Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and there are several different definitions which generally include the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.
Critical thinking was described by Richard W. Paul as a movement in two waves (1994). The "first wave" of critical thinking is often referred to as a 'critical analysis' that is clear, rational thinking involving critique. Its details vary amongst those who define it. According to Barry K. Beyer (1995), critical thinking means making clear, reasoned judgments. During the process of critical thinking, ideas should be reasoned, well thought out, and judged. The U.S. National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as the "intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action."
In the term critical thinking, the word critical, (Grk. κριτικός = kritikos = "critic") derives from the word critic and implies a critique; it identifies the intellectual capacity and the means "of judging", "of judgement", "for judging", and of being "able to discern".
Traditionally, critical thinking has been variously defined as:
- "the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion"
- "disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence"
- "reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do"
- "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"
- "includes a commitment to using reason in the formulation of our beliefs"
- the skill and propensity to engage in an activity with reflective scepticism (McPeck, 1981)
- disciplined, self-directed thinking which exemplifies the perfection of thinking appropriate to a particular mode or domain of thinking (Paul, 1989, p. 214)
- thinking about one's thinking in a manner designed to organize and clarify, raise the efficiency of, and recognize errors and biases in one's own thinking. Critical thinking is not 'hard' thinking nor is it directed at solving problems (other than 'improving' one's own thinking). Critical thinking is inward-directed with the intent of maximizing the rationality of the thinker. One does not use critical thinking to solve problems—one uses critical thinking to improve one's process of thinking.
- "an appraisal based on careful analytical evaluation"
- the ability to think clearly about what to do or what to believe.
Contemporary critical thinking scholars have expanded these traditional definitions to include qualities, concepts, and processes such as creativity, imagination, discovery, reflection, empathy, connecting knowing, feminist theory, subjectivity, ambiguity, and inconclusiveness. Some definitions of critical thinking exclude these subjective practices.
Logic and rationality
Main article: Logic and rationality
The ability to reason logically is a fundamental skill of rational agents, hence the study of the form of correct argumentation is relevant to the study of critical thinking.
"First wave" logical thinking consisted of understanding the connections between two concepts or points in thought. It followed a philosophy where the thinker was removed from the train of thought and the connections and the analysis of the connect was devoid of any bias of the thinker. Kerry Walters describes this ideology in his essay Beyond Logicism in Critical Thinking, "A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective. This model of thinking has become so entrenched in conventional academic wisdom that many educators accept it as canon" (Walters, 1994, p. 1). The adoption of these principals parallel themselves with the increasing reliance on quantitative understanding of the world.
In the ‘second wave’ of critical thinking, as defined by Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994, p. 1 ), many authors moved away from the logocentric mode of critical thinking that the ‘first wave’ privileged, especially in institutions of higher learning. Walters summarizes logicism as "the unwarranted assumption that good thinking is reducible to logical thinking" (1994, p. 1).
"A logistic approach to critical thinking conveys the message to students that thinking is legitimate only when it conforms to the procedures of informal (and, to a lesser extent, formal) logic and that the good thinker necessarily aims for styles of examination and appraisal that are analytical, abstract, universal, and objective." (Walters, 1994, p. 1) As the ‘second wave’ took hold, scholars began to take a more inclusive view of what constituted as critical thinking. Rationality and logic are still widely accepted in many circles as the primary examples of critical thinking.
Deduction, Abduction and Induction
Main article: logical reasoning
There are three types of logical reasoning Informally, two kinds of logical reasoning can be distinguished in addition to formal deduction: induction and abduction.e.g. X is human and all humans have a face so X has a face.
- Induction is drawing a conclusion from a pattern that is guaranteed by the strictness of the structure to which it applies.
- Abduction is drawing a conclusion using a heuristic which is likely but not certain given some foreknowledge.
Critical thinking and rationality
Kerry S. Walters (Re-thinking Reason, 1994) argues that rationality demands more than just logical or traditional methods of problem solving and analysis or what he calls the "calculus of justification" but also considers "cognitive acts such as imagination, conceptual creativity, intuition and insight" (p. 63). These "functions" are focused on discovery, on more abstract processes instead of linear, rules-based approaches to problem solving. The linear and non-sequential mind must both be engaged in the rationalmind.
