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Critical Thinking

Developing the right mindset and skills.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

We make hundreds of decisions every day and, whether we realize it or not, we're all critical thinkers.

We use critical thinking each time we weigh up our options, prioritize our responsibilities, or think about the likely effects of our actions. It's a crucial skill that helps us to cut out misinformation and make wise decisions. The trouble is, we're not always very good at it!

In this article, we'll explore the key skills that you need to develop your critical thinking skills, and how to adopt a critical thinking mindset, so that you can make well-informed decisions.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well.

Collecting, analyzing and evaluating information is an important skill in life, and a highly valued asset in the workplace. People who score highly in critical thinking assessments are also rated by their managers as having good problem-solving skills, creativity, strong decision-making skills, and good overall performance. [1]

Key Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinkers possess a set of key characteristics which help them to question information and their own thinking. Focus on the following areas to develop your critical thinking skills:

Being willing and able to explore alternative approaches and experimental ideas is crucial. Can you think through "what if" scenarios, create plausible options, and test out your theories? If not, you'll tend to write off ideas and options too soon, so you may miss the best answer to your situation.

To nurture your curiosity, stay up to date with facts and trends. You'll overlook important information if you allow yourself to become "blinkered," so always be open to new information.

But don't stop there! Look for opposing views or evidence to challenge your information, and seek clarification when things are unclear. This will help you to reassess your beliefs and make a well-informed decision later. Read our article, Opening Closed Minds , for more ways to stay receptive.

Logical Thinking

You must be skilled at reasoning and extending logic to come up with plausible options or outcomes.

It's also important to emphasize logic over emotion. Emotion can be motivating but it can also lead you to take hasty and unwise action, so control your emotions and be cautious in your judgments. Know when a conclusion is "fact" and when it is not. "Could-be-true" conclusions are based on assumptions and must be tested further. Read our article, Logical Fallacies , for help with this.

Use creative problem solving to balance cold logic. By thinking outside of the box you can identify new possible outcomes by using pieces of information that you already have.

Self-Awareness

Many of the decisions we make in life are subtly informed by our values and beliefs. These influences are called cognitive biases and it can be difficult to identify them in ourselves because they're often subconscious.

Practicing self-awareness will allow you to reflect on the beliefs you have and the choices you make. You'll then be better equipped to challenge your own thinking and make improved, unbiased decisions.

One particularly useful tool for critical thinking is the Ladder of Inference . It allows you to test and validate your thinking process, rather than jumping to poorly supported conclusions.

Developing a Critical Thinking Mindset

Combine the above skills with the right mindset so that you can make better decisions and adopt more effective courses of action. You can develop your critical thinking mindset by following this process:

Gather Information

First, collect data, opinions and facts on the issue that you need to solve. Draw on what you already know, and turn to new sources of information to help inform your understanding. Consider what gaps there are in your knowledge and seek to fill them. And look for information that challenges your assumptions and beliefs.

Be sure to verify the authority and authenticity of your sources. Not everything you read is true! Use this checklist to ensure that your information is valid:

  • Are your information sources trustworthy ? (For example, well-respected authors, trusted colleagues or peers, recognized industry publications, websites, blogs, etc.)
  • Is the information you have gathered up to date ?
  • Has the information received any direct criticism ?
  • Does the information have any errors or inaccuracies ?
  • Is there any evidence to support or corroborate the information you have gathered?
  • Is the information you have gathered subjective or biased in any way? (For example, is it based on opinion, rather than fact? Is any of the information you have gathered designed to promote a particular service or organization?)

If any information appears to be irrelevant or invalid, don't include it in your decision making. But don't omit information just because you disagree with it, or your final decision will be flawed and bias.

Now observe the information you have gathered, and interpret it. What are the key findings and main takeaways? What does the evidence point to? Start to build one or two possible arguments based on what you have found.

You'll need to look for the details within the mass of information, so use your powers of observation to identify any patterns or similarities. You can then analyze and extend these trends to make sensible predictions about the future.

