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Thursday, 23 June 2022

The value of critical thinking

The unexamined life is not worth living – Aristotle

There are many important benefits in becoming a more critical thinker. We become better at understanding the quality of what we read and the arguments of people we are engaging in. As a result, we become better at recognising our own weaknesses in thinking, reasoning and evaluation. We become better at writing clearly and making our points with evidence and honesty.

We can apply critical thinking in debates over the right foods, diets, lifestyle, and health therapies, in political discussion, art criticism, career planning, responding to social media and advertising claims, to name only a few.

And when we are developing critical thinking, we build our discernment and capacities to make decisions that affect the quality of our lives. In other words, the quality of our choices, interactions, and relationships can be supported by well-developed critical thinking skills.

In a professional setting, it’s clear that these skills would be very beneficial. In dealing with colleagues, planning in groups, making decisions that affect others; in clinical settings, working out best health outcomes, or in counselling and guidance; and in arbitration and conflict resolution.

These gains come at a cost, however, in terms of a lifelong commitment to self-analysis, to paying tolerant and open attention to the ideas and opinions of others, in taking the time to look deeply and carefully into presented arguments for their use of appropriate language, discussion and evidence. These take time, effort, patience and practice to become part of the way we interact with the world of information. And of equal importance, and equally demanding, in how we look with honest dispassion at ourselves, in asking and honestly answering questions about what we truly believe, why we do so, if we have unthinking biases or prejudices or lack of evidence for what we hold as obvious and inalterable. This demands self-reflection and self-awareness of the very highest level of integrity.

But, if we come to view these benefits and demands as interwoven, they give us a fabric that encourages the flourishing of the human personality. There is the need for ethics of the highest standard: justice to others, tolerance of opposing views, fair-mindedness, and honesty.

There are benefits that come from thinking with logic and reason, and recognising our own and others’ lack of clarity and objectivity. And there are the gains in self-awareness and insights into our own understandings, beliefs, prejudices, and confusion of ends and means. Such understanding of ourselves provides a feeling of acceptance that breaks barriers of our negative self-perceptions, insecurities, and self-imposed limitations, eliciting creativity, strength, and positive resources. It is therefore at least possible that a critical thinker could also be a better, perhaps even wiser, human being.

Interested in Mental Health and Wellness?

Enhance your critical thinking skills for everyday life — Find out more about Critical Thinking: enhancing skills for wellness, one of our Mental Health and Wellness Short Courses.

"The nutrition course was all about circling back to the science. It wasn’t fluffy. It was full of excellent case studies and amazing resources."

- Nikki Auckland