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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples

2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.

Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)

Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.

“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.

“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)

Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).

Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.

Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).

Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).

Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).

Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).

Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).

Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.

Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as

a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)

A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.

Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 [1970]) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as

a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)

Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.

  • It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
  • The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
  • The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.

One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.

If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.

In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.

Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).

Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.

Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:

  • suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
  • an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
  • the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
  • the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
  • testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)

The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).

The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.

If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

  • Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
  • Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
  • Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
  • Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
  • Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
  • Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
  • Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
  • Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
  • Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
  • Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
  • Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.

By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.

Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.

Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)

8. Critical Thinking Dispositions

Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).

On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.

Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.

Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.

  • Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
  • Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
  • Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
  • Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
  • Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
  • Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.

Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .

Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.

Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.

Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).

Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.

Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.

Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.

Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.

Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.

In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.

We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).

According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).

Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.

Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .

What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .

12. Controversies

Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.

McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).

McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:

  • reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
  • distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
  • indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
  • orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
  • being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
  • being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
  • doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
  • reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
  • attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
  • winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)

A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as

thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)

Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should

be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)

Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.

The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
  • Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
  • Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
  • In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
  • Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 [1970]) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).

A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.

What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .

As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.

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  • The Nature of Critical Thinking: An Outline of Critical Thinking Dispositions and Abilities , by Robert H. Ennis

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  • What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

What Is Critical Thinking? | Definition & Examples

Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023.

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment .

To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources .

Critical thinking skills help you to:

  • Identify credible sources
  • Evaluate and respond to arguments
  • Assess alternative viewpoints
  • Test hypotheses against relevant criteria

Table of contents

Why is critical thinking important, critical thinking examples, how to think critically, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about critical thinking.

Critical thinking is important for making judgments about sources of information and forming your own arguments. It emphasizes a rational, objective, and self-aware approach that can help you to identify credible sources and strengthen your conclusions.

Critical thinking is important in all disciplines and throughout all stages of the research process . The types of evidence used in the sciences and in the humanities may differ, but critical thinking skills are relevant to both.

In academic writing , critical thinking can help you to determine whether a source:

  • Is free from research bias
  • Provides evidence to support its research findings
  • Considers alternative viewpoints

Outside of academia, critical thinking goes hand in hand with information literacy to help you form opinions rationally and engage independently and critically with popular media.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Critical thinking can help you to identify reliable sources of information that you can cite in your research paper . It can also guide your own research methods and inform your own arguments.

Outside of academia, critical thinking can help you to be aware of both your own and others’ biases and assumptions.

Academic examples

However, when you compare the findings of the study with other current research, you determine that the results seem improbable. You analyze the paper again, consulting the sources it cites.

You notice that the research was funded by the pharmaceutical company that created the treatment. Because of this, you view its results skeptically and determine that more independent research is necessary to confirm or refute them. Example: Poor critical thinking in an academic context You’re researching a paper on the impact wireless technology has had on developing countries that previously did not have large-scale communications infrastructure. You read an article that seems to confirm your hypothesis: the impact is mainly positive. Rather than evaluating the research methodology, you accept the findings uncritically.

Nonacademic examples

However, you decide to compare this review article with consumer reviews on a different site. You find that these reviews are not as positive. Some customers have had problems installing the alarm, and some have noted that it activates for no apparent reason.

You revisit the original review article. You notice that the words “sponsored content” appear in small print under the article title. Based on this, you conclude that the review is advertising and is therefore not an unbiased source. Example: Poor critical thinking in a nonacademic context You support a candidate in an upcoming election. You visit an online news site affiliated with their political party and read an article that criticizes their opponent. The article claims that the opponent is inexperienced in politics. You accept this without evidence, because it fits your preconceptions about the opponent.

There is no single way to think critically. How you engage with information will depend on the type of source you’re using and the information you need.

However, you can engage with sources in a systematic and critical way by asking certain questions when you encounter information. Like the CRAAP test , these questions focus on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

When encountering information, ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert in their field?
  • What do they say? Is their argument clear? Can you summarize it?
  • When did they say this? Is the source current?
  • Where is the information published? Is it an academic article? Is it peer-reviewed ?
  • Why did the author publish it? What is their motivation?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence? Does it rely on opinion, speculation, or appeals to emotion ? Do they address alternative arguments?

Critical thinking also involves being aware of your own biases, not only those of others. When you make an argument or draw your own conclusions, you can ask similar questions about your own writing:

  • Am I only considering evidence that supports my preconceptions?
  • Is my argument expressed clearly and backed up with credible sources?
  • Would I be convinced by this argument coming from someone else?

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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three components of critical thinking

Critical thinking refers to the ability to evaluate information and to be aware of biases or assumptions, including your own.

Like information literacy , it involves evaluating arguments, identifying and solving problems in an objective and systematic way, and clearly communicating your ideas.

Critical thinking skills include the ability to:

You can assess information and arguments critically by asking certain questions about the source. You can use the CRAAP test , focusing on the currency , relevance , authority , accuracy , and purpose of a source of information.

Ask questions such as:

  • Who is the author? Are they an expert?
  • How do they make their argument? Is it backed up by evidence?

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Information literacy refers to a broad range of skills, including the ability to find, evaluate, and use sources of information effectively.

Being information literate means that you:

  • Know how to find credible sources
  • Use relevant sources to inform your research
  • Understand what constitutes plagiarism
  • Know how to cite your sources correctly

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, interpret, and recall information in a way that aligns with our pre-existing values, opinions, or beliefs. It refers to the ability to recollect information best when it amplifies what we already believe. Relatedly, we tend to forget information that contradicts our opinions.

Although selective recall is a component of confirmation bias, it should not be confused with recall bias.

On the other hand, recall bias refers to the differences in the ability between study participants to recall past events when self-reporting is used. This difference in accuracy or completeness of recollection is not related to beliefs or opinions. Rather, recall bias relates to other factors, such as the length of the recall period, age, and the characteristics of the disease under investigation.

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  • Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them. (Paul and Elder, 2001). The Paul-Elder framework has three components:

  • The elements of thought (reasoning)
  • The  intellectual standards that should be applied to the elements of reasoning
  • The intellectual traits associated with a cultivated critical thinker that result from the consistent and disciplined application of the intellectual standards to the elements of thought

Graphic Representation of Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework

According to Paul and Elder (1997), there are two essential dimensions of thinking that students need to master in order to learn how to upgrade their thinking. They need to be able to identify the "parts" of their thinking, and they need to be able to assess their use of these parts of thinking.

Elements of Thought (reasoning)

The "parts" or elements of thinking are as follows:

  • All reasoning has a purpose
  • All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some question, to solve some problem
  • All reasoning is based on assumptions
  • All reasoning is done from some point of view
  • All reasoning is based on data, information and evidence
  • All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, concepts and ideas
  • All reasoning contains inferences or interpretations by which we draw conclusions and give meaning to data
  • All reasoning leads somewhere or has implications and consequences

Universal Intellectual Standards

The intellectual standards that are to these elements are used to determine the quality of reasoning. Good critical thinking requires having a command of these standards. According to Paul and Elder (1997 ,2006), the ultimate goal is for the standards of reasoning to become infused in all thinking so as to become the guide to better and better reasoning. The intellectual standards include:

Intellectual Traits

Consistent application of the standards of thinking to the elements of thinking result in the development of intellectual traits of:

  • Intellectual Humility
  • Intellectual Courage
  • Intellectual Empathy
  • Intellectual Autonomy
  • Intellectual Integrity
  • Intellectual Perseverance
  • Confidence in Reason
  • Fair-mindedness

Characteristics of a Well-Cultivated Critical Thinker

Habitual utilization of the intellectual traits produce a well-cultivated critical thinker who is able to:

  • Raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
  • Gather and assess relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
  • Come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • Think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • Communicate effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems

Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2010). The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Dillon Beach: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.

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  • Why Focus on Critical Thinking?
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1 Introduction to Critical Thinking

I. what is c ritical t hinking [1].

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe.  It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following:

  • Understand the logical connections between ideas.
  • Identify, construct, and evaluate arguments.
  • Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
  • Solve problems systematically.
  • Identify the relevance and importance of ideas.
  • Reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values.

Critical thinking is not simply a matter of accumulating information. A person with a good memory and who knows a lot of facts is not necessarily good at critical thinking. Critical thinkers are able to deduce consequences from what they know, make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform themselves.

Critical thinking should not be confused with being argumentative or being critical of other people. Although critical thinking skills can be used in exposing fallacies and bad reasoning, critical thinking can also play an important role in cooperative reasoning and constructive tasks. Critical thinking can help us acquire knowledge, improve our theories, and strengthen arguments. We can also use critical thinking to enhance work processes and improve social institutions.

Some people believe that critical thinking hinders creativity because critical thinking requires following the rules of logic and rationality, whereas creativity might require breaking those rules. This is a misconception. Critical thinking is quite compatible with thinking “out-of-the-box,” challenging consensus views, and pursuing less popular approaches. If anything, critical thinking is an essential part of creativity because we need critical thinking to evaluate and improve our creative ideas.

II. The I mportance of C ritical T hinking

Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. The ability to think clearly and rationally is important whatever we choose to do. If you work in education, research, finance, management or the legal profession, then critical thinking is obviously important. But critical thinking skills are not restricted to a particular subject area. Being able to think well and solve problems systematically is an asset for any career.

