While thinking is a process of rearranging symbols and perceiving new relationships, critical thinking is on a level somewhat higher. In brief, we can think satisfactorily with sense data which we casually observe or with statements we read or with information that is told to us. But critical thinking is more than this.
By popular usage, “critical” and “criticism” have wrongly come to mean destructive or unfavorable comment. But the true critical thinker may be in agreement, or he may not. The meaning of “critical” is definitely not destructive or unfavorable when it is employed with “thinking.” Critical thinking is applying common sense to problems by using a simple, systematic approach. It signifies that the person who employs it is interested in getting at the truth. This is important for obvious reasons:
Correct solutions to problems cannot be found solely by getting the random impressions of people through popular polls, because too many people have inaccurate senses, imperfect interpretations of their sense data, warped assumptions, and/or an unwillingness to change those assumptions that should be changed even in the face of overpowering evidence. Furthermore, getting an accurate appraisal of the true state of affairs, which opinion polls cannot always do, is a very difficult and time-consuming task, yet it must be done to guide the course of human activity in a constructive way through the years. In addition, a person who is interested in getting at the foundations of truth is more likely to succeed, in the long run, because he or she is actually operating in harmony with nature, not against it; and those who become “good at” critical thinking see long-range values of their method of solving problems.
Rapidly analyzing a new situation does not require that all the steps given below must be separately followed, but the general procedure in critical thinking is methodical.