To help you to sift through the multiple ideas and theories, it can be useful to group and order items according to their characteristics. From here, you can compare and contrast the different items. And once you've determined how similar or different things are from one another, Paired Comparison Analysis can help you to analyze them.

The final step involves challenging the information and rationalizing its arguments.

Apply the laws of reason (induction, deduction, analogy) to judge an argument and determine its merits. To do this, it's essential that you can determine the significance and validity of an argument to put it in the correct perspective. Take a look at our article, Rational Thinking , for more information about how to do this.

Once you have considered all of the arguments and options rationally, you can finally make an informed decision.

Afterward, take time to reflect on what you have learned and what you found challenging. Step back from the detail of your decision or problem, and look at the bigger picture. Record what you've learned from your observations and experience.

Critical thinking involves rigorously and skilfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions and beliefs. It's a useful skill in the workplace and in life.

You'll need to be curious and creative to explore alternative possibilities, but rational to apply logic, and self-aware to identify when your beliefs could affect your decisions or actions.

You can demonstrate a high level of critical thinking by validating your information, analyzing its meaning, and finally evaluating the argument.

Critical Thinking Infographic

See Critical Thinking represented in our infographic: An Elementary Guide to Critical Thinking .

tools of argument in critical thinking

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Pursuing Truth: A Guide to Critical Thinking

Chapter 2 arguments.

The fundamental tool of the critical thinker is the argument. For a good example of what we are not talking about, consider a bit from a famous sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus : 3

2.1 Identifying Arguments

People often use “argument” to refer to a dispute or quarrel between people. In critical thinking, an argument is defined as

A set of statements, one of which is the conclusion and the others are the premises.

There are three important things to remember here:

  • Arguments contain statements.
  • They have a conclusion.
  • They have at least one premise

Arguments contain statements, or declarative sentences. Statements, unlike questions or commands, have a truth value. Statements assert that the world is a particular way; questions do not. For example, if someone asked you what you did after dinner yesterday evening, you wouldn’t accuse them of lying. When the world is the way that the statement says that it is, we say that the statement is true. If the statement is not true, it is false.

One of the statements in the argument is called the conclusion. The conclusion is the statement that is intended to be proved. Consider the following argument:

Calculus II will be no harder than Calculus I. Susan did well in Calculus I. So, Susan should do well in Calculus II.

Here the conclusion is that Susan should do well in Calculus II. The other two sentences are premises. Premises are the reasons offered for believing that the conclusion is true.

2.1.1 Standard Form

Now, to make the argument easier to evaluate, we will put it into what is called “standard form.” To put an argument in standard form, write each premise on a separate, numbered line. Draw a line underneath the last premise, the write the conclusion underneath the line.

  • Calculus II will be no harder than Calculus I.
  • Susan did well in Calculus I.
  • Susan should do well in Calculus II.

Now that we have the argument in standard form, we can talk about premise 1, premise 2, and all clearly be referring to the same thing.

2.1.2 Indicator Words

Unfortunately, when people present arguments, they rarely put them in standard form. So, we have to decide which statement is intended to be the conclusion, and which are the premises. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the conclusion comes at the end. The conclusion is often at the beginning of the passage, but could even be in the middle. A better way to identify premises and conclusions is to look for indicator words. Indicator words are words that signal that statement following the indicator is a premise or conclusion. The example above used a common indicator word for a conclusion, ‘so.’ The other common conclusion indicator, as you can probably guess, is ‘therefore.’ This table lists the indicator words you might encounter.

Each argument will likely use only one indicator word or phrase. When the conlusion is at the end, it will generally be preceded by a conclusion indicator. Everything else, then, is a premise. When the conclusion comes at the beginning, the next sentence will usually be introduced by a premise indicator. All of the following sentences will also be premises.

For example, here’s our previous argument rewritten to use a premise indicator:

Susan should do well in Calculus II, because Calculus II will be no harder than Calculus I, and Susan did well in Calculus I.