The ability to critically analyze an argument – to dissect structure and components, thesis and reasons – is important. But so is the ability to be flexible and consider non-traditional alternatives and perspectives. These complementary functions are what allow for critical thinking a practice encompassing imagination and intuition in cooperation with traditional modes of deductive inquiry.
The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and metacognition. According to Reynolds (2011), an individual or group engaged in a strong way of critical thinking gives due consideration to establish for instance:
- Evidence through reality
- Context skills to isolate the problem from context
- Relevant criteria for making the judgment well
- Applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment
- 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.
Critical thinking calls for the ability to:
- Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems
- Understand the importance of prioritization and order of precedence in problem solving
- Gather and marshal pertinent (relevant) information
- Recognize unstated assumptions and values
- Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment
- Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments
- Recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions
- Draw warranted conclusions and generalizations
- Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives
- Reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience
- Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life
"A persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports or refutes it and the further conclusions to which it tends."
Habits or traits of mind
The habits of mind that characterize a person strongly disposed toward critical thinking include a desire to follow reason and evidence wherever they may lead, a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, even-handedness, and confidence in reasoning.
According to a definition analysis by Kompf & Bond (2001), critical thinking involves problem solving, decision making, metacognition, rationality, rational thinking, reasoning, knowledge, intelligence and also a moral component such as reflective thinking. Critical thinkers therefore need to have reached a level of maturity in their development, possess a certain attitude as well as a set of taught skills.
Edward M. Glaser proposed that the ability to think critically involves three elements:
- An attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences
- Knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning
- 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.
The Critical Thinking project at Human Science Lab, London, is involved in scientific study of all major educational system in prevalence today to assess how the systems are working to promote or impede critical thinking.
Contemporary cognitive psychology regards human reasoning as a complex process that is both reactive and reflective.
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. A measure of critical thinking dispositions is the California Measure of Mental Motivation and the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory.
John Dewey is one of many educational leaders who recognized that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would benefit the individual learner, the community, and the entire democracy.
Critical thinking is significant in academics due to being significant in learning. Critical thinking is significant in the learning process of internalization, in the construction of basic ideas, principles, and theories inherent in content. And critical thinking is significant in the learning process of application, whereby those ideas, principles, and theories are implemented effectively as they become relevant in learners' lives.
Each discipline adapts its use of critical thinking concepts and principles. 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.
Historically, teaching of critical thinking focused only on logical procedures such as formal and informal logic. This emphasized to students that good thinking is equivalent to logical thinking. However, a second wave of critical thinking, urges educators to value conventional techniques, meanwhile expanding what it means to be a critical thinker. In 1994, Kerry Walters compiled a conglomeration of sources surpassing this logical restriction to include many different authors’ research regarding connected knowing, empathy, gender-sensitive ideals, collaboration, world views, intellectual autonomy, morality and enlightenment. These concepts invite students to incorporate their own perspectives and experiences into their thinking.
In the English and Welsh school systems, Critical Thinking is offered as a subject that 16- to 18-year-olds can take as an A-Level. Under the OCRexam 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 used to also be 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 has also been offering an A-level Critical Thinking specification.
OCRexam 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.
In Qatar, critical thinking was offered by AL-Bairaq which is an outreach, non-traditional educational program that targets high school students and focuses on a curriculum based on STEM fields. The idea behind AL-Bairaq is to offer high school students the opportunity to connect with the research environment in the Center for Advanced Materials (CAM) at Qatar University. Faculty members train and mentor the students and help develop and enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.[not in citation given]
In 1995, a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education was undertaken. The study noted concerns from higher education, politicians and business that higher education was failing to meet society's requirements for well-educated citizens. It concluded that although faculty may aspire to develop students' thinking skills, in practice they have tended to aim at facts and concepts utilizing lowest levels of cognition, rather than developing intellect or values.
