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Critical Thinking 101

Below is a short excerpt from my book, “There Are No Such Things As Ghosts,” where I discuss varying definitions of the term, critical thinking. This discussion serves as a nice primer for what we mean when we use it.

Let’s look at some more formal definitions of the term critical thinking from academia and industry.

According to Dr. Joe Lau from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong and Dr. Jonathan Chan from the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Baptist University of Hong Kong, the definition of critical thinking is the ability to understand the logical connections between ideas such that one can:

  • 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

That’s a wonderful, if not slightly pedantic, start. It is after all from the Philosophy department (no offense of course).

Let’s try a second definition now from the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (incidentally, if you didn’t know before, now you know there is an actual National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking). Their definition says that critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

Again, this is a wonderful definition, but admittedly there is an awful lot going on here with the various “ings” and “ions”.

My definition is a bit simpler: Critical thinking is the cognitive ability and personal attitude required to determine what is rational.

I like my definition for a couple of reasons, not the least of which, because it’s tweetable. Tweetability is the characteristic of a cogent thought that has been boiled down to a sentence or phrase that is less than 140 characters long. It forces linguistic efficiency and frankly, short and sweet seems to have far more sticking power. Secondly, my definition does more than call our attention to cognitive domain of critical thinking: to borrow from the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking’s definition these areas of mind include conceptualization, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, but it also brings in an incredibly important personal attitudinal component. That attitudinal component might be summarized in a phrase, “intellectual honesty.”


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