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Enhance Critical Thinking Skills through Daily Engagement with Puzzles

In today’s fast-paced world, where information is readily available at our fingertips, it’s crucial to develop and enhance critical thinking skills. One effective way to achieve this is by engaging in daily puzzles. Whether it’s a crossword, Sudoku, or a brain teaser, puzzles of the day can provide a fun and challenging exercise for your mind. In this article, we will explore the benefits of daily puzzle engagement and how it can sharpen your critical thinking skills.

Mental Stimulation and Problem-Solving Abilities

Engaging in puzzles on a regular basis provides mental stimulation that keeps your brain active and alert. When you tackle puzzles of the day, you are presented with various problems that require logical reasoning and problem-solving abilities. These challenges push you to think creatively and find innovative solutions.

By consistently engaging in puzzle solving, you train your brain to approach problems from different angles, improving your ability to think critically. This skillset extends beyond puzzle-solving scenarios and becomes applicable in various real-life situations such as decision-making processes or analyzing complex issues.

Memory Retention and Cognitive Function

Puzzles not only stimulate critical thinking but also help improve memory retention and cognitive function. When solving puzzles of the day, you are required to remember patterns, rules, or clues provided within the puzzle itself.

This constant exercise of memory retrieval strengthens neural connections in the brain responsible for storing information. As a result, you will notice an improvement in your ability to recall information quickly and accurately.

Moreover, engaging in regular puzzle-solving activities has been linked to enhanced cognitive function. It has been shown that individuals who regularly engage in puzzles perform better on tasks related to memory, processing speed, and attention span compared to those who do not engage in such activities.

Increased Concentration and Focus

In today’s digital age where distractions are abundant, maintaining concentration and focus has become a challenge for many. Engaging in puzzles of the day can help combat this problem.

When solving a puzzle, you need to concentrate on the task at hand, blocking out any distractions. This focused attention allows you to delve deep into the problem and analyze it thoroughly. Over time, regular engagement with puzzles improves your ability to concentrate for longer periods and enhances your overall focus.

Stress Reduction and Mental Well-being

Puzzles provide a wonderful escape from the daily stressors of life. When you immerse yourself in solving puzzles, you enter a state of flow where time seems to fly by, and your mind is fully engaged in the task.

This state of flow promotes relaxation and reduces stress levels. As you solve each piece of the puzzle, you experience a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, boosting your mood and mental well-being.

Additionally, engaging in puzzles can serve as a form of meditation or mindfulness practice. It allows you to disconnect from technology and be present in the moment, focusing solely on the task at hand.

In conclusion, incorporating daily puzzles into your routine can have numerous benefits for enhancing critical thinking skills. From mental stimulation to improved memory retention, increased concentration to stress reduction – puzzles provide a holistic approach to sharpening your cognitive abilities while having fun along the way. So why not make “puzzle of the day” part of your daily routine? Start challenging yourself today.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


the history of critical thinking

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Supplement to Critical Thinking

This supplement elaborates on the history of the articulation, promotion and adoption of critical thinking as an educational goal.

John Dewey (1910: 74, 82) introduced the term ‘critical thinking’ as the name of an educational goal, which he identified with a scientific attitude of mind. More commonly, he called the goal ‘reflective thought’, ‘reflective thinking’, ‘reflection’, or just ‘thought’ or ‘thinking’. He describes his book as written for two purposes. The first was to help people to appreciate the kinship of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry to the scientific attitude. The second was to help people to consider how recognizing this kinship in educational practice “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (iii). He notes that the ideas in the book obtained concreteness in the Laboratory School in Chicago.

Dewey’s ideas were put into practice by some of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study in the 1930s sponsored by the Progressive Education Association in the United States. For this study, 300 colleges agreed to consider for admission graduates of 30 selected secondary schools or school systems from around the country who experimented with the content and methods of teaching, even if the graduates had not completed the then-prescribed secondary school curriculum. One purpose of the study was to discover through exploration and experimentation how secondary schools in the United States could serve youth more effectively (Aikin 1942). Each experimental school was free to change the curriculum as it saw fit, but the schools agreed that teaching methods and the life of the school should conform to the idea (previously advocated by Dewey) that people develop through doing things that are meaningful to them, and that the main purpose of the secondary school was to lead young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18). In particular, school officials believed that young people in a democracy should develop the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems (Aikin 1942: 81). Students’ work in the classroom thus consisted more often of a problem to be solved than a lesson to be learned. Especially in mathematics and science, the schools made a point of giving students experience in clear, logical thinking as they solved problems. The report of one experimental school, the University School of Ohio State University, articulated this goal of improving students’ thinking:

