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Critical Thinking

Voltaire once wrote that “Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.” How can we avoid believing absurdities? One answer is the notion of critical thinking. It’s thinking about thinking with the goal of thinking clearly and objectively.  The goal of critical thinking is to improve our thinking.

Critical thinking is also thinking about knowing. How do we know what we know? How do we know that what we know is true? What kind of evidence do we need to conclude that something is true? In many cases, we can’t prove that something is true. In such cases, how do we decide when to act and when to hold back? It’s a messy world out there. How do we make good decisions even in the absence of good information?

Critical thinking is also about culture. Some cultures believe that human inequality is inherent in society and, therefore, desirable. Other cultures believe that inequality is immoral and, therefore, should be minimized, if not eliminated. If people from such different cultures apply the same principles of critical thinking to the same question, will they arrive at the same answer? Should they?

Critical thinking is also about good management. Most companies and government organizations are run by well-educated managers who have good intentions. Yet they often fall into decision-making traps and create full-blown debacles. Studying critical thinking — as the New York Times reports — can make you a better manager.

Critical thinking is also about professions and the quality of professional advice. How do doctors think? It’s a good question and a good book. Do doctors think differently than, say, mathematicians or economists? Do designers think differently than engineers? Why would professions think differently and how do those differences affect the way we see the world?

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