Sometimes, an argument will contain no indicator words at all. In that case, the best thing to do is to determine which of the premises would logically follow from the others. If there is one, then it is the conclusion. Here is an example:

Spot is a mammal. All dogs are mammals, and Spot is a dog.

The first sentence logically follows from the others, so it is the conclusion. When using this method, we are forced to assume that the person giving the argument is rational and logical, which might not be true.

2.1.3 Non-Arguments

One thing that complicates our task of identifying arguments is that there are many passages that, although they look like arguments, are not arguments. The most common types are:

  • Explanations
  • Mere asssertions
  • Conditional statements
  • Loosely connected statements

Explanations can be tricky, because they often use one of our indicator words. Consider this passage:

Abraham Lincoln died because he was shot.

If this were an argument, then the conclusion would be that Abraham Lincoln died, since the other statement is introduced by a premise indicator. If this is an argument, though, it’s a strange one. Do you really think that someone would be trying to prove that Abraham Lincoln died? Surely everyone knows that he is dead. On the other hand, there might be people who don’t know how he died. This passage does not attempt to prove that something is true, but instead attempts to explain why it is true. To determine if a passage is an explanation or an argument, first find the statement that looks like the conclusion. Next, ask yourself if everyone likely already believes that statement to be true. If the answer to that question is yes, then the passage is an explanation.

Mere assertions are obviously not arguments. If a professor tells you simply that you will not get an A in her course this semester, she has not given you an argument. This is because she hasn’t given you any reasons to believe that the statement is true. If there are no premises, then there is no argument.

Conditional statements are sentences that have the form “If…, then….” A conditional statement asserts that if something is true, then something else would be true also. For example, imagine you are told, “If you have the winning lottery ticket, then you will win ten million dollars.” What is being claimed to be true, that you have the winning lottery ticket, or that you will win ten million dollars? Neither. The only thing claimed is the entire conditional. Conditionals can be premises, and they can be conclusions. They can be parts of arguments, but that cannot, on their own, be arguments themselves.

Finally, consider this passage:

I woke up this morning, then took a shower and got dressed. After breakfast, I worked on chapter 2 of the critical thinking text. I then took a break and drank some more coffee….

This might be a description of my day, but it’s not an argument. There’s nothing in the passage that plays the role of a premise or a conclusion. The passage doesn’t attempt to prove anything. Remember that arguments need a conclusion, there must be something that is the statement to be proved. Lacking that, it simply isn’t an argument, no matter how much it looks like one.

2.2 Evaluating Arguments

The first step in evaluating an argument is to determine what kind of argument it is. We initially categorize arguments as either deductive or inductive, defined roughly in terms of their goals. In deductive arguments, the truth of the premises is intended to absolutely establish the truth of the conclusion. For inductive arguments, the truth of the premises is only intended to establish the probable truth of the conclusion. We’ll focus on deductive arguments first, then examine inductive arguments in later chapters.

Once we have established that an argument is deductive, we then ask if it is valid. To say that an argument is valid is to claim that there is a very special logical relationship between the premises and the conclusion, such that if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. Another way to state this is

An argument is valid if and only if it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.

An argument is invalid if and only if it is not valid.

Note that claiming that an argument is valid is not the same as claiming that it has a true conclusion, nor is it to claim that the argument has true premises. Claiming that an argument is valid is claiming nothing more that the premises, if they were true , would be enough to make the conclusion true. For example, is the following argument valid or not?

  • If pigs fly, then an increase in the minimum wage will be approved next term.
  • An increase in the minimum wage will be approved next term.

The argument is indeed valid. If the two premises were true, then the conclusion would have to be true also. What about this argument?

  • All dogs are mammals
  • Spot is a mammal.
  • Spot is a dog.

In this case, both of the premises are true and the conclusion is true. The question to ask, though, is whether the premises absolutely guarantee that the conclusion is true. The answer here is no. The two premises could be true and the conclusion false if Spot were a cat, whale, etc.

