Critical thinking

« previous post | next post »

David Cragin, who teaches risk assessment at Peking University, mentioned to me that there is sharp controversy among his colleagues over how to translate the term "critical thinking" into Chinese.  Dr. Zheng, the professor who runs the program David teaches for, was never happy with the traditional translation of "critical thinking", that is, pīpàn shì sīwéi 批判式思维.

Google Translate — Chinese to English:   批判式思维 = “critical thinking.”   English to Chinese:  “critical thinking” = 批判性思维.  Bing and Baidu have exactly the same answers.  The only difference between the English to Chinese and the Chinese to English is shì 式 ("style; form; pattern") vs. xìng 性 ("nature; character; quality"), which does not materially affect the meaning of the expression.  Incidentally, it would be interesting to pursue a separate line of inquiry concerning the use of the attributive suffixes -shì 式 and -xìng 性, both highly productive, in Mandarin.  I suspect that they may well have entered Chinese from Japanese -shiki 式 and -sei 性.

Zheng's discomfort was shared by other Chinese colleagues, who got into a heated debate regarding pīpàn shì sīwéi 批判式思维 when they saw it on some of David's teaching materials.

Recently, Zheng came across an article which suggests míngbiàn shì sīwéi 明辨式思维 as a preferred translation for “critical thinking.”  Although Zheng was delighted with the new translation, I think that his enthusiasm is misplaced, because míngbiàn shì sīwéi 明辨式思维 means "discerning thought", not "critical thought".

Now, in my estimation there are several reasons for the skittish sensitivity of contemporary Chinese intellectuals to pīpàn shì sīwéi 批判式思维 ("critical thought").  Before embarking on a discussion of its liabilities, however, I wish to point out that pīpàn 批判 is not a Marxist or other heavily ideologically imbued neologism, but is a term that has been around since at least the Song Dynasty a millennium ago (though, of course, it may have been redefined for the modern age).  One of the main problems with pīpàn 批判 is that it hearkens back to the dreaded Cultural Revolution when people were required to criticize (pīpíng 批评 / pīpàn 批判) all and sundry, e.g., pī Lín pī Kǒng 批林批孔 ("Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius" [what an odd combination!!]).

After living through the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, people became allergic to the syllable pī 批 ("comment on; criticize; refute; slap") and avoided it as much as possible.

The same thing happened to the syllable gé 革 (as a verb means "change; transform; dismiss; remove from office / position; expel").  At the height of the Cultural Revolution and during the Age of Mao generally, gé 革 was one of the most exalted morphemes in Chinese, e.g., gémìng 革命 ("revolution"), gǎigé 改革 ("reform").  By the mid-80s, however, it had taken on a very bad odor, with conspicuous consequences.

I still remember poignantly walking around Wèimíng hú 未名湖 ("Unnamed Lake") on the Peking University campus with my friend, Yin Binyong in about 1985 and using the words gémìng 革命 ("revolution"), gǎigé 改革 ("reform"), and yāpò 压迫 ("oppression"), another key term in Maoist rhetoric.  Even though there was no one within earshot, Yin trembled and shuddered when I pronounced such words, and nervously asked me not to repeat them.  Yin, and all of my other Chinese colleagues at that time, had seen too many people "struggled" against with words like this, even to the death, so they simply didn't want to hear them uttered.

This anti-gé 革 atmosphere had a direct impact on language policy, such that the Wénzì gǎigé wěiyuánhuì 文字改革委员会 ("Script Reform Committee"), with which I was closely associated from 1981, had to change its name.  Quoting from this comment to "Words in Mandarin: twin kle twin kle lit tle star":

…the Wénzì gǎigé wěiyuánhuì 文字改革委员会 (Script Reform Committee) as an independent and powerful bureau under the Guówùyuàn 国务院 (State Council) [was changed] to the Yǔyán wénzì gōngzuò wěiyuánhuì 国家语言文字工作委员会 (State Language Commission) under the Ministry of Education.

The change of name is indicative: anything with the morpheme gé 革 in it became suspect, because it smacked of gémìng 革命 ("revolution"). By the mid-80s, when this happened, the Chinese Communist Party, which had once been an exponent of revolution, had begun to fear revolution (both "revolution" and "jasmine" have recently been censored on the Chinese internet), and even gǎigé 改革 ("reform") was studiously avoided.

