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What is Non-Critical Thinking?

What is Non-Critical Thinking?

Think about the last time you had to take a stand on an important issue, or make a decision while not knowing all of the facts. How did you arrive at your position or choice? What was your thought process, and why do you believe you were right?

We all hope our opinions and choices are correct. However, sometimes our ideas are based on feelings or logical fallacies, rather than facts and solid reasoning—in other words, non-critical thinking.

Non-critical thinking can lead to poor choices, self-limiting beliefs, and (to be blunt) gullibility. You’ll be vulnerable to misinformation and manipulation, because you can’t think for yourself. Let’s look at what is non-critical thinking versus, and how you can break free from it.

Curiosity vs closed-mindedness

Critical thinkers recognize that an issue may be more complex than what it seems, and that there are different ways to look at it. That’s why they always gather facts and check the authenticity and authority of the source. They listen to other views, and fairly evaluate each side.

Non-critical thinkers choose a side, and select facts that support it. They may talk to others, but only to engage in debate (“proving I am right”) than dialogue (“listening, learning, and collaborating”).

That’s why the first step to critical thinking is to suspend judgment: don’t believe everything you’re told, or even everything you feel. Before you react, research.

Reasoning vs emotions

The Foundation of Critical Thinking says that critical thinking is an intellectual disciplined process that involves different reasoning skills, such as:

  • Articulating the questions or issue in a clear way
  • Gathering information by observation, experience, reflection, communication, or research
  • Analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating the information
  • Making a choice based on facts, or insight arrived from weighing different pros and cons

In contrast, non-critical thinking is based on emotions, peer or social pressure, tradition. When asked for reasons for their stand, they may say: “It’s always been this way!” or “This is what my heart tells me.”

They may even become emotional when they are asked to explain their side, i.e, becoming defensive or aggressive.

Being aware vs being confined by biases

Everyone has biases, and it is impossible to be 100% objective. We are influenced by our cultural and religious perspectives, personal values, childhood experiences, and the limitations of our knowledge.

Critical thinkers are aware of these biases. Thus, they are always reflecting: “Am I resisting a certain idea? What perspectives am I missing? What are motives for believing this to be true?” So even if they can’t escape all their biases, they can question them and make a rational choice.

Non-critical thinkers are not even aware of their biases, and actually think what they initially believe is a universal truth. This attitude prevents them from asking questions and accepting other viewpoints.

That is why the question “What is non-critical thinking?” can actually be a breakthrough. Once you’re aware that there may be flaws or limitations in your thinking process, you are already opening your mind to new possibilities.

Sound reasoning vs logical fallacies

Critical thinkers strive for clarity, accuracy, and fairness. They want to make sure that their ideas are based on facts and sound arguments.

Non-critical thinkers present arguments, but these may be riddled with logical fallacies. Examples of common fallacies are:

  • Ad hominem. Personal attacks against the other person
  • Appeal to force. Using threats, or inciting fear, to make the other person agree
  • Genetic fallacy. Saying something is true (or false) because of its origin
  • Appeal to tradition. Accepting a belief or behavior because people have always believed it or done it
  • Argumentum ad Populum. Appeal to popular opinion, usually citing trends, influential people, or universal values such as patriotism
  • Appeal to emotion. Inciting pity, sympathy, outrage, or other strong emotions
  • Begging the question.  Using claims or facts that have yet to be proven
  • Hasty generalization. Saying one thing is true based on limited examples or evidence
  • False cause. Claiming a cause-effect relationship that has not yet been proven
  • Straw man. Disproving an argument by exaggerating or oversimplifying it
  • Slippery slope. Saying if one thing will happen, the second or third thing will inevitably follow

There are many other logical fallacies that can emerge from non-critical thinking. Study them further in order to protect yourself from misinformation, or guard against fallacies in your own reasoning process.

What is the effect of non-critical thinking on my life?

The question ‘What is non-critical thinking?” is very important, because faulty reasoning abilities can have a huge impact on the rest of your life.

It can cause you to make dangerous errors in judgment—at work, and in your personal choices. It can lead to missed opportunities and misunderstandings. It can even hold back your career, because critical thinking is essential in management and leadership roles.

Rethink the way you think, and start learning how to develop your critical thinking skills.