In a more recent meta-analysis, researchers reviewed 341 quasi- or true-experimental studies, all of which used some form of standardized critical thinking measure to assess the outcome variable. The authors describe the various methodological approaches and attempt to categorize the differing assessment tools, which include standardized tests (and second-source measures), tests developed by teachers, tests developed by researchers, and tests developed by teachers who also serve the role as the researcher. The results emphasized the need for exposing students to real-world problems and the importance in encouraging open dialogue within a supportive environment. Effective strategies for teaching critical thinking are thought to be possible in a wide variety of educational settings.
Importance in academia
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.
 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 skills can be used to help nurses during the assessment process. Through the use of critical thinking, nurses can question, evaluate, and reconstruct the nursing care process by challenging the established theory and practice. Critical thinking skills can help nurses problem solve, reflect, and make a conclusive decision about the current situation they face. Critical thinking creates "new possibilities for the development of the nursing knowledge." Due to the sociocultural, environmental, and political issues that are affecting healthcare delivery, it would be helpful to embody new techniques in nursing. Nurses can also engage their critical thinking skills through the Socratic method of dialogue and reflection. This practice standard is even part of some regulatory organizations such as the College of Nurses of Ontario – Professional Standards for Continuing Competencies (2006). It requires nurses to engage in Reflective Practice and keep records of this continued professional development for possible review by the College.
Critical thinking is also considered important for human rights education for toleration. The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance adopted by UNESCO in 1995 affirms that "education for tolerance could aim at countering factors that lead to fear and exclusion of others, and could help young people to develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning."
Critical thinking is used as a way of deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. It is a tool by which one can come about reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process.
Critical thinking in computer-mediated communication
The advent and rising popularity of online courses has prompted some to ask if computer-mediated communication (CMC) promotes, hinders, or has no effect on the amount and quality of critical thinking in a course (relative to face-to-face communication). There is some evidence to suggest a fourth, more nuanced possibility: that CMC may promote some aspects of critical thinking but hinder others. For example, Guiller et al. (2008) found that, relative to face-to-face discourse, online discourse featured more justifications, while face-to-face discourse featured more instances of students expanding on what others had said. The increase in justifications may be due to the asynchronous nature of online discussions, while the increase in expanding comments may be due to the spontaneity of ‘real time’ discussion. Newman et al. (1995) showed similar differential effects. They found that while CMC boasted more important statements and linking of ideas, it lacked novelty. The authors suggest that this may be due to difficulties participating in a brainstorming-style activity in an asynchronous environment. Rather, the asynchrony may promote users to put forth “considered, thought out contributions.”
Researchers assessing critical thinking in online discussion forums often employ a technique called Content Analysis, where the text of online discourse (or the transcription of face-to-face discourse) is systematically coded for different kinds of statements relating to critical thinking. For example, a statement might be coded as “Discuss ambiguities to clear them up” or “Welcoming outside knowledge” as positive indicators of critical thinking. Conversely, statements reflecting poor critical thinking may be labeled as “Sticking to prejudice or assumptions” or “Squashing attempts to bring in outside knowledge.” The frequency of these codes in CMC and face-to-face discourse can be compared to draw conclusions about the quality of critical thinking.
Searching for evidence of critical thinking in discourse has roots in a definition of critical thinking put forth by Kuhn (1991), which places more emphasis on the social nature of discussion and knowledge construction. There is limited research on the role of social experience in critical thinking development, but there is some evidence to suggest it is an important factor. For example, research has shown that 3- to 4-year-old children can discern, to some extent, the differential creditability and expertise of individuals. Further evidence for the impact of social experience on the development of critical thinking skills comes from work that found that 6- to 7-year-olds from China have similar levels of skepticism to 10- and 11-year-olds in the United States. If the development of critical thinking skills was solely due to maturation, it is unlikely we would see such dramatic differences across cultures.
- ^Edward M. Glaser. "Defining Critical Thinking". The International Center for the Assessment of Higher Order Thinking (ICAT, US)/Critical Thinking Community. Retrieved 2017-03-22.