Critical thinking is very important in the new knowledge economy.  The global knowledge economy is driven by information and technology. One has to be able to deal with changes quickly and effectively. The new economy places increasing demands on flexible intellectual skills, and the ability to analyze information and integrate diverse sources of knowledge in solving problems. Good critical thinking promotes such thinking skills, and is very important in the fast-changing workplace.

Critical thinking enhances language and presentation skills. Thinking clearly and systematically can improve the way we express our ideas. In learning how to analyze the logical structure of texts, critical thinking also improves comprehension abilities.

Critical thinking promotes creativity. To come up with a creative solution to a problem involves not just having new ideas. It must also be the case that the new ideas being generated are useful and relevant to the task at hand. Critical thinking plays a crucial role in evaluating new ideas, selecting the best ones and modifying them if necessary.

Critical thinking is crucial for self-reflection. In order to live a meaningful life and to structure our lives accordingly, we need to justify and reflect on our values and decisions. Critical thinking provides the tools for this process of self-evaluation.

Good critical thinking is the foundation of science and democracy. Science requires the critical use of reason in experimentation and theory confirmation. The proper functioning of a liberal democracy requires citizens who can think critically about social issues to inform their judgments about proper governance and to overcome biases and prejudice.

Critical thinking is a   metacognitive skill . What this means is that it is a higher-level cognitive skill that involves thinking about thinking. We have to be aware of the good principles of reasoning, and be reflective about our own reasoning. In addition, we often need to make a conscious effort to improve ourselves, avoid biases, and maintain objectivity. This is notoriously hard to do. We are all able to think but to think well often requires a long period of training. The mastery of critical thinking is similar to the mastery of many other skills. There are three important components: theory, practice, and attitude.

III. Improv ing O ur T hinking S kills

If we want to think correctly, we need to follow the correct rules of reasoning. Knowledge of theory includes knowledge of these rules. These are the basic principles of critical thinking, such as the laws of logic, and the methods of scientific reasoning, etc.

Also, it would be useful to know something about what not to do if we want to reason correctly. This means we should have some basic knowledge of the mistakes that people make. First, this requires some knowledge of typical fallacies. Second, psychologists have discovered persistent biases and limitations in human reasoning. An awareness of these empirical findings will alert us to potential problems.

However, merely knowing the principles that distinguish good and bad reasoning is not enough. We might study in the classroom about how to swim, and learn about the basic theory, such as the fact that one should not breathe underwater. But unless we can apply such theoretical knowledge through constant practice, we might not actually be able to swim.

Similarly, to be good at critical thinking skills it is necessary to internalize the theoretical principles so that we can actually apply them in daily life. There are at least two ways to do this. One is to perform lots of quality exercises. These exercises don’t just include practicing in the classroom or receiving tutorials; they also include engaging in discussions and debates with other people in our daily lives, where the principles of critical thinking can be applied. The second method is to think more deeply about the principles that we have acquired. In the human mind, memory and understanding are acquired through making connections between ideas.

Good critical thinking skills require more than just knowledge and practice. Persistent practice can bring about improvements only if one has the right kind of motivation and attitude. The following attitudes are not uncommon, but they are obstacles to critical thinking:

  • I prefer being given the correct answers rather than figuring them out myself.
  • I don’t like to think a lot about my decisions as I rely only on gut feelings.
  • I don’t usually review the mistakes I have made.
  • I don’t like to be criticized.

To improve our thinking we have to recognize the importance of reflecting on the reasons for belief and action. We should also be willing to engage in debate, break old habits, and deal with linguistic complexities and abstract concepts.

The  California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory  is a psychological test that is used to measure whether people are disposed to think critically. It measures the seven different thinking habits listed below, and it is useful to ask ourselves to what extent they describe the way we think:

  • Truth-Seeking—Do you try to understand how things really are? Are you interested in finding out the truth?
  • Open-Mindedness—How receptive are you to new ideas, even when you do not intuitively agree with them? Do you give new concepts a fair hearing?
  • Analyticity—Do you try to understand the reasons behind things? Do you act impulsively or do you evaluate the pros and cons of your decisions?
  • Systematicity—Are you systematic in your thinking? Do you break down a complex problem into parts?
  • Confidence in Reasoning—Do you always defer to other people? How confident are you in your own judgment? Do you have reasons for your confidence? Do you have a way to evaluate your own thinking?
  • Inquisitiveness—Are you curious about unfamiliar topics and resolving complicated problems? Will you chase down an answer until you find it?
  • Maturity of Judgment—Do you jump to conclusions? Do you try to see things from different perspectives? Do you take other people’s experiences into account?

Finally, as mentioned earlier, psychologists have discovered over the years that human reasoning can be easily affected by a variety of cognitive biases. For example, people tend to be over-confident of their abilities and focus too much on evidence that supports their pre-existing opinions. We should be alert to these biases in our attitudes towards our own thinking.

IV. Defining Critical Thinking

There are many different definitions of critical thinking. Here we list some of the well-known ones. You might notice that they all emphasize the importance of clarity and rationality. Here we will look at some well-known definitions in chronological order.

1) Many people trace the importance of critical thinking in education to the early twentieth-century American philosopher John Dewey. But Dewey did not make very extensive use of the term “critical thinking.” Instead, in his book  How We Think (1910), he argued for the importance of what he called “reflective thinking”:

…[when] the ground or basis for a belief is deliberately sought and its adequacy to support the belief examined. This process is called reflective thought; it alone is truly educative in value…

Active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends, constitutes reflective thought.

There is however one passage from How We Think where Dewey explicitly uses the term “critical thinking”:

The essence of critical thinking is suspended judgment; and the essence of this suspense is inquiry to determine the nature of the problem before proceeding to attempts at its solution. This, more than any other thing, transforms mere inference into tested inference, suggested conclusions into proof.

2) The  Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal  (1980) is a well-known psychological test of critical thinking ability. The authors of this test define critical thinking as:

…a composite of attitudes, knowledge and skills. This composite includes: (1) attitudes of inquiry that involve an ability to recognize the existence of problems and an acceptance of the general need for evidence in support of what is asserted to be true; (2) knowledge of the nature of valid inferences, abstractions, and generalizations in which the weight or accuracy of different kinds of evidence are logically determined; and (3) skills in employing and applying the above attitudes and knowledge.

3) A very well-known and influential definition of critical thinking comes from philosopher and professor Robert Ennis in his work “A Taxonomy of Critical Thinking Dispositions and Abilities” (1987):

Critical thinking is reasonable reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do.

4) The following definition comes from a statement written in 1987 by the philosophers Michael Scriven and Richard Paul for the  National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (link), an organization promoting critical thinking in the US:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness. It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue, assumptions, concepts, empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions, implications and consequences, objections from alternative viewpoints, and frame of reference.

The following excerpt from Peter A. Facione’s “Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction” (1990) is quoted from a report written for the American Philosophical Association:

We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. CT is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fairminded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society.

V. Two F eatures of C ritical T hinking

A. how not what .

Critical thinking is concerned not with what you believe, but rather how or why you believe it. Most classes, such as those on biology or chemistry, teach you what to believe about a subject matter. In contrast, critical thinking is not particularly interested in what the world is, in fact, like. Rather, critical thinking will teach you how to form beliefs and how to think. It is interested in the type of reasoning you use when you form your beliefs, and concerns itself with whether you have good reasons to believe what you believe. Therefore, this class isn’t a class on the psychology of reasoning, which brings us to the second important feature of critical thinking.

B. Ought N ot Is ( or Normative N ot Descriptive )

There is a difference between normative and descriptive theories. Descriptive theories, such as those provided by physics, provide a picture of how the world factually behaves and operates. In contrast, normative theories, such as those provided by ethics or political philosophy, provide a picture of how the world should be. Rather than ask question such as why something is the way it is, normative theories ask how something should be. In this course, we will be interested in normative theories that govern our thinking and reasoning. Therefore, we will not be interested in how we actually reason, but rather focus on how we ought to reason.

In the introduction to this course we considered a selection task with cards that must be flipped in order to check the validity of a rule. We noted that many people fail to identify all the cards required to check the rule. This is how people do in fact reason (descriptive). We then noted that you must flip over two cards. This is how people ought to reason (normative).

  • Section I-IV are taken from and are in use under the creative commons license. Some modifications have been made to the original content. ↵

Critical Thinking Copyright © 2019 by Brian Kim is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Elements of critical thinking

Identifying the topic

Identifying the topic is the first step in critical analysis of a text.

Topic refers to the word or sentence, which states the main subject of the work, i.e. the issue or idea with which the entire work is related. The work is the author's explanation of the topic. The topic is explicit, and often identified in the main title and should be evident in the abstract or opening paragraph. It answers the pivotal questions of who, what and why through data and facts.

Critical thinking processes:

The critical thinking process has three key elements.

  • evaluate and 
  • synthesise.
  • Identify the parts of an argument.
  • deconstruct, divide, determine, resolve, anatomise, cut up, break up, disintegrate, separate, lay bare, dissect, part

When you analyse you:

  • identify the main elements of a text, particularly the key ideas, the argument and the evidence
  • draw out inferences 
  • draw out implications 
  • identify persuasive tactics if used.