Risks Associated with Weak Critical Thinkers

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Nonpartisan Education Review / Essays: Volume 12, Number 2

Critical Thinking: Not all that critical

Bruce Dietrick Price*

Critical Thinking, unless you are a snarling pit bull of irrationality, is an infinitely glorious thing. Well, that’s what our public schools are telling kids and parents. Critical Thinking is said to be synonymous with fairness, impartiality, science, logic, maturity, rationality, independence, enlightenment, and Being Like Al (Einstein).

If you read some of the literature on Critical Thinking, you will have the sense that you are being welcomed into a new religion. All pains and problems will be vanquished by this new and unique faith called Critical Thinking. In truth, that is a fairly accurate description of this highly popular and much promoted pedagogy.

Now, let’s start looking at Critical Thinking as if we, in fact, are critical thinkers.

The first thing that would need to be stated is that Critical Thinking, after all is said and done, in merely endorsing the age-old values of being open-minded and willing to consider all the evidence. Pretty much, that’s it.

But nobody disputes those virtues. So what are all the high-level educators going on about? What is all this hype and hoopla? When supposedly smart, enlightened people carry on as if they are tipsy on something, you should be on guard. Real critical thinking would dictate that, wouldn’t it?

Critical Thinking basically says to be suspicious of everything, except the fad known as Critical Thinking. It is perhaps best understood as a new and watered-down version of an earlier fad called Deconstruction. That was just a fancy word for debunking. Basically, Deconstruction told college students to dismantle everything, everything except Deconstruction.

Yes, that’s what we’ve got here, another oh-so-clever and highly selective way to encourage students to épatez les bourgeoisie and to tell Mom and Dad to take a hike.

After you strip away all the high-minded rhetoric, Critical Thinking is typically used to tell students that they should not trust conventional wisdom, tradition, religion, parents, and all that irrelevant, old-fashioned stuff.

Critical Thinking, somewhat surprisingly, also turns out to be highly contemptuous of facts and knowledge. The formulation in public schools goes like this: children must learn how to think, not what to think. WHAT is, of course, all the academic content and scholarly knowledge that schools used to teach.

Ahhh, now you may be having a glimmer of where this thing leads. “What” is out, excluded, delegitimized. Students exist in a perpetual state of “how.” They evaluate information, they juggle information, they do just about every imaginable thing with information except know it, that is, make it their own.

Critical Thinking is very clear on this matter. Most facts are obsolete, they’re in a state of flux, or they are readily available on the Internet. It all adds up to the same thing: students need not bother knowing any facts. You discuss them. You don’t know them.

To the Education Establishment, knowledge is the perennial enemy for almost a century. To fight it, our top educators come up with one sophistry after another. Critical Thinking is the latest and perhaps slickest. Who will dare to say they are against Critical Thinking?

Critical Thinking, we are told, is mankind’s highest activity. Critical Thinkers , it’s repeated again and again, are a new and higher breed . They exist in a rarefied, perpetual state of HOW. They don’t bother with WHAT.

Problem is, basic facts such as “Paris is the capital of France” are neither obsolete nor in the process of change. They are old reliables and need to be acquired. Facts are things you have in your head so you can discuss the evening news, European politics, or history. Critical Thinking says hell no to all that.  

Critical Thinking is another of those alleged breakthroughs to enlightenment that sweep through our schools every few years. Textbooks must be thrown out, teachers must forget what they know, education schools must be revamped, classrooms must be rearranged and restructured. Everything starts over in Year Zero, and everyone must serve the all-devouring needs of Critical Thinking. First step: don’t bother teaching anything.

Critical Thinking, which claims to increase a child’s intellectual sophistication, is actually used to keep the child in a state of perpetual ignorance and shallowness. They play with knowledge. They don’t master it or acquire it.

Let’s take the simplest examples. You want to learn to play the piano, to fly a plane, or to be a bartender. In every case, you have to start acquiring the facts and skills that go with these jobs. You can’t sit around talking about the job in some abstract realm, or discussing how it must feel to be a pianist or a bartender.

The point is , you have to get your hands dirty in the actual knowledge of the world, of the field, of the discipline. It’s only when you know a lot of basic information that you could actually engage in genuine critical thinking.

