The critical thinking tradition is a long one and is still developing. However, it is not too difficult to summarise the ideas contained in the tradition, which we have just explained. It is clear that critical thinking is contrasted with unreflective thinking he kind of thinking which occurs when someone jumps to a conclusion, or accepts some evidence, claim or decision at face value, without really thinking about it.

Critical thinking

It is a skilful activity, which may be done more or less well, and good critical thinking will meet various intellectual standards, like those of clarity, relevance, adequacy, coherence and so on. Critical thinking clearly requires the interpretation and evaluation of observations, communications and other sources of information. It also requires skill in thinking about assumptions, in asking pertinent questions, in drawing out implications that is to say, in reasoning and arguing issues through.

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Furthermore, the critical thinker believes that there are many situations in which the best way to decide what to believe or do is to employ this kind of reasoned and reflective thinking and thus tends to use these methods whenever they are appropriate. Does this attitude imply that there is just one correct way to think about any given problem? No. But it does imply that most of us could
do it better than we do (that is, more skilfully/reasonably/rationally), if we asked the right questions.

This tradition is all about improving our own thinking by considering how we think in various contexts now, seeing a better model and trying to move our own practice towards that better model. It does not imply that there is just one correct way of thinking – which we should try to emulate but that there are better ways of thinking than we often exhibit and that our poor thinking can be at least partially remedied by suitable practice.


Country music legend Johnny Cash, as an old man, recorded a remarkable cover of the Nine Inch Nails rock song, “Hurt.” The lyrics are the same, but the voice is entirely different; and that change in voice produces a deep alteration in the meaning of the song. Different meanings emerge from the voice of an older man, from the voice of a country musician, and from a voice that is slower, gentler, sadder, a bit frailer and more experienced, though more exhausted, too.

Think about the different meanings the US national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” conveyed when Jimi Hendrix played it. Parents and teachers can often be overheard admonishing children to use their “indoor voices,” reminding us not only that certain kinds of voice are appropriate and inappropriate in different places, times, and circumstances but also reminding us who is the boss.

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In short, voice matters. It obviously matters in these contexts, but it matters in contexts of critical thinking, too, though voice as an important element of critical thinking is often under-appreciated. Vocalized words, of course, can be distinguished from written words in the sense in which the spoken voice is different from writing. So, it can be important to consider whether a given text was first spoken, sung, or written to understand the meanings it has generated and acquired.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech comes across rather differently, and with much less force, when read on paper rather than spoken aloud. Song lyrics often come across differently when simply read, as do poems. Spoken voices also inflect meanings differently in recordings as opposed to live performances, as any concert-goer will tell you. Think about how differently a marriage proposal might come off when done in person as compared to left on a phone message or delivered as an SMS text or by a third party