Neither of these arguments are good. The second fails because it is invalid. The two premises don’t prove that the conclusion is true. The first argument is valid, however. So, the premises would prove that the conclusion is true, if those premises were themselves true. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, I guess, considering what would be dropping from the sky) pigs don’t fly.

These examples give us two important ways that deductive arguments can fail. The can fail because they are invalid, or because they have at least one false premise. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive, an argument can be both invalid and have a false premise.

If the argument is valid, and has all true premises, then it is a sound argument. Sound arguments always have true conclusions.

A deductively valid argument with all true premises.

Inductive arguments are never valid, since the premises only establish the probable truth of the conclusion. So, we evaluate inductive arguments according to their strength. A strong inductive argument is one in which the truth of the premises really do make the conclusion probably true. An argument is weak if the truth of the premises fail to establish the probable truth of the conclusion.

There is a significant difference between valid/invalid and strong/weak. If an argument is not valid, then it is invalid. The two categories are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. There can be no such thing as an argument being more valid than another valid argument. Validity is all or nothing. Inductive strength, however, is on a continuum. A strong inductive argument can be made stronger with the addition of another premise. More evidence can raise the probability of the conclusion. A valid argument cannot be made more valid with an additional premise. Why not? If the argument is valid, then the premises were enough to absolutely guarantee the truth of the conclusion. Adding another premise won’t give any more guarantee of truth than was already there. If it could, then the guarantee wasn’t absolute before, and the original argument wasn’t valid in the first place.

2.3 Counterexamples

One way to prove an argument to be invalid is to use a counterexample. A counterexample is a consistent story in which the premises are true and the conclusion false. Consider the argument above:

By pointing out that Spot could have been a cat, I have told a story in which the premises are true, but the conclusion is false.

Here’s another one:

  • If it is raining, then the sidewalks are wet.
  • The sidewalks are wet.
  • It is raining.

The sprinklers might have been on. If so, then the sidewalks would be wet, even if it weren’t raining.

Counterexamples can be very useful for demonstrating invalidity. Keep in mind, though, that validity can never be proved with the counterexample method. If the argument is valid, then it will be impossible to give a counterexample to it. If you can’t come up with a counterexample, however, that does not prove the argument to be valid. It may only mean that you’re not creative enough.

  • An argument is a set of statements; one is the conclusion, the rest are premises.
  • The conclusion is the statement that the argument is trying to prove.
  • The premises are the reasons offered for believing the conclusion to be true.
  • Explanations, conditional sentences, and mere assertions are not arguments.
  • Deductive reasoning attempts to absolutely guarantee the truth of the conclusion.
  • Inductive reasoning attempts to show that the conclusion is probably true.
  • In a valid argument, it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.
  • In an invalid argument, it is possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false.
  • A sound argument is valid and has all true premises.
  • An inductively strong argument is one in which the truth of the premises makes the the truth of the conclusion probable.
  • An inductively weak argument is one in which the truth of the premises do not make the conclusion probably true.
  • A counterexample is a consistent story in which the premises of an argument are true and the conclusion is false. Counterexamples can be used to prove that arguments are deductively invalid.

( Cleese and Chapman 1980 ) . ↩︎

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8 Arguments and Critical Thinking

J. anthony blair, introduction [1].

This chapter discusses two different conceptions of argument, and then discusses the role of arguments in critical thinking. It is followed by a chapter in which David Hitchcock carefully analyses one common concept of an argument.

1. Two meanings of ‘argument’

The word ‘argument’ is used in a great many ways. Any thorough understanding of arguments requires understanding ‘argument’ in each of its senses or uses. These may be divided into two large groupings: arguments had or engaged in , and arguments made or used . I begin with the former.

1.1 A n ‘a rgument’ as something two parties have with each othe r, something they get into, the kind of ‘argument’ one has in mind in de scribing two people as “arguing all the time ”

For many people outside academia or the practice of law, an argument is a quarrel . It is usually a verbal quarrel, but it doesn’t have to use words. If dishes are flying or people are glaring at each other in angry silence, it can still be an argument. What makes a quarrel an argument is that it involves a communication between two or more parties (however dysfunctional the communication may be) in which the parties disagree and in which that disagreement and reasons, actual or alleged, motivating it are expressed—usually in words or other communicative gestures.