Take something as complex as a war or as simple as a poem. It’s only when you know lots of specifics about several wars or a group of poems that you can start making smart comments. You can compare and contrast. You can rank. You can play armchair general or be a literary critic. At this point you are actually engaged in real critical thinking. But Critical Thinking forecloses this possibility because students are told not to learn the basic facts.

Do you think I exaggerate? Consider what a schoolteacher wrote of his experiences in California’s public schools:          

"It seemed that memorization of the times tables damaged a child's ability to do critical thinking in math, that, for older kids, concepts like measuring one's distance from a celestial object using parallax should never be taught, rather children should 'discover' or 'construct' it for themselves (an approach called 'constructivism'), again to preserve 'critical thinking skills'....

“I was directed in no uncertain terms to immediately cease all instruction in phonics, spelling and grammar, as these would -- you guessed it -- destroy all hope of reading with critical thinking skills.”

That’s what I meant by the all-devouring needs of Critical Thinking. Note that anything the child actually learns or knows will get in the way of the true goal, Critical Thinking. Students must essentially be ignorant primitives, as they struggle to reinvent language and math for themselves. (Here you see that Critical Thinking aligns perfectly with the other big fad, Constructivism.)

Here’s some puffery from a site devoted to the techniques of Critical Thinking:

“Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in ‘authority’ to have sound knowledge and insight. He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief."

For me, that’s priceless. These poor sophists, unable to think critically, don’t see that their pretext for Critical Thinking should first be applied to themselves. Are they not persons with power and high position who may well be deeply confused and irrational? Have they really asked the deeper questions and probed profoundly?

No. That’s why they keep coming up with cynical education ideas that sabotage education.

Sure, I’m prejudiced. But I suspect this essay is a better example of critical thinking than Critical Thinking is.

You don't need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. The Education Establishment wants to create content-light, always politically correct, almost fact-free schools. Then they'll jury-rig "alternative assessment techniques" that give nearly every student a high grade. They'll do that with big, impressive-sounding but ultimately not very substantial "projects." Parents will be told that their children are learning the "critical thinking skills" vital for "success in the 21st century." For example, what should students do if they see pollution in a nearby lake? Report it the proper authorities. Use the internet to find out more about the factory on this lake. Start a pollution awareness campaign. Support the Green candidate in the next election. That's good "critical thinking," so the students get an A. Which is not to say the students are educated.

The Bigger Picture

The greatest enemy of real critical thinking has not been mentioned. Our public schools have embraced an ethos of imprecision. Close answers count. Sometimes correct answers don't count (students are graded on explaining the process). In many situations, students are encouraged to guess. Correct grammar and spelling are not considered important. Throughout the system, under one pretext or another, FUZZINESS is the name of the game. Fuzzy anything is the opposite of critical anything. That the same people who accept all this fuzziness would turn around and embrace genuine critical thinking seems unlikely. (On the contrary, we would anticipate their coming up with a half-hearted, ultimately fake attempt.) QED: if you want students to be capable of critical thinking, we would first throw out the sloppy-fuzzy-mushy mentality. From the earliest grades, children would learn to be precise and to enjoy this. That's the normal approach, since the beginning of history, in every good school.    


Notes from the Real World

“I'm a 7th grade teacher in Los Angeles, and we are constantly under pressure to teach the kids 'not what to think but how to think.' Sure, but they need some material to start with, and most of them right now have nothing in their heads but Lady Gaga, Family Guy, and YouTube videos of kids falling off skateboards or beating each other up.“

The pretentiousness is a giveaway

From the web:

“The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric....

“Socrates set the agenda for the tradition of critical thinking, namely, to reflectively question common beliefs and explanations, carefully distinguishing those beliefs that are reasonable and logical from those which — however appealing they may be to our native egocentrism, however much they serve our vested interests, however comfortable or comforting they may be — lack adequate evidence or rational foundation to warrant our belief."

No logic, no reasoning

It seems to me that if you really wanted to teach someone critical thinking, the first thing you would do is to teach them basic logic and elementary reasoning. You would read Aesop’s fables. You would have fun with riddles. You would discuss mazes, optical illusions, paradoxes, the simplest syllogisms. The most elementary stuff could be used to warm up these young minds and get them used to the idea that there is a better way to go from A to B. Little by little, you could introduce the idea of the hypothesis, the thought experiment, the scientific method, the concept of evidence, and the notion of proof.