Critical or reflective thinking originates with the sensing of a problem. It is a quality of thought operating in an effort to solve the problem and to reach a tentative conclusion which is supported by all available data. It is really a process of problem solving requiring the use of creative insight, intellectual honesty, and sound judgment. It is the basis of the method of scientific inquiry. The success of democracy depends to a large extent on the disposition and ability of citizens to think critically and reflectively about the problems which must of necessity confront them, and to improve the quality of their thinking is one of the major goals of education. (Commission on the Relation of School and College of the Progressive Education Association 1943: 745–746)

The Eight-Year Study had an evaluation staff, which developed, in consultation with the schools, tests to measure aspects of student progress that fell outside the focus of the traditional curriculum. The evaluation staff classified many of the schools’ stated objectives under the generic heading “clear thinking” or “critical thinking” (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942: 35–36). To develop tests of achievement of this broad goal, they distinguished five overlapping aspects of it: ability to interpret data, abilities associated with an understanding of the nature of proof, and the abilities to apply principles of science, of social studies and of logical reasoning. The Eight-Year Study also had a college staff, directed by a committee of college administrators, whose task was to determine how well the experimental schools had prepared their graduates for college. The college staff compared the performance of 1,475 college students from the experimental schools with an equal number of graduates from conventional schools, matched in pairs by sex, age, race, scholastic aptitude scores, home and community background, interests, and probable future. They concluded that, on 18 measures of student success, the graduates of the experimental schools did a somewhat better job than the comparison group. The graduates from the six most traditional of the experimental schools showed no large or consistent differences. The graduates from the six most experimental schools, on the other hand, had much greater differences in their favour. The graduates of the two most experimental schools, the college staff reported:

… surpassed their comparison groups by wide margins in academic achievement, intellectual curiosity, scientific approach to problems, and interest in contemporary affairs. The differences in their favor were even greater in general resourcefulness, in enjoyment of reading, [in] participation in the arts, in winning non-academic honors, and in all aspects of college life except possibly participation in sports and social activities. (Aikin 1942: 114)

One of these schools was a private school with students from privileged families and the other the experimental section of a public school with students from non-privileged families. The college staff reported that the graduates of the two schools were indistinguishable from each other in terms of college success.

In 1933 Dewey issued an extensively rewritten edition of his How We Think (Dewey 1910), with the sub-title “A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process”. Although the restatement retains the basic structure and content of the original book, Dewey made a number of changes. He rewrote and simplified his logical analysis of the process of reflection, made his ideas clearer and more definite, replaced the terms ‘induction’ and ‘deduction’ by the phrases ‘control of data and evidence’ and ‘control of reasoning and concepts’, added more illustrations, rearranged chapters, and revised the parts on teaching to reflect changes in schools since 1910. In particular, he objected to one-sided practices of some “experimental” and “progressive” schools that allowed children freedom but gave them no guidance, citing as objectionable practices novelty and variety for their own sake, experiences and activities with real materials but of no educational significance, treating random and disconnected activity as if it were an experiment, failure to summarize net accomplishment at the end of an inquiry, non-educative projects, and treatment of the teacher as a negligible factor rather than as “the intellectual leader of a social group” (Dewey 1933: 273). Without explaining his reasons, Dewey eliminated the previous edition’s uses of the words ‘critical’ and ‘uncritical’, thus settling firmly on ‘reflection’ or ‘reflective thinking’ as the preferred term for his subject-matter. In the revised edition, the word ‘critical’ occurs only once, where Dewey writes that “a person may not be sufficiently critical about the ideas that occur to him” (1933: 16, italics in original); being critical is thus a component of reflection, not the whole of it. In contrast, the Eight-Year Study by the Progressive Education Association treated ‘critical thinking’ and ‘reflective thinking’ as synonyms.

In the same period, Dewey collaborated on a history of the Laboratory School in Chicago with two former teachers from the school (Mayhew & Edwards 1936). The history describes the school’s curriculum and organization, activities aimed at developing skills, parents’ involvement, and the habits of mind that the children acquired. A concluding chapter evaluates the school’s achievements, counting as a success its staging of the curriculum to correspond to the natural development of the growing child. In two appendices, the authors describe the evolution of Dewey’s principles of education and Dewey himself describes the theory of the Chicago experiment (Dewey 1936).