Quarrels are emotional. The participants experience and express emotions, although that feature is not exclusive to arguments that are quarrels. People can and do argue emotionally, and (or) when inspired by strong emotions, when they are not quarrelling. Heated arguments are not necessarily quarrels; but quarrels tend to be heated.

What makes quarrels emotional in some cases is that at least one party experiences the disagreement as representing some sort of personal attack, and so experiences his or her ego or sense of self-worth as being threatened. Fear is a reaction to a perceived threat, and anger is a way of coping with fear and also with embarrassment and shame. In other cases, the argument about the ostensible disagreement is a reminder of or a pretext for airing another, deeper grievance. Jealousy and resentment fuel quarrels. Traces of ego-involvement often surface even in what are supposed to be more civilized argumentative exchanges, such as scholarly disputes. Quarrels tend not to be efficient ways of resolving the disagreements that gives rise to them because the subject of a disagreement changes as the emotional attacks escalate or because the quarrel was often not really about that ostensible disagreement in the first place.

In teaching that ‘argument’ has different senses, it is misleading to leave the impression (as many textbooks do) that quarrels are the only species of argument of this genus. In fact they are just one instance of a large class of arguments in this sense of extended, expressed, disagreements between or among two or more parties.

A dispute is an argument in this sense that need not be a quarrel. It is a disagreement between usually two parties about the legality, or morality, or the propriety on some other basis, of a particular act or policy. It can be engaged in a civil way by the disputants or their proxies (e.g., their spokespersons or their lawyers). Sometimes only the disputing parties settle their difference; sometimes a third party such as a mediator, arbitrator or judge is called in to impose a settlement.

A debate is another argument of this general kind. Debates are more or less formalized or regimented verbal exchanges between parties who might disagree, but in any case who take up opposing sides on an issue. Procedural rules that govern turn-taking, time available for each turn, and topics that may be addressed are agreed to when political opponents debate one another. Strict and precise rules of order govern who may speak, who must be addressed, sometimes time limits for interventions, in parliamentary or congressional debates in political decision-making bodies, or in formal intercollegiate competitive debates. Usually the “opponent” directly addressed in the debate is not the party that each speaker is trying to influence, so although the expressed goal is to “win” the debate, winning does not entail getting the opponent to concede. Instead, it calls for convincing an on-looking party or audience—the judge of the debate or the jury in a courtroom or the television audience or the press or the electorate as a whole—of the superior merits of one’s case for the opinion being argued for in the debate.

To be distinguished from a debate and a dispute by such factors as scale is a controversy . Think of such issues as the abortion controversy, the climate change controversy, the same-sex marriage controversy, the LGBT rights controversy, the animal rights controversy. The participants are many—often millions. The issues are complex and there are many disputes about details involved, including sometimes even formal debates between representatives of different sides. Typically there is a range of positions, and there might be several different sides each with positions that vary one from another. A controversy typically occurs over an extended period of time, often years and sometime decades long. But an entire controversy can be called an argument, as in, “the argument over climate change.” Controversies tend to be unregulated, unlike debates but like quarrels, although they need not be particularly angry even when they are emotional. Like quarrels, and unlike debates, the conditions under which controversies occur, including any constraints on them, are shaped by the participants.

Somewhere among quarrels, debates and controversies lie the theoretical arguments that theorists in academic disciplines engage in, in academic journals and scholarly monographs. In such arguments theorists take positions, sometimes siding with others and sometimes standing alone, and they argue back and forth about which theoretical position is the correct one. In a related type of argument, just two people argue back and forth about what is the correct position on some issue (including meta-level arguments about what is the correct way to frame the issue in the first place).