Examples of language that analyses

The first suggests that........... . The implication is that.......... although.......... .

The second component of the evidence provided is derived from...........and indicates a high level of....... .This could be seen as implying....... .

The third element is comprised of.......... . It supports Wright’s claim in that it........... .

Overall, the research demonstrates........... and.......... .However, it also suggests that........... .

  • gauge, appraise, assess, calculate, allocate value, decide, criticise, grade, size up, take measure

When you evaluate you:

  • identify the strengths and weaknesses in an argument (credibility)
  • weigh up the value of evidence (validity)
  • identify and evaluate the assumptions underlying the argument (integrity).

Examples of language that evaluates

The latter, a survey of.........strongly suggests that......... . This evidence is relevant in that it.........and credible in that it.......... .

However, the analysis of the narrative component of the research does not support her assertion that....... .

It suggests rather that........ which undermines her claim that.......... .

Furthermore, it is based on the assumption that.........which is not .........given the ........... .

  • to combine; to make whole.
  • amalgamate, incorporate, harmonise, blend, integrate, orchestrate, symphonise, unify, arrange, manufacture

When you synthesise you:

  • put information together in a new pattern
  • provide a new point of view
  • show how the relationship between the parts, and between the parts and the whole produce a unique communication.

Examples of language that synthesises

In contrast, Jones (2012), in highlighting...........provides insight into..........and demonstrates a high level of correlation between........and........ .

Jones’s (2012) analytic focus on..........facilitates a further contribution .

Overall, the research demonstrates that..........and.......... .

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Critical Thinking in Reading and Composition

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Critical thinking is the process of independently analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information as a guide to behavior and beliefs.

The American Philosophical Association has defined critical thinking as "the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment. The process gives reasoned consideration to evidence , contexts , conceptualizations, methods, and criteria" (1990). Critical thinking is sometimes broadly defined as "thinking about thinking."

Critical thinking skills include the ability to interpret, verify, and reason, all of which involve applying the principles of logic . The process of using critical thinking to guide writing is called critical writing .


  • " Critical Thinking is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, Critical Thinking is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one’s personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, Critical Thinking is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit." (American Philosophical Association, "Consensus Statement Regarding Critical Thinking," 1990)
  • Thought and Language "In order to understand reasoning [...], it is necessary to pay careful attention to the relationship between thought and language . The relationship seems to be straightforward: thought is expressed in and through language. But this claim, while true, is an oversimplification. People often fail to say what they mean. Everyone has had the experience of having their \ misunderstood by others. And we all use words not merely to express our thoughts but also to shape them. Developing our critical thinking skills, therefore, requires an understanding of the ways in which words can (and often fail to) express our thoughts." (William Hughes and Jonathan Lavery, Critical Thinking: An Introduction to the Basic Skills , 4th ed. Broadview, 2004)
  • Dispositions That Foster or Impede Critical thinking "Dispositions that foster critical thinking include [a] facility in perceiving irony , ambiguity , and multiplicity of meanings or points of view; the development of open-mindedness, autonomous thought, and reciprocity (Piaget's term for the ability to empathize with other individuals, social groups, nationalities, ideologies, etc.). Dispositions that act as impediments to critical thinking include defense mechanisms (such as absolutism or primary certitude, denial, projection), culturally conditioned assumptions, authoritarianism, egocentrism, and ethnocentrism, rationalization, compartmentalization, stereotyping and prejudice." (Donald Lazere, "Invention, Critical Thinking, and the Analysis of Political Rhetoric." Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention , ed. by Janet M. Atwill and Janice M. Lauer. University of Tennessee Press, 2002)
  • Critical Thinking and Composing - "[T]he most intensive and demanding tool for eliciting sustained critical thought is a well-designed writing assignment on a subject matter problem. The underlying premise is that writing is closely linked with thinking and that in presenting students with significant problems to write about—and in creating an environment that demands their best writing—we can promote their general cognitive and intellectual growth. When we make students struggle with their writing, we are making them struggle with thought itself. Emphasizing writing and critical thinking , therefore, generally increases the academic rigor of a course. Often the struggle of writing, linked as it is to the struggle of thinking and to the growth of a person's intellectual powers, awakens students to the real nature of learning." (John C. Bean,  Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom , 2nd ed. Wiley, 2011) - "Finding a fresh approach to a writing assignment means that you must see the subject without the blinders of preconception. When people expect to see a thing in a certain way, it usually appears that way, whether or not that is its true image. Similarly, thinking based on prefabricated ideas produces writing that says nothing new, that offers nothing important to the reader. As a writer, you have a responsibility to go beyond the expected views and present your subject so that the reader sees it with fresh eyes. . . . [C]ritical thinking is a fairly systematic method of defining a problem and synthesizing knowledge about it, thereby creating the perspective you need to develop new ideas. . . . " Classical rhetoricians used a series of three questions to help focus an argument . Today these questions can still help writers understand the topic about which they are writing. An sit? (Is the problem a fact?); Quid sit (What is the definition of the problem?); and Quale sit? (What kind of problem is it?). By asking these questions, writers see their subject from many new angles before they begin to narrow the focus to one particular aspect." (Kristin R. Woolever, About Writing: A Rhetoric for Advanced Writers . Wadsworth, 1991)

Logical Fallacies

Ad Misericordiam

Appeal to Authority

Appeal to Force

Appeal to Humor

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Bruce Tulgan, JD

Master the 3 Basics of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a whole lot harder than it looks..

Posted March 15, 2023 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster

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Critical thinking skills are incredibly valuable–among the most in-demand skills in nearly every labor market sector. They are so valuable and in demand because they are considered to be in relatively short supply. That’s because critical thinking is a whole lot harder than it looks.

Critical thinkers do not leap to conclusions. Instead, they take the time to consider various possibilities and do not become too attached to one point of view. They do not latch on to one solution. Rather, they know that most solutions are temporary and improve over time with new data. Critical thinkers are in the habit of distinguishing between reliable and unreliable sources. They carefully weigh the strengths of conflicting views and apply logical reasoning. Critical thinkers are, at once, open to the views of others and supremely independent in their judgments.

If you want to set yourself apart at your job or in the hiring process, these are the three elements of critical thinking to master.

1. Proactive Learning

Here’s why you should care about proactive learning: Of course, the more you learn, the more you will know. But there is more to it than that: All the leading research shows that the very act of learning also strengthens your mind. If you are not actively learning, your mind is weakening—just like any muscle. No matter how smart you are, if you are not actively learning, you steadily lose those smarts over time.

The best way to build strong mental muscles is the same as physical ones: exercise them regularly. That means studying information, practicing technique, and contemplating multiple competing perspectives:

  • Stored knowledge is the result of studying good information.
  • Stored skills are the result of practicing good technique.
  • Stored wisdom is the result of contemplating multiple competing good perspectives.

“Good technique,” in the case of non-physical skills, means keeping an open mind. That means suspending judgment, questioning assumptions, and continually seeking the best new information, technique, and perspective.

2. Problem-Solving

In today’s information environment, so many answers to so many questions are available at the tip of their fingers. Many people today are simply not in the habit of truly thinking on their feet. Without a lot of experience puzzling through problems, it should be no surprise that many people are often puzzled when encountering unanticipated problems.

Here’s the thing: Usually, you don’t need to make important decisions based on your current judgment. You are much better off if you can rely on the accumulated experience of the organization in which you are working.

Ready-made solutions are just best practices captured, turned into standard operating procedures, and deployed throughout the organization to employees for use as job aids. The most common is a simple checklist:

  • If A happens, do B
  • If C happens, do D
  • If E happens, do F

What kind of job aids do you have at your disposal to deal with recurring problems? If you already have such job aids at your disposal, how can you better use them as learning tools?

And here’s the good news: By mastering these best practices, you will get better not only at solving the specific problems anticipated but also much better at solving unanticipated problems. By implementing specific step-by-step solutions to recurring problems, you will learn a lot about good problem-solving.

3. Decision-Making

Decision-making is not the same as sheer brain power, mental capacity, or natural intelligence . It’s not a matter of accumulated knowledge or memorized information. It is more than the mastery of techniques and tools.

Good decision-making is about predicting likely outcomes–the ability to see the connections between cause and effect–to project out the consequences of one set of events and actions instead of another. The irony is that learning from the past is the only way to develop that “go forward” ability to predict the future.

But experience alone does not teach good decision-making. The key to learning from experience is paying close attention and aggressively drawing lessons from one’s experiences. If you can begin to see the patterns in causes and their effects, you can start thinking ahead with insight. Ultimately, that’s the key to better decision-making.

Bruce Tulgan, JD

Bruce Tulgan, JD, is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking and the author of The Art of Being Indispensable at Work.

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Elements of Critical Thinking

Definition of critical thinking.

