Tutorial C01: What is Critical Thinking and Why is it Important?
By: Jonathan Chan
Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally. It includes the ability to engage in
reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the
Understand the logical connections between ideas
Identify, construct and evaluate arguments
Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
Solve problems systematically
Identify the relevance and importance of ideas
Reflect on the justification of one's own beliefs and values
Other definitions of critical thinking have been proposed. See bottom of this page for
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The proper functioning of a liberal democracy requires citizens who can think critically about
social issues to inform their judgments about proper governance and to overcome biases and
C01.2 Why study critical thinking?
Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. The ability to think clearly and
rationally is important whatever we choose to do. If you work in education, research, finance,
management or the legal profession, then critical thinking is obviously important. But critical
thinking skills are not restricted to a particular subject area. Being able to think well and solve
problems systematically is an asset for any career.
Critical thinking is very important in the new knowledge economy. The global
knowledge economy is driven by information and technology. One has to be able to deal with
Source URL: http://philosophy.hku.hk/think/critical/ct.php
Saylor URL: http://www.saylor.org/courses/phil102/
Attributed to: Jonathan Chan
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changes quickly and effectively. The new economy places increasing demands on flexible
intellectual skills, and the ability to analyse information and integrate diverse sources of
knowledge in solving problems. Good critical thinking promotes such thinking skills, and is very
important in the fast-changing workplace.
Critical thinking enhances language and presentation skills. Thinking clearly and
systematically can improve the way we express our ideas. In learning how to analyse the logical
structure of texts, critical thinking also improves comprehension abilities.
Critical thinking promotes creativity. To come up with a creative solution to a problem
involves not just having new ideas. It must also be the case that the new ideas being generated
are useful and relevant to the task at hand. Critical thinking plays a crucial role in evaluating new
ideas, selecting the best ones and modifying them if necessary.
Critical thinking is crucial for self-reflection. In order to live a meaningful life and to
structure our lives accordingly, we need to justify and reflect on our values and decisions.
Critical thinking provides the tools for this process of self-evaluation.
Although most people would agree that critical thinking is an important thinking skill, most
people also do not know how to improve their own thinking. This is because critical thinking is a
meta-thinking skill. It requires careful reflection on the good principles of reasoning and making
a conscious effort to internalize them and apply them in daily life. This is notoriously hard to do
and often requires a long period of training.
C01.3 Other definitions of critical thinking
The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal is a well-known psychological test of critical
thinking ability. The authors of this test define critical thinking as :
... a composite of attitudes, knowledge and skills. This composite includes: (1) attitudes of
inquiry that involve an ability to...