Another fruitful area is maxims and clichés, albeit often sneered at. Why does a rolling stone gather no moss? What does it mean to say a stitch in time saves nine? Or, that a fool and his money are soon parted? This stuff is the collected wisdom of the human race. It is philosophy being born.  

Critical Thinking, as hailed in public schools, does not bother with any of this material, much of which is totally fascinating to people of all ages. Critical Thinking, as hailed in public schools, is much more shallow and superficial. It’s sort of a checklist for polite discussion and good study practices.

Consider these injunctions from a Critical Thinking website:

“Students should be routinely called upon to: Summarize or put into their own words what the teacher or another student has said. Relate the issue or content to their own knowledge and experience. Give examples to clarify or support what they have said. Make connections between related concepts. Restate the instructions or assignment in their own words. State the question at issue. Describe to what extent their point of view on the issue is different from or similar to the point of view of the instructor, other students, the author, etc. Take a few minutes to write down any of the above. Write down the most pressing question on their mind at this point. The instructor then uses the above tactics to help students reason through the questions. Discuss any of the above with a partner and then participate in a group discussion facilitated by the instructor."

This is all good stuff but sort of basic, wouldn’t you say? You could keep kids busy all day, all week, all year, talking about some story in the newspaper, carefully following these guidelines, and at the end, they wouldn’t necessarily know anything more about the world than at the beginning.

That, as well as I can say it, is my main grievance against so-called Critical Thinking. It seems to be not a way to acquire knowledge but a substitute for acquiring knowledge.

Critical Thinking , by Moore and Parker

This is one of many books with similar titles competing for the college market. This is a vast tome with almost 500 pages, and the first thing a real critical thinker would think is: OVERKILL.

Here are the two most relevant paragraphs from my review on Amazon:

“My first thought is that anyone smart enough to grasp all this commentary does not need this book. The people who do need this book first need a 40-page summary of the main points. (This book practices what Reform Math calls "spiraling," a vicious little idea that says if you cover something 18 times from different directions, at the end you will finally have mastered it. No, often you're just more confused than ever.)

“My second thought is that I want to know what this book is displacing--what course, what foreign language, what body of knowledge. I have grown to distrust the motives behind so-called 'critical thinking.' In lower grades, kids are told to think deeply about things they know nothing about. In college, a scatter-shot course like this steers students away from learning some more solid subject, such as history, philosophy, science, or anthropology. The smartest thing in the book is on page 11: 'having a reservoir of information in your head helps to avoid being misled.' Well, that's my big theme. Isn't it obvious that spending time on this course will guarantee that no such reservoir is ever accumulated?”

I see that I suggested a “40-page summary.” Truth is , that’s still way too much. Even on the college level, it would be better to have 20 pages of really distilled wisdom. Younger kids, on the first pass, should start with five pages. The essence of real critical thinking is to cut to the heart and core of things, to immediately put your finger on the word or phrase that is unclear or untrue. But this phony Critical Thinking is more like people discussing a chef's skill as they enjoy a good meal. Oh, they're conspicuously busy and talkative but probably at the end no better at cooking than at the start.

Ideas for the classroom

1) LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND STATISTICS. The way our media use polls is an endless assault on truth, justice, and common sense. Polls are rigged ("weighted") to get certain results, and then the desired result is turned into a media story. If you want a poll to show support for your candidate, go to neighborhoods that tend to have the sort of people who support him/her. Such shenanigans should be subjected to real critical thinking. (This device is called messing with the sampling pool. Not explaining it to students is called dumbing down.)

2) WHAT DO THE RESULTS EVEN MEAN?   We've seen it a hundred times. 40% support the president's handling of X, perhaps a war, while 60% DISAPPROVE, which is trumpeted. Let's break it down. What do the 60% disapprove of?? Typically, a big group will be mad because the president is doing TOO MUCH, but another big group might be mad because the president is NOT DOING ENOUGH. They might almost cancel each other out, but the media will make it seem that 60% are AGAINST X. Which is just a damned lie. You can often manipulate the results you get by the questions you ask, and how you choose to interpret the answers that people give. (This is called rigging the poll.)

