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April 18, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

What is critical thinking?

Defining critical thinking

Watson and Glaser (1980) define the concept of critical thinking as the unity of attitude, knowledge and ability which comprise (i) curiosity and ability to identify the existence of problems and accepting the evidence which support what is considered as true, (ii) knowledge of conditions to construct a valid conclusion, (iii) generating ideas and generalisations which are supported by logical evidence and (iv) the ability to apply the attitude and knowledge above. This means that the new information will be first analysed and assessed with various critical thinking skills and supported with logical reasoning before it is accepted and used.

This definition is useful as it draws attention to a feature of critical thinking on which teachers and researchers in the fields seem to agree on , that the only realistic way to develop one’s critical thinking ability is metacognition, and consciously aiming to improve it by reference to some model of good thinking in that domain (Fisher 2001). Although there are different definitions, it is agreed that critical thinking involves dispositions, creative thinking, problem solving, decision making, and metacognition (Ennis, 1987; McBride, 1991; Tishman & Perkins, 1995).

This definition leads to the conclusion that critical thinking is the practice of processing this information in the most skilful, accurate, and rigorous manner possible, in a way that it will lead to the most reliable, logical, and trustworthy conclusions, by which one can make responsible decisions about one’s life, behaviour and actions with full knowledge of assumptions and consequences of those decision.

Critical thinking has been considered one of the central goals in all levels of education and it has generated a wealth of literature. Theories and educators in the field agree that the characteristics of critical thinking is defining problems; asking appropriate questions; analyzing assumptions; synthesizing information; evaluating results. According to Molitor and George (1976), critical thinking consists of three abilities; (i) ability to collect data and to use the correct senses to choose related information, (ii) ability to analyze the data and to process the data, to classify, to make inferences, to make forecasts, to validate and to design hypothesis, and (iii) ability to take action on information and to solve a problem.

In the same way, good or effective critical thinkers as mentioned by Beyer (1987) were the ability to; (i) distinguish between verifiable facts and value claims; (ii) distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, claims, and reasons; (iii) determine factual accuracy of a statement; (iv) determine the credibility of a source; (v) identify ambiguous claims or arguments; (vi) identify unstated assumptions; (vii) detect bias; (viii) identify logical inconsistencies in a line of reasoning; (ix) recognize logical inconsistencies in a line of reasoning; and (x) determine the strength of an argument or claim.

This is true up to a point put forward by Facione (1990:2);

“…that critical thinking is understood to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgements which result in interpretation, analysis, evaluation and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological or contextual considerations upon which that judgement is based”.

In order to promote students to think critically, one must employ primarily these components; the core critical thinking skills (Facione, 2006) which are;

(i) To create inference – to identify and secure elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions; to form conjectures and hypotheses; to consider relevant information and to deduce the consequences flowing from data, statements, principles, evidence, judgments, beliefs, opinions, concepts, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation;

(ii) To investigate assumption – all reasoning must begin somewhere i.e some things must be taken for granted. Any “defect” in the assumptions or presuppositions with which the reasoning begins is a possible source of problems in student reasoning. Assessing skills of reasoning involves assessing their ability to recognize and articulate their assumptions, again according to the relevant standards. The student’s assumptions may be stated clearly or unclearly; the assumptions may be justifiable or unjustifiable, crucial or extraneous, consistent or contradictory);

(iii) To make deduction (logical/reasoning) – the two methods of reasoning are deductive (facts, certainty, syllogisms, validity, truth of premises sound arguments and conclusions) and inductive (diverse facts, probability, generalizations, hypotheses, analogies inductive strength);

(iv) To make interpretation – comprehend and express meaning or significance of wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, or criteria; and

(v) To make judgement (evaluation) – assess the credibility of statements or other representations which are accounts or descriptions of a person’s perception, experience, situation, judgment, belief, or opinion; and to assess the logical strength of the actual or intended inferential relationships among statements, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation.

These were identified by a Delphi method, when a panel of 46 individuals from a variety of academic disciplines participated in a study carried out on behalf of the American Philosophical Association (APA). Their consensus statement is reproduced by Pacione (2006, p. 21).

