Those who need a good grasp of what we mean by Critical Thinking are strongly encouraged to checkout our special Critical Thinking Resources page (click the link or the one of the tabs above). Two characteristics associated with Critical Thinking mentioned on our page are:
We are thinking critically when we weigh the influences of motives and bias, and recognize our own assumptions, prejudices, biases, or point of view.
We are thinking critically when we recognize the relevance and/or merit of alternative assumptions and perspectives recognize the extent and weight of evidence
People have asked me if critical thinking means being impartial to all points of view. If by “self-awareness” above, we recognize that all opinions are influenced by motives and bias, then we have to consider that all statements are relative and are acceptable, and that we can’t judge anyone. I’ve been in a number of social situations where I’ve heard these phrases all too often:
- “Everyone is entitled to their own truth.”
- “There’s no such thing as good and evil.”
- “Judge not lest you be judged.”
These statements are not the product of critical thinking. Arguably these statements result from a LACK of critical thought. While part of being critical is to thoroughly examine all aspects of any statement, fact, or opinion, the essence of being critical is NOT to withhold judgement, but to render it.
Ayn Rand wrote a powerful essay on how to be rational (which we have included in our Resources page) where she condemns what she refers to as moral agnosticism:
Nothing can corrupt and disintegrate a culture or a man’s character as thoroughly as does the precept of moral agnosticism, the idea that one must never pass moral judgment on others, that one must be morally tolerant of anything, that the good consists of never distinguishing good from evil.
At this point, people might be tempted to think that critical thinking will lead to judgmental and discriminating behaviour. My answer to this is yes, but never in a negative sense. From Rand’s essay:
But to pronounce a moral judgment is an enormous responsibility. To be a judge, one must possess an unimpeachable character; one need not be omniscient or infallible, and it is not an issue of errors of knowledge; one needs an un-breached integrity, that is, the absence of any indulgence in conscious, wilful evil. Just as a judge in a court of law may err, when the evidence is inconclusive, but may not evade the evidence available, nor accept bribes, nor allow any personal feeling, emotion, desire or fear to obstruct his mind’s judgment of the facts of reality—so every rational person must maintain an equally strict and solemn integrity in the courtroom within his own mind, where the responsibility is more awesome than in a public tribunal, because he, the judge, is the only one to know when he has been impeached.
Don’t you find it strange that people associate judgment or the act of judging with a negative connotation? This is a product of society and a natural tendency for many people to be neutral fence-sitters, and abdicate responsibility by not rendering any judgment whatsoever.
Our goal by exercising critical thought is not to strive for absolute neutrality–which doesn’t benefit anyone. We don’t become critical thinkers just for the sake of criticism. Our goal is to strive for the truth, and to reject untruth. Our goal is to strive for the good and to reject the evil. Definitely we understand that this is a very difficult goal to attain, but it is the motivation that should inspire us to continue to question ourselves, our world, our existence. It will always be an ongoing process, and one fraught with mistakes–but that should not scare us into becoming fence-sitters who sanction anything.
To judge means: to evaluate a given concrete by reference to an abstract principle or standard. It is not an easy task; it is not a task that can be performed automatically by one’s feelings, “instincts” or hunches. It is a task that requires the most precise, the most exacting, the most ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought. It is fairly easy to grasp abstract moral principles; it can be very difficult to apply them to a given situation, particularly when it involves the moral character of another person. When one pronounces moral judgment whether in praise or in blame, one must be prepared to answer “Why?” and to prove one’s case—to oneself and to any rational inquirer.
Arguably the moment you sanction anything is the moment you stop thinking. To sanction anything is to lose your value as a person, as part of society, as a living being. So to the statements above, this is how critical thinkers would rephrase them
- “Everyone has a right to seek the truth.”
- “We should seek the good and reject the evil.”
- “Judge, and be prepared to be judged.”
That is the motto of critical thinkers.
See more of Rand’s essay here.