  • Identification of premises and conclusions .  Critical thinkers break arguments into basic statements and draw logical implications.
  • Clarification of arguments : Critical thinkers locate ambiguity and vagueness in arguments and propositions.
  • Establishment of facts :   Critical thinkers determine if the premises are reasonable and identify information that has been omitted or not collected.  They determine if the implications are logical and search for potentially contradictory data.
  • Evaluation of Logic : Critical thinkers determine if the premises support the conclusion. In deductive arguments, the conclusions must be true if the premises are true.  In inductive arguments, the conclusions are likely if the premises are true.
  • Final evaluation :  Critical thinkers weigh the evidence and arguments.  Supporting data, logic and evidence increase the weight of an argument.  Contradictions and lack of evidence decrease the weight of an argument.  Critical thinkers do not accept propositions if they think there is more evidence against them or if the argument is unclear, omits significant information, or has false premises or poor logic.
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three components of critical thinking

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3 Fundamental aspects of critical thinking

Despite the differences emanating from these schools of thought, there is agreement on some fundamental facets of critical thinking, most of which recognise the various behaviours and/or dispositions that a critical thinker must possess.

  • analysing arguments, claims or evidence
  • judging or evaluating based on evidence
  • making inferences using inductive or deductive reasoning
  • making decisions and/or solving problems through reasoning.


  • open-mindedness
  • searcher of truth
  • inquisition
  • fair and balanced view of one’s work and that of others.

Activity 3 Qualities and attributes associated with a ‘critical thinker’

Pause briefly here to reflect further on this.

What qualities or attributes come to mind when you consider someone to be a ‘critical thinker’?

Note down your thoughts; you may find it helpful to list these.

Here are a few thoughts. This is not meant to be the ‘definitive’ answer, but we want you to consider and reflect on some of these points. A critical thinker would typically avoid jumping to conclusions. They would seek to deepen their own understanding, analyse experience gained from different angles, look at the reasons for and consequences of their own actions, seek clarity and evidence to support their assumptions and beliefs, make use of theory, research and professional knowledge and the insights gained to make informed judgements, decisions and plans for the future.

Someone who is engaged in ‘critical thinking’ could be considered to be:

  • self-aware (and emotionally aware)
  • open to others’ ideas (does not automatically assume that own knowledge and experience is typical of others’)
  • imaginative and showing curiosity
  • enquiring (asks pertinent questions)
  • empathetic (able to understand another’s point of view)
  • able to accept praise and constructive criticism
  • able to think ‘laterally’
  • able to troubleshoot and solve problems (seeks new solutions)
  • able to challenge their own assumptions, beliefs and opinions
  • able to see things from different perspectives
  • able to distinguish between facts and opinions
  • able to evaluate statements and arguments.

How many of these matched your own thoughts? Were there other qualities that you noted?

Another aspect of critical thinking we haven’t mentioned yet is, of course, one’s knowledge of the subject matter. A well-informed researcher or practitioner is always in a good position to offer better insights on the subject matter from an informed position. Bailin et al. (1999), for example, posit that domain-specific knowledge is indispensable in academic critique because the kinds of analysis, evaluation and the use of evidence often vary from discipline to discipline. However, it is important to emphasise that critical thinking and analysis is not simply related to subject knowledge. At postgraduate level the expectations are much higher. You will be required to engage in greater depth with a range of literature, as well as methodologies and approaches used in a variety of research. Now, whilst expectation may vary across disciplines, the fundamentals remain the same.

Activity 4 Reflecting on your understanding and perceptions of critical thinking

Return to your notes from Activity 1 (in this session) and consider the following questions:

  • To what extent do you think the activities you listed involved critical thinking and/or analysis?
  • Has your perception of what constitutes critical thinking shifted in any way?
  • If it has, can you explain why?
  • If not, which ‘school of thought’ does your understanding align with, and why?


Critical Thinking Academy

What is Critical thinking? 

There are many definitions of Critical thinking. Some of them very long and comprehensive in coverage of everything critical thinking includes, while others are short definitions but  very succintly summarize what Critical thinking is and what leads to becoming a critical thinker. Here are three of them.

1. "Critical thinking is the process of making clear reasoned judgments" ...Beyer, 1995

2. “Critical thinking is the ability to look at a situation and clearly understand it from multiple perspectives while separating facts from opinions, myths, prejudices, hunches (intuition) and assumptions”….. Pearsons

3. "It involves the ability to questions assumptions etc. in order to make logical decisions based on consideration of the options and evaluation of all facts". … Pearsons

What do you need to learn to become a critical thinker? 

All of us know critical thinking by its absence or critical thinking traits that we see in a person. When someone makes a foolish decision or applies the first solution that comes to their mind in problem-solving, we know that critical thinking has not been exercised. But critical thinking itself has not been defined for  most of us -either in our education or later in the workplace.

Maybe we see Critical thinking as applied common sense. Critical thinking may also be defined as the process of making clear reasoned judgments about any claim, issue, or solution to a problem. Some also define it as the process of determining whether a claim is true or false. There are more complex definitions such as Critical thinking is skilled and active participation and evaluation of observations and communications, information, and argumentation (Fisher and Scriven). 

None of the academic definitions manage to communicate what Critical thinking is, its elements, and how it could be useful in the workplace, education, or life. To better understand what Critical thinking is, it is useful to look at the actual elements that go into Critical thinking, and see how they apply in various situations at work and in life.

Critical thinking is the process of making clear reasoned judgements. 

Elements of critical thinking

There are three elements that aid in critical thinking, and another three that obstruct critical thinking.

Logical reasoning: You would not expect an accountant to draw up a balance sheet without the knowledge of the debit/credit system. However, we are expected to be absolutely logical in our reasoning about problems and decision making. The absence of a formal introduction to logical reasoning results in even the most intelligent people miss a few steps in their reasoning. There are three main types of reasoning: Deductive reasoning, Inductive reasoning, and Causal reasoning. Of these, Inductive reasoning and Causal reasoning as the most commonly applied systems of logic in the workplace, education, and our daily life.

Clear thinking and communication: Discussions often end up at cross-purposes and pointless due to a lack of clear communication, and this lack of clarity is often due to a lack of definition of terms, ambiguity, and deliberated or unintended use of vague language.

Credibility: We are often required to evaluate suppliers and people to decide whether to work with them or not. We also rely on the opinions of others to make a varying range of decisions for the business, in education and life. How do we know how much credibility we should attach to the advice we get from these people, or how do we determine whether a supplier will be dependable or not? There are some simple principles that we can use to help us in our process of making judgments about credibility.

Elements that obstruct 

  Rhetoric: In the context of Critical thinking, rhetoric is the use of language to evoke emotions in us and persuade us into belief or action. Words have the power to express, elicit images, and evoke emotions in us. They have tremendous persuasive power or what can be called rhetoric force or emotive force. When a leader calls on soldiers to sacrifice lives for the sake of their country, or when citizens are passionately asked to join a protest to protect freedom, these are appeals to our emotions and not our logical reasoning. Rhetorical language and devices can cloud our ability to reason logically.  

Cognitive biases: A cognitive bias is a systematic error in our thinking and judgment and can be due to a number of different reasons such as faulty memory or perception and processing errors of our brains. There could be a number of other reasons, and scientists are still researching the causes of these cognitive biases. A cognitive bias is different from Fallacies in the sense that these errors are based on our incorrect perception and processing of information by our brains, whereas fallacies are simple errors in reasoning. Knowledge of fallacies can help us avoid reasoning errors, but cognitive biases may arise even if we have knowledge of these biases. Often the only way to mitigate errors due to cognitive biases is to rely on data or seek third party opinions.

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Components of Critical Thinking: A Basic Guide

by Kali Rubaii

Most of the students we now teach grew up entirely under the No Child Left Behind Act. That means they were taught to the test, and more importantly, had teachers who were punished for (or actively dissuaded from) teaching critical thinking. When students hear this, they are relieved. And curious. Many linger after my class, or in my office hours, and ask questions like this: “So what is critical thinking, exactly? How do we do it?” Here is a general introduction to the components critical thinking. Each item should be its own chapter. For the most part we are working on the very first item in my classes. I hope it is useful.

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Promoting interaction among students as they learn Learning in a group setting often helps each member achieve more. Asking open-ended questions that do not assume the &quot;one right answer&quot; Critical thinking is often exemplified best when the problems are inherently ill-defined and do not have a &quot;right&quot; answer. Open-ended questions also encourage students to think and respond creatively, without fear of giving the &quot;wrong&quot; answer. Allowing sufficient time for students to reflect on the questions asked or problems posed Critical thinking seldom involves snap judgments; therefore, posing questions and allowing adequate time before soliciting responses helps students understand that they are expected to deliberate and to ponder, and that the immediate response is not always the best response. Teaching for transfer The skills for critical thinking should &quot;travel well.&quot; They generally will do so only if teachers provide opportunities for students to se...

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As a philosophy professor, one of my central goals is to teach students to think critically. However, one difficulty with determining whether critical thinking can be taught, or even measured, is that there is widespread disagreement over what critical thinking actually is. Here, I reflect on several conceptions of critical thinking, subjecting them to critical scrutiny. I also distinguish critical thinking from other forms of mental processes with which it is often conflated. Next, I present my own conception of critical thinking, wherein it fundamentally consists in acquiring, developing, and exercising the ability to grasp inferential connections holding between statements. Finally, given this account of critical thinking, and given recent studies in cognitive science, I suggest the most effective means for teaching students to think critically.

