One of the most mysterious and interesting aspects of the human experience can be said to be our capacity to think. Although the process of thinking, for most, is an effortless task, critical thought entails control, effort, and manipulation. Additionally, critical thinking is an activity that can take on several forms such as in-depth analysis, random musings, and concerted reflection. Unfortunately, by many accounts, it has been neglected in American schools in the last few decades. The purpose of this post is to compare and contrast several definitions of critical thought. Additionally, I will provide a reflective evaluation of how logic and emotionality interplays in my approach to critical thinking.
Vincent Ruggiero’s definition
Vincent Ruggiero defines critical thinking as a directed mental process geared towards problem solving or decision making in order to better understand particular ideas (Ruggiero, 2004). He contrasts thinking with feeling by taking the position that there is a subjective component to feeling, replete with sentiment and desire, and that therefore, critical thinking is more reliable because it is based on logic and reason.
Ruggiero also distinguishes critical thinking from the creative type. Whereas creative thinking can be heavily influenced by feelings, critical thinking is a process of evaluating or assessing arguments to ascertain their merit—a quest for truth by analyzing relationships and values relative to a given question. Additionally, the critical thinker must evaluate the reasons he takes into account to determine their sufficiency because any idea, regardless of its veracity, can be rationalized (Ruggiero, 2004).
Critical thinking does not necessary result in original thought. Rather, it as a process replete with misconceived notions and inaccurate deductions yielding sound ideation by way of intense scrutiny. Most interestingly, he suggests that critical thinking is more a habit than a skill and that even sloppy thinkers can become critical thinkers by adopting the routines and practices inherent in the critical thinking process (Ruggiero, 2004).
Kirby and Goodpaster’s definition
Authors Gary Kirby and Jeffery Goodpaster consider thinking to be generally a function of language as well as non-linguistic formulations—expressed or unexpressed. Similar to Ruggiero, Kirby and Goodpaster distinguish between creative and critical thinking in much the same way. However, they consider feelings and the socio-cultural environment from which the thinker operates to be inextricable from the process of thinking and therefore, suggest a required subjectivity in the critical thinking process. Who we are is a direct reflection of how we think (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2002). Although the critical thinker makes an effort to remove opinions and influences from his analysis, personal experience will always factor into the critical thinking process because mind is such a product of personal experiences. That is, the mind may not be able to remove itself from the process and as a result, what may appear to be an objective thought may be more a subjective than one may think (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2002).
In order to think more objectively, the mind requires a metaphorical mirror to observe its processes. They suggest that the linguistic expression of our thoughts may provide the apparatus necessary to refine our thinking—the mirror of communication. The expression of our thoughts allows for a cognitive dissonance wherein we can observe our own thinking and receive feedback from peers in order to ensure objectivity (Festinger, 1957). Communicating externalizes thoughts allowing for one to reflect on them in order to determine their veracity and possibly recognize personal influences that may have been embedded in the thought process. Additionally, by engaging in revisions of our writings relative to proposed thoughts, one can further refine their thinking to bring about as objective an intellection as possible.
Schwarze and Lape’s definition
Much like Kirby and Goodpaster, Sharon Schwarze and Harvey Lape recognize the relationship of the self to the process of critical thinking and the confines of rationale thought. They state that “the more rational you try to be, the more conscious you will become of the limits of reason” (Schwarze & Lape, 2001, p. 27). This is not to say that critical thinking is not possible. Rather, by engaging in open dialogue and using precise language, one can fine-tune thoughts by way of warranted statements. Schwarze and Lape define warranted statements as those that have been scrutinized by people to a point wherein questioning the authenticity of the statement ceases. When all engaged in analyzing a statement have stopped questioning its truthfulness, the warranted statement, and by extension, its kernel of thought, becomes a fact (Schwarze & Lape, 2001). Knowledge and certainty are byproducts of argumentation, reasoning, and explanation. Therefore, critical thinking can be defined as the linguistic expression of confirmed ideas and facts.
I recognize the extent to which emotion and logic influence my critical thinking process. In reflection, there have been many events in my life when decisions have been made based on logical reasoning and yet, the desired effects did not come to pass. Conversely, far too many decisions have been made based on an emotion or an ill-conceived belief resulting in tremendous failure. As I has gained experience, I have come to rely more so on the critical thinking process as a modus operandi. However, I do not rule out or suppress feelings or emotions when making decisions. The various authors referenced in this composition have shown that logic and language are the common tools used in establishing a basis for decision making as they are the tenets of critical thinking.
Nevertheless, creativity, often fueled by emotion and feeling, is often the innovating spark of innovation. Without it, the solely critical thinker may become stilted and unable to improve.
To conclude, I have struggled with valuing critical thinking over creative thought. Having a background in fine art, I consider impulses and fleeting moments of emotion to be valuable—almost divine in origin. In writing this post and considering the various definitions of critical thinking presented, I have concluded that emotions and instinctual thoughts are quite important to critical thinking. What must be abated at all costs in pursuit of critical thought and analysis is the use of emotional thinking and expression to curb reason or to manipulate dialogues amongst colleagues as they scrutinize and evaluate thoughts presented by an individual.
Further, I recognize the need to rely primarily on logic to validate my findings and to refine my pattern of thought in order to employ a more scientific approach to my work rather than an artful one. By supporting my claims, engaging in formal reasoning, being open to dialogue, and externalizing my thinking, I believe I will become a more facile critical thinker and a successful leader.
Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Kirby, G. K., & Goodpaster, J. R. (2002). Thinking (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Ruggiero, V. R. (2004). Beyond feelings; A guide to critical thinking (7th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
Schwarze, S., & Lape, H. (2001). Thinking Socratically: Critical thinking about everyday issues (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.