Glaser (1941) reports in his doctoral dissertation the method and results of an experiment in the development of critical thinking conducted in the fall of 1938. He defines critical thinking as Dewey defined reflective thinking:

Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Glaser 1941: 6; cf. Dewey 1910: 6; Dewey 1933: 9)

In the experiment, eight lesson units directed at improving critical thinking abilities were taught to four grade 12 high school classes, with pre-test and post-test of the students using the Otis Quick-Scoring Mental Ability Test and the Watson-Glaser Tests of Critical Thinking (developed in collaboration with Glaser’s dissertation sponsor, Goodwin Watson). The average gain in scores on these tests was greater to a statistically significant degree among the students who received the lessons in critical thinking than among the students in a control group of four grade 12 high school classes taking the usual curriculum in English. Glaser concludes:

The aspect of critical thinking which appears most susceptible to general improvement is the attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one’s experience. An attitude of wanting evidence for beliefs is more subject to general transfer. Development of skill in applying the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, however, appears to be specifically related to, and in fact limited by, the acquisition of pertinent knowledge and facts concerning the problem or subject matter toward which the thinking is to be directed. (Glaser 1941: 175)

Retest scores and observable behaviour indicated that students in the intervention group retained their growth in ability to think critically for at least six months after the special instruction.

In 1948 a group of U.S. college examiners decided to develop taxonomies of educational objectives with a common vocabulary that they could use for communicating with each other about test items. The first of these taxonomies, for the cognitive domain, appeared in 1956 (Bloom et al. 1956), and included critical thinking objectives. It has become known as Bloom’s taxonomy. A second taxonomy, for the affective domain (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia 1964), and a third taxonomy, for the psychomotor domain (Simpson 1966–67), appeared later. Each of the taxonomies is hierarchical, with achievement of a higher educational objective alleged to require achievement of corresponding lower educational objectives.

Bloom’s taxonomy has six major categories. From lowest to highest, they are knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Within each category, there are sub-categories, also arranged hierarchically from the educationally prior to the educationally posterior. The lowest category, though called ‘knowledge’, is confined to objectives of remembering information and being able to recall or recognize it, without much transformation beyond organizing it (Bloom et al. 1956: 28–29). The five higher categories are collectively termed “intellectual abilities and skills” (Bloom et al. 1956: 204). The term is simply another name for critical thinking abilities and skills:

Although information or knowledge is recognized as an important outcome of education, very few teachers would be satisfied to regard this as the primary or the sole outcome of instruction. What is needed is some evidence that the students can do something with their knowledge, that is, that they can apply the information to new situations and problems. It is also expected that students will acquire generalized techniques for dealing with new problems and new materials. Thus, it is expected that when the student encounters a new problem or situation, he will select an appropriate technique for attacking it and will bring to bear the necessary information, both facts and principles. This has been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others. In the taxonomy, we have used the term “intellectual abilities and skills”. (Bloom et al. 1956: 38)

Comprehension and application objectives, as their names imply, involve understanding and applying information. Critical thinking abilities and skills show up in the three highest categories of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The condensed version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom et al. 1956: 201–207) gives the following examples of objectives at these levels:

  • analysis objectives : ability to recognize unstated assumptions, ability to check the consistency of hypotheses with given information and assumptions, ability to recognize the general techniques used in advertising, propaganda and other persuasive materials
  • synthesis objectives : organizing ideas and statements in writing, ability to propose ways of testing a hypothesis, ability to formulate and modify hypotheses
  • evaluation objectives : ability to indicate logical fallacies, comparison of major theories about particular cultures

The analysis, synthesis and evaluation objectives in Bloom’s taxonomy collectively came to be called the “higher-order thinking skills” (Tankersley 2005: chap. 5). Although the analysis-synthesis-evaluation sequence mimics phases in Dewey’s (1933) logical analysis of the reflective thinking process, it has not generally been adopted as a model of a critical thinking process. While commending the inspirational value of its ratio of five categories of thinking objectives to one category of recall objectives, Ennis (1981b) points out that the categories lack criteria applicable across topics and domains. For example, analysis in chemistry is so different from analysis in literature that there is not much point in teaching analysis as a general type of thinking. Further, the postulated hierarchy seems questionable at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. For example, ability to indicate logical fallacies hardly seems more complex than the ability to organize statements and ideas in writing.

A revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) distinguishes the intended cognitive process in an educational objective (such as being able to recall, to compare or to check) from the objective’s informational content (“knowledge”), which may be factual, conceptual, procedural, or metacognitive. The result is a so-called “Taxonomy Table” with four rows for the kinds of informational content and six columns for the six main types of cognitive process. The authors name the types of cognitive process by verbs, to indicate their status as mental activities. They change the name of the ‘comprehension’ category to ‘understand’ and of the ‘synthesis’ category to ’create’, and switch the order of synthesis and evaluation. The result is a list of six main types of cognitive process aimed at by teachers: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. The authors retain the idea of a hierarchy of increasing complexity, but acknowledge some overlap, for example between understanding and applying. And they retain the idea that critical thinking and problem solving cut across the more complex cognitive processes. The terms ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’, they write:

are widely used and tend to become touchstones of curriculum emphasis. Both generally include a variety of activities that might be classified in disparate cells of the Taxonomy Table. That is, in any given instance, objectives that involve problem solving and critical thinking most likely call for cognitive processes in several categories on the process dimension. For example, to think critically about an issue probably involves some Conceptual knowledge to Analyze the issue. Then, one can Evaluate different perspectives in terms of the criteria and, perhaps, Create a novel, yet defensible perspective on this issue. (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270; italics in original)

In the revised taxonomy, only a few sub-categories, such as inferring, have enough commonality to be treated as a distinct critical thinking ability that could be taught and assessed as a general ability.

A landmark contribution to philosophical scholarship on the concept of critical thinking was a 1962 article in the Harvard Educational Review by Robert H. Ennis, with the title “A concept of critical thinking: A proposed basis for research in the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability” (Ennis 1962). Ennis took as his starting-point a conception of critical thinking put forward by B. Othanel Smith:

We shall consider thinking in terms of the operations involved in the examination of statements which we, or others, may believe. A speaker declares, for example, that “Freedom means that the decisions in America’s productive effort are made not in the minds of a bureaucracy but in the free market”. Now if we set about to find out what this statement means and to determine whether to accept or reject it, we would be engaged in thinking which, for lack of a better term, we shall call critical thinking. If one wishes to say that this is only a form of problem-solving in which the purpose is to decide whether or not what is said is dependable, we shall not object. But for our purposes we choose to call it critical thinking. (Smith 1953: 130)

Adding a normative component to this conception, Ennis defined critical thinking as “the correct assessing of statements” (Ennis 1962: 83). On the basis of this definition, he distinguished 12 “aspects” of critical thinking corresponding to types or aspects of statements, such as judging whether an observation statement is reliable and grasping the meaning of a statement. He noted that he did not include judging value statements. Cutting across the 12 aspects, he distinguished three dimensions of critical thinking: logical (judging relationships between meanings of words and statements), criterial (knowledge of the criteria for judging statements), and pragmatic (the impression of the background purpose). For each aspect, Ennis described the applicable dimensions, including criteria. He proposed the resulting construct as a basis for developing specifications for critical thinking tests and for research on instructional methods and levels.

In the 1970s and 1980s there was an upsurge of attention to the development of thinking skills. The annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform has attracted since its start in 1980 tens of thousands of educators from all levels. In 1983 the College Entrance Examination Board proclaimed reasoning as one of six basic academic competencies needed by college students (College Board 1983). Departments of education in the United States and around the world began to include thinking objectives in their curriculum guidelines for school subjects. For example, Ontario’s social sciences and humanities curriculum guideline for secondary schools requires “the use of critical and creative thinking skills and/or processes” as a goal of instruction and assessment in each subject and course (Ontario Ministry of Education 2013: 30). The document describes critical thinking as follows:

Critical thinking is the process of thinking about ideas or situations in order to understand them fully, identify their implications, make a judgement, and/or guide decision making. Critical thinking includes skills such as questioning, predicting, analysing, synthesizing, examining opinions, identifying values and issues, detecting bias, and distinguishing between alternatives. Students who are taught these skills become critical thinkers who can move beyond superficial conclusions to a deeper understanding of the issues they are examining. They are able to engage in an inquiry process in which they explore complex and multifaceted issues, and questions for which there may be no clear-cut answers (Ontario Ministry of Education 2013: 46).