- ^Walters, Kerry (1994). Re-Thinking Reason. Albany: State University of New York Press. pp. 181–98.
- ^Elkins, James R. "The Critical Thinking Movement: Alternating Currents in One Teacher's Thinking". myweb.wvnet.edu. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
- ^"Critical Thinking Index Page".
- ^"Defining Critical Thinking".
- ^Brown, Lesley. (ed.) The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993) p. 551.
- ^ ab"Critical – Define Critical at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2016-02-24.
- ^Facione, Peter A. (2011). "Critical Thinking: What It is and Why It Counts"(PDF). insightassessment.com. p. 26.
- ^Mulnix, J. W. (2010). "Thinking critically about critical thinking". Educational Philosophy and Theory. 44: 471. doi:10.1111/j.1469-5812.2010.00673.x.
- ^Carmichael, Kirby; letter to Olivetti, Laguna Salada Union School District, May 1997.
- ^"critical analysis". TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
- ^Walters, Kerry (1994). Re-Thinking Reason. Albany: State University of New York Press.
- ^Reynolds, Martin (2011). Critical thinking and systems thinking: towards a critical literacy for systems thinking in practice. In: Horvath, Christopher P. and Forte, James M. eds. Critical Thinking. New York: Nova Science Publishers, pp. 37–68.
- ^Jones, Elizabeth A., & And Others (1995). National Assessment of College Student Learning: Identifying College Graduates' Essential Skills in Writing, Speech and Listening, and Critical Thinking. Final Project Report (NCES-95-001)(PDF). from National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, University Park, PA.; Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED), Washington, DC.; U.S. Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop: SSOP, Washington, DC 20402-9328. PUB TYPE - Reports Research/Technical (143) pp. 14–15. ISBN 0-16-048051-5. Retrieved 2016-02-24.
- ^ abEdward M. Glaser (1941). An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking. New York, Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University. ISBN 0-404-55843-7.
- ^The National Assessment of College Student Learning: Identification of the Skills to be Taught, Learned, and Assessed, NCES 94–286, US Dept of Education, Addison Greenwood (Ed), Sal Carrallo (PI). See also, Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction. ERIC Document No. ED 315–423
- ^"Research at Human Science Lab". Human Science Lab. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
- ^Solomon, S.A. (2002) "Two Systems of Reasoning," in Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, Govitch, Griffin, Kahneman (Eds), Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-79679-8; Thinking and Reasoning in Human Decision Making: The Method of Argument and Heuristic Analysis, Facione and Facione, 2007, California Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-891557-58-3
- ^Research on Sociocultural Influences on Motivation and Learning, p. 46
- ^Walsh, Catherine, M. (2007). "California Critical Thinking Disposition Inventory: Further Factor Analytic Examination". SAGE. 104: 141–151. doi:10.2466/pms.104.1.141-151 – via SAGE.
- ^Dewey, John. (1910). How we think. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath & Co.
- ^Walters, Kerry. (1994). Re-Thinking Reason. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
- ^Critical Thinking FAQs from Oxford Cambridge and RSA ExaminationsArchived 11 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^"Cambridge International AS and A Level subjects".
- ^"New GCEs for 2008", Assessment and Qualifications Alliance Archived 17 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^"Welcome to Al-Bairaq World". Archived from the original on 19 April 2014. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
- ^Lion Gardiner, Redesigning Higher Education: Producing Dramatic Gains in Student Learning, in conjunction with: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, 1995
- ^ abAbrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Waddington, D. I., Wade, C. A., & Persson, T. (2014). Strategies for Teaching Students to Think Critically: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 1–40
- ^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.
- ^Lau, Joe; Chan, Jonathan. "[F08] Cognitive biases". Critical thinking web. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
- ^"Critical Thinking, Moral Integrity and Citizenship". Criticalthinking.org. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
- ^Catching the wave: understanding the concept of critical thinking (1999) doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1999.00925.x
- ^College of Nurses of Ontario – Professional Standards for Continuing Competencies (2006)
- ^"International Day for Tolerance . Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, Article 4, 3". UNESCO. Retrieved 2016-02-24.
