What are some ways to improve Critical Thinking, which is at the heart of philosophy? For example:

  • Kant's fundamental work Critique of Pure Reason advocates critical thinking already by its title.

  • Analytic Philosophy seeks to clarify claims and subject them to a
    rigorous logical analysis.

  • Descartes' and even Husserl's projects can be seen as critical
    practice applied to the very personal realm of one's experience.

Given this, what are some techniques, tips or works that can improve one's critical thinking?

  • This question is not well-suited to our main site. There's two big variables: (1) opinion-based answers and (2) it's a really big topic and we don't know where you're starting from. More narrowly tailored questions could work. – virmaior Sep 1 '15 at 14:50
  • @virmaior I consider the OP a real philosophical question, asking to characterize a certain philosophical attitude. It is not one of these many questions which ask for a certain fact from the history of philosophy. Therefore I suggest to reopen the question and to wait and see how the respondents estimate the scope of the OP. – Jo Wehler Sep 1 '15 at 16:07
  • @JoWehler In that case, it might be worth editing the question before re-opening in order to give it the narrower scope you described and not encourage more general answers. – DTR Sep 1 '15 at 19:14
  • @DTR I do not consider the question of the OP too broad in scope. I suggested to leave the decision to the participants of this blog, whether they want to reply or whether not. – Jo Wehler Sep 1 '15 at 19:23
  • @JoWehler can you add something to constrain the scope to the OPs original wording. As worded, there seem to be an infinite number of possible answers, some grounded empirically, others grounded personally, others ground logically. – virmaior Sep 2 '15 at 1:38

Starting from Kant’s work the first thing to question could be the title of Kant’s book: Is reason the subject which criticizes, or is reason the object which has to be criticized? Or does reason appear in both roles?

In any case, Kant declares that out knowledge has a certain border which should be respected. Metaphysics should not attempt to cross this border. What and where is this border? Why is no knowledge possible beyond the border?

After understanding the type of border one can question the big discussions from metaphysics about cosmological subjects: finiteness versus infiniteness, causality versus freedom, simple versus composed, necessity versus non-necessity of a creator. Kants deals with these subjects in the chapter on antinomies.

One can question Kant’s claim on the existence of statements from physics which are synthetic a priori. I vote for following Kant in his method, in particular in his constructivist epistemology. But I do not vote to follow him in all his results. Instead one should apply Kant’s method of criticism to Kant’s results themselves. Physics has made progress since the time of Newton. And since Hume’s insight into the weakness of inductive conclusions and Popper’s falsificationism every claim to prove general statements in science seem dubious and unjustified.

Neuroscience has started to investigate conscious and unconscious mental processes. Kant’s thesis that our rational decisions start new chains of causality may conform to our unreflected self-experience. But determinism is the only heuristics we know about in the domain of science above the level of microphysics.

Summing up, I consider the study of Kant’s book and critical questioning his results a good training in critical thinking, exemplified at an eminent philosophical work. But I know that reading Kant’s book is a challenge, last but not least because of his style of writing.

  • Will use slideshare to speedup... – Rıfat Erdem Sahin Sep 4 '15 at 8:08
  • @Rifat Erdem Sahin Probably you could also look-up Kant's book and search for the corresponding passage and Kant's original terms :-) – Jo Wehler Sep 4 '15 at 8:43
  • It is valuable, when we do reasoning, to keep reminding ourselves that knowledge has border. And it seems, nowadays, knowledge border becomes narrower, which is frustrating. For example, a formula is developed can only apply to one situation under unique condition. And the formula is not applicable to any other object. – user115350 Jun 22 '16 at 16:51

Critical thinking manifests itself in many ways; it looks for substance and a style commensurate with that substance; in philosophy properly critical thinking will take account of the philosophical tradition: one should not attempt to reinvent the wheel.

Kants critical project on metaphysics was an attempt to secure idealism on a critical footing, taking account of Humes critique of induction and therefore science, as science relies as much on an induction as it does on deduction; it's idealism because it takes account of the subject - the mind; and Kant calls his philosophical method transcendental, which means he considers the neccessary conditions of what is also necessary - the world.