Sweden makes schools responsible for ensuring that each pupil who completes compulsory school “can make use of critical thinking and independently formulate standpoints based on knowledge and ethical considerations” (Skolverket 2018: 12). Subject syllabi incorporate this requirement, and items testing critical thinking skills appear on national tests that are a required step toward university admission. For example, the core content of biology, physics and chemistry in years 7-9 includes critical examination of sources of information and arguments encountered by pupils in different sources and social discussions related to these sciences, in both digital and other media. (Skolverket 2018: 170, 181, 192). Correspondingly, in year 9 the national tests require using knowledge of biology, physics or chemistry “to investigate information, communicate and come to a decision on issues concerning health, energy, technology, the environment, use of natural resources and ecological sustainability” (see the message from the School Board ). Other jurisdictions similarly embed critical thinking objectives in curriculum guidelines.

At the college level, a new wave of introductory logic textbooks, pioneered by Kahane (1971), applied the tools of logic to contemporary social and political issues. Popular contemporary textbooks of this sort include those by Bailin and Battersby (2016b), Boardman, Cavender and Kahane (2018), Browne and Keeley (2018), Groarke and Tindale (2012), and Moore and Parker (2020). In their wake, colleges and universities in North America transformed their introductory logic course into a general education service course with a title like ‘critical thinking’ or ‘reasoning’. In 1980, the trustees of California’s state university and colleges approved as a general education requirement a course in critical thinking, described as follows:

Instruction in critical thinking is to be designed to achieve an understanding of the relationship of language to logic, which should lead to the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas, to reason inductively and deductively, and to reach factual or judgmental conclusions based on sound inferences drawn from unambiguous statements of knowledge or belief. The minimal competence to be expected at the successful conclusion of instruction in critical thinking should be the ability to distinguish fact from judgment, belief from knowledge, and skills in elementary inductive and deductive processes, including an understanding of the formal and informal fallacies of language and thought. (Dumke 1980)

Since December 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions at the three annual divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association. In December 1987, the Committee on Pre-College Philosophy of the American Philosophical Association invited Peter Facione to make a systematic inquiry into the current state of critical thinking and critical thinking assessment. Facione assembled a group of 46 other academic philosophers and psychologists to participate in a multi-round Delphi process, whose product was entitled Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction (Facione 1990a). The statement listed abilities and dispositions that should be the goals of a lower-level undergraduate course in critical thinking. Researchers in nine European countries determined which of these skills and dispositions employers expect of university graduates (Dominguez 2018 a), compared those expectations to critical thinking educational practices in post-secondary educational institutions (Dominguez 2018b), developed a course on critical thinking education for university teachers (Dominguez 2018c) and proposed in response to identified gaps between expectations and practices an “educational protocol” that post-secondary educational institutions in Europe could use to develop critical thinking (Elen et al. 2019).

Copyright © 2022 by David Hitchcock < hitchckd @ mcmaster . ca >

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History of Critical Thinking

History of Critical Thinking

The history of critical thinking stretches all the way back to Socrates, who was around from 470 BC to 399 BC. So, almost 2,500 years ago. This means one could easily write an epic tome on the history of critical thinking, and we are positive there are a ton of great books out there that you can read. Our job? To condense all of the history of critical thinking down into a single blog post.

We can’t possibly cover  everything  about the history here. We do want to touch upon the main points, though.

Confucious (born 551 BC) is an influential Chinese philosopher. Some that would argue that he was the world’s first critical thinker, at least from what we know. However, much of critical thinking history seems to exclude Confucious. This is because his work wasn’t really about critical thinking. It was more philosophical statements. Still, many of those statements line up with what we think of critical thinking today.

Socrates (and a Little Bit of Plato)

While there may have been people dabbling in critical thinking before this, the first reference we have to critical thinking comes from Socrates. He was a teacher of critical thinking Plato, one of his students (424 BC to 347 BC) told us all about it. Although nothing survives from the teachings of Socrates, we do know that his teachings covered ethical dilemmas such as whether it is fine for a person to escape from prison (Socrates said it wasn’t, which it isn’t).

Plato continued the discussions that Socrates had, although most of what Plato did was fawn over the teachings of his mentor. By this point, the concept of Socratic Questioning was born. It wasn’t called that yet, though. That term is much more recent.

Shortly after this, all of the major Ancient Greek Philosophers were getting into critical thinking, including Aristotle.

Abu Nasr Al-Farabi

We are skipping ahead a few hundred centuries here. Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (870 to 950) is a very important critical thinker, but one that is rarely mentioned in the history of critical thinking.

This man loved Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. At this point, their teachings were pretty much confined to Europe. Abu Nasr Al-Farabi took those teachings and introduced them to the Muslim world. This introduced critical thinking to a whole new part of the globe!

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274) was an Italian priest. Many books have been written about him, and he was the most influential thinker of this period. Much of what he was thinking about during that time is influencing us even now.