- ^ abGuiller, Jane; Durndell, Alan; Ross, Anne (2008). "Peer interaction and critical thinking: Face-to-face or online discussion?". Learning and Instruction. 18: 187–200. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2007.03.001.
- ^ abNewman, D R; Webb, Brian; Cochrane, Clive (1995). "A content analysis method to measure critical thinking in face-to-face and computer supported group learning". Interpersonal Computing and Technology. 3 (September 1993): 56–77. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04569.x. PMID 18352969.
- ^Kuhn, D (1991). The skills of argument. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- ^Koenig, M A; Harris, P L (2005). "Preschoolers mistrust ignorant and inaccurate speakers". Child Development. 76: 1261–77. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2005.00849.x.
- ^Lutz, D J; Keil, F C (2002). "Early understanding of the division of cognitive labor". Child Development. 73: 1073–84. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00458.
- ^Heyman, G D; Fu, G; Lee, K (2007). "Evaluating claims peoplemake about themselves: The development of skepticism". Child Development. 78: 367–75. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01003.x.
- Cederblom, J & Paulsen, D.W. (2006) Critical Reasoning: Understanding and criticizing arguments and theories, 6th edn. (Belmont, CA, ThomsonWadsworth).
- College of Nurses of Ontario Professional Standards (2006) – Continuing Competencies
- Damer, T. Edward. (2005) Attacking Faulty Reasoning, 6th Edition, Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-60516-8
- Dauer, Francis Watanabe. Critical Thinking: An Introduction to Reasoning, 1989, ISBN 978-0-19-504884-1
- Facione, P. 2007. Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts – 2007 Update
- Fisher, Alec and Scriven, Michael. (1997) Critical Thinking: Its Definition and Assessment, Center for Research in Critical Thinking (UK) / Edgepress (US). ISBN 0-9531796-0-5
- Hamby, B.W. (2007) The Philosophy of Anything: Critical Thinking in Context. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque Iowa. ISBN 978-0-7575-4724-9
- Vincent F. Hendricks. (2005) Thought 2 Talk: A Crash Course in Reflection and Expression, New York: Automatic Press / VIP. ISBN 87-991013-7-8
- Kompf, M., & Bond, R. (2001). Critical reflection in adult education. In T. Barer-Stein & M. Kompf(Eds.), The craft of teaching adults (pp. 21–38). Toronto, ON: Irwin.
- McPeck, J. (1992). Thoughts on subject specificity. In S. Norris (Ed.), The generalizability of critical thinking (pp. 198–205). New York: Teachers College Press.
- Moore, Brooke Noel and Parker, Richard. (2012) Critical Thinking. 10th ed. Published by McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-803828-6.
- Mulnix, J. W. (2010). "Thinking critically about critical thinking". Educational Philosophy and Theory. 44: 464–479. doi:10.1111/j.1469-5812.2010.00673.x.
- Paul, R (1982). "Teaching critical thinking in the strong sense: A focus on self-deception, world views and a dialectical mode of analysis". Informal Logic Newsletter. 4 (2): 2–7.
- Paul, Richard. (1995) Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World. 4th ed. Foundation for Critical Thinking. ISBN 0-944583-09-1.
- Paul, Richard and Elder, Linda. (2006) Critical Thinking Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Publishing. ISBN 0-13-114962-8.
- Paul, Richard; Elder, Linda. (2002) Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life. Published by Financial Times Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-064760-8.
- Pavlidis, Periklis (2010). "Critical Thinking as Dialectics: a Hegelian–Marxist Approach". Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies. 8 (2).
- Sagan, Carl. (1995) The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-40946-9
- Theodore Schick & Lewis Vaughn "How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age" (2010) ISBN 0-7674-2048-9
- Twardy, Charles R. (2003) Argument Maps Improve Critical Thinking. Teaching Philosophy 27:2 June 2004.