For example, he suggests that the neccessary conditions for space and time; as experienced by the subject is due to the structuring of the mind itself; but this shouldn't be confused for example with theoretical notions of space and time - as theorised by Newton in classical mechanics, and nor in particular that by Einstein in relativistic mechanics

This in fact, is a standard critique, exemplified by Friedman in The Dynamics of Reason; but one can criticise this critique by reflecting that we only ever experience relativistic spacetime locally: as an observer on the non-Euclidean manifold, we see the manifold as flat (ie Euclidean); his frame will be inertial; and this is consistent with the Newtonian framework of absolute space and time that Kant was assuredly familiar with given his own scientific work.

Another form of critical thinking might be called conceptual analysis; where one clarifies the meaning of certain notions by a close reading, this was done arguably first by Socrates, for example what is justice, and so on; but it is also explicit in the analytic tradition.

  • Could we use the technique to ask related questions to progress in your purpose ? – Rıfat Erdem Sahin Sep 4 '15 at 14:55
  • @rifat erdem sahin: you could indeed; but it's isn't appropriate to the Phil.SE; perhaps on meta, if you feel it has an impact on SE. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 5 '15 at 4:02

I'm re-writing this answer because it was down-voted despite being a very clear method of improving critical thought. So I'll try to make it more clear and less woo-sounding.

The basic premise of the answer is that to reach a conclusion to a problem:

  1. A person needs to have knowledge about the problem, and
  2. A person needs to be aware of mental concepts to manipulate that knowledge to reach the conclusion.

So from that it follows that the more knowledge one has about the problem and the more mental concepts one has to manipulate that knowledge the more effective their thinking will be.

The original question seems to focus on the second point: which concepts can we use to improve our ability to think, whereas I'm taking an even higher look at the problem and stating that the more we know about something the easier it will be for us to solve problems in that domain.

To use a concrete example, if someone enters the programming field and tries to start a junior position with no experience, they'll have no ability to solve problems within that field due to lack of knowledge and mental concepts. As they continue to learn knowledge of varying programming languages and mental concepts with which to use those programming languages, the quality of their ability to solve problems begins to improve.

So at the highest level what this means is that if one wants a better ability think critically about something they need to spend more and more time learning about that thing, and how others have approached that thing with different constructs.

Within that, if one wants to start looking into different mental constructs to improve their problem solving process, they can do so, but my answer actually encompasses that process. What I'm suggesting is that to think more critically one needs to actively pursue more mental concepts and knowledge.

  • 1
    While you can think of a sentence like "God has a green nose and pink cheeks.", critical thinking is basically on the correct use of concepts, and for Kant, the restriction on such concepts that have reality, i.e. immanent use (see Prol, Ak. 4:373 fn.). I think "facts known about the subject" would still be in te realm of phenomena and not crtitical thinking at all for Kant. – Philip Klöcking Jun 23 '16 at 19:39
  • Facts are the objects which one manipulates with concepts. If there are no facts about the subject concepts are useless. If there is an infinite number of facts concepts are much more useful. And I guess by your logic if there are more concepts we also have a better ability to reach conclusions. So more facts and more concepts. – Canadian Coder Jun 23 '16 at 19:48

Answer from personal experience so far:

Thinking is critical. Reason is pure. Everything is interconnected. There are multiple perspectives. That someone is more critical, or more pure, is a relative comparison. Wait until all the facts are in, do what you have to do, then stay open to new facts.


Boundary critique (consideration of what's relevant to the matter(s) at hand) was a good place for me. I wish I'd started with consideration of the importance of calling it critical thinking.


As knowledge increases, ability to think critically does too. I considered myself comfortable with systems thinking for many years without codifying boundary critique.

From personal decisions to the treaties between nations, boundary critique can improve the accuracy of our understanding of what all parties consider sacred and what they consider profane.


You're interviewing me for a job. I believe questioning leaders is profane and you believe it's sacred. Boundary critique on both our parts prior to interviewing could help both of us.

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