3) WHAT'S UP WITH THAT? For several years, the president said he didn't have the document that most people called a birth certificate (it lists height, weight, a doctor, etc.), and even if it was in Hawaii somewhere, state laws prevented his getting it. But most Americans have obtained copies of their birth certificate, easily, routinely. The president has travelled a great deal for decades; he must have a passport--how did he get that without a birth certificate? A real media would ask. Then in 2011, he magically presented the document that he said didn't exist. Why would he stall for three years and hurt himself in the polls if he had it all along? Any teacher claiming to teach critical thinking would want to discuss the president's odd cover stories. Were there any such teachers? My impression is that Critical Thinking is normally used with great care to target non-PC views. If this is true, then Critical Thinking is not an actual pedagogy; it's simply another small branch of Social Studies, which is usually pushing an agenda.

*Bruce Deitrick Price is a novelist, poet, artist, and education reformer. This essay was published originally at his website

Access this essay in .pdf format

Suggested citation:   Price, B.D. (2016). Critical Thinking: Not all that critical. Nonpartisan Education Review/Essays, 12 (2).

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What prevents us from thinking critically?

Person thinking

Your thinking affects every area of your life. It determines where you dedicate your limited energy and resources. Therefore, developing good critical thinking skills is an important part of healthy living.

Supporting good critical thinking skills among the members of a society would clearly have a positive impact on the society itself. Unfortunately, critical thinking is not held in high esteem in our society. It is not a skill that is valued, supported, encouraged, taught or reinforced. 

So, why don’t we value critical thinking and why don’t people strive to build their critical thinking skills? One reason is that, by nature, our thinking is self-serving. Our thoughts support our self-interest. As such, we are prone to self-deceptive thinking. We adopt thoughts and beliefs that may not be rational or logical, but they seem to work for us. Paul and Elder point out several ways of thinking that prevent us from thinking critically. Learn about these in Chapter 10 (Taking Charge of Your Irrational Tendencies) in the book "Critical thinking: tools for taking charge of your professional and personal life", which is available as an e-book through the Concordia libraries .

  • Egocentric thinking:  What I believe is true, even though I have never examined the basis of my belief.
  • Socio-centric thinking:  I take on the beliefs of the dominant group, even though I have never examined the basis of these beliefs.
  • Wishful thinking:  I believe what I want to believe because it makes me feel good, it fits with my other beliefs, it is easier to believe this, it makes me look better, etc.
  • Self-validated thinking:  I believe what I have always believed, even though I have never examined the basis of these beliefs.
  • Selfish thinking:  I believe that which gets me what I want, such as power, money, privilege, fame etc.

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© Concordia University

Christopher Dwyer Ph.D.

No Such Thing as 'Good' Critical Thinking

A process outline of what it means to be a critical thinker..

Posted April 27, 2018

In my research, I often come across reference to ‘good critical thinking’. Is there ‘bad’ critical thinking? Arguably, the latter may refer to a ‘lack’ of critical thinking. But this issue of degrees of critical thinking (CT) is much like being ‘kind of pregnant’. What do you mean kind of? Either you are or you aren’t. There aren’t degrees of pregnancy and there aren’t degrees of CT.

Leading on from my last piece , which discussed the importance, in some contexts, of CT for the purpose of being right, in most cases, it’s not about being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s about the process. For example, if you believe you have thought critically but your answer is wrong, then there’s a good chance that you haven’t thought critically. However, if you acknowledge uncertainty and that your stance might be falsified, then you’re on the right track. On the other hand, people are often right about some things, but fail to conduct CT regarding that ‘thing’. Just because they’re right, doesn’t mean they got to ‘being right’ through CT.

Again, CT is a process. Imagine you are presented a bundle of information on the topic. To think critically about the information, you need to:

Analyse - Tease out an argument structure and identify: a central claim, core reasons and objections to that claim; reasons and objections to the core propositions; and the sources of these propositions.

Evaluate – Examine the information and assess its: credibility; relevance to the central claim and other important propositions; logical strength; the balance of evidence; and the bias of the evidence.

Infer – Gather only the credible, relevant and logical evidence, while at the same time keeping an eye out for the balance and bias of the evidence; and draw a reasonable conclusion. To double-check your thinking, re-evaluate and see if the same conclusion should be drawn.