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A rehearsal of a new way of teaching critical thinking by means of computer-aided argument mapping and a procedural method by which to do so.

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Belgin Özaydınlı , Yıldız Ulusoy

2012, Eurasian Journal of Educational Research (EJER)

Problem Statement: The economic and social changes in the 21st century have wide-ranging consequences for education systems. To acquire necessary competencies, what learners need most is to learn to learn by reflecting critically on their learning aims. To provide this kind of learning experience, teacher education curricula should be revised to promote critical thinking (CT). Purpose of Study: The purpose of this study is to investigate current teacher education curricula based on pre-development of CT skills (CTS). In order to fulfill that aim, courses in the curricula, teaching methods, evaluation and assessment methods, and the roles played by teachers were analyzed. Methods: In this study, a qualitative research design was used. 44 participants were selected using a purposive sampling method from the senior classes of different departments in the Faculty of Education. Three main questions including the three components of curricula (content, to the entire process. Data were analyzed using a constant comparative method. Results: Students think that professional courses and elective courses are more effective than courses solely on their discipline.

Facilitation of the Development of Critical Thinking Skills

Dr. Punam Bansal

ABSTRACT In today’s complex world, where human beings need to solve problems, make decisions, or decide in a reasonable and reflective way what to believe or what to do, critical thinking is found to be useful. Critical thinking is that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities that can help citizens make sense of their world and participate in a democratic dialogue. To prepare such citizens with higher order thinking skills should be foremost priority of any education system. Therefore ,it is the responsibility of teachers to foster critical thinking skills of their students and switch over to constructivist methods so that students can construct their knowledge and apply it to solve real life problems. This paper is a modest attempt by author to suggest some useful practices in classroom to develop critical thinking skills.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: A Thinking Journey

Peter Ellerton

Critical thinking is an educational priority, a foundational 21st century skill and essential to building cultures of innovation and responsible citizenship. While critical thinking is often incorporated into curricula—for example, as “general capabilities” (Australia), “common core” (USA) or “core competencies” (Canada)—little guidance is provided to regular classroom teachers about how to teach critical thinking or how to embed it in classroom practice. This paper outlines the theoretical and practical approach to teaching critical thinking developed by the University of Queensland Critical Thinking Project (UQCTP), a professional learning program that has for the past decade assisted thousands of teachers across hundreds of schools, nationally and internationally, in developing pedagogical expertise in ‘teaching for thinking’. In this paper research findings from one Australian secondary school’s ‘whole-of-school’ commitment to pedagogical transformation are presented as proof of...

Teaching critical thinking and why it matters: A transdisciplinary pedagogy for teaching critical thinking

Odeta merfeldaitė


The article discusses the construction of the critical thinking concept in higher education and its change in scientific publications between 1993 and 2017. Based on a systematic literature review, the following research questions are raised: how does construction of critical thinking concept change in the context of higher education during time? How are personal, interpersonal, and social aspects expressed in the concept of critical thinking in the context of higher education? The systematic literature review revealed significant grow of publications starting from 1998. It is also disclosed slight change in treating critical thinking as purely general or domain-specific competence. The authors of the researched articles do not make clear division between critical thinking as a general and as a domain-specific competence. Researchers in different fields tend to associate critical thinking with the development of a person’s cognitive and intellectual capacities, including skills and...

What Critical Thinking and for What?

James Underwood

This discussion paper was written for the participants at the University of Northampton, School of Education Partnership Conference 2015. It was written in order to facilitate discussion about the teaching of critical thinking skills. In this paper I first describe a small project involving four current teachers and one lecturer regarding the teaching of critical thinking skills in their specific context. The project involves looking at how this is done across a wide range of age groups and searching for teaching strategies and approaches that can inform teaching in other contexts. I first identify issues and challenges that this small group identified in terms of teaching critical thinking. I then describe and discuss a workshop for primary teachers where I presented two strategies commonly used in the secondary and sixth form classroom. I refer to their responses as to whether these strategies could also be relevant for the primary classroom. The two strategies referred to are the: origin, purpose, value, limitations approach to using historical sources and the zones of relevance (Counsell, 1998) approach to planning essay writing. Oh and if you search there is a picture of a rhinoceros in this paper too.

Searching for commonalities in the teaching of critical thinking skills, from Masters’ to sixth form to primary.

Najia Abdallaoui- Maan

The advance of the new technologies and the unprecedented explosion of information and its varied sources have made the need for teaching critical thinking abilities and skills more imperative than ever before. These skills are not elements to be acquired automatically but a mode of thinking and being which transcends discipline divisions. It is based on intellectual traits (ethical behavior, autonomy, integrity, fair-mindedness, courage, perseverance, etc.), on universal intellectual standards (accuracy, clarity, relevance, precision, and depth) and on elements of reasoning (purpose, inquiry, information, concepts, analysis, inference, interpretation, synthesis and evaluation). Despite the pedagogical challenges engendered by the slippery nature of the concept, there is some agreement over the benefits of explicit teaching, collaborative and practical learning. Along the same vein, integration of critical thinking in the Moroccan educational system is inevitable. This system, however, presents serious drawbacks in terms of clarity and coherence of policies, information, accountability, access, equity, quality and efficiency. The urgency of a thorough reform cannot be overstated.

Critical Thinking and the  Educational Context

sarwanto sarwanto

Malaysian Journal of Learning and Instruction

Purpose – This study aimed to examine elementary school students’ critical thinking skills and their impact. Methodology – This research was a qualitative case study. The subjects of this study were 29 fifth-grade students and three teachers at an elementary school, chosen by a purposive sampling technique. Data were collected through observation, interviews, and critical thinking skills tests with open description types. The data validation technique used triangulation, applied to the study’s methods, sources, and theories. The data analytical framework of this research employed Milles and Hubberman&#39;s (1994) interactive analysis model with the following stages: data validity, data collection, data reduction, data presentation, and drawing conclusions. Findings – Based on the research result analysis and discussion, only 10% of students whose scores were above the minimum completeness criteria from the school, and the class average only reached 50 out of 100. The scores on each ...

Critical Thinking Skills and Their Impacts on Elementary School Students

Daiva Penkauskienė

This article aims to present the interaction between understanding of critical thinking and teaching and learning of critical thinking skills in higher education in Lithuania. Representative quantitative research was implemented, and 152 teachers and 1512 students took part in the survey. Exploratory factor analysis revealed two factors – the rigidity and elasticity of the conception of critical thinking – that have an impact on teaching and learning of critical thinking skills.

The Interaction Between Understanding of Critical Thinking and Teaching/Learning of Critical Thinking Skills

Tiou Clarke

One skill that many people today are lacking is the ability to assess situations and objectively develop solutions that can fix the issue at the same time, not to the detriment of another. Not many people can ask the right questions to get quality answers that can create new knowledge. The average man might not even understand what it means to think critically as he is used to his own way of thinking. This way may not be the best way, but it is the way he knows how. Critical thinking no doubt has become an integral part of education, the world of work, and even our regular life. The aim of this article is to dissect what is critical thinking by providing an in-depth view of what this means over the years and providing a little background on the idea of critical thinking and the foundation that gave rise to this. This article will also talk about the critical aspects of this form of thinking as well as some critical questions that can be asked to further develop thinking. This assignment will also assess the application of critical thinking to different situations as well as assessment instruments that can be used to measure critical thinking. The article will conclude with a new definition of critical thinking as well as a five-step process for critical thinking.


John Eigenauer

Ample literature on the instruction of critical thinking in higher education can help colleges and universities make proper decisions about teaching and assessing critical thinking.

Don't Reinvent the Critical Thinking Wheel: What Scholarly Literature Tells Us about Critical Thinking Instruction

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The 8 Elements of Critical Thinking

By Med Kharbach, PhD | Last Update: November 4, 2023

Elements of critical thinking are the topic of our blog post today!

Navigating our digitally saturated world feels like wading through an ocean of information. We’ve reached an unprecedented point in history where we’re drowning in data—accessible with just a tap or a click. The very tool that’s revolutionizing our access to knowledge is also becoming a double-edged sword.

On one hand, the democratization of knowledge is an incredible leap forward, comparable to groundbreaking inventions like fire, electricity, and the internet. But, there’s also a downside: the phenomenon of “infobesity,” or information overload. How do we navigate this ocean without drowning? The answer lies in harnessing the power of critical thinking, a multifaceted skill that’s more crucial now than ever.

In this post, we’re going to dig deep into the anatomy of critical thinking—what it is, why it matters, and how to hone this indispensable skill. Along the way, I’ll draw from established thinking taxonomies, scientific studies, and my own experiences as an educational researcher to guide us through. Let’s jump right in!

Elements of Critical Thinking

This visual is inspired by Elesapiens work

What is critical thinking?

I like to think of critical thinking as an analytic framework, a conceptual structure that weaves together a set of interconnected thinking skills and reasoning abilities. Critical thinking is therefore not a monolithic skill and certainly not a single cognitive ability. 