The same was true of the songs from the Eight Model Plays which were virtually the only songs permitted during the Cultural Revolution, and blared from loudspeakers in public places at the behest of Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, who was one of the chief architects of the Cultural Revolution.  (Never mind that she privately enjoyed watching Western cinema.)

When people heard any of these songs in the 80s, they would put their hands over their ears and run away, so repulsive were the memories they evoked.

To return to the matter of "critical thought", the correct Chinese translation is indeed pīpàn shì sīwéi 批判式思维, not míngbiàn shì sīwéi 明辨式思维 or some other strained attempt to avoid the dreaded syllable pī 批.

As a Chinese colleague who left China about forty years ago astutely put it,

The standard translation is unassailable, because Immanuel Kant's classical work is translated into Chinese as Chúncuì lǐxìng pīpàn 纯粹理性批判 (Critique of Pure Reason). The opposition you have cited likely comes from the negative connotation of the word 批判 from Mao's era. If this is the case, then it is ironical that these professors lack the critical thinking to realize that 批判 became a completely bad word only under communist rule.

A number of other Chinese translations of "critical thought" and the related expression "analytical thinking" are given in this Wikipedia article.  See also the corresponding English article.

Finally, before closing, I would like to mention that, apart from the ambivalence over pīpàn 批判 in Chinese, "critical" itself in English is also a double-edged sword.  When we solicit criticism from someone, we often qualify it by saying "constructive criticism", as though "criticism" by itself were negative.

[Thanks to Sanping Chen, Guobin Yang, Yuhua Wang, John Rohsenow, Da'an Pan, and Stephan Stiller]


  1. Stephan Stiller said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

    Isn't it interesting that a lot of people (native as well as non-native speakers of English) don't understand me when I talk to them about critical thinking? They're like, "You mean, being very cynical and criticizing things a lot?"

    Critical thinking might indeed lead one to that, but to me "critical thinking ability" has always meant the ability to distinguish bad from good data points and assign them appropriate plausibility scores (and this includes assigning trustworthiness scores to sources and authorities) to arrive at the right conclusions (each annotated with confidence/reliability scores as well). Critical thinking is distinct from open-mindedness and knowledge (both also tremendously important); and sometimes when someone is (for whatever reason) not perceiving the right data points in the first place, a prerequisite for critical thinking is missing. In brief, I think that what is called "critical thinking" in common parlance is the ability to generalize correctly, which requires one to correctly judge/rate one's data points – but that's my attempt to analyze what it is at its core and is probably not what it is in popular understanding. Association-wise I think of someone with a skeptical mind, who doesn't believe in pseudoscience, who sees the truth in political discussions and conflicts, who is not naive in his beliefs, etc. Sort of an anti-crank.

    By the way, I am doubtful to what extent it can be taught and learned (which seems to be the premise of a number of educational programs). I'm almost certain it's orthogonal to mathematical-logical thinking (though I suppose each can assist the other at a high level of abstraction), but it might be equally innate … raising in turn the question which environments promote or suppress it —

    In popular understanding, I think that "critical thinking" is more like the "vague semantic field of buzz" spanned by the content in the English Wikipedia article. It seems like noone really knows what it is, though a lot of people have theories. (How was that, with those literally hundreds of "management models" in the MBA world?) I actually find "discerning judgment" quite close in meaning to "critical thinking" (so perhaps 明辨式思维 isn't far off the mark as far as translations are concerned). Let's remember that at least from a present-day point of view, "critical thinking" is not a compositional term in English (re-construing it as such may be possible, but for me it's a stretch; yes, "critical" can mean different things, but let's not get into that topic): it doesn't mean "a way of thinking that criticizes a lot". Just like the expression "critical theory" isn't semantically compositional. So translating the expression "critical thinking" as a whole is a good strategy, but that requires that one knows what critical thinking is. Finally, an appropriate translation for PKU will take into account the context and requirements of their degree program.

  2. Rubrick said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

    "Discerning thought" actually strikes me as very close to the intended meaning of "critical thought", implying the ability to discern sound ideas from unsound ones. But very likely the Chinese term doesn't carry quite the right meaning of "discerning". (I speak no Chinese.)

  3. maidhc said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 4:20 pm

    "Critical thinking" is a phrase that denotes a particular type of technique of analyzing a question or problem. As Stephan says it's hard to pin down exactly. But generally it has to do with rational analysis and the recognition and avoidance of the various types of logical fallacies ("ad hominem", "appeal to authority", circular definition and the like). It's something that we often think should be taught to students, at least at the secondary level and up.

