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Critical thinking, in its broadest sense has been described as "purposeful reflective judgment concerning what to believe or what to do."  The list of core critical thinking skills includes interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation and meta-cognition. There is a reasonable level of consensus among experts that an individual or group engaged in strong critical thinking gives due consideration to the evidence, the context of judgment, the relevant criteria for making the judgment well, the applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment, and the applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand. In addition to possessing strong critical thinking skills, one must be disposed to engage problems and decisions using those skills. Critical thinking employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance and fairness.  The positive habits of mind which characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a courageous desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, open-mindedness, foresight attention to the possible consequences of choices, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, fair-mindedness and maturity of judgment, and confidence in reasoning.  In reflective problem solving and thoughtful decision making using critical thinking one considers evidence,(like investigating evidence) the context of judgment, the relevant criteria for making the judgment well, the applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment, and the applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand.
"Critical" as used in the expression "critical thinking" connotes the importance or centrality of the thinking to an issue, question or problem of concern. â€śCriticalâ€ť in this context does not mean â€śdisapprovedâ€ť or â€śnegative.â€ť There are many positive and useful uses of critical thinking, for example formulating a workable solution to a complex personal problem, deliberating as a group about what course of action to take, or analyzing the assumptions and the quality of the methods used in scientifically arriving at a reasonable level of confidence about a given hypothesis. Using strong critical thinking we might evaluate an argument, for example, as worthy of acceptance because it is valid and based on true premises. Upon reflection, a speaker may be evaluated as a credible source of knowledge on a given topic.
Contemporary cognitive psychology regards human reasoning as a complex process which is both reactive and reflective. The deliberation characteristic of strong critical thinking associates critical thinking with the reflective aspect of human reasoning. Those who would seek to improve our individual and collective capacity to engage problems using strong critical thinking skills are, therefore, recommending that we bring greater reflection and deliberation to decision making. John Dewey is just one of many educational leaders who recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would be a benefit not only to the individual learner, but to the community and to the entire democracy. In a seminal study on critical thinking and education in 1941, Edward Glaser writes that the ability to think critically involves three things: 1 An attitude of being disposed (state of mind regarding something) to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences, 2 Knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and 3 Some skill in applying those methods. Educational programs aimed at developing critical thinking in children and adult learners, individually or in group problem solving and decision making contexts, continue to address these same three central elements.
Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. It also generally requires ability to recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems, to gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information, to recognize unstated assumptions and values, to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discrimination, to interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments, to recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions, to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, to put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives, to reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience, and to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life.
Critical thinking can occur whenever one judges, decides, or solves a problem; in general, whenever one must figure out what to believe or what to do, and do so in a reasonable and reflective way. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done critically or uncritically. Critical thinking is crucial to becoming a close reader and a substantive writer. Expressed most generally, critical thinking is "a way of taking up the problems of life." Irrespective of the sphere of thought, "a well cultivated critical thinker":
Critical thinking is based on self-corrective concepts and principles, not on hard and fast, or step-by-step, procedures.
Critical thinking employs not only logic (either formal or, much more often, informal) but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance.
Critical thinking is an important element of all professional fields and academic disciplines (by referencing their respective sets of permissible questions, evidence sources, criteria, etc.). Within the framework of scientific skepticism, the process of critical thinking involves the careful acquisition and interpretation of information and use of it to reach a well-justified conclusion. The concepts and principles of critical thinking can be applied to any context or case but only by reflecting upon the nature of that application. Critical thinking forms, therefore, a system of related, and overlapping, modes of thought such as anthropological thinking, sociological thinking, historical thinking, political thinking, psychological thinking, philosophical thinking, mathematical thinking, chemical thinking, biological thinking, ecological thinking, legal thinking, ethical thinking, musical thinking, thinking like a painter, sculptor, engineer, business person, etc. In other words, though critical thinking principles are universal, their application to disciplines requires a process of reflective contextualization.
Critical thinking is considered important in the academic fields because it enables one to analyze, evaluate, explain, and restructure their thinking, thereby decreasing the risk of adopting, acting on, or thinking with, a false belief. However, even with knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, mistakes can happen due to a thinker's inability to apply the methods or because of character traits such as egocentrism. Critical thinking includes identification of prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation, etc. Given research in cognitive psychology, some educators believe that schools should focus on teaching their students critical thinking skills and cultivation of intellectual traits.
Critical thinking is about being both willing and able to evaluate one's thinking. Thinking might be criticized because one does not have all the relevant informationâ€”indeed, important information may remain undiscovered, or the information may not even be knowableâ€”or because one makes unjustified inferences, uses inappropriate concepts, or fails to notice important implications. One's thinking may be unclear, inaccurate, imprecise, irrelevant, narrow, shallow, illogical, or trivial, due to ignorance or misapplication of the appropriate skills of thinking. On the other hand, one's thinking might be criticized as being the result of a sub-optimal disposition. The dispositional dimension of critical thinking is characterological. Its focus is in developing the habitual intention to be truth-seeking, open-minded, systematic, analytical, inquisitive, confident in reasoning, and prudent in making judgments. Those who are ambivalent on one or more of these aspects of the disposition toward critical thinking, or who have an opposite disposition (intellectually arrogant, bias, intolerant, disorganized, lazy, heedless of consequences, indifferent toward new information, mistrustful of reasoning, or imprudent) are more likely to encounter problems in using their critical thinking skills. Failure to recognize the importance of correct dispositions can lead to various forms of self-deception and closed-mindedness, both individually and collectively.
