list. Hope this can be helpful.
What is Independent Thinking?
by Sharon Presley, Ph.D., Executive Director, RIT
The Oxford Unabridged Dictionary offers many definitions of
independent, including "not depending on the authority of others"
and "not dependent on others for forming an opinion." Making up your
own mind, in other words. But what does that really mean? Does it
mean forming an opinion without input from others? No, of course
not, otherwise we "reinvent the wheel" every time we make a
decision. We all need relevant information and data on which to base
our opinions. It's the way that we seek information and how we apply
it that makes us dependent or independent thinkers. If we
uncritically accept whatever values or ideas we've been taught by
parents, teachers or church, never questioning these ideas or asking
ourselves if these ideas really make sense, then we are dependent
thinkers (even if the ideas are true!).
If we reject what our parents, teachers or church have taught us
simply because they say something is right, does that make us
independent thinkers? No, that's just what psychologists call
"anti-conformity" rather than non-conformity. Making up your own
mind is an action, not a reaction.
Independent thinking means making sense of the world based on your
own observations and experiences rather than jut depending on the
word of others. It means trusting your own ability to make
judgments, even if they contradict what others say. It means acting
in accordance with these judgments, even if you sometimes make
mistakes. An independent thinkers knows it's psychologically better
to make your own mistakes than someone else's.
Independent thinking is not necessarily rational or critical.
Sometimes you make mistakes; sometimes it's difficult to know if
your beliefs are your own or simply uncritically borrowed. No one
ever said independent thinking is easy.
Critical thinking is a tool that you as an independent thinker can
use. It can help you decide whether your old beliefs are sensible.
It can help you examine new ideas or help you solve problems in
What is Critical Thinking?
There are many reasonable definitions of "critical thinking" but I
like the one offered by Wade and Tavris because it emphasizes the
positive side to critical thinking. Too often people think that
being critical means just tearing some argument down: "Critical
thinking," they write, "is the ability and willingness to assess
claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported
reasons. It is the ability to look for flaws in arguments and resist
claims that have no supporting evidence. Critical thinking, however,
is not merely negative thinking. It also fosters the ability to be
creative and constructive - to generate possible explanations for
findings, think of implications, and apply new knowledge to a broad
range of social and personal problems. You can't really separate
critical thinking from creative thinking, for it's only when you
question what is that you can begin to imagine what can be."
Nor is being an independent thinker and a critical thinker merely
being "open-minded." As Wade and Tavris point out, "Sometimes people
justify mental laziness by proudly telling you that they are
'open-minded.' 'It's good to be open-minded, replies philosopher
Jacob Needleman, 'but not so open that your brains fall out.'"
Wade writes that sometimes her students think that being open-minded
means that every opinion is just as good as every other opinion.
"What comes across to students," she says," is that they shouldn't
defend their own beliefs too passionately or criticize someone
else's beliefs too strongly." When they complain 'it's just my
opinion', she replies "Well, is it a good opinion or a bad opinion?
Is it well-supported by evidence or reasons? The goal is to teach
students how to take a position and defend it strongly and with
passion, and yet fairmindedly."
Commitment and Fair-mindedness
A theory that complements Wade's idea of fair-mindedness, as well as
the notion of critical thinking, is one offered by developmental
psychologist William Perry. He suggests that, as we mature to
adulthood, we go through different stages in our thinking about
beliefs. As young teens, many of us see the world from an
authoritarian perspective. There's only one right answer and it's
the teacher or authority figure's job to give us "the" answer.
[Sadly, many adults never get out of this stage!]
Then, as we mature, we begin to see things in a more relative
perspective, recognizing that different people have different points
of view. At this point, we can take several paths - we can slip into
complete relativism, believing like those students of Wade's, that
any opinion is as good as any other; or we can slip into nihilism,
giving up any belief; or, if we keep growing, we move forward to the
final stage. Here, we recognize the need to make a commitment to
personal beliefs that we have arrived at by careful thinking and a
need to take responsibility for these beliefs. But at this stage, we
also accept and respect the idea that others may hold contradictory
values to which they are equally committed. In other words, we see
the need defend our values and to be fair-minded.