    I think you could name the concept a lot of different ways. The question is more of getting a consensus on which to use. I'd be OK with "discerning judgment" or something like that.

    It's understandable that the Chinese would not want to be reminded unnecessarily of the Cultural Revolution, so coming up with new terminology is natural. In the same way, we would avoid using terms associated with the Third Reich, even though before that time they might have had unobjectional uses. I know people who are offended by the term "Homeland Security". At least they didn't say "Fatherland".

  4. Victor Mair said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

    From Arif Dirlik:

    How could they do away with pipan with such titles as Critique of Political Economy, or Critique of the Gotha Program? Did you hear that qingnian (youth) has become suspect?

  5. Jim Breen said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

    The equivalent Japanese term for "critical thinking" is 批判的思考, but according the Google n-grams the loanword クリティカル・シンキング (kuritikaru shinkingu) is about twice as common. I don't think there is any controversy about 批判的思考 in Japan, but perhaps the preference for the loanword is indicative of it being regarded as an external concept (you can't push that line too far or you'll end up externalizing much of Japanese society.)

    明辯, more commonly written 明弁, is used in Japan for discernment, etc., but it is quite uncommon, and the major Japanese-English dictionaries don't even include it.

  6. Peter said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 5:47 pm

    I agree with Stephan and Rubrick in that "Discerning Thought" is how I would interpret "Critical Thought".

    Of the two translations, 明辨 is my preference. 明 means bright, and brings to mind enlightenment. One of the meanings of 辨 is "to debate". Enlightened debate, sounds like the basis of good decisions.

    Apart from possible skittish reactions due to its historic use, 批判 to me translates closer to "to decide", "to criticize", or more obliquely as "to rank", as in scoring for ice skating competitions. If something in this vein is desired, 判決式思维 may be a candidate.

    By the way, I prefer 思想 instead of 思维, which sounds less academic, and is better used in the context like philosophy or religion. Keep in mind, though, that this is from someone who had immigrated to an English speaking country over 30 years ago. My Chinese may be "old school".

  7. Jim Breen said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

    When I wrote 明辯 I meant 明辨 (of course). These days 明弁 is used for both.

  8. JS said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 8:56 pm

    Interesting… it seems I don't think of the critical of critical thinking as concerned with criticism (that is, fault-finding) per se but rather with discrimination (the etymology also concerns making judgments rather than passing judgment, though this is less relevant.) As a result, mingbianshi siwei 明辨式思维 struck me as the much more appropriate choice. (Incidentally, sixiang 思想 feels to me like another of those ideologically loaded words best avoided in neutral contexts…)

  9. Wentao said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 9:27 pm


    辩 means "debate"; 辨 is "discern".

    判决式 sounds like "judgmental", which I interpret to be something very different than "critical". Also, 思想 is "thought/idea" and 思维 is closer to "thinking" as a process.

  10. Wentao said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 9:31 pm


    In fact, as Prof. Mair points out in this post, 批判 only acquires its vehement, fault-finding meaning recently from the Communist rhetoric. It was used as a neutral term in, say, 纯粹理性批判. I believe both 批 and 判 relate to making comments and notes (not necessarily negative) in books (as in 眉批, 批注 and 判词), so the English "critique" would be an adapt equivalent.

  11. Wentao said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 9:32 pm

    *apt equivalent

  12. Victor Mair said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 6:29 am

    Just heard an advertisement for an association of independent schools in the Philadelphia area that claim to teach critical thinking. That led me to do a search for: independent schools critical thinking

    I was surprised at some of the things I found:

    Critical Thinking in Schools
    (links to two articles)

    Critical Thinking Is Best Taught Outside the Classroom: Critical thinking is a teachable skill best taught outside the K–12 classroom

    More schools aim to teach students to think critically

    Why critical thinking is overlooked by schools and shunned by students:
    Ben Morse argues that for as long as universities fail to recognise achievements in critical thinking with UCAS points, the subject will continue to be ignored at secondary level

    Critical thinking and teaching through the Socratic method have been around for donkey's years. Why then are they not used and recognised?

    And many, many more….

