Open Mindedness In Critical Thinking

“Critical thinking is the ability to apply reasoning and logic to new or unfamiliar ideas, opinions, and situations. Thinking critically involves seeing things in an open-minded way and examining an idea or concept from as many angles as possible. This important skill allows people to look past their own views of the world and to better understand the opinions of others.”

The following description of critical thinking  from the wise geek website is very clear and straightforward. Critical thinking is an essential approach to creative problem-solving, similar to what some call systems thinking. An observation from the comments area worth pondering: “Doesn’t it seem like the people in power, whether it be in business or government, often have the worst critical thinking skills?”

“Critical thinking is the ability to apply reasoning and logic to new or unfamiliar ideas, opinions, and situations. Thinking critically involves seeing things in an open-minded way and examining an idea or concept from as many angles as possible. This important skill allows people to look past their own views of the world and to better understand the opinions of others. It is often used in debates, to form more cogent and well-rounded arguments, and in science.

Open-Minded Approach

The ability to think critically is essential, as it creates new possibilities in problem solving. Being “open-minded” is a large part of critical thinking, allowing a person to not only seek out all possible answers to a problem, but to also accept an answer that is different from what was originally expected. Open-minded thinking requires that a person does not assume that his or her way of approaching a situation is always best, or even right. A scientist, for example, must be open to the idea that the results of an experiment will not be what is expected; such results, though challenging, often lead to tremendous and meaningful discoveries.

Rational Considerations

Another aspect of critical thinking is the ability to approach a problem or situation rationally. Rationality requires analyzing all known information, and making judgments or analyses based on fact or evidence, rather than opinion or emotion. An honest approach to reasoning requires a thinker to acknowledge personal goals, motives, and emotions that might color his or her opinions or thought processes. Rational thought involves identifying and eliminating prejudices, so that someone can have a fresh and objective approach to a problem.


Critical thinking often relies on the ability to view the world in a way that does not focus on the self. Empathizing with a person usually involves a thinker trying to put himself or herself in the place of someone else. This is often done by students of history, for example, in an attempt to see the world as someone would have while living in an ancient civilization or during a violent conflict. Communication skills, teamwork, and cooperation are typically improved through empathy, which makes it valuable in many professional fields.

How to Apply It

Effective critical thinking often begins with a thinker analyzing what he or she knows about a subject, with extra effort made to recognize what he or she does not know about it. This forms an initial knowledge base for consideration. The thinker can then look at what research has been done on the subject, and identify what he or she can learn simply by looking over such work. This approach is often used in science, as it allows a scientist to determine what people do not yet know or understand, and then look for ways to discover this information through experimentation.

When someone applies this approach to his or her own life, he or she often places more emphasis on finding prejudices and preconceived notions he or she holds. This lets the thinker strive to eliminate or avoid these opinions, to come to a more honest or objective view of an issue. Someone struggling with a fear of heights, for example, might strive to determine the cause of this fear in a rational way. By doing so, he or she might be better able to deal with the root cause directly and avoid emotional responses that could prevent self-improvement.

Common Uses

Critical thinking is used in many situations. Students often use it to evaluate the plot of a book or a character’s motives in a literature class. Members of a debate team frequently think critically about a subject to form a strong argument and anticipate points their competitors might make. Diets using common sense, in which the focus is on how weight is gained and lost through calories and exercise, can require that the dieter thinks critically about his or her lifestyle. Many people use open-mindedness and empathy in their professional lives, allowing them to work better with others and complete tasks more effectively.

Teaching This Skill

School systems in the US usually teach critical thinking from elementary school up through college-level courses. Teachers encourage students to learn through writing assignments and problem solving. For example, younger students might be asked how their lives would be different if they were born in another country or in a different time period. Such assignments push students to let go of what they know about the world around them, to better consider other perspectives and apply new ideas to their own lives.”

Text source: Wise Geek: What is Critical Thinking  Image: source

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About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.

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Everybody thinks it’s good to be open-minded. But we don’t often think critically about just what it means to be open-minded. We might think that being open-minded means allowing that others’ opinions might be true and that your own opinions might be false. Certainly open-mindedness involves a kind of intellectual humility, but I’m not sure this view gets it quite right. For this view has it that people who actually know what they are talking about aren’t open-minded. In fact, this view of open-mindedness is often invoked as a kind of fallacious objection to genuine expertise. For instance, evolutionary biologists are sometimes accused of not being very open-minded because they won’t grant much credence to creationism or intelligent design or because they are firmly opposed to these views being taught in science classes. More generally, the problem is this: suppose that on some matter the available evidence and good argument clearly and compellingly supports one view, and the arguments for opposing views are seriously flawed. According to our proposed view of open-mindedness, the people who have carefully thought through the available evidence and argument won’t be open-minded. They’ve reached a firm conclusion and rejected opposing views, and this is all it takes to have a closed mind on the account we gave above. But these are the experts, the people who most know what they are talking about. If they aren’t open-minded, then perhaps open-mindedness isn’t such a great thing. Or perhaps we’ve been considering a mistaken view of open-mindedness.

If open-mindedness is an intellectual virtue, a quality that directs us towards knowledge, then we need a way to understand what open-mindedness is that doesn’t make people who know close-minded. Here’s a suggestion. Open-mindedness isn’t really about beliefs; it’s about our reasons for holding them. The open-minded person is the person who is open to clarifying and evaluating arguments and evidence. When these clearly favor a particular view, then firm belief in that view is well justified. The open-minded person doesn’t shut the door to new argument on the matter. But firm belief is justified to the degree that it is supported by fair evaluation of the reasons and evidence and remains so unless there are good ground to reassess the reasons and arguments. The close-minded person is the person who won’t consider and fairly address opposing argument.

So the person who understands the strength of the scientific case for evolution by natural selection and who has also considered the arguments for creationism or intelligent design and found the flaws in these is justified in firmly holding evolution by natural selection to be true and in rejecting opposing theories as not credible. Doing so is not opposed to being open-minded. The difference between being open-minded and close-minded isn’t a question of how firmly belief is held or how decisively opposing views are rejected. It has to do with how belief is held. The open-minded person’s belief is supported through a commitment to critical thinking. The close-minded person’s belief is a matter of dogmatic conviction where reason only enters for the purpose of rationalizing foregone conclusions.

Thinking of open-mindedness in terms of being open to reason looks much better. There is a practical downside, I suppose. Being open-minded requires critical thinking. So, it might not be as easy as we’d like to think.

Russ Payne

November 4, 2013



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