While St. Thomas Aquinas was a religious man, he wasn’t opposed to science.  He came up with a concept called Thomism, which is a subset of natural theology. It isn’t really critical thinking, but it was important to his career. Natural theology was all about using science to demonstrate the existence of God, and not just the scripture.

He is another guy that was a massive fan of Aristotle. So much so that he introduced the teachings of Aristotle to the Catholic Church. A lot of the things that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about back then are used in political systems, ethics, etc. to this day.

1500s to the 1700s

A lot happened during this period when it came to critical thinking. We have four people that we want to mention:

  • Sir Francis Bacon
  • Rene Descartes
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • Benjamin Franklin

Francis Bacon was incredibly important to the history of critical thinking . He came up with a concept called The Scientific Method. if you have attended school, then you will know exactly what it is:

So, you have an idea, you put it to the test, and you reach a conclusion. This concept, while used heavily in the world of science, is a structure that many modern critical thinkers use.

Rene Descartes came up with the much-repeated “I think; therefore I am” concept. He certainly relied heavily on critical thinking in what he did. Not only was he an educated philosopher, but a top scientist and mathematician.

Isaac Newton is perhaps best known for discovering gravity, but he was a very accomplished scientist outside of that. Everything he did had a lot of testing behind it. So, while the common story is that an apple fell on his head and he discovered gravity, it was an idea he had been tinkering about with for a while, and likely continued to tinker about with long after that apple had been eaten.

As a founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin was famed for his critical thinking related to politics.

You can even bring in the main thinkers of the French Enlightenment in here:

  • Montesquieu

Their theories spread throughout Europe, and some may argue that these helped to trigger the scientific revolution later on.

Don’t forget about Adam Smith and his political theory books, the most notable being The Wealth of Nations, which is still discussed in political and legal courses around the world. This book even influenced the Declaration of Independence.

The 1800s Onwards

Charles Darwin is the first person we want to mention here. While he is best known for his Theory of Evolution, he had another book called Descent of Man . While this book did mention his evolutionary theories, the main goal was to look at the evolution of man, both from a biological and a mental standpoint. It touched upon the development of culture, language, etc. This book leads to critical thinkers in anthropology and linguistics. In fact, both of those fields developed purely because of Darwin.

In 1906, William Graham Sumner brought his critical thinking theories to school, and he discussed heavily how important critical thinking is in every part of our lives. Many of his critical thinking theories related to schools helped to shape education in later decades.

Albert Einstein was another well-known critical thinker, although he isn’t often regarded as such. He was much praised for his ability to get to the root of an issue. Of course, he developed a number of scientific theories himself.

This is just a brief overview of the history of critical thinking . There are so many other names that could have been included in this list. However, we think that you are off to a great start here. You have some of the finest critical thinkers of their time. Pick up some of their works, and you will have a solid idea of how the history of critical thinking has developed.






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  • Introduction
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The origin of critical thinking can be traced to the teaching technique of Socrates, frequently referred to as the Socratic Method, which occurred over 2,400 years ago and which is portrayed in dialogues by Plato such as the Euthyphro , the Apology (Socrates’ defense at his trial), and the Republic . Since the time of Socrates, the history of the study of critical thinking is replete with research from philosophers and logicians, mathematicians and other scientists, psychologist and educators. By the 19th century, this effort resulted in the development of essential critical thinking tools in the realm of scientific methods, logic, and statistics.

In the early 20th century, John Dewey, as part of the functionalist school of thought, described thinking as a “multistaged, goal-oriented process” (as cited in Dominowski & Bourne, 1994 , p. 14). Also in the early 20th century the Gestalt theorists, namely Werthheimer, Kohler, and Koffka added that thinking was an active and constructive process ( Dellarosa, 1988 ). In 1946 Max Black’s Critical Thinking: An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method was published and was one of the first books with “critical thinking” in its title. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the advent of computers influenced research on cognition and thinking. For example, Newell, Shaw, and Simon (1958) theorized that we were information processing systems. In 1962 Robert Ennis, who had been inspired to focus on critical thinking by a visit to Hiroshima shortly after WW II , published his highly influential article “A Concept of Critical Thinking” in the Harvard Educational Review .