  13. Stephan Stiller said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 7:08 am

    I would say that it is definitely possible to teach students to become less sensitive to (ie: more comfortable with) disagreement; it's probably a simple process of desensitization. It's also possible to teach people to be better at knowing the limits of their own knowledge and reasoning ability (or ability to generalize), but this requires a bit of confrontation with opposing viewpoints. That said, a lot of people with outlandish beliefs are confronted with disagreement on a daily basis, but they will persist in their own ways nonetheless.

    Even if critical thinking can be taught to some extent (and I can't prove that it can or that it can't), there are definitely people who are just not good at it. Think of your prototypical crank: he is prone to conspiratorial thinking, moving from one crazy theory to another. He might just lack the ability to assess which theories match reality and which ones don't.

    Some things that are not critical thinking (in no particular order): confirmation bias, illusory correlation, apophenia, pareidolia, schizotypy. (I know, these are all "only" Wikipedia articles, but not being an expert, this is as good as I can do for now.)

    With all that stated: Whether critical thinking ability can be taught or not, it would be nice if society recognized its value, tried to measure it, tried to promote it, and tried to give jobs requiring critical thinking to people good at it.

  14. julie lee said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    Prof. Mair's recollection of his walk with Mr. Yin, and how the latter shuddered and trembled at the words geming (revolution), gaige (reform) and yapo (oppression) is very moving.

    Here we are getting into the difference between the connotations and associations of a word and its denotation. I've often thought of the language of math and science as one-dimensional and the language of the humanities (literature, philosophy, history, poli sci, etc) as multi-dimensional, because in the former one word has one meaning, where in the latter one word can have many meanings–its denotation as well as its connotations and associations. I recently asked a very bright teenager in our family who shone in all his school subjects (even baseball, especially as a pitcher) what subject in school he found most difficult. He paused a moment and said: "English." He is Chinese-American, and English is his only language, likewise his parents. I was surprised, as people usually think math or physics are the tough subjects, not English. But on reflection, his reply is understandable. A word in a language (the language of the humanities) can also involve such things as allusion, humor, malice, kindness, sarcasm, irony, weaseling, obfuscation, etc., which one doesn't usually find in the language of math and science. This boy is fourteen and a freshman in high school. I asked him to read Gore Vidal's introduction to a volume of short stories by Tennessee Williams. It seemed to me straightforward English. He knew all the words, at least their denotations, but couldn't understand it. Fortunately, the high schools I know in this area offer very good teaching in English and English literature.

  15. Chris said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 7:22 pm

    The usual translation of "critical thinking" in university courses and textbooks in Hong Kong and, I believe, Taiwan, is "批判思考." The "式" or "性" is considered redundant.

  16. Michael Paton said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

    Thanks to Prof Mair to his insightful reflections on the etymology and sociology of knowledge In China. Socrates certainly taught critical thinking but so did Mozi. It is part of all cultures. They do not survive where it does not hold sway. Thus, discernment would not seem to be a viable substitute.

    Critical thought occurs at the nexus between rationality and emotion. It is similar to scientific thinking, but with an understanding of the philosophy and sociology of science thrown in. So the language of the humanities is as important as that of science, but not more so. But as Prof Mair points out, language is important, but ever changing.

  17. Dave Cragin said,

    April 1, 2014 @ 9:52 pm

    The discomfort with the previous translation was that it could be read to suggest criticism of thought, which is not reflective of critical thinking. It may be an old translation, but it sparks debate including those much too young to worry about 1980s.

    With good critical thinking, one should be able to discern more, so the new translation is apt.

    There is likely a cultural element to this too: American kids are taught critical thinking from an early age, whereas traditional Chinese schooling focuses more on rote memorization. Hence, even though Americans might struggle to define critical thinking, they know it is fundamentally different than rote memorization (my son's 9th grade English class is all about critical thinking). In contrast, when rote memorization is the teaching focus, a word that suggests discernment may provide more of the Western view of critical thinking and this type of teaching.

    While some people are more naturally critical thinkers than others, it can be taught. Most people who complete a PhD end up seeing the world in a much more critical light. My class links critical thinking, causality, and risk assessment. This works well both in the US and China (I teach both places at the graduate level). Causality addresses many of the points Stephan mentioned such as confirmation bias, illusory correlation and others.

    Also to Stephan's point about cranks: Eric Krieg, a former President of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking ( noted that “We all have aspects of our lives about which we’re not skeptical enough.” I agree with this too. People who are good critical thinkers in one area can be very weak in others (including PhDs).