The stakes don’t have to be theories and the participants don’t have to be academics. Friends argue about which team will win the championship, where the best fishing spot is located, or what titles to select for the book club. Family members argue about how to spend their income, what school to send the children to, or whether a child is old enough to go on a date without a chaperone. Co-workers argue about the best way to do a job, whether to change service providers, whether to introduce a new product line, and so on. These arguments are usually amicable, whether or not they settle the question in dispute.

All of these kinds of “argument” in this sense of the term—quarrels, friendly disputes, arguments at work, professional arguments about theoretical positions, formal or informal debates, and various kinds of controversy—share several features.

  • They involve communications between or among two or more people. Something initiates the communication, and either something ends it or there are ways for participants to join and to exit the conversation. They entail turn-taking (less or more regimented), each side addressing the other side and in turn construing and assessing what the other has to say in reply and formulating and communicating a response to the replies of the other side. And, obviously, they involve the expression, usually verbal, of theses and of reasons for them or against alternatives and criticisms.
  • They have a telos or aim, although there seems to be no single end in mind for all of them or even for each of them. In a quarrel the goal might be to have one’s point of view prevail, to get one’s way, but it might instead (or in addition) be to humiliate the other person or to save one’s own self-respect. Some quarrels—think of the ongoing bickering between some long-married spouses—seem to be a way for two people to communicate, merely to acknowledge one another. In a debate, each side seeks to “win,” which can mean different things in different contexts ( cf. a collegiate debate vs. a debate between candidates in an election vs. a parliamentary debate). Some arguments seemed designed to convince the other to give up his position or accept the interlocutor’s position, or to get the other to act in some way or to adopt some policy. Some have the more modest goal of getting a new issue recognized for future deliberation and debate. Still others are clearly aimed not at changing anyone’s mind but at reinforcing or entrenching a point of view already held (as is usually the case with religious sermons or with political speeches to the party faithful). Some are intended to establish or to demonstrate the truth or reasonableness of some position or recommendation and (perhaps) also to get others to “see” that the truth has been established. Some seem designed to maintain disagreement, as when representatives of competing political parties argue with one another.
  • All these various kinds of argument are more or less extended, both in the sense that they occur over time, sometimes long stretches of time, and also in the sense that they typically involved many steps: extensive and complex support for a point of view and critique of its alternatives.
  • In nearly every case, the participants give reasons for the claims they make and they expect the other participants in the argument to give reasons for their claims. This is even a feature of quarrels, at least at the outset, although such arguments can deteriorate into name-calling and worse. (Notice that even the “yes you did; no I didn’t;…; did; didn’t” sequence of the Monty Python “Having an argument” skit breaks down and a reason is sought.)

The kinds of argument listed so far are all versions of having an argument (see Daniel J. O’Keefe, 1977, 1982). Some might think that this is not the sense of ‘argument’ that is pertinent to critical thinking instruction, but such arguments are the habitat of the kinds of argument that critical thinkers need to be able to identify, analyze and evaluate.

1.2 An argument a s something a person makes (or constructs, invents, borrows) consisting of purported reasons alleged to suggest, or support or prove a point and that is used for some purpose such as to persuade someone of some claim, to justify someone in maintaining the position claimed, or to test a claim .

When people have arguments—when they engage in one or another of the activities of arguing described above—one of the things they routinely do is present or allege or offer reasons in support of the claims that they advance, defend, challenge, dispute, question, or consider. That is, in having “arguments,” we typically make and use “arguments.” The latter obviously have to be arguments in different sense from the former. They are often called “reason-claim” complexes. If arguments that someone has had constitute a type of communication or communicative activity, arguments that someone has made or used are actual or potential contributions to such activities. Reason-claim complexes are typically made and used when engaged in an argument in the first sense, trying to convince someone of your point of view during a disagreement or dispute with them. Here is a list of some of the many definitions found in textbooks of ‘argument’ in this second sense.

