Critical thinking is the ability to use thought-processes to check information of a factual nature so that one does not have to accept it on faith. It is a key component of rationality and the scientific method.
Critical thinking is essentially comprised of a set of cognitive tools, among the most important of which are:
- Asking questions: having the ability to imagine alternatives, and to examine logic and evidence in support of each.
- Similar to skepticism but without the hidden implication that there are no good answers; there are no perfect answers, but some answers are clearly better than others.
- Similar to open-mindedness but more active in that one is actively examining the information rather than just being willing to consider different conclusions that are offered.
- Probably the most important question to ask, in nearly any situation, is "why?", but a good critical thinker has a repertoire of probably hundreds of questions to consider investigating.
- Claim and support: recognizing when a claim is being made (whether directly or by implication), and determining what (if any) evidence and reasoning is being offered to support it.
- It is important to be able to recognize when a claim is trivial (trivial claims presented as significant can be used as an emotional argument for further conclusions) or circular (i.e. having no actual basis).
- A knowledge of logical fallacies, and the ability to recognize invalid logic in general, is also an important tool.
- Knowledge of what constitutes good evidence (relevant, unambiguous, sufficient, verifiable, objective/unbiased) is also crucial.