This may seem straightforward, but to think critically, we must conduct reflective judgment at the same time. That is, while we conduct these three steps (i.e. analysis, evaluation and inference), we must not only acknowledge the nature, limits and certainty of both the information we’ve been provided and our own knowledge; but also how these factors can affect how we both defend our judgments and recognise that our views might be falsified by additional evidence obtained at a later time (see King & Kitchener, 1994). In a practice, this means that we must be open to admitting that we don’t know or that we might be wrong, even after we have spent a lot of time thinking about something. As I mentioned in my last piece , people love to be right; but they hate being wrong more. Personally, I’d much rather admit uncertainty to being wrong!

Conducting the three core skills of CT, addressed above, is easier for some than others. However, what makes it tricky is the need for reflective judgment throughout the process. Being successful at reflective judgment takes a certain type of individual, with certain types of dispositions (Dwyer et al., 2016; Dwyer, Hogan & Stewart, 2015; Ennis, 1987; 1991; Halpern, 2014).

The relationship between CT skills and dispositions is important. It’s been in the past exemplified like: though an individual may be aware of which CT skills to use in a given context and may have the capacity to perform well when using these skills, they may not be disposed to use them. Conversely, an individual may be prepared and willing to use CT skills, but may not know how to do so (Dwyer, 2017; Valenzuela et al.2011). Neither of these cases will result in CT; however, considered in a different way, we might learn something about the nature of applying CT in the real world.

Consider another example: Someone is participating in the process of CT in good faith but missing the mark (e.g. unknowingly failed to evaluate some potential bias) versus someone who approaches CT as a tool for arriving at a predetermined answer that they refuse to give up. Do these scenarios sound familiar? Have you encountered cases like this before? Is there a difference? One is disposed towards critical thinking, but is not succeeding at doing it; and the other one knows how to do it, but chooses to corrupt the process because of a lack of disposition. Again, neither of these cases will result in CT. But is one better than the other?

The answer, I would argue, is yes. I would rather work with the individual who participates in the process in good faith; because, at least, we can teach that individual how to think critically – we can teach them to be a critical thinker. That individual wasn’t a bad critical thinker before – the individual just wasn’t a critical thinker; but, they had the potential to be one. On the other side, we cannot teach the other individual to want to think critically. Again referencing my last piece on how to change people’s minds, some people simply don’t want their minds changed. These individuals may be excellent at the skills of CT (i.e. analysis, evaluation and inference); but, if they’re not willing to change their minds in light of solid evidence that falsifies their position, then they’re simply not a critical thinker.

not a critical thinker

In conclusion, there are no good critical thinkers – there are no bad critical thinkers. You either do it or you don’t. You might complete some of the skills during the process, but that doesn’t mean you thought critically. You might conduct all of the skills, but fail to acknowledge uncertainty - that, too, doesn’t mean you thought critically. You may acknowledge uncertainty and try your best to apply the skills, but again, that doesn’t mean you thought critically. CT is a collation of skills, dispositions and reflective judgment used to draw a reasonable conclusion or a solution to a problem. To think critically, you need to be inclined and motivated to analyse, evaluate and infer; you need to actually conduct these skills and you need to do so while self-regulating, with respect to acknowledging the nature, limits and certainty of both the information you’ve been provided and your own knowledge, as well as the potential for your views to be falsified by additional evidence at a later time. That process is CT and, if a step in this process is missed, it ceases to be CT. As there is no such thing as good or bad CT, and as those who try it in good faith are likely to want to do it ‘properly’, the take home point from this piece really becomes that much of whether or not an individual is thinking critically comes down to what Paul and Elder (2008) referred to as intellectual humility and integrity . If you believe you are thinking critically, can you say that you are honest about distinguishing what you know from what you don’t know? Can you say that you honestly hold yourself to the same standards that you expect others to meet? If you can honestly answer yes to both of these questions; if you are able to conduct the process outlined above and engage this process in good faith, then that’s a good sign that you are thinking critically. If you can’t, then you’re not. It’s not good or bad critical thinking, simply critical thinking or not.

Dwyer, C.P. (2017). Critical thinking: Conceptual perspectives and practical guidelines. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J., Harney, O.M. & Kavanagh, C. (2016). Facilitating a Student- educator Conceptual Model of Dispositions towards Critical Thinking through Interactive Management. Educational Technology & Research, 65, 1, 47-73.