The author continues:

Swartz and Parks, cited by Innabi and El Sheikh (2006), suggest that there are two approaches to teach critical thinking using content disciplines; a) the embedded approach – where the critical thinking skills are taught in indirect ways without spelling it out to students; and b) the infusion approach where critical thinking skills are taught manifestly using the discipline’s content. Questioning is one of the strategies used to enhanced critical thinking and this has been used in Socratic teaching. It is quite right, according to Paul and Elder (2003), that this type of questioning seeks to clarify information, to identify a point of view, to discover assumptions, to differentiate factual claims from value judgements, and to detect flaws in reasoning by asking students questions and not by giving them answers. More specifically, Banning (2005) agree that by asking metacognitive questions, this may stimulate students to think critically. Flavell cited by Noushad (2008) viewed metacognition as “knowledge and cognition about cognitive phenomena”. Metacognition is often referred to in the literature as “thinking about one’s own thinking”, or as “cognitions about cognitions”. It is usually related to learners’ knowledge, awareness and control of the processes by which they learn and the metacognitive learner is thought to be characterized by the ability to recognize, evaluate and, where needed, reconstruct existing ideas. More importantly, when his/her metacognitive ability has been sufficiently developed, the student’s ‘inner disciplined voice’ would preclude the need for any ‘Socratic questioner’.

Problem-Based Learning On Students’ Critical Thinking Skills In Teaching Business Education In Malaysia: A Literature Review
Mohd Nazir Md Zabit. American Journal of Business Education. Littleton:Jun 2010. Vol. 3, Iss. 6, p. 19-32 (14 pp.)



Leave a Comment
  1. compassioninpolitics / Apr 18 2012 11:27 pm

    Here is the ERIC entry on critical thinking:

    1. Macro-macro
    2. By academic discipline (or sub-discipline–ie )
    3. Way of thinking/perspective/worldview (can be similar to metaphor)
    4. Process thinking
    5. Systems thinking
    6. Metaphor (new filter or lense)
    7. Definition/Clarification/Characterization
    8. Contrast
    9. Division or Addition
    10. Cause-effect (also root cause or major cause)
    11. Context (culture, history, other actors, constraints, shared understandings/agreements, and norms).
    12. Narrative/story

  2. compassioninpolitics / Apr 18 2012 11:34 pm

    Rationality, Context, History, Identity (who they are? who they want to be?, Emotional/Desire/motivation)

    Imagination/Visualization/Role Playing/In their shoes
    2nd order effects (?)
    Motive/Intent (international relations, daily life, & law)
    Legal framework
    Economic framework (aka budgets)
    Political framework
    Macro-political framework

    Breaking down the literary/rhetorical situation:
    said vs implied
    creating inferences & best guesses & hypothesises.

    How to analyize, think about, and compare research data.

    What counts as proof in public policy?
    What counts as proof in politics debates?
    What counts as proof in international relations?
    What counts as proof for causality?

    How is scenario planning done (particularly in the security context)?

  3. compassioninpolitics / Apr 18 2012 11:42 pm

    What is the context?
    Whats at stake? (i.e. the impact of the conflict or issue)
    What is the Identity? How does it relate?

  4. compassioninpolitics / Apr 19 2012 2:26 am

    Cognitive conflict
    Dealing with likelihood and uncertaining
    ****Dealing with unknowns…and unknown unknowns.
    Hypothesis testing/Scientific reasoning
    argument analysis
    (borrowed from Halpren model)

    Talking about the type of thinking
    Monitor & evaluate
    Journaling/Reflective pieces/Critiques

    Diana Halpern model is interesting (although not discussed on her wikipedia page)

    Critical thinking characteristics:

    The presentation from Wooster (linked to under publications) also has:
    1. a nice boolean picture
    2. practical applications of critical thinking

    All 3 verions of Blooms taxonomy address the issue too.

  5. compassioninpolitics / Apr 19 2012 2:35 am

    Interesting rubric for integration:
    These literacies (Analytical and Critical Thinking, Community and Civic Responsibility, Scientific Inquiry, Ethics and Values, and Literary and Artistic Expression)

    I think the idea of implicit & explicit field are key.
    Note that this can be broken into both the academic and the professional. (and some may suggest the academic is the classroom….while others will suggest its research).

  6. compassioninpolitics / Apr 19 2012 2:55 am

    Pre-cognitive attributes (Dan Roam)
    Unconcious (archetypes)
    Clarity (Concrete, Detailed, Specific, & Simple–and perhaps even elegant & styled)


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