Some people are careful to note that critical thinking isn’t anything negative or mean and that there is no predisposition to finding flaws. This is nonsense.
A strong part of it is subjecting ideas to focused and savage criticism.
Criticism gets a bad press. Criticism is constructive; nothing ever improves or evolves without criticism.
The etymological roots of ‘critical’ - kriticos and kriterion - allude to discerning judgement and standards*. What on earth does this mean?!
Likewise, ask people what critical thinking is and few can explicitly delineate anything of substance or meaningful consequence.
Yet it is held to be the key skill that education develops. Unsettling...
Let’s lose the ambiguous and obfuscating phrase critical thinking.
It could be called ‘How to think, not what to think’.
It is a set of intellectual virtues and mental habits.
Essentially, it is Good Thinking.
The Ten Commandments of Good Thinking
1. Always be able to change your mind.
2. Seek out criticism and counterarguments to your views.
Subject your beliefs to vicious and relentless attack.
Be curious how you might be wrong - there may be something you haven’t thought of.
3. Strength of opinion should be proportional to your investigation and understanding of its criticisms, counterarguments and alternatives.
Mild unless you consider yourself an expert.
Especially beware certainty.
4. Doubt everything. Challenge. Criticise.
Question what you are told. Ask ‘why?’ Demand evidence.
5. Go to the primary source.
To avoid second-hand distortions. Use language precisely.
6. Beware being emotionally infused with and attached to an idea.
For meaning, purpose, identity, pride, self-worth or in-group belonging.
Cultism and attachment make it harder to change your mind in the face of reason.
7. Beware knee-jerk reactions and opinion formations.
Be thorough, hesitant and deliberative.
Analyse soberly with thought and reason over gut feeling.
8. Beware logical fallacies.
Particularly the trinity of appeal to tradition, authority and popularity.
9. Beware cognitive biases.
Particularly reasoning under uncertainty, groupthink and in-group/out-group tribalism.
The hardest test is resistance to conformity with the prevailing opinion in one’s own in-group.
10. Details matter.
Appreciate context, complexity and nuance.