarizing the reasoning process.

Examples of critical thinking

Here a few examples of critical reasoning:

Academic examples

Good: A student confidently and correctly explains exactly to her peers the methodology used to reach a particular conclusion or why and how a specific methodology or standard of proof was applied. • Rather than relying on a single source, several verifiable sources were used to fact-check throughout.

• Primary sources were also used to bolster the validity of her argument.

• The conclusion summarizes the student's objective thinking, which is based on reason rather than supposition or ill-informed prejudice.
Poor: A student writes an essay without checking the source carefully to ensure that it was produced by a reliable source. In fact, five minutes on the Internet reveals that it is unreliable and erroneous.
Critical thinkers only rely on sources based on solid evidence and should not suffer from research bias.
• Assignments based on flimsy or badly-researched source materials will receive lower grades, as the conclusions drawn are only as reliable as the data they are based on.

Non-academic examples

A play by the American writer and playwright Reginald Rose, entitled “Twelve Angry Men”, serves as an example to illustrate the manifestations of critical thinking and counterexamples of it:

In the play, a jury of 12 men must reach a unanimous decision on the fate of a young man accused of parricide. The elements of evidence provided during the trial seem to blame him beyond any doubt.

Only one jury member, an architect in his forties, does not share this conviction and has the courage and determination to assert his position; going beyond appearances and prejudices demonstrates skills and attitudes that can be traced back to critical thinking.

Spoiler alert: He succeeds, not without difficulty, using critical reasoning to convince the eleven other jurors and rally them to his position, allowing a unanimous verdict of not guilty, thus saving the defendant from the sentence of death.

Critical thinking: How it’s done

In order to develop critical thinking, students should be helped to:

  • Think about any task, problem, or question openly
  • Carefully consider the various options presented
  • Reach reasonable conclusions based on a thoughtful evaluation of the relevant criteria

7 Tips on how to improve critical thinking

  1. Become more self-aware
  2. Understand your mental process
  3. Develop foresight
  4. Practice active listening
  5. Ask questions
    • Include critical questions that you can ask yourself. E.g. For the academic context, “what is the author’s argument?” and “what’s their motivation for publishing it?”3
  6. Evaluate existing evidence
  7. Read widely

FAQs

Critical reasoning means gathering relevant information, considering solutions and conclusions, and remaining open-minded enough to consider alternative opinions or belief systems.

Critical reasoning helps deal with conspiracy theories, which can easily seduce and trap many people.

It is therefore essential to dispel extremism.

Of course! In order to develop critical reasoning, students should be helped to:

  • Think about any task, problem, or question openly
  • Carefully consider the various options presented
  • Reach reasonable conclusions based on a thoughtful evaluation of the criteria

Sources

1 Skills You Need. “Critical Thinking Skills.” Accessed November 21, 2022. https://www.skillsyouneed.com/learn/critical-thinking.html.

2 The Foundation For Critical Thinking. “Defining Critical Thinking.” Accessed November 21, 2022. https://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766.

3 Institute for Academic Development. “Critical thinking.” The University of Edinburgh. September 09, 2021. https://www.ed.ac.uk/institute-academic-development/study-hub/learning-resources/critical.