Dwyer, C.P., Hogan, M.J., & Stewart, I. (2015). The evaluation of argument mapping-infused critical thinking instruction as a method of enhancing reflective judgment performance. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 16, 11-26.

Ennis, R. H. (1987). A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities. In J. B. Baron, & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Teaching Thinking Skills: Theory and Practice, 9–26. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Ennis, R. (1991). Critical thinking. Teaching Philosophy, 14, 1, 5–24.

Halpern, D.F. (2014). Thought & knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking (5th Ed.). UK: Psychology Press.

King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2008). Critical thinking. California: The Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Valenzuela, J., Nieto, A. M., & Saiz, C. (2011). Critical thinking motivational scale: A contribution to the study of relationship between critical thinking and motivation. Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 9(2), 823–848.

Christopher Dwyer Ph.D.

Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the Technological University of the Shannon in Athlone, Ireland.

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What Causes a Lack of Critical Thinking Skills?

Woman reading book while sitting on chair.jpg

Critical thinking skills are an important tool, especially when it comes to personal beliefs and academics. When applied, critical thinking is a powerful defense against ideas and opinions that are potentially harmful or blatantly wrong. Unfortunately, not everyone possesses this ability, although it can be taught. Understanding what suppresses critical thinking is an important step to obtaining a more open mind.

Explore this article

  • Indoctrination
  • Lack of Intelligence
  • Cognitive Impairment

1 Indoctrination

Indoctrination is a major roadblock to critical thinking. When an individual is surrounded and constantly fed a one-sided view on things like personal beliefs or politics, it stifles critical thinking. Children and students are especially vulnerable to this, so critical thinking must always be encouraged. According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, teaching students to be skeptical will "help them see through the distortions of propaganda, and enable them to assess judiciously the persuasiveness of powerful emotional appeals." (see source 1)

2 Lack of Intelligence

An article by the University of Phoenix, entitled "Can Critical Thinking be Taught in the Classroom?" asserts that a critical thinker "would need a level of intellectual and cognitive ability." The article implies that some people are more adept than others when it comes to being skeptical and analytical. This is understandable, because people who lack intelligence will find it much easier to simply accept certain ideas at face-value than take the time and effort to research them. According to the Media Awareness Network, "Critical thinking is about how to think, not what to think" and requires "curiosity, open-mindedness, skepticism, and persistence.' In other words, you cannot think critically if you are ignorant of its process. Critical thinking is not about assuming that everything you hear, read or see is potentially wrong. It is about taking any information provided and analyzing it using the critical thinking process. Without this understand, critical thinking skills will be nonexistent.

3 Arrogance

Your attitude can have a profound effect on critical thinking. Even if you are extremely intelligent, you will not think critically if you are not willing to venture outside your own opinions. According to the University of Phoenix, "What stifles critical thinking in some cases is an unwillingness to do research." In other words, if you are not humble, you will avoid examining alternate opinions for fear of being proven wrong.

4 Cognitive Impairment

According the Surgeon General, mental disability and mental illness can cause a variety of obstacles, including disturbances of thought and perception or cognitive dysfunction. As a result, individuals suffering from such issues may be at an intellectual disadvantage. Since critical thinking requires a certain degree of intelligence, cognitive impairment prevents people from grasping the complex rules and processes of critical thinking.

  • 1 University of Phoenix: Can Critical Thinking be Taught in the Classroom?

About the Author

Alex Saez is a writer who draws much of his information from his professional and academic experience. Saez holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Queen's University and an advanced diploma in business administration, with a focus on human resources, from St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario.

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Are You A Critical Thinker?

Person with brain and question marks; are you a critical thinker

Learn how to think, not what to think

Everyone thinks. And everyone thinks they’re good at thinking. 

But good thinking is hard, and it doesn’t come naturally. It’s a skill that has to be learned and practiced. Our brains are adapted to keep us alive by making quick decisions to avoid predators and by forming strong emotional bonds with members of our tribes. Trusting that your brain inherently knows how to reason is a recipe for being misled. And it doesn’t matter how smart or educated you are: No one can lie to us better than we can .

