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Possible definitions of critical thinking
(1) Critical thinking means not believing everything you read or are being
told.
(2) Critical thinking means asking people to justify what they say.
(3) Critical thinking means asking good questions.
(4) Critical thinking means constructing an argument about something.
(5) Critical thinking means thinking about how you construct your knowledge
of the world.
(6) Critical thinking means thinking like a scientist, or historian or
mathematician.
(7) Critical thinking is philosophy.
Problems with these definitions
(1) Critical thinking means not believing everything you read or are being told.
If we are sceptical about everything we read or are told, then we cannot make any progress in
the growth of our knowledge.
(2) Critical thinking means asking people to justify what they say.
Justification takes different forms and what makes an acceptable justification will vary in
different circumstances.
(3) Critical thinking means asking good questions.
As with justification, what makes a question a ‘good’ question will depend on context, and
usually requires knowledge of the thing being looked at.
(4) Critical thinking means constructing an argument about something.
Arguments can be valid and invalid, and so critical thinking here requires knowledge of how
arguments are constructed, both in general and in specific fields.
Problems with these definitions
(5) Critical thinking means thinking about how you construct your knowledge of the world.
It is difficult to get a sense of how your knowledge is being constructed because you often are not
conscious of everything affecting your construction of knowledge.
(6) Critical thinking means thinking like a scientist, or historian or mathematician.
Thinking like a scientist, a historian or a mathematician requires quite in-depth knowledge of
those disciplines.
(7) Critical thinking is philosophy.
There are strict rules about how philosophical questions arguments are constructed that require
knowledge of the field of philosophy.
Is critical thinking domain-specific?
Bailin et al (1999) examined what ‘critical thinking’ means. They argued
that critical thinking is not
• a skill or set of skills
• a mental process
• a procedure
Instead, they argued that critical thinking involves the application of
context-specific and domain-specific reasoning. They went on to argue that
the following kinds of knowledge are needed in order to enter into a
process of critical thinking:
• knowledge of the background of the thing we are thinking about
• knowledge of what ‘good thinking’ about that something looks like
• knowledge of critical concepts such a ‘evidence’ and ‘proof’
Can you prove
•
that the area of a circle is πr2?
•
that water contains hydrogen?
•
that the earth has moving tectonic plates?
•
that perestroika led to the collapse of the Soviet Union?
•
that Abai wanted Kazakhstan to look to the west?
How would you go about proving these points?
What kind of critical thinking would it require?
What
questions
would you
ask of this
source?
What is being
shown in this
source?
Why was this
source produced?
Subject
Chemistry
History
Geography
Literature
What does critical thinking look
like in this subject?
What kinds of activities can
teachers do to get pupils thinking
critically in this subject?
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