It is the ensemble of reasoning mechanisms that enable us to synthesize, analyze, process, and evaluate information. It is, as Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it, a ‘careful goal-directed thinking’. 

The purpose of critical thinking is to inform our behaviours, actions, decisions and to “improve our ability to reason and generate strong arguments” (Hanscomb, 2016, p. 3). 

The word critical in critical thinking implies two things: First, it implies the existence of a non-critical state of thinking which is the default state underlying the human mind. In this non-critical state, the mind becomes a warehouse of facts, a receptacle of unfiltered ideas and arguments. 

The taken for granted becomes the norm. Conversely,  in the critical state the mind makes use of complex cognitive processes to filter out information and evaluate judgements. The taken for granted is problematised and put to the question. This dichotomy of critical versus uncritical is grounded within a general discussion of thinking skills taxonomies. 

Bloom’s taxonomy, first originated in 1956, is probably one of the most popular taxonomies that attempt to categorize educational objectives into several thinking skills organized along a continuum of cognitive complexity with higher order thinking skills at one end and lower order thinking skills at the other. 

In 2001, Anderson and Krathwohl revised Bloom’s taxonomy and introduced the following six verbs: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. As Howard et al (2015) argued, “most students focus on the first three parts of this cognitive complexity. 

Critical thinking and creativity depend on the three more advanced parts of cognitive complexity: analyzing, evaluating, and creating” (p. 134)

Indeed, we are thinking animals but only when we become aware of our thinking, that is, when we engage in meta-thinking (thinking about thinking), that we take the first step towards becoming critical thinkers. 

The second implication of the word critical refers to the existence of implicitly biased or distorted norms and that it is the job of critical thinkers  to uncover and expose these distortions. 

One pertinent example in this regard is the phenomenon of fake news . The ability to recognize misinformation is a pure function of critical thinking. Being able to critically appraise and filter information allows one to develop clearer processes of thinking which is why critical thinking is seldom defined as ‘the ability to think clearly and rationally’ .

5 Important Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking, as stated earlier, is an analytic framework that consists of several thinking skills some of which include: 

1- Asking questions

The ability to think critically starts with posing serious and deep questions regarding what is normatively considered valid and true knowledge. Critical questions are precursors of deep learning. 

They drive one’s quest to uncover different perspectives, opinions, and dispositions. Critical thinkers do not ask questions for the sake of questions but to spark learning and discovery. They are motivated by a restless need to learn.

2- Problem solving

Critical thinkers are goal oriented. Their objective is to find solutions to emerging problems. These solutions can come in different forms and formats. 

Whether it is to find the valid version of a piece of news, uncover the hidden motives behind an author’s statement, understand why things are the way they are, or to simply disambiguate a faulty line of reasoning and refute what appears to be solid arguments, critical thinkers are constantly propelled by an ethical and intellectual obligation to seek alternative perspectives, solutions, and ways of knowing. 

3- Analysing

Analytical practice is at the core of critical thinking. The abilities to ask questions and problem-solve are only effective when coupled with rigorous analytic practice. Analysis is where sifting chaff from grain takes place. 

It entails looking at hints, hidden markers, implicit associations and implications and making informed decisions. Critical analysts are sharp observers. They do not simply look but they  see  and  envision  what the laymen can not readily see.  

4- Evaluating

Critical thinkers assess information against multiple criteria and never take propositions for granted. They consider knowledge as socially constructed and relative and is therefore always prone to contention, fallacies, and falsifications. Evaluation involves scrutinizing various sources and perspectives, taking into account excluded voices, and silent viewpoints.

5- Inferring

Inferring is another key critical thinking skill. It allows one to draw conclusions from analyzed data before making any educated guess. 

Elements of critical thinking

Critical thinking is a process that is composed of a number of elements. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy outlined 11 components of the critical thinking process: observing, feeling, wondering, imagining, inferring, knowledge, consulting, identifying, judging, and deciding. I adapted Stanford’s categorisation of the elements of critical thinking and synthesized them into 8 key elements:

1- Observing

At the observation phase, one notices inconsistencies, irregularities, and abnormalities in their immediate environment. Observing is all about acknowledging the presence of an issue or a problematic that requires further investigation and scrutiny. 

After observing data, one wonders about possible scenarios, plans, actions, behaviours, etc that could have been applied but were not. Wondering is about posing questions and imagining possible answers.

3- Gather information

To seek answers to their questions, critical thinkers gather information from different sources. Their goal is to cover the issue from different angles and explore as many perspectives as possible. All possible sources of data are vetted with an eye on inconsistencies, differences, divergences and contradictions.

Analysis is an important element of the critical thinking process. It is through analysis that critical thinkers deconstruct arguments, reveal implicit biases, and explore alternative viewpoints. Analysis is a methodical process that entails examining and re-examining data searching for patterns of thought and identifying structural discrepancies

5- Synthesize

The next step after collecting data from multiple sources and analyzing it is to synthesize it. Critical thinkers put disparate ideas, assumptions, facts, and propositions together and combine them into an overarching argument. 

Effective synthesis requires deeper levels of understanding because one can only deconstruct and combine ideas after they have fully internalized them. 

Reflection is another central element of the critical thinking process. Reflection is an iterative process in which one re-assesses their analytical and argumentative logic searching for possible influences, biases, and prejudices that might have impacted their reasoning.

7- Identify

After gathering information, analyzing it and reflecting on it, the critical thinker is now in a position to identify problematic areas and isolate inconsistencies.  The key is to narrow the broad scope of an argument and deconstruct its structure in such a way that it becomes easier to tackle, one problem at a time.

The last element of the critical thinking process is taking decisions. As I stated earlier, the purpose behind critical thinking is for us to be able to make informed decisions, that is, decisions based on solid facts and arguments. 

Characteristics of critical thinkers

Critical thinkers are normal individuals like everybody else except that they have developed strong cognitive filters that help them navigate the world in  more nuanced ways. Given their preoccupation with deeper forms of understanding , critical thinkers have developed unique characteristics including:

➥  Empathetic : Critical thinkers are empathetic individuals. They acknowledge and understand the feelings of others, build affinities and sympathise with them.

➥  Flexible : critical thinkers are guided by logical and reasoned argumentation and therefore have no problem changing their positions and beliefs whenever a new convincing evidence emerges.  

➥  Hard working : Critical thinkers do not take shortcuts. They compare and contrast different sources, vet resources, debate arguments, uncover hidden relations and interconnections, and put the work necessary to reach what they believe are valid conclusions. 

➥  Independent : Critical thinkers do not swear allegiance to any creed, dogma, tribe, or ideology. Their creed is logic and reason. They thrive in intellectual freedom and have a deeper sense of responsibility and respect for others. Critical thinkers are self-directed and independent life-long learners.

➥  Reflective:  Critical thinkers are reflective individuals. They constantly reflect on their actions, thinking processes, emotions, and feelings. They always seek to uncover new shades of meanings, discover hidden feelings and reactions, and optimize their reflective practice.

➥  Objective:  Critical thinkers recognize their biases and personal assumptions and are explicit about their influences. Their methodology is evidence-based.

➥  Observant:  Critical analysts have an acute sense of observation and a sharp eye for detail. They view the minutiae of everyday life as possible sources of insightful data and the path towards enlightening hunches. 

Examples of what critical thinkers can do

Critical thinkers are able to :

  • Identify fallacious arguments and provide counter-arguments.
  • Conceptualize and analyze ideas effectively.
  • Synthesize information from various sources into solid arguments.
  • Evaluate information, compare and contrast it, and identify argumentative strengths and weaknesses.
  • Structure arguments along a clear and logical order breaking down complex concepts into digestible ideas.
  • Use different forms of data collection methods to gather information including observation, experience, reading, reflection, etc.
  • Read between and beneath lines , access hidden meanings, and expose implications.

Final thoughts

In this digital age where information overload is the norm rather than the exception, the call to arms is clear: Equip yourself with critical thinking skills. Far from a monolithic concept, critical thinking is an intricate tapestry of cognitive abilities that empower us to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize the world around us. From grappling with the constant bombardment of facts and fallacies in the media to dissecting the implicit biases that often go unnoticed, the value of critical thinking is incalculable.

It’s not just an intellectual exercise; it’s a vital life skill that underpins our actions, decisions, and even our empathetic understanding of others. The word “critical” itself hints at the importance of challenging the status quo, whether it’s fake news or social norms. As thinkers in this vast digital playground, let’s make it our mission to be not just consumers of information but discerning evaluators.