- van den Brink-Budgen, R (2010) 'Critical Thinking for Students', How To Books. ISBN 978-1-84528-386-5
- Whyte, J. (2003) Bad Thoughts – A Guide to Clear Thinking, Corvo. ISBN 0-9543255-3-2.
- Zeigarnik, B.V. (1927). On finished and unfinished tasks. In English translation Edited by Willis D. Ellis ; with an introduction by Kurt Koffka. (1997). A source book of gestalt psychology xiv, 403 p. : ill. ; 22 cmHighland, N.Y: Gestalt Journal Press. "This Gestalt Journal Press edition is a verbatim reprint of the book as originally published in 1938" – T.p. verso. ISBN 9780939266302. OCLC 38755142
Media related to Critical thinking at Wikimedia Commons Quotations related to Critical thinking at Wikiquote
It's been said that the problems you encounter in life stem not so much from what you don't know, but from what you know for sure that isn't so. Who said it? We don't know, although many people are certain that it was Mark Twain. More on that later. For now, why would it be less hazardous—to your health, to productivity, to happiness—to not know a whole bunch of things than to believe things that aren't true? Because if you're sure that you know something, you act on it with the strength of conviction and resolve.
If you're sure that an alternative treatment will help cure your cancer better than "Western medicine," you'll forego the traditional treatment. This is exactly what happened to Steve Jobs—after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he pursued a kind of new age, Northern-California alternative diet in lieu of medical treatment. By the time he realized it wasn't working, it was too late for medicine to help him.
If you're sure that your choice of political candidate is right, if you know it for sure, you're not likely to be open-minded about any new evidence that might come in that could—or should—cause you to change your mind.
I am a college professor, and one of the things I do for a living is train Ph.D. students in science. They come into my laboratory full of confidence. After all, they have been at the top of every class they've been in all throughout their school lives. If they hadn't been, they wouldn't have gotten into a first-rate college, and if they hadn't been at the top of their classes there, they wouldn't have gotten into the very competitive graduate programs at the universities where I've taught and those like them—the Stanfords, Berkeleys, Dartmouths, and McGills. But here's the problem: They come in thinking that they are hot stuff. They have learned massive amounts of information, and unfortunately, they are so sure that their knowledge is correct, they are wont to add new knowledge without questioning the foundations of the old. In their time under my tutelage, I spend most of my time trying to teach them that they don't know what they think they do. I don't teach graduate students so much as unteach them. This takes four to six years. In some cases, eight.
When a graduate student comes to me and says "I just realized I don't know anything about cognitiveneuroscience" I congratulate them and tell them they're now ready to receive the Ph.D. The Ph.D. is effectively a license for someone to become a lifelong learner, certifying the kind of open-mindedness and critical thinking skills necessary to become a creator of knowledge. Knowledge can't be created in an environment where everything is already known. It can only be created in an environment where we're open to the possibility that we're wrong. For those of you steeped in Eastern philosophy, you'll recognize the Zen connection. A book was written about this by the philosopher Alan Watts—The Wisdom of Insecurity.
I wrote A Field Guide to Lies because I think that all of us are capable of this kind of critical thinking, regardless of our educational background. The kind of inquisitiveness and curiosity I'm talking about is innate. Every four-year-old asks a series of incessant "why" questions: Why is there rain? Because of condensation. Why is there condensation? Because of changing temperature conditions. Why are there changing temperature conditions? Et cetera. We have this beaten out of us early on by worn-down parents and teachers. But this why mode is the key to all critical thinking. Think like a four-year old. Ask "why" and "how." Ask them often.
- Don't believe something just because everyone else does. If you like Latin, this is called argumentum ad populum. Yes, there is such a thing as the wisdom of the crowds, but it has limited applicability, especially when the crowds aren't thinking critically. Believe something because you find the evidence compelling. (Think slavery.) As Tolstoy said, “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.” Or St. Augustine: “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”
- Don't believe something just because it is backed by a fancy website, or scientific terms or equations. Pseudo-science hijacks the words of science without using the methods of science to get you to believe things that aren't so. Too many of us are bamboozled by fancy terms, bold headlines, and testimonials. Take a moment to look more carefully at the evidence being presented. There is no miracle pill that will enhance brain function, no magnet bracelet that will enhance stamina.