    This said, virtually any faculty I talk with in the US and China want their students to have better critical thinking skills.

  18. Stephan Stiller said,

    April 2, 2014 @ 6:34 am

    @ Dave Cragin

    @ ¶1
    There is ambiguity already in the German title of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (translated into Chinese with 批判 pīpàn: 纯粹理性批判). According to Norbert Fischer (in "Kants Metaphysik der reinen praktischen Vernunft", on pp 111-130 of: "Kants Metaphysik und Religionsphilosophie", Norbert Fischer (ed), Hamburg: Meiner, 2004; 3-7873-1662-0), the title should be understood first as a genitīvus obiectīvus, where pure reason itself is under scrutiny, and only secondarily as a genitīvus subiectīvus, where pure reason is the agent of investigation. (Supposedly it is the other way round for Kant's Critique of Practical Reason.) With that in mind, there is no reason to believe that the "critical" in "critical thinking" has the same meaning as the "Critique" ("Kritik") in "Critique of Pure Reason" ("Kritik der reinen Vernunft"). Then, on the other hand, translating instances of "critique" and cognates in Western languages uniformly (as 批判 pīpàn or whatever) isn't necessarily bad.

    @ ¶2
    I'm wondering what your colleagues think about the translations 严谨的思考(/思维) and 审辩式思维 from the first line of the Wikipedia article.

    @ ¶3
    1. It is tempting to believe that critical thinking is taught in German secondary schooling, but I would say that it is far more accurate to say that vigorous debate and open contradiction with the teacher are encouraged. Some classes would grade students ⅔ on oral participation and ⅓ on tests (and I'd say this goes too far), but I was never, ever taught critical thinking methodology or "technique" (as commenter "maidhc" calls it).
    2. Yes, there is a cultural element in East Asia, but it's also just the fact that in the Chinese educational system (as a relative tendency) those students succeed that are good at memorization as opposed to critical thinking.
    3. I remember kids from school whose performance in the schooling system is best described as "unremarkable-to-poor" but who seem to be good critical thinkers; they were good back then and are still better than others who succeeded in the schooling system. This is why I am so skeptical of education "in critical thinking". One can teach people knowledge ("these are the odds at lottery"), and one can teach them to be more cautious in general, but can one teach them to be better at raw critical thinking? What, in fact, are critical thinking programs teaching? Is it really raw critical thinking ability or something else (such as facts, cautiousness, statistics)?

    @ ¶4
    I think you can teach students to defer more to science and suspend their own prejudices. Still, when faced with evidence clearly favoring one position, some students will make the correct generalization, while others will stick to their original belief. In the middle are those that say "I don't know", but there are two kinds: One kind constitute those that don't know because they're not (as) good at generalizing and then conclude "okay, let's defer to statistical analysis". As they know their own limitations in reasoning, they are doing what's right for them. The other kind are those that categorically refuse to make a judgment "because things aren't black and white and you can argue either way". Here undoubtedly a cultural element factors in, and I'm not happy with it: the world is indeed not black-and-white, but very often we can determine which shade of grey we're dealing with, within some understood margin of error. I'm wondering where in Chinese culture or philosophical thought this (relative) preference for non-committal comes from.

    @ ¶5
    I think that this comes from one not easily knowing the limitations of one's knowledge in a field that is not one's home area. There are cases of high-profile scientists who are described as descending into pseudoscience when they make statements about other fields of science. The key here is to understand that they are "good in" or "weak in" some area because of their knowledge difference. If the quality of their output were solely a function of "critical thinking" as a unitary ability, they surely wouldn't be good at critical thinking per se in one field and bad at critical thinking per se in another.

    @ ¶6
    On a positive note, I think that a lot of it is about the willingness to engage in critical thinking: Does one have a critical attitude? Is one curious? Finally, emotion also plays a role. But teaching people to be less emotional and more rational is hard.

  19. Mr Punch said,

    April 2, 2014 @ 7:17 am

    "Critical" has more than one sense in English, which is of course the problem. Critics of literature and literary critics are two fairly discrete groups. "Critical thinking" is widely inculcated in schools, and in fact college freshmen/women are much better at it than their predecessors 50 years ago. It's all tied up with General Semantics in some way, I believe, though many people don't like to think that.

  20. Dave Cragin said,

    April 2, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

    One of the main ways I teach critical thinking is to help students see they readily make errors in judgment – even in the simplest things.