When individuals possess intellectual skills alone, without the intellectual traits of mind, weak sense critical thinking results. Fair-minded or strong sense critical thinking requires intellectual humility, empathy, integrity, perseverance, courage, autonomy, confidence in reason, and other intellectual traits. Thus, critical thinking without essential intellectual traits often results in clever, but manipulative and often unethical or subjective thought.
The relationship between critical thinking skills and critical thinking dispositions is an empirical question. Some people have both in abundance, some have skills but not the disposition to use them, some are disposed but lack strong skills, and some have neither. Two measures of critical thinking dispositions are the California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory and the California Measure of Mental Motivation.
The key to seeing the significance of critical thinking in academics is in understanding the significance of critical thinking in learning. There are two meanings to the learning of this content. The first occurs when learners (for the first time) construct in their minds the basic ideas, principles, and theories that are inherent in content. This is a process of internalization. The second occurs when learners effectively use those ideas, principles, and theories as they become relevant in learners' lives. This is a process of application. Good teachers cultivate critical thinking (intellectually engaged thinking) at every stage of learning, including initial learning. This process of intellectual engagement is at the heart of the Oxford, Durham, Cambridge and London School of Economics tutorials. The tutor questions the students, often in a Socratic manner (see Socratic questioning). The key is that the teacher who fosters critical thinking fosters reflectiveness in students by asking questions that stimulate thinking essential to the construction of knowledge.
As emphasized above, each discipline adapts its use of critical thinking concepts and principles(principles like in school). The core concepts are always there, but they are embedded in subject specific content. For students to learn content, intellectual engagement is crucial. All students must do their own thinking, their own construction of knowledge. Good teachers recognize this and therefore focus on the questions, readings, activities that stimulate the mind to take ownership of key concepts and principles underlying the subject.
In the UK school system, Critical Thinking is offered as a subject which 16- to 18-year-olds can take as an A-Level. Under the OCR exam board, students can sit two exam papers for the AS: "Credibility of Evidence" and "Assessing and Developing Argument". The full Advanced GCE is now available: in addition to the two AS units, candidates sit the two papers "Resolution of Dilemmas" and "Critical Reasoning". The A-level tests candidates on their ability to think critically about, and analyze, arguments on their deductive or inductive validity, as well as producing their own arguments. It also tests their ability to analyze certain related topics such as credibility and ethical decision-making. However, due to its comparative lack of subject content, many universities do not accept it as a main A-level for admissions. Nevertheless, the AS is often useful in developing reasoning skills, and the full advanced GCE is useful for degree courses in politics, philosophy, history or theology, providing the skills required for critical analysis that are useful, for example, in biblical study.
There is also an Advanced Extension Award offered in Critical Thinking in the UK, open to any A-level student regardless of whether they have the Critical Thinking A-level. Cambridge International Examinations have an A-level in Thinking Skills. From 2008, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance will also be offering an A-level Critical Thinking specification; OCR exam board have also modified theirs for 2008. Many examinations for university entrance set by universities, on top of A-level examinations, also include a critical thinking component, such as the LNAT, the UKCAT, the BioMedical Admissions Test and the Thinking Skills Assessment.
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Research suggests a widespread skepticism about universities' effectiveness in fostering critical thinking. For example, in a three year study of 68 public and private colleges in California,[which?] though the overwhelming majority (89%) claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction, only a small minority (19%) could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is. Furthermore, although the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73% considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of what those criteria and standards were.
This study mirrors a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education. According to the study, critical reports by authorities on higher education, political leaders and business people have claimed that higher education is failing to respond to the needs of students, and that many of our graduates' knowledge and skills do not meet society's requirements for well-educated citizens. Thus the meta-analysis focused on the question: How valid are these claims? Researchers concluded:
In contrast to these results, for students to excel at thinking critically, especially at the graduate level and in research, where it is crucial, they must be taught not how to know the answer, but how to ask the question. As Schwartz explains in "The importance of stupidity in scientific research," researchers must embrace what they do not know. Critical thinking is a primary tool in approaching this.
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There is no simple way to develop the intellectual traits of a critical thinker. One important way requires developing one's intellectual empathy and intellectual humility. The first requires extensive experience in entering and accurately constructing points of view toward which one has negative feelings. The second requires extensive experience in identifying the extent of one's own ignorance in a wide variety of subjects (ignorance whose admission leads one to say, "I thought I knew, but I merely believed"). One becomes less biased and more broad-minded when one becomes more intellectually empathic and intellectually humble, and that involves time, deliberate practice and commitment. It involves considerable personal and intellectual development.
To develop one's critical thinking traits, one should learn the art of suspending judgment (for example, when reading a novel, watching a movie, engaging in dialogical or dialectical reasoning). Ways of doing this include adopting a perceptive rather than judgmental orientation; that is, avoiding moving from perception to judgment as one applies critical thinking to an issue.
One should become aware of one's own fallibility by:
An integration of insights from the critical thinking literature and cognitive psychology literature is the "Method of Argument and Heuristic Analysis." This technique illustrates the influences of heuristics and biases on human decision making along with the influences of thinking critically about reasons and claims.
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