Philosophy 22 - 2.2.1 Critical Reflection and Metacognition

To promote good critical thinking, put yourself in a frame of mind that allows critical reflection. Recall from the previous section that rational thinking requires effort and takes longer. However, it will likely result in more accurate thinking and decision-making. As a result, reflective thought can be a valuable tool in correcting cognitive biases. The critical aspect of critical reflection involves a willingness to be skeptical of your own beliefs, your gut reactions, and your intuitions. Additionally, the critical aspect engages in a more analytic approach to the problem or situation you are considering. You should assess the facts, consider the evidence, try to employ logic, and resist the quick, immediate, and likely conclusion you want to draw. By reflecting critically on your own thinking, you can become aware of the natural tendency for your mind to slide into mental shortcuts.

This process of critical reflection is often called metacognition in the literature of pedagogy and psychology. Metacognition means thinking about thinking and involves the kind of self-awareness that engages higher-order thinking skills. Cognition, or the way we typically engage with the world around us, is first-order thinking, while metacognition is higher-order thinking. From a metacognitive frame, we can critically assess our thought process, become skeptical of our gut reactions and intuitions, and reconsider our cognitive tendencies and biases.

To improve metacognition and critical reflection, we need to encourage the kind of self-aware, conscious, and effortful attention that may feel unnatural and may be tiring. Typical activities associated with metacognition include checking, planning, selecting, inferring, self-interrogating, interpreting an ongoing experience, and making judgments about what one does and does not know (Hackner, Dunlosky, and Graesser 1998). By practicing metacognitive behaviors, you are preparing yourself to engage in the kind of rational, abstract thought that will be required for philosophy.

Good study habits, including managing your workspace, giving yourself plenty of time, and working through a checklist, can promote metacognition. When you feel stressed out or pressed for time, you are more likely to make quick decisions that lead to error. Stress and lack of time also discourage critical reflection because they rob your brain of the resources necessary to engage in rational, attention-filled thought. By contrast, when you relax and give yourself time to think through problems, you will be clearer, more thoughtful, and less likely to rush to the first conclusion that leaps to mind. Similarly, background noise, distracting activity, and interruptions will prevent you from paying attention. You can use this checklist to try to encourage metacognition when you study:

  • Check your work.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Select the most useful material.
  • Infer from your past grades to focus on what you need to study.
  • Ask yourself how well you understand the concepts.
  • Check your weaknesses.
  • Assess whether you are following the arguments and claims you are working on.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax