Critical thinking is the “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”  Without the skill or ability to think critically, we stay in, or revert to, ego-centric and socio-centric thinking.  Considering the rights and needs of others does not come naturally.  It is something that must be taught.  Likewise, we do not naturally appreciate the point of view of others and we often privilege our own points of view.

The article below is one of the best I have found in my years in the intercultural field.  It identifies the benefits and steps to achieving critical thinking.  We all operate in and out of ego and socio-centric thinking at times.  The key is to recognize it in ourselves and to work toward thinking critically.

 Why critical thinking?

Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But most of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

A Definition:
Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.

The Result:
A well cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpreted it effectively;
  • comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It requires rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcoming our native egocentrism and socio-centrism.

The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, by Richard Paul

The Problem of Egocentric Thinking

Egocentric thinking results from the unfortunate fact that humans do not naturally consider the rights and needs of others. We do not naturally appreciate the point of view of others nor the limitations in our own point of view. We become explicitly aware of our egocentric thinking only if trained to do so. We do not naturally recognize our egocentric assumptions, the egocentric way we use information, the egocentric way we interpret data, the source of our egocentric concepts and ideas, the implications of our egocentric thought. We do not naturally recognize our self-serving perspective.

As humans we live in the unrealistic but confident sense that we have fundamentally figured out the way things actually are, and that we have done this objectively. We naturally believe in our intuitive perceptions – however inaccurate. Instead of using intellectual standards and thinking, we often use self-centered psychological standards to determine what to believe and what to reject. Here are the most commonly used psychological standards in human thinking.

“IT’S TRUE BECAUSE I BELIEVE IT.” Innate egocentrism: I assume that what I believe is true even though I have never questions the basis for many of my beliefs.

“IT’S TRUE BECAUSE WE BELIEVE IT.” Innate sociocentrism: I assume that the dominant beliefs of the groups to which I belong are true even though I have never questions the basis for those beliefs.

“IT’S TRUE BECAUSE I WANT TO BELIEVE IT.” Innate wish fulfillment: I believe in whatever puts me (or the groups to which I belong) in a positive light. I believe what “feels good,” what does not require me to change my thinking in any significant way, does not require me to admit I have been wrong.

“IT’S TRUE BECAUSE I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED IT.” Innate self-validation: I have a strong desire to maintain beliefs that I have long held, even though I have not seriously considered the extent to which those beliefs are justified by the evidence.

“IT’S TRUE BECAUSE IT IS IN MY SELFISH INTEREST TO BELIEVE IT.” Innate selfishness: I believe whatever justifies my getting more power, money, or personal advantage even though these beliefs are not grounded in sound reasoning or evidence.

© 2008 Foundation for Critical Thinking Press,

 The Problem of Sociocentric Thinking

Most people do not understand the degree to which they have uncritically internalized the dominant prejudices of their society or culture. Sociologists and anthropologists identify this as the state of being “culture bound.” This phenomenon is caused by sociocentric thinking, which includes:

  • The uncritical tendency to place one’s culture, nation, religion above all others.
  • The uncritical tendency to select self-serving positive descriptions of ourselves and negative descriptions of those who think differently from us.
  • The uncritical tendency to internalize group norms and beliefs, take on group identities, and act as we are suspected to act – without the least sense that what we are doing might reasonably be questioned.
  • The tendency to blindly conform to group restrictions (many of which are arbitrary or coercive).
  • The failure to think beyond the traditional prejudices of one’s culture.
  • The failure to study and internalize the insights of other cultures (improving thereby the breadth and depth of one’s thinking).
  • The failure to distinguish universal ethics from relativistic cultural requirements and taboos.
  • The failure to realize that mass media in every culture shapes the news from the point of view of that culture.
  • The failure to think historically and anthropologically (and hence to be trapped in current ways of thinking).
  • The failure to see sociocentric thinking as a significant impediment to intellectual development.

Sociocentric thinking is a hallmark of an uncritical society. It can be diminished only when replaced by cross-cultural, fairminded thinking – critical thinking in the strong sense.

The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, by Richard Paul

Envisioning Critical Societies

The critical habit of thought, if unusual in society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators… They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, on influenced by the emphasis or confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens.

-William Graham Sumner, 1906

Humans have the capacity to be rational and fair. But this capacity must be developed. It will be significantly developed only if critical societies emerge. Critical societies will develop only to the extent that:

  • Critical thinking is viewed as a central to living a reasonable and fairminded life.
  • Critical thinking is routinely taught; consistently fostered.
  • The problematics of thinking are an abiding concern.
  • Closed-mindedness is systematically discouraged: open-mindedness systematically encouraged.
  • Intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, confidence in reason, and intellectual courage are social values.
  • Egocentric and sociocentric thinking are recognized as a bane in social life.
  • Children are routinely taught that the rights and needs of others are equal to their own.
  • A multi-cultural world view is fostered.
  • People are encouraged to think for themselves and discouraged from uncritically accepting the thinking or behavior of others.
  • People routinely study and diminished irrational thought.
  • People internalized universal intellectual standards.

If we want critical societies we must create them.

© 2008 Foundation for Critical Thinking Press,

Pin It on Pinterest