The Role of Creative Thinking in Critical Thinking

The Role of Creative Thinking in Critical Thinking

To consider something to be creative requires us to look at it in a new or different way.

By "look at it" I mean to mentally consider it. I believe this hard to do because for most of us, the idea of something being "creative" is tied to a personal judgement about whether the object is good or bad. If the object offends something in our beliefs and values, then we don’t consider it to be creative. If we do not mentally engage with the "Form" of the object as presented to us, then we can never truly understand the "Substance" of it, and we will never potentially benefit from it. In other words:

If we are too quick to reject something because it offends us, then our minds will never grow.

A Dualistic View

The idea of looking at something from a dualistic view of Form and Substance and then judging it as being Truthful (Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, Honest, Correct, Excellent) goes back to the Ancient Greek Philosophers, Socrates and Aristotle. It was these two individuals, and Aristotle in particular, whose ideas about Reasoning and Judgement formed the fundamentalist view of teaching Critical Thinking in higher education, where the rational Analytic Mind is king. Unfortunately, it has also negatively impacted beliefs about whom and what are considered creative.


To help you understand the distinctions of Form and Substance, consider in your mind's eye the image of a horse. Flip the images from a thoroughbred racehorse to a workhorse such as a Clydesdale pulling a wagon of Budweiser beer to a Western Quarter Horse ridden by a cowboy to a Shetland Pony ridden by a child. All these mind's eye images are "Forms" of a horse. The horses look different, but you recognize them as horses.


Now consider a marble statue of a horse. Does it look like a horse? Probably, but it's not a horse because it does not have the "Substance" of a horse. What is the substance? The substance is the definable features including what you can touch, smell, hear, and see. (I left taste out on purpose. I'm not asking you to chew on a horse.) When analyzing what you can see, the horse's features such as eyes, ears, nose, neck, back, legs, coat, etc. are proportionally correct and thus a mental judgement of "horsiness" or essence of a horse is made, but the substance is missing.

Aristotelian Logic

The Artistic Mind & The Analytic Mind

To Aristotle and current day followers of his secular logic:

  • the Artistic mind sees an object's form, and

  • the Analytic mind understands its substance.

To judge whether an object or idea under consideration is good or bad, right or wrong, truthful or excellent in quality needs an analytic process of inquiry and dissection guided by rules and proof sets.

Keep in mind that deeply ingrained beliefs, values, myths, and opinions are also personal rules and proof sets that impact judgement.

Aristotelian logic holds that:

  • Creativity is under the exclusive domain of the Artistic mind, and

  • The worthiness of the creative idea or object is determined by the Analytic mind through a process of evaluation against what is already known.

This means that to be creative, the idea or object must fit the current rules of what is known and believed.

You don't believe that? Look at art, paintings and sculptures, from the Ancient Greek times through the nineteenth century. If it wasn't a realistic depiction of form, it wasn't considered good. Abstract art didn't gain acceptance until the twentieth century and even today art from societies that never shared our core beliefs and values are labeled Primitive Art.

Now consider science and mathematics… are they/were they considered creative? In their time, was the work of Isaac Newton or Galileo Galilei considered creative? In his day, Leonardo da Vinci was considered creative, but not for all his work. Much of his work had to hidden, otherwise he would be labeled a heretic.

If you look up synonyms of the word "Creative" you will find "Artistic" in the list … one more holdover of the Aristotelian view of Reasoning and Judgment as to whether something is creative and good. Let me ask:

  • Was Einstein artistic? Was Bill Gates? What about Steven Jobs?

  • Do you consider their contributions to our society as forms of Art or forms of Creativity?

  • Were their contributions good?

Creative Thinking and the resultant ideas and actions it generates can push the bounds of what a society expects and accepts of its members.

This idea of the judgmental boundaries placed on creative thinking and actions reminds me of a passage by Ralph Waldo Emerson. He wrote …

"The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions."

Where creative thinking and critical thinking intersect …

Pushing boundaries obviously can cause fear. Yet how do you explain Creative Thinking versus Critical Thinking? Do they coexist separately or together?

John Dewey the acclaimed first advocate of Critical Thinking in higher education, and philosopher in the Aristotelian tradition of Reasoning, called Critical Thinking the ability to … "maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry."

Does that speak creativity to you? It sure does to me!

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