“… here [the word ‘argument’] … is used in the … logical sense of giving reasons for or against some claim.” Understanding Arguments, Robert Fogelin and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, 6th ed., p. 1. “Thus an argument is a discourse that contains at least two statements, one of which is asserted to be a reason for the other.” Monroe Beardsley, Practical Logic, p. 9. “An argument is a set of claims a person puts forward in an attempt to show that some further claim is rationally acceptable.” Trudy Govier. A Practical Study of Arguments, 5th ed., p. 3. An argument is “a set of clams some of which are presented as reasons for accepting some further claim.” Alec Fisher, Critical Thinking, An Introduction, p. 235. Argument: “A conclusion about an issue that is supported by reasons.” Sherry Diestler, Becoming a Critical Thinker, 4th ed., p. 403. “ Argument: An attempt to support a conclusion by giving reasons for it.” Robert Ennis, Critical Thinking, p. 396. “Argument – A form of thinking in which certain statements (reasons) are offered in support of another statement (conclusion).” John Chaffee, Thinking Critically, p. 415 “When we use the word argument in this book we mean a message which attempts to establish a statement as true or worthy of belief on the basis of other statements.” James B. Freeman, Thinking Logically, p. 20 “Argument. A sequence of propositions intended to establish the truth of one of the propositions.” Richard Feldman, Reason and Argument, p. 447. “Arguments consist of conclusions and reasons for them, called ‘premises’.” Wayne Grennan, Argument Evaluation, p. 5. Argument: “A set of claims, one of which, the conclusion is supported by [i.e., is supposed to provide a reason for] one or more of the other claims. Reason in the Balance, Sharon Bailin & Mark Battersby, p. 41.

These are not all compatible, and most of them define ‘argument’ using other terms—‘reasons’, ‘claims’, ‘propositions’, ‘statements’, ‘premises’ and ‘conclusions’—that are in no less need of definition than it is. In the next chapter, David Hitchcock offers a careful analysis of this concept of an argument.

Some define argument in this second sense as a kind of communication; others conceive it as a kind of set of propositions that can serve communicative functions, but others as well (such as inquiry). Either way, the communicative character, or function, of arguments has been the subject of much of the research in the past several decades. Most recently what some have called “multi-modal” argument has attracted attention, focusing on the various ways arguments can be communicated, especially visually or in a mix of verbal and visual modes of communication. Some have contended that smells and sounds can play roles in argument communication as well. This area of research interest would seem to have relevance for the analysis of arguments on the web.

1.3 Argumentation

‘Argumentation’ is another slippery term. It is used in several different senses.

Sometimes it is used to mean the communicative activity in which arguments are exchanged: “During their argumentation they took turns advancing their own arguments and criticizing one another’s arguments.” Sometimes ‘argumentation’ denotes the body of arguments used in an argumentative exchange: “The evening’s argumentation was of high quality.” And occasionally you will find it used to refer to the reasons or premises supporting a conclusion, as in: “The argumentation provided weak support for the thesis.” ‘Argumentation theory’ is the term often used to denote theory about the nature of arguments and their uses, including their uses in communications involving exchanges of arguments.

2 The relation between critical thinking and argument

2 .1 arguments are both tools of critical thinking and objects of critical thinking.

In … [one] sense, thought denotes belief resting upon some basis, that is, real or supposed knowledge going beyond what is directly present. … Some beliefs are accepted when their grounds have not themselves been considered …. … such thoughts may mean a supposition accepted without reference to its real grounds. These may be adequate, they may not; but their value with reference to the support they afford the belief has not been considered. Such thoughts grow up unconsciously and without reference to the attainment of correct belief. They are picked up—we know not how. From obscure sources and by unnoticed channels they insinuate themselves into acceptance and become unconsciously a part of our mental furniture. Tradition, instruction, imitation—all of which depend upon authority in some form, or appeal to our advantage, or fall in with strong passions—are responsible for them. Such thoughts are prejudices, that is, prejudgments, not judgments proper that rest upon a survey of evidence. (John Dewey, How We Think , pp. 4-5, emphasis added.)