More sources

  • Defining critical thinking (The Foundation for Critical Thinking)
  • Critical thinking (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  • Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Addison Wesley Longman
  • What is critical thinking (University of Louisville)
  • 6 Critical skills you need to master now (RASMUSSEN University)
  • Critical thinking and problem solving (The University of Tennessee)
  • Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956).Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay
  • Hanscomb, S. (2016). Critical thinking : The basics. Taylor & Francis Group.
  • Howard, L. w., Tang, T. L., & Austin, M. J (2015). Teaching Critical Thinking Skills: Ability, Motivation, Intervention, and the Pygmalion Effect.J Bus Ethics 128:133–147. DOI 10.1007/s10551-014-2084-0
  • Critical thinking: Educating competent citizen s (Elesapiens)

three components of critical thinking

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three components of critical thinking

Meet Med Kharbach, PhD

Dr. Med Kharbach is an influential voice in the global educational technology landscape, with an extensive background in educational studies and a decade-long experience as a K-12 teacher. Holding a Ph.D. from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Canada, he brings a unique perspective to the educational world by integrating his profound academic knowledge with his hands-on teaching experience. Dr. Kharbach's academic pursuits encompass curriculum studies, discourse analysis, language learning/teaching, language and identity, emerging literacies, educational technology, and research methodologies. His work has been presented at numerous national and international conferences and published in various esteemed academic journals.

three components of critical thinking

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Critical Thinking, Its Components and Assessment

In higher education and advanced education exemplified by graduate school education, demonstrating critical thinking skills is crucial to good scholarship. But what really is critical thinking? How is it demonstrated and how can professors measure such level of thinking?

In this article, I clarify critical thinking by exploring its definition, importance, components, and ways to develop this skill, among other things. This discussion considers the context of the world that gradually undergoes significant change due to artificial intelligence that gradually creep into our lives. We need to be discerning of what information is presented to us given the preponderance of erroneous information, misinformation, or simply the infodemic we face every day.

In general, how can we employ critical thinking to discern fact from fiction? How can we avoid being misled? Again, I highlight the important points in this discussion.

Let’s see our tool to survive the age of misinformation and disinformation.

Table of Contents


In a fast-paced world where information and data flood our daily lives, it is increasingly essential to navigate with discernment, clarity, and analytical acumen in both personal and professional spheres. This necessity is where the profound relevance of critical thinking becomes clear.

Encompassing components like analysis, interpretation, and self-regulation, critical thinking is a cognitive process that enriches decision-making, problem-solving, and quality management across varied sectors.

This discussion will delve into what critical thinking entails, why it holds utmost significance in today’s world, the integral skills and dispositions it comprises, and how it can be effectively developed and measured.

Defining Critical Thinking

Critical thinking defined.

Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment . It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomenon, and research findings.

Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomenon, and research findings.

Critical thinkers can separate facts from opinions, evaluate credibility, identify prejudice or bias , distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, and ascertain the validity of the information. This involves clear, rational, open-minded, and informed thinking.

So, what is critical thinking exactly? It’s the capability to think in a clear and rational manner about what actions to take or beliefs to hold. It includes the ability to independently engage in reflective thinking .

A critical thinker is able to discern the logical connections between ideas, construct and evaluate arguments, detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning, solve problems systematically, recognize the relevance and significance of ideas, and reflect on the justification of their own beliefs and values.

The Critical Thinking Mindset

Beyond the very technical aspects, critical thinking fundamentally involves a mental discipline that calls for reflective mindfulness, a sense of skepticism, and intellectual humility . Balancing these qualities with curiosity, creativity, and an appreciation for complexity, this mindset becomes pivotal within the decision-making process.

Essentially, the adoption of a critical thinking mindset allows for a robust evaluation of different possibilities. This process is based on established criteria and standards that enable clear, rationale thought, thus unlocking more informed, evidence-based decision making.

The Importance of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking plays a crucial role in professional environments. It is integral in problem-solving and decision-making processes, enabling professionals to analyze issue-related data, consider alternate perspectives, and make informed decisions based on sound reasoning and evidence.

Within academic settings, critical thinking is vital for understanding and interpreting complex theories or concepts. It fosters independent thinking, encourages intellectual curiosity, and prepares students to navigate the complexities of real-world scenarios, by enabling them to assess the value or validity of claims and arguments presented to them.

critical thinking

Critical thinking is often assessed through various assignments, presentations, class discussions, and project-based activities. The purpose of these tasks is not only to measure a student’s ability to process and synthesize information but also their ability to draw connections between different concepts and build up well-reasoned arguments.

In science, for example, critical thinking helps researchers design experiments, interpret data, and derive conclusions. In business, critical thinking assists organizations in strategic planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and innovation. In education, critical thinking is crucial in developing skills in reading, writing, and learning.

In personal decision-making, critical thinking can significantly improve the quality of life. It aids in making sound financial decisions, solving day-to-day problems effectively, and choosing the most optimal course of action in various situations.

Furthermore, critical thinking can foster creativity by necessitating the exploration of multiple viewpoints and solutions, it can enhance communication by promoting clarity, accuracy, and relevance in the exchange of ideas, and promote social harmony by encouraging open and objective discussions.

Critical thinking is a vital skill in today’s world, as it allows individuals to process information more effectively and make well-informed decisions. Rather than merely accepting information as presented, a critical thinker will question, analyze, and often challenge that information. This process helps to avoid faulty reasoning, cognitive biases, and manipulation.

6 Components of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking includes specific components such as analysis, interpretation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation.

1. Analysis

This involves examining information in detail in order to understand it better and to draw conclusions. It could be data , a concept , or a process .

Analysis is a key component of critical thinking. It involves breaking down complex problems or arguments into parts to better understand their nature and relationship.

This can include questioning assumptions, recognizing patterns, identifying underlying causes, and pursuing relevant evidence. For example, in a heated political debate, a critical thinker might analyze the validity of each party’s claims, their supporting facts, and the implications of their proposals.

2. Interpretation

This is the act of explaining the meaning of information . Critical thinkers deeply focus on a topic or issue, questioning and analyzing it from multiple perspectives.

Interpretation refers to the ability to understand and express the meaning or significance of a wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, and criteria. It also involves making inferences — drawing out unseen implications from the information given.

For instance, someone using interpretation during a political debate will not only understand what the speakers say but draw insights about their political ideologies, plans, or biases.

3. Inference

It is the act of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true. Inferences can be accurate or inaccurate, logical or illogical, justified or unjustified.

4. Explanation

Here, the critical thinker tries to make something clear or easy to understand with detailed and observable facts. They clarify the cause-a nd-effect relationships surrounding an event or situation.

5. Evaluation

Evaluation in critical thinking refers to the process of determining the credibility and relevance of the information. This involves assessing the evidence supporting a claim, determining its source’s reliability, and judging the logical consistency of arguments.

Returning to the political debate example, evaluating might involve checking the sources of factual claims or judging whether the proposed solutions are feasible given the present socio-political conditions.

6. Self-Regulation

This is the process where the thinker examines his or her own cognitive processes to make decisions about how to think and draw conclusions. This skill ensures that the thinking process is effective, efficient, and yields the intended results.

Dispositional Elements of Critical Thinking

Dispositional elements refer to the attitudes or mindsets conducive to critical thinking. These include open-mindedness, intellectual humility, skepticism, and intellectual courage.


Open-mindedness involves being receptive to new ideas or conflicting perspectives. It implies the willingness to revise pre-existing beliefs based on new evidence or understandings. This characteristic helps critical thinkers avoid biases, consider all available evidence, and make fair judgments.

Intellectual Humility

Intellectual humility refers to recognizing that one’s own knowledge has limits . This disposition helps establish an unbiased view and a continuing interest in acquiring new knowledge.

Being skeptical involves questioning the authenticity and credibility of the information rather than accepting it at face value. Skeptics seek to validate information through evidence, logic, and rational arguments.

Intellectual Courage

Intellectual courage refers to the willingness to evaluate all ideas and beliefs, even those that conflict with one’s own. Challenging comfortable assumptions in pursuit of truth is essential for critical thinking.

How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills

1. pursue continuous learning.

To hone your critical thinking skills, continuous learning is of paramount importance. This includes opening oneself up to an array of experiences and environments, entertaining diverse viewpoints and actively seeking opportunities to challenge your pre-existing beliefs.

As mentioned in the previous discussion, open-mindedness is an element of critical thinking. It’s not too late to learn something new. Old dogs can learn new tricks with perseverance. You are not too old to learn how to use Moodle in your online classes .

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.

– Henry Ford

critical thinking skills

2. Challenge the Status Quo

Being a critical thinker also involves questioning the accepted norms and challenging the traditional wisdom. Instead of simply accepting things as they are, delve deeper to understand the reasons behind their existence.

3. Understand Diverse Perspectives

The essence of critical thinking lies in viewing situations from various perspectives . This requires understanding others’ viewpoints, even if they are contradictory to your personal beliefs. This varied understanding can help you make more informed decisions.

4. Embrace Calculated Risks

Developing your critical thinking skills may entail taking calculated risks. This includes stepping out of your comfort zone to experience new things and ideas that might challenge your previous assumptions. This involves a careful analysis of the pros and cons before making an informed decision based on your findings.

5. Promote Open-Mindedness

Critical thinkers are often open-minded individuals. They are open to new ideas and different perspectives. Developing this trait involves embracing diversity, understanding others’ experiences, and actively participating in challenging conversations.

6. Keep a Reflective Journal

Maintaining a reflective journal helps you document your thought process over time. You can analyze your experiences, thoughts, and decisions made. Writing down your thoughts offers a chance to critically analyze your actions, understand why you made certain decisions, and thereby foster self-awareness and critical thinking.

