is Critical Thinking?
‘Critical thinking’ is a descriptive phrase used widely both within Singapore and, increasingly, in discussions of education throughout the world. Many educators at the tertiary level would feel that helping students to develop and strengthen the capacity to think critically is an important objective of their pedagogy, and yet would differ about the precise characterization of what they try to inculcate. Most would agree, however, that critical thinking attempts to prevent the unquestioning adoption of ideas without careful consideration. They would also agree that its goal is critical evaluation, paying attention to both the positive and the negative aspects of what is being evaluated.
To clarify the concept of critical thinking further, it might be useful to consider examples of activities that crucially call for the exercise of critical thinking:
As can be seen from such examples, critical thinking refers to a collection of overlapping mental activities of intuiting, clarifying, reflecting, connecting, inferring, judging, and so on. It brings these activities together to evaluate the credibility, quality, impact, significance, usefulness or desirability of an entity on the basis of an implicit or explicit value system and a set of criteria of evaluation. The entity being evaluated can be a knowledge claim, a research article, a work of art, a funding proposal, a social practice, an institution, a person, and so on, with the factors relevant for the evaluation varying accordingly.
Needless to say, there is considerable overlap between the thinking processes involved in creating something and evaluating something. In the context of academic inquiry, for instance, both the writer of a scientific article and its reviewer need to pay attention to matters of methodology, reasoning, and competing alternatives, drawing upon both creative and critical faculties. It is nevertheless useful to make a distinction between the two modes of thinking in terms of the shifts of emphasis stemming from their respective functions: the creator of research finds worthwhile problems or questions and proposes solutions or answers, the critic evaluates the answers.
What are the kinds of critical thinking abilities that are valuable for educated individuals? As a first approximation, one may identify the following broad categories, no doubt with considerable overlap:
An articulation of the value system and criteria that underlie the different types of critical thinking, the kinds of mental activities they draw upon, and the kinds of grounds they are based on, can inform pedagogical choices and practices, and result in useful ideas for
Drafted by K P Mohanan () and revised on the basis of detailed input from Helmer Aslaksen, Wang Chien Ming, John Richardson, Philip Holden, Sunita Abraham, and Tara Mohanan. Likely to be revised further on the basis of further input from others.
coordinated by the General Education Steering Committee, the University
and the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning(CDTL)
© Centre for Development of Teaching & Learning, CDTL 2003, All rights reserved.