Read the definitions of critical thinking (CT) from John Dewey to John Chaffee as they complete the sentence: “Critical thinking is. . . .” Also review a collection of scholars’ ideas about critical thinking competencies as they answer the question: “What, specifically, does critical thinking look like? How will we know it when we see it?” What are the specific intellectual actions and attitudes associated with thinking critically?
Definitions: Critical Thinking is. . .
Compare the following definitions to Paul and Elder’s conceptualization of critical thinking. Note the similarities and differences in their explanations and areas of emphasis. As Paul and Elder explain in Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life (2001), “No one definition of critical thinking will do. Given the complexity of critical thinking—its rootedness in 2,400 years of intellectual history, as well as the wide range of its application—it is unwise to put too much weight on any one definition. Any brief formulation of critical thinking is bound to have important limitations.” For those interested in further research, in an appendix in the above-referenced text Paul and Elder offer additional definitions as well as a brief history of the idea of critical thinking from Socrates to the present.
We offer a few definitions here:
Active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds which support it and the further conclusions to which it tends. (John Dewey, 1909)
(1) An attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one’s experience; (2) knowledge of the methods of logical enquiry and reasoning; (3) some skill in applying those methods. 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. (Edward Glaser, 1941)
[T]he process of evaluation or categorization in terms of some previously accepted standards . . . this seems to involve attitude plus knowledge of facts plus some thinking skills. (Russell, cited in d’Angelo, 1971)
Skillful, responsible thinking that is conducive to judgment because it relies on criteria, is self-correcting and is sensitive to context. (Matthew Lipman, 1988)
[R]easonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do. (Robert Ennis, 1989)
[P]urposeful, 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, 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. 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. (Peter Facione, The Delphi Research Group, 1990)
[G]enerally thought to consist of two main general components, a disposition to think critically and a cognitive component. (Elizabeth Jones, et al., 1994)
[T]he use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a desired outcome. . . . [and] thinking that is purposeful, reasoned, and goal-directed—the kind of thinking involved in solving problems, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and making decisions when the thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the particular context and type of thinking task. (Diane Halpern, 1996)
[T]hose diverse cognitive processes and associated attitudes critical to intelligent action in diverse situations and fields that can be improved by instruction and conscious effort. (Glock, 1987)
[S]killed and active interpretation and evaluation of observations and communications, information, and argumentation. (Michael Scriven, 1997)
[B]eing able to interpret, analyze, evaluate, and infer. [G]ood critical thinkers can do two more things. They can explain what they think and how they arrived at that judgment. And, they can apply their powers of critical thinking to themselves and improve on their previous opinions [self-regulation]. . . . The ideal critical thinker can be characterized not merely by her or his cognitive skills but also by how she or he approaches life and living in general. (Peter Facione, 1998)
[C]ognitive skills [that] determine how well someone gathers, processes, and applies information in order to identify the best way to reach a particular goal or navigate a complex situation. (Justin Menkes, 2005)
[I]s different from just thinking. It is metacognitive — it involves thinking about your thinking. . . . Full-fledged critical thinking involves three parts. First, critical thinking involves asking questions. It involves asking questions that need to be asked, asking good questions, questions that go to the heart of the matter. Critical thinking involves noticing that there are questions that need to be addressed. Second, critical thinking involves trying to answer those questions by reasoning them out. . . . Third, critical thinking involves believing the results of our reasoning. . . . [W]e actually believe the results because we have done our best to reason the issue out and we know that reasoning things out is the best way to get reliable answers. (Nosich, 2005)
A purposeful, organized cognitive process that we use to understand the world and make informed decisions. . . . A critical thinker is someone who has developed a knowledgeable understanding of our complex world, a thoughtful perspective on important ideas and timely issues, the capacity for penetrating insight and intelligent judgment, and sophisticated thinking and language abilities. (John Chaffee, 2006)
An awareness of a set of interrelated critical questions; an ability to ask and answer critical questions at appropriate times; and the desire to actively use the critical questions. The interrelated critical questions:
- What are the issues and conclusions?
- What are the reasons?
- Which words or phrases are ambiguous?
- What are the value conflicts and assumptions?
- What are the descriptive assumptions?
- Are there any fallacies in the reasoning?
- How good is the evidence?
- Are there rival causes?
- Are the statistics deceptive?
- What significant information is omitted?
- What reasonable conclusions are possible?
(M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley, 2007).