Measuring Critical Thinking

Critical thinking can fundamentally be described as one’s aptitude to assess, conceptualize, apply, and critically examine information gathered or produced through various means, such as observation, dialogue, reflection, or reasoning. This intellectual process encourages making well-reasoned judgments based on solid evidence and logic rather than accepting arguments and conclusions at face value.

How we measure critical thinking, however, can vary. While these capabilities may sound subjective, there are objective ways on how to measure critical thinking. I enumerate some of them in the next section.

1. Standardized Tests to Measure Critical Thinking

Typically, standardized testing is utilized to gauge a person’s critical thinking competence. Such tests, like the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal or the Cornell Critical Thinking Test , evaluate areas such as inference, recognition of assumptions, interpretation, deduction, and evaluation of arguments.

The Ennis-Weir Critical Thinking Essay Test measures the ability of students to reason through a problem and to express their reasoning in writing. This type of measurement tool is used mainly in educational settings, but it offers valuable insight into individual critical thinking skills.

2. Performance Assessments

Beyond standard testing, another metric involves practical performance assessments . These involve the observation of how an individual tackles a complex problem.

Specific critical thinking aspects might be identified and evaluated using rubrics – criteria set to ascertain a person’s ability to identify, summarize, and offer solutions to problems while also taking various perspectives into account.

3. Self and Peer Evaluations

In addition to the aforementioned, self and peer evaluations provide another measure of critical thinking. These require individuals to introspect on their cognitive processes or inspect the same in their peers.

Interpreting The Results

Interpretation of these tests depends largely on the benchmarks set by the individual administering the exam. As a rule, the results of such evaluations should always be interpreted in the context of all available data from the assessment of the individual’s cognitive abilities and academic skills.

Overall, the measurement of critical thinking provides invaluable insight into one’s ability to reason, make judgments, solve problems, and make decisions. These abilities are of immense importance in both personal and professional realms.

critical thinking measurement

Key Takeaways

As we stand in an era of information overload, the value of critical thinking in deciphering truth from noise cannot be overstated. It enhances our ability to analyze, interpret, evaluate, and take calculated risks in various facets of life, ensuring we make informed, intelligent decisions.

Furthermore, it fosters a culture of curiosity, open-mindedness, and intellectual courage, promoting better communication and fostering social harmony.

As effortlessly as it might seem to come for some, critical thinking, like any other skill, can be cultivated and honed over time with dedication and the right strategies. These skills can be measured with tools like the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, leading to a more informed understanding of an individual’s critical thinking capabilities.

Therefore, investing in the development and assessment of critical thinking skills is an investment in a more discerning, informed, and intellectual society.

In conclusion, critical thinking is not only a valuable but a crucial life skill. In today’s information-rich world, the ability to analyze data and make swift, efficient decisions is vital. Thus, understanding critical thinking and its significance, and knowing how it is measured and can be improved, is key to personal and professional growth.

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Chip War: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology Hardcover – October 4, 2022

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  • Print length 464 pages
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Scribner (October 4, 2022)
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Chris miller.

Chris Miller teaches International History at Fletcher School at Tufts University. He is also Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a director at Greenmantle, a macroeconomic and geopolitical consultancy. He is regularly quoted in publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, is featured on CNBC and NPR, and writes for publications like Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. He is author of three books: Putinomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia, The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy and We Shall Be Masters: Russian Pivots to East Asia from Peter the Great to Putin. He received his PhD and MA from Yale University and his AB in history from Harvard University. For more information, see

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  1. Critical Thinking

    Critical Thinking First published Sat Jul 21, 2018; substantive revision Wed Oct 12, 2022 Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal.

  2. 3 Core Critical Thinking Skills Every Thinker Should Have

    First, critical thinking is metacognitive—simply, it requires the individual to think about thinking; second, its main components are reflective judgment, dispositions, and skills. Below...

  3. What Is Critical Thinking?

    Published on May 30, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on May 31, 2023. Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment. To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources.

  4. Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework

    The Paul-Elder framework has three components: The elements of thought (reasoning) The intellectual standards that should be applied to the elements of reasoning The intellectual traits associated with a cultivated critical thinker that result from the consistent and disciplined application of the intellectual standards to the elements of thought

  5. Basic Elements of Critical Thinking

    Systematic Organized and thoughtful problem solving Analytical Identify potential consequences of decisions Open-Minded Tolerant of different views and sensitive to own biases While there is no official standard list of the skills that make up critical thinking, here is the list of core characteristics that we like best! Interpretation

  6. Critical thinking

    Theorists have noted that such skills are only valuable insofar as a person is inclined to use them. Consequently, they emphasize that certain habits of mind are necessary components of critical thinking. This disposition may include curiosity, open-mindedness, self-awareness, empathy, and persistence. Although there is a generally accepted set of qualities that are associated with critical ...

  7. Introduction to Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is a domain-general thinking skill. The ability to think clearly and rationally is important whatever we choose to do. If you work in education, research, finance, management or the legal profession, then critical thinking is obviously important. ... There are three important components: theory, practice, and attitude. III ...

  8. Elements of critical thinking

    The critical thinking process has three key elements. analyse, evaluate and synthesise. Analyse Evaluate Synthesise Analyse Definition Identify the parts of an argument. Synonyms: deconstruct, divide, determine, resolve, anatomise, cut up, break up, disintegrate, separate, lay bare, dissect, part When you analyse you:

  9. Defining Critical Thinking

    Critical Thinking as Defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, 1987 . ... Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. ...

  10. The three components of critical thinking

    Exercise Files The three components of critical thinking " - Ideally, critical thinking is about how you judge what to believe. That's not easy. That's why I like an easy-to-remember mental...

  11. Definition and Examples of Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is the process of independently analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information as a guide to behavior and beliefs. The American Philosophical Association has defined critical thinking as "the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment. The process gives reasoned consideration to evidence, contexts, conceptualizations ...

  12. Master the 3 Basics of Critical Thinking

    If you want to set yourself apart at your job or in the hiring process, these are the three elements of critical thinking to master. Here's why you should care about proactive learning: Of...

  13. Elements of Critical Thinking

    Elements of Critical Thinking. Identification of premises and conclusions . Critical thinkers break arguments into basic statements and draw logical implications. Clarification of arguments: Critical thinkers locate ambiguity and vagueness in arguments and propositions. Establishment of facts : Critical thinkers determine if the premises are ...

  14. 3 Fundamental aspects of critical thinking

    3 Fundamental aspects of critical thinking Despite the differences emanating from these schools of thought, there is agreement on some fundamental facets of critical thinking, most of which recognise the various behaviours and/or dispositions that a critical thinker must possess. Abilities: analysing arguments, claims or evidence

  15. What is Critical Thinking, and what are its elements

    There are three main types of reasoning: Deductive reasoning, Inductive reasoning, and Causal reasoning. Of these, Inductive reasoning and Causal reasoning as the most commonly applied systems of logic in the workplace, education, and our daily life.

  16. Components of Critical Thinking: A Basic Guide

    Components of Critical Thinking Critical Thinking is a method of perceiving, speaking, thinking, and doing. It insists on hard thinking, and resists easy or overworked trails of inquiry. It is also transforms hierarchy in knowledge: meaning that critical thinkers value "knowledge" not as a commodity, but as a collective process.

  17. Critical Thinking: Components, Skills, and Strategies

    It came up with a number of components of critical thinking as well as certain skills. It is noticed that most critical thinking skills revolve around skills of the Watson-Glaser model....

  18. The Seven Key Steps Of Critical Thinking

    When you're able to critically think, it opens the door for employee engagement, as you become the go-to person for assistance with issues, challenges and problems. In turn, you teach your...

  19. Fundamentals of Critical Thinking

    Foundation for Critical Thinking. PO Box 31080 • Santa Barbara, CA 93130 . Toll Free 800.833.3645 • Fax 707.878.9111. [email protected]

  20. 6 Main Types of Critical Thinking Skills (With Examples)

    1. Analytical thinking Being able to properly analyze information is the most important aspect of critical thinking. This implies gathering information and interpreting it, but also skeptically evaluating data.

  21. 3. What are the key components of critical thinking? Flashcards

    What are the three components of critical thinking? 1. Curiosity 2. Skepticism 3. Humility Curiosity Includes a passion to explore and understand the world without misleading or being misled Let the facts speak for themselves by using an empirical approach Questions to consider (Curiosity) What do you mean? How do you know? Skepticism

  22. The 8 Elements of Critical Thinking

    In 2001, Anderson and Krathwohl revised Bloom's taxonomy and introduced the following six verbs: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. As Howard et al (2015) argued, "most students focus on the first three parts of this cognitive complexity.

  23. Critical Thinking: 5 Components and Its Assessment

    1. Analysis 2. Interpretation 3. Inference 4. Explanation 5. Evaluation 6. Self-Regulation Dispositional Elements of Critical Thinking Open-mindedness Intellectual Humility Skepticism

  24. KPMG Data strategy survey: Better data, better decisions

    Fresh thinking and actionable insights that address critical issues your organization faces. ... Enterprise Data Strategy - 3 critical components. Rob Wentz, Managing Director of Data & Analytics for KPMG LLP, discusses the three critical components of a successful data strategy.

  25. Spend less. Smile more Spend less. Smile more.