Another landmark event was the appearance in 1971 of Howard Kahane’s textbook, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric . Kahane had been teaching formal logic during the tumultuous upheavals of the late 1960s, and he had grown frustrated by the apparent lack of “relevance” of formal logic to the contentious debates about the Vietnam War, civil rights, full equality for women, and many more issues. So his textbook was filled with examples of rhetoric from current debates, newspaper articles, and advertising that could all be analyzed for their cogency or for containing a number of fallacies. As his obituary noted:

This method of teaching logic, variously known as critical thinking or informal logic, had already been embraced by a few teachers of philosophy who wanted to get away from the essentially mathematical view of logic taken by famous thinkers like Bertrand Russell and make it a more practical instrument for analyzing the questions of everyday life. But Dr. Kahane’s book greatly popularized the approach and led to a rapid expansion of critical-thinking courses in the philosophy and English literature departments of American universities. ( Lewis, 2001 )

Then in the early 1980s, the critical thinking movement gained momentum with researchers from psychology, philosophy, and education coming together and taking note of each other’s work. One place where a number of these threads came together was at the annual conferences put together by Richard Paul and his associates. The first such International Conference on Critical Thinking (as it is now called) was in 1981, and the conferences continue until today. Also in 1987 Peter Facione was asked by the American Philosophical Association Committee on Pre-College Philosophy to make a systematic inquiry into the concept of critical thinking and what it involved. This resulted in a document that many have referred to since, Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction ( Facione, 1990 ). For more details of the history of the study of critical thinking and the movement to incorporate it into school curricula at many levels, see David Hitchcock’s Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article “Critical Thinking” ( Hitchcock, 2018 ).

1 Chapters and Commentaries

What follows are four parts that include three chapters on Critical Thinking theories, learning and development, curriculum and instruction, and assessment. Each section includes a commentary that integrates the various perspectives of these chapters as well as presents the various perspectives of the commentators.

In Chapter 1 , David Hitchcock describes and comments on six of the most developed philosophical conceptions of critical thinking: those of John Dewey, Robert Ennis, Richard Paul, Peter Facione, Alec Fisher and Michael Scriven, and Barbara Thayer-Bacon.

Sharon Bailin and Mark Battersby describe their inquiry approach to critical thinking in Chapter 2 . They argue that “the goal of critical thinking instruction is to provide students with the understanding and skills necessary for making reasoned judgments on complex issues.”

In Chapter 3 , Denis Dumas and Yixiao Dong present two cognitive abilities, critical-analytic thinking and relational reasoning, that they believe are essential for critical thinking. They discuss how these two constructs connect.

In Barbara Thayer-Bacon’s commentary, in Chapter 4 , she discusses and synthesizes the Hitchcock, Bailin and Battersby, and Dumas and Dong chapters, using her philosophy of education perspective that is derived from her own research.

In Chapter 5 , “The Semantic Retrieval Model and Divergent Thinking as Critical to Understanding Logical Reasoning in Children,” Henry Markovits and Pier-Luc de Chantal describe logical reasoning as “the ability to distinguish between possible and necessary conclusions” that is an important component of mathematical and scientific reasoning, as well as for guiding us through our complex social life. They argue that the development of reasoning in children is strengthened by divergent thinking.

David Moshman, discusses his perspectives on the development of “Adolescent Reasoning and Rationality,” in Chapter 6 . One of his central contentions, based on his research, is that “claims of adolescent irrationality are stereotypes that greatly overstate the difference between adolescents and adults.”

In Chapter 7 , Stephen Brookfield discusses “the process of critical thinking, and situates it within the critical theory tradition, and explores its connections to the theoretical frame of transformative learning that currently dominates the field of adult education.” He presents a case study on the ideology of white supremacy to demonstrate a white person’s struggles to negotiate the move to an anti-racist identity.

Steve Trickey’s commentary, in Chapter 8 , analyzes and synthesizes the chapters by Henry Markovits and Pier-Luc de Chantal, David Moshman, and Stephen Brookfield. Additionally, he discusses the process of developing reasoning abilities along with the possible constraints on that development.

In Chapter 9 , “Critical Thinking in the Elementary School: Practical Guidance for Building a Culture of Thinking,” Paul Cleghorn presents a case for promoting critical thinking in our elementary schools. To do this he states that we need to implement evidence-based methods and strategies. In this regard, he introduces a three-step approach to teaching for critical thinking.

Amber Strong Makaiau introduces us to “The Good Thinker’s Tool Kit” in Chapter 10 . This strategy is developed from Lipman’s Philosophy for Children program. Here, she demonstrates the effectiveness of this strategy for improving critical thinking skills in secondary schools.