Unfortunately, many of those who are most convinced that they are the true critical thinkers are actually doing the exact opposite: pseudo-critical thinking. They confidently air their opinions as fact and hide factually incorrect assertions behind an “ opinion shield .” They oversimplify complex issues and are unwilling or unable to entertain nuance and detail. Due to a lack of substantive arguments, they resort to childish name-calling (eg “sheeple,” and “fake news”), and proclaim that those who disagree with them are “stupid” and need to “think for themselves.” Ironically, they’ve actually inoculated themselves against critical thinking…..if you’re convinced you’re using “evidence” and “logic” and “know the truth,” why would you entertain the possibility that you’re wrong and re-think?

The good news is that few things are as empowering as the ability to think well. Critical thinking can help us make better decisions and solve problems, and can prevent us from being fooled or harmed. 

Knowledge may be power. But it’s impossible for any one person to know everything…. which is why this site is called Thinking Is Power . Besides, real knowledge is more than memorizing a bunch of facts.  Knowledge is a process. It’s not just what we know, it’s how we know. And in a world of unlimited information, from endless sources, we need to equip ourselves with a better way of thinking. 

So what is critical thinking? And how do you know if you’re a critical thinker?

While there are countless definitions of critical thinking, they all basically boil down to this: critical thinking is the self-directed process of analyzing and evaluating information to decide what to believe or how to act.

Critical thinkers: 

Are you a critical thinker? Critical thinkers are aware their thinking is flawed and prone to errors, think about how they think, are curious and inquisitive, use evidence to arrive at conclusions and maintain a healthy level of skepticism, separate their identity from their beliefs, welcome criticism from others, avoid black-and-white thinking and are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, and are humble.

  • Are aware that their thinking is flawed and prone to errors. They recognize that their perceptions may not be accurate and that their memories are imperfect. And they understand that the shortcuts their brains take to help them make fast and easy decisions can lead to biased thinking.  
  • Think about how they think. They ask themselves how they know something and actively search for their knowledge blindspots and biases. They avoid emotional reasoning and intuition and instead activate higher-level thinking that is slower and more deliberative.
  • Are curious and inquisitive. They want to learn, so they ask questions. Importantly, they are open to the answers, even if it’s not what they want to hear. 
  • Separate their identity from their beliefs. They recognize that it’s difficult to critically challenge beliefs that are important to their sense of self. They want to believe in things that are true, and not believe in things that are not true, even if it’s uncomfortable. Essentially, they would rather get it right than be right.
  • Welcome criticism from others. They recognize that arguments are a collaborative process of searching for the truth , and are able and willing to fairly evaluate other points of view. 
  • Use evidence to arrive at conclusions and maintain a healthy level of skepticism .  They are open to all claims, but require sufficient evidence before accepting them. They know that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
  • Avoid black-and-white thinking and are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty . They recognize the world is complex and nuanced, and that distilling issues into two extremes can prevent them from understanding problems and finding solutions. 
  • Are humble. They are honest with themselves about what they know and don’t know, and avoid being overly confident. They recognize they might be wrong and are willing to change their minds. And they value others’ expertise . 

Critical thinking is a journey. It’s not easy, and there is always room for improvement. Many of us need to re-learn habits developed over a lifetime. But the world is full of misinformation and BS, and the best way to avoid being misled is to take control of your thinking.

Simply put: Critical thinking is empowering.

10 thoughts on “Are You A Critical Thinker?”

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Should the following items ( elements) be discussed or add to the list of skills needed for critical thinking? Observation, analysis, Interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making.

One should be ale to ;

Think about an topic or issue in an objective or critical way.

identify the different arguments there are in relation to a particular issue.

Evaluate a point of view to determine how strong or valid it is.

Recognize any weakness or negative points that there are in the evidence or argument.

Notice what implications there might be behind a statement or argument.

Provide structured reasoning and support for an argument that we wish to make.

'  data-srcset=

Yes to all of those! I was specifically trying to summarize characteristics of a critical thinker, and not the actual skills of critical thinking. My “inspiration” were people on social media who confidently claim to be critical thinkers… but clearly aren’t. My guess is all of the skills you so eloquently identified will show up on a later post. Or maybe could I talk you into writing a guest post?

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'  data-srcset=

I call it ACETA = Appreciative & Critical Emotellectual Thinking Analysis



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