- Don't reject a source just because it is occasionally wrong. Don't accept a source just because it got one or two high-profile things right. The New York Times is one of the most reliable and rigorously fact-checked news sources in the world. They do make mistakes and they print corrections every day. But on the whole, if you read something there, it has a very high likelihood of being true. Supermarket tabloids do occasionally get stories right, but on the whole, if you read something there, it is unlikely to be true. Elvis is not alive on a spaceship circling the moon, and Michelle Obama does not have a newly discovered identical twin sister.
- Check for plausibility. Many claims are just impossible; many more are improbable. A car that needs no fuel and can generate its own power seems to contradict the laws of physics. A 200-year old woman living in China whose secret to longevity is smoking two packs of cigarettes a day flies in the face of medical science. One widely reported statistic was that 150,000 girls in the U.S. die each year of anorexia. That can't be true: The total number of deaths for girls from all causes in a single year is only about 8,500 (or 55,000 if your definition of "girls" includes women under the age of 44). You'd find that out by checking reputable sources, such as the CDC.
- Correlation is not causation. Two things can change together, but it doesn't mean that one caused the other. Ice-cream sales tend to increase during months when people are wearing short pants, but you wouldn't want to conclude that eating ice cream causes people to wear shorts, or that wearing shorts causes people to eat ice cream. A third factor, high temperatures, could be said to cause both. But not all things that occur together are influenced by a third factor, either: The day that the stock market reached an all-time peak, I saw a whale jump out of the ocean in Washington state. I don't think he was celebrating the increase in his portfolio. The two events are probably unrelated.
- Does the evidence actually support the conclusion? Fast-talking, loose purveyors of information may flummox you with a whole bunch of data that aren't related to the claim. Sometimes they do this intentionally; sometimes they don't know that they're doing it. Consider an investment manager's claim that he can double your money in three years. He cites as evidence his academic degrees and a new system he has developed. Those are not evidence that he can do what he says—they may add credibility, but they are not evidence. Even previous high-yield performance is not evidence—investments are inherently risky, conditions can change, and the economic climate is a complex and unpredictable system.
- Look for a missing control condition. A new pill claims to cure headaches within four hours. A look at the evidence reveals that people with headaches were given the pill and reported that their headaches got better. What we don't know is how many headaches would have gotten better on their own in that time. To know that, you'd need a controlled experiment—that is, an experiment in which a control group of people, randomly selected, get no treatment (in the form of a placebo pill) and are compared with the treatment group.
A wealthy white socialite may not believe claims of police brutality because her interactions with those nice officers have always been so pleasant. But she is not controlling for the fact that her economic class, neighborhood, and race may be contributing to those interactions. In the language of science, she has not controlled for those factors in forming her opinion. White journalists Ray Sprigle and John Howard Griffin pioneered the study of such interactions by posing as African Americans and documenting very different treatment.
Allowing ourselves to realize that we don't always know what we think we know opens our minds to new knowledge, and allows us to navigate the world more effectively, choosing among options (or political candidates) that are more likely to maximize our success and well-being. In the current election climate, many people decided early on which candidate they wanted to support, based either on a gut feeling or the information they had back then. If they're not open to new information as it becomes available, they may support someone who is unlikely to embody the principles they value.
Mark Twain is widely cited as stating some version of the phrase that opened this article, that it ain't what you don't know, but what you know for sure that ain't so that will get you in trouble. Many people believe he said it. A thorough search of sources reveals that he not only didn't say it, but didn't say anything like it. The source of the quote is unknown. Sometimes you don't know what you think you do.
Daniel J. Levitin is James McGill Professor at McGill University, Dean of the College of Social Sciences at the Minerva Schools at KGI, and Distinguished Faculty Fellow at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. His current book is A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age.
Source: Anton Romanov/Shutterstock
Source: Penguin Random House