In Chapter 11 , Amanda Hiner suggests that it is important to provide explicit instruction in critical thinking in universities. She notes that university instructors are, unfortunately, frequently lacking in the skills of teaching for critical thinking. In this chapter she introduces us to the Winthrop University approach that changed its General Education program to include explicit instruction in critical thinking.

Neil Browne, in his commentary in Chapter 12 , compliments Paul Cleghorn, Amber Strong Makaiau, and Amanda Hiner for their endeavors to enhance one’s critical thinking skills. He discusses his experiences of teaching at a mid-sized university in the Midwest to highlight several points including: (1) the impact of the multiple definitions of critical thinking employed by scholars, (2) the acknowledgement that critical thinking can be disruptive for much of our audience, (3) the analogy between mediation and critical thinking pedagogy, and (4) the need to actively sell critical thinking to our audiences.

Ada Haynes and Barry Stein, in Chapter 13 , discuss their efforts to measure critical thinking in “Observations from a Long-term Effort to Assess and Improve Critical Thinking.” They suggest that to facilitate critical thinking in higher education that instructors need to use authentic assessments of critical thinking skills. This idea influenced their development of the Critical Thinking Assessment Test ( CAT ).

In Chapter 14 , Heather Butler notes that the quality of critical thinking measures is often lacking. From this she presents a psychological perspective on the assessment of critical thinking.

Peter and Noreen Facione, and Carol Ann Gittens in “What the Data Are Telling Us” ( Chapter 15 ), report about their development of and the use of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test and the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory with K-16 students, business personnel, and professionals.

In Chapter 16 , which is written by Don Hatcher and Kevin Possin, the chapters by Ada Haynes and Barry Stein, Heather Butler, and Peter and Noreen Facione and Carol Ann Gittens are analyzed and discussed as part of a general review of efforts to assess critical thinking.

The book closes with an Epilogue written by Frank Fair and Dan Fasko.

Black , M. ( 1946 ), Critical thinking: An introduction to logic and scientific method . New York, NY : Prentice Hall .

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Dellarosa , D. ( 1988 ). A history of thinking . In R.J. Sternberg & E.E. Smith ( Eds .), The psychology of human thought (pp. 1 – 18 ). New York, NY : Cambridge University Press .

Dominowski , R.L. , & Bourne , L.E. ( 1994 ). History of research on thinking and problem solving . In R.J. Sternberg ( Ed .), Thinking and problem solving (pp. 1 – 35 ). New York, NY : Academic .

Facione , P. A. ( 1990 ). Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction . Research Findings and Recommendations Prepared for the Committee on Pre-College Philosophy of the American Philosophical Association, ERIC Document ED315423 .

Hitchcock , D. ( 2018 ). Critical thinking . In E. N. Zalta ( Ed .), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2018 ed.). Stanford, CA : Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), Stanford University . Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2018/entries/critical-thinking/

Kahane , H. ( 1971 ). Logic and contemporary rhetoric: The use of reason in everyday life . Belmont, CA : Wadsworth .

Lewis , P. ( 2001 , May 22 ). Howard Kahane, 73, philosopher who advanced a school of logic . New York Times , Section C, p. 18 .

Newell , A. , Shaw , J.C. , & Simon , H.A. ( 1958 ). Elements of a theory of human problem solving . Psychological Review , 65 , 151 – 166 .

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Critical thinking and reasoning, theory, development, instruction, and assessment.

Cover Critical Thinking and Reasoning

  • Teacher Education
  • Educational Leadership

Table of Contents

  • Copyright page
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Chapter 1 Seven Philosophical Conceptions of Critical Thinking
  • Chapter 2 Inquiry
  • Chapter 3 Focusing the Relational Lens on Critical Thinking
  • Chapter 4 Commentary
  • Chapter 5 The Semantic Retrieval Model and Divergent Thinking as Critical to Understanding Logical Reasoning in Children
  • Chapter 6 Adolescent Reasoning and Rationality
  • Chapter 7 Critical Thinking and Learning in Adults
  • Chapter 8 Commentary
  • Chapter 9 Critical Thinking in the Elementary School
  • Chapter 10 The Good Thinker’s Tool Kit
  • Chapter 11 Equipping Students for Success in College and Beyond
  • Chapter 12 Commentary
  • Chapter 13 Observations from a Long-term Effort to Assess and Improve Critical Thinking
  • Chapter 14 Assessing Critical Thinking
  • Chapter 15 What the Data Tell Us about Human Reasoning
  • Chapter 16 Commentary

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