Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Creative and Critical Thinking in the Arts and Sciences: Some Examples of Congruence

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Creative and Critical Thinking in the Arts and Sciences: Some Examples of Congruence

Article excerpt


In his landmark 1959 Rede lecture and subsequent publication, physicist Charles Percy Snow expressed concerns over what he saw as a growing rift between scientific and literary scholarly communities (Snow 1959). In the fifty years since that time, scholars and other commentators have expended a great deal of intellectual capital in the analysis of observed cultural differences between the sciences on one side, and the arts and humanities on the other. While it is important to acknowledge and explore these differences, both perceived and actual, it is also worthwhile to recognize those ideas and practices shared in common between the two cultures.

One such area of common ground is the utilization of creative and critical thinking skills by practitioners within both the arts/humanities and the sciences. Although creative thinking has traditionally been associated with the former and critical thinking with the latter, even a brief examination of the evidence suggests the essential nature of both creative and critical thinking within each of the two cultures. In this paper, I would like to begin with a sampling of modern definitions for both critical and creative thinking, then discuss a few selected examples illustrating how these modes of thought can play complementary roles in traditions of both scientific and humanistic thought.

Some Modern Definitions of Critical Thinking

The foundations of critical thinking may be traced back for thousands of years in Western thought. The modern literature on the subject is quite extensive, and a comprehensive review would be far beyond the scope of this paper. For the purposes of this brief discussion, I would like to cite a few definitions of the term, as presented in selected works from the modern literature.

Proponents of the teaching of critical thinking skills frequently cite twentieth-century American psychologist, philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey as the intellectual founder of the modern movement. Dewey defined his version of the practice, which he termed "reflective thinking," as "active, persistent and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds which support it and the further conclusions to which it tends," and "the kind of thinking that consists in turning a subject over in the mind and giving it serious consideration" (Dewey 1910, 9). Over time, Dewey's general model has proven to be well suited for the analysis of existing ideas, but makes no mention of any process for generating new ones.

In subsequent years, scholars have expanded and developed Dewey's ideas. Edward Glaser, co-author of the highly popular Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson-Glaser), has posited that the process of critical thinking involved three things: "(1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods" (Glaser 1942, 5). In 1987, Philosophy of Education Professor Robert Ennis developed one of the most widely used definitions of critical thinking today, beginning with "reasonable reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to think or do" (Ennis 1987, 10). In the process of refining and elaborating his conception over time, Ennis ultimately proposed that a critical thinker exhibits the following characteristics:

1. Is open-minded and mindful of alternatives

2. Tries to be well-informed

3. Judges well the credibility of sources

4. Identifies conclusions, reasons, and assumptions

5. Judges well the quality of an argument, including the acceptability of its reasons, assumptions, and evidence

6. Can well develop and defend a reasonable position

7. Asks appropriate clarifying questions

8. …

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