Critical thinking is much-prized nowadays. We are encouraged to think carefully about things, rather than just to take them on faith. When someone claims to know something, critical thinkers immediately ask for data. If a marketing executive claims that the new product packaging is superior, she should expect to be asked whether she sold more units, or reduced costs. Critical thinkers look for gaps in reasoning. Perhaps improved sales were not the result of better packaging, but were caused by a news story that increased demand for the product. Was there a controlled experiment?
According to the The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking — really, there is such a thing! — critical thinking is the “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” It takes a critical thinker to parse that definition, but, to simplify, critical thinkers are more like the logical Mr. Spock and less like the intuitive and emotional Dr. McCoy.
When making important decisions, or analyzing situations, critical thinking is generally a good thing. But what happens when critical thinking becomes nothing more than criticism?