What is critical thinking?

These notes are based on three books:

Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking, by Vincent Ruggiero.

Critical Thinking, by Richard Paul.

Pumping Ions: Games and Exercises to flex Your Mind, by Tom Wujec.

Who are you? What is your "conceptual framework"?

You have been shaped, to a great extent, by your environment...

From your home (your "tribe"), you probably got your

If this is so, can YOU think? Or, do you only react as you have been taught? (discussion here of Pavlov's dogs and B.F. Skinner--conditioning).

In other words, do you have free will?

Our society, particularly the educators, believ that you can rise above your background and become an INDIVIDUAL.

This implies OBJECTIVITY (ie., to get beyond your own subjective viewpoint, to go beyond your conditioning).

CRITICAL THINKING is the process of thinking as an individual, of thinking rationally.

More specifically, it is the process of thinking used commonly by educated people.

But you don't have to be educated to use it. You can learn critical thinking as a separate skill.

However, education, when done well, results in people arriving at a way of dealing with questions and issues that we call critical thinking.

Critical thinking usually involves the following:

Some examples of appropriate questions (Ruggiero):

Thought: "Professor Vile cheated me in my composition grade. He weighted some themes more heavily than others.

Thought: "Before women entered the work force, there were fewer divorces. That shows that a woman's place is in the home."


"Critical thinking is distinguishable from other thinking because the thinker is thinking with the awareness of the systematic nature of high quality thought, and is continuously checking up on himself or herself, striving to improve the quality of thinking...

"Critical thinking is based on two assumptions: first, that the quality of our thinking affects the quality of our lives, and second, that everyone can learn how to continually improve the quality of his or her thinking" (Paul, 20).

The following are characteristics of critical thinking (from Paul):

  1. "It is thinking which is responsive to and guided by INTELLECTUAL STANDARDS, such as relevance, accuracy, precision, clarity, depth, and breadth." (Paul)

  2. "It is thinking that deliberately supports the development of INTELLECTUAL TRAITS in the thinker, such as intellectual humility, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, intellectual empathy, and intellectual self-discipline..." (Paul)

  3. "It is thinking in which the thinker can identify the ELEMENTS OF THOUGHT that are present in all thinking about any problem... the critical thinker will routinely ask himself or herself questions such as these:


    "If students are not assessing their own thinking, they are not thinking critically" (Paul, 21-22).

    "..the critical thinker is aware of the full variety of ways in which thinking can become distorted, misleading, prejudiced, superficial, unfair, or otherwise defective. The thinker strives for wholeness and integrity as fundamental values" (Paul).

  5. "It is thinking that YIELDS A PREDICTABLE, WELL-REASONED ANSWER because of the comprehensive and demanding process that the thinker pursues... Good thinking produces good results" (Paul).

  6. "It is thinking that is responsive to the social and moral imperative to not only enthusiastically argue from alternate and opposing points of view, but also to SEEK AND IDENTIFY WEAKNESSES AND LIMITATIONS IN ONE'S OWN POSITION. When one becomes aware that there are many legitimate points of view, each of which--when deeply thought through--yields some level of insight, then one becomes keenly aware that one's own thinking, however rich and insightful it may be, however carefully constructed, will not capture everything worth knowing and seeing" (Paul, 23).

    What is truth?

    Is there a truth?

    Can we know THE truth? Can we know reality?

    The Dragon Story...

    In ancient China, in a small village, there once lived an old man who had a dream... He had hear legends about villages which had...

    ...the moral of the story is that Critical Thinking isn't called "critical" for nothing. It can make your life happier, more successful, more fulfilling... it can even save your life.

    Processes Mistaken for Knowing

    Assuming is taking something for granted; holding an idea or opinion without trying to verify it.

    Guessing is answering questions or coming to conclusions based on a hunch.

    Speculating is making a guess based on partial evidence, but not enough evidence.

    Story: A woman meets a politician at a party. She says, "I've heard a great deal about you." The politician, without thinking, says, "Possibly, but you can't prove it."

    Story: Turkey tales (see Pfeiffer)

    An essential element in becoming a critical thinker is a knowledge of the mistakes you can make. These are technically known as FALLACIES. These are covered next and can be accessed by clicking here.

    by Colby Glass, MLIS.

    If you have comments, or have something you would like to see added to this site, please send me a message. Thanks!

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