The philosopher John Dewey is considered the father of modern-day critical thinking. He defined critical thinking as the persistent, active, and thorough examination of a belief or alleged kind of knowledge, done in view of the facts that sustain it and the implications that it leads to. Accordingly, Dewey provided a few examples of critical thinking. One was that of a physician. Although a patient’s unclear symptoms may suggest typhoid, the physician infers further through tests and questioning the patient before diagnosing. This example supports that critical thinking involves using well-researched evidence to make decisions. However, it does not indicate whether critical thinking is a skill, a strategy or a talent.
A talent is “a natural aptitude or inner quality that emerges effortlessly.” This means that defined as talent, critical thinking is the natural ability to conduct a thorough examination of beliefs and knowledge. At the same time, this implies that those born without this natural ability go through life unable to conduct reasoned, goal-directed and purposeful thinking. Similarly, advocates of the talent argument contest that critical thinking is a relatively stable trait. As such, individuals can either be bad or good critical thinkers.
However, some writers have accepted that although thinking itself is natural, it can be made to happen in different ways. This is where critical thinking comes into play. Although human beings are not taught to think, they can be trained on how to think. One can think negatively or positively, rationally or emotionally, or analytically, among other examples. Therefore, since critical thinking is a way of thinking, it can be taught and is not a talent. As evidence, science shows that children are only born with survival-level thinking, and nothing beyond until they are trained to do otherwise.
Furthermore, a correlational study was conducted to investigate the relationship between personality type, critical thinking and performance on a clinical examination at Meharry Medical College. The results obtained showed no relationship between the three factors. This further shows that one’s personality type does not determine critical thinking.
A skill is defined as an ability acquired or learned through effort. While most agree that critical thinking is a skill, there is division on whether it is a soft or hard skill. Hard skills are described as skills that can be trained and measured. These include proficiency in language or typing speed, among others. Contrastingly, soft skills are less tangible and impossible or difficult to train. Examples of soft skills include time management, leadership and communication. Therefore soft skills suggest inborn aspects that are inherent to personality. The argument then stands as to whether critical thinking is a soft or hard skill.
The skills or attributes of critical thinking have been used to try and settle this argument. Some of these include: understanding the links between ideas, justifying assumptions and beliefs, active listening, and determining the importance of ideas, among others. While some of these aspects of critical thinking fall under hard skills, some belong to the soft skill category. This suggests that critical thinking qualifies as both. Although its traits are divided between hard and soft skills, this is not rigid. For example, although leadership is regarded as a soft skill, the countless number of leadership seminars on offer suggest that this soft skill can be trained. Therefore, determining whether critical thinking is a skill may not be as useful as one would think. It may be necessary to accept that it is a skill and use training as evidence.
At the same time, critical thinking is also affected by the experience. Once trained, the more one applies the skill, the better one becomes at being a critical thinker. Gelder (2005) advises that instruction must be done deliberately and explicitly in its training. This means that space must be given for individuals to practice and retrieve what has been learned. The suggestion is based on the argument that no one can learn to think critically just by being exposed to the theoretical aspect. If one is to be taught how to think critically, one also need practice apart from instruction.
Also, critical thinking is domain-specific. This suggests that critical thinking is specific to areas of expertise. Therefore it can be developed and applied within a specific range of scenarios. This implies that critical thinking is dependent on context. People can be good critical thinkers in one domain and bad in others. Likewise, transferring critical thinking skills is regarded to be difficult. Therefore it needs practice as well.
It is also important to note that critical thinking is a high-order skill. It involves the mastery of other low-level skills first. For example, before one can begin to determine the points or arguments that are most relevant and important, one must be able to read. Additionally, active listening also requires understanding a language first and foremost.
Critical thinking requires a strategic approach to thinking and is a strategy to achieve end goals. For example, critical thinking can be used by a job seeker to create a unique selling point during an interview. At the same time, an organization can build a large workforce of critical thinkers to increase problem-solving efficiency. Not only that, but scholars use critical thinking to come up with new arguments or ways of solving current problems. Therefore, critical thinking is also a strategy that is used in philosophy.
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