    A classic example, based on an article in the Wall St J, that works with US and Chinese audiences follows (Stephan could try it with Germans):

    You invest 1000 RMB. (or $1000)
    You get 100% return the 1st year
    You get -50% return the 2nd year

    What is the average return on the investment?

    Everyone is too smart to give the right answer, so they answer Zero.

    Then I ask “What 2 numbers did you average to get zero?”

    Everyone looks confused because they begin to realize they didn’t average 2 numbers. (part of critical thinking is using questions to drive thinking)

    What is the correct answer?
    25% is the average return (100+ -50 /2 = 25).
    0% is the real return.

    In 13 yrs teaching in the US and 6 in China, 2 students have given the right answer. Everyone can average 2 numbers, but they are too smart to do so.

    This example also shows students that averages are not always good representations of the world – an idea most have never considered.
    Often critical thinking is needed to decide whether averages are appropriate.

    This one example makes you view advertisements with the "average returns on investment" in a fundamentally different way – likely for the rest of your life (and this is why it was in the WSJ and now my class).

    This is just one example. After students see multiple examples from different fields, they are much more open to the idea of using critical thinking to help them make better judgments.

  21. Dave Cragin said,

    April 2, 2014 @ 9:50 pm

    To answer one of the initial posts: One definition of Critical thinking is: judgment based on relevant credible information and valid technical reasoning. It goes beyond fact alone and opinion alone (modified from the Foundation for Critical Thinking). It's reasoned judgment.

    Stephan – Thanks for you posts. They give me much to think about. It's not possible to reach every student, but most show improvements in their ability to assess the credibility of information and make judgments about it. Many of their papers result in conclusions the opposite of what they expected or much more nuanced than they had realized.

  22. Stephan Stiller said,

    April 3, 2014 @ 10:36 am

    @ Dave Cragin
    Thanks for your example. I'd normally want to comment on it, but that'll be an interesting discussion for another time. I agree that it is possible to teach students useful techniques and to make them less gullible and more cautious. I am also glad to find out that there are institutions researching this topic, such as the Foundation for Critical Thinking.

  23. Dave Cragin said,

    April 3, 2014 @ 9:46 pm

    To bring the discussion a full loop back to the meaning of critical thinking:

    I was looking thru some information I used to develop my course.

    A 1997 document on critical thinking in teaching noted that "critical" in critical thinking is linked etymologically via Latin to the Greek kritikos – “able to discern” < krinein "to separate" and Gk. kriterion < krites “judge” < krinein (also see American Heritage Dictionary)

    This is remarkably close to Stephan, Rubrick’s & maidhc’s “discerning judgment”.

  24. Stephan Stiller said,

    April 4, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

    Another thought came to mind, and it is this: There are so many things one can question in principle, but one can't question everything – one's mental resources are limited, as is time. I think that teaching critical thinking methodology is easier than fostering an instinct for critical thinking. This includes knowing which things are worth critical inquiry (a lot of things are, but some ought to be given higher priority) as well as having an interest in such inquiry.

  25. Ray Dillinger said,

    April 7, 2014 @ 2:04 am

    I find critical thinking is mainly a two-part skill.

    First, one must be aware of one's own logical process and make sure that it is sound – that one isn't accepting things as reasons which do not in fact imply the things they are reasons for. 'I don't like him' or 'I don't like his conclusions' for example cannot be counted as support for 'Therefore he must be wrong,' because his correctness does not depend on your liking him.

    Second, one must realistically consider the likelihood that each piece of information you're drawing conclusions from is in fact correct, starting with whether it is likely to have been correctly perceived by the witness and whether the interlocutor has a reason to lie about it.

    The first is to consider the possibility that one's own logic is faulty – to be able to criticize oneself. The second is to consider the possibility that one's sources of information are faulty – to be able to criticize the perceptive abilities or honesty of others. And it is these forms of criticism that constitute the basis of the phrase 'Critical Thinking' in English.

    But I would consider these skills fundamental to 'Discerning thought' as well, to name the purpose rather than the method. And the way the phrase is actually used, no one makes a practical distinction between objective and method – moreover if they did I doubt there would be much agreement about what the distinction meant.

    So I certainly wouldn't challenge either translation – I'd consider them both perfectly valid, and the specific phrases 'Critical Thinking' or 'Critical Thought' to be simply a preferred English idiom.

RSS feed for comments on this post