People—all of us—routinely adopt beliefs and attitudes that are prejudices in Dewey’s sense of being prejudgments, “not judgments proper that rest upon a survey of evidence.” One goal of critical thinking education is to provide our students with the means to be able, when it really matters, to “properly survey” the grounds for beliefs and attitudes.

Arguments supply one such means. The grounds for beliefs and attitudes are often expressed, or expressible, as arguments for them. And the “proper survey” of these arguments is to test them by subjecting them to the critical scrutiny of counter-arguments.

Arguments also come into play when the issue is not what to believe about a contentious issue, but in order just to understand the competing positions. Not only are we not entitled to reject a claim to our belief if we cannot counter the arguments that support it; we are not in possession of an understanding of that claim if we cannot formulate the arguments that support it to the satisfaction of its proponents.

Furthermore, arguments can be used to investigate a candidate for belief by those trying “to make up their own minds” about it. The investigator tries to find and express the most compelling arguments for and against the candidate. Which arguments count as “most compelling” are the ones that survive vigorous attempts, using arguments, to refute or undermine them. These survivors are then compared against one another, the pros weighed against the cons. More arguments come into play in assessing the attributed weights.

In these ways, a facility with arguments serves a critical thinker well. Such a facility includes skill in recognizing, interpreting and evaluating arguments, as well as in formulating them. That includes skill in laying out complex arguments, in recognizing argument strengths and weaknesses, and in making a case for one’s critique. It includes the ability to distinguish the more relevant evidence from the less, and to discriminate between minor, fixable flaws and major, serious problems, in arguments. Thus the critical thinker is at once adept at using arguments in various ways and at the same time sensitive in judging arguments’ merits, applying the appropriate criteria.

Moreover, arguments in the sense of “reasons-claim” complexes surround us in our daily lives. Our “familiars”, as Gilbert (2014) has dubbed them—our family members, the friends we see regularly, shopkeepers and others whose services we patronize daily, our co-workers—engage us constantly in argumentative discussions in which they invoke arguments to try to get us to do things, to agree, to judge, to believe. The public sphere—the worlds of politics, commerce, entertainment, leisure activities, social media (see Jackson’s chapter)—is another domain in which arguments can be found, although (arguably) mere assertion predominates there. In the various roles we play as we go through life—child, parent, spouse or partner, student, worker, patient, subordinate or supervisor, citizen (voter, jurist, community member), observer or participant, etc.—we are invited with arguments to agree or disagree, approve or disapprove, seek or avoid. We see others arguing with one another and are invited to judge the merits of the cases they make. Some of these arguments are cogent and their conclusions merit our assent, but others are not and we should not be influenced by them. Yet others are suggestive and deserve further thought.

We can simply ignore many of these arguments, but others confront us and force us to decide whether or not to accept them. Often it is unclear whether someone has argued or done something else: just vented, perhaps, or explained rather than argued, or merely expressed an opinion without arguing for it, or was confused. So we initially might have to decide whether there is an argument that we need to deal with. When it is an argument, often in order to make up our minds about it we need first to get clear about exactly what the argument consists of. So even before we evaluate this argument we have to identify and analyze it. (These operations are discussed in Chapter 12.)

In the end we have to decide for ourselves whether the argument makes its case or falls short. Does the conclusion really follow from the premises? Is there enough evidence to justify the conclusion? Is it the right kind of evidence? Are there well-known objections or arguments against the conclusion that haven’t been acknowledged and need to be answered satisfactorily? Can they be answered? And are the premises themselves believable or otherwise acceptable? Are there other arguments, as good or better, that support the claim?

Critical thinking can (and should!) come into all of these decisions we need to make in the identification, the analysis and the assessment of arguments.

2 .2  Critical thinking about things other than arguments

Many critical thinking textbooks focus exclusively on the analysis and evaluation of arguments. While the centrality of arguments to the art of critical thinking is unquestionable, a strong case can be made that critical thinking has other objectives in addition to appreciating arguments. In their analysis of the concept of critical thinking, Fisher and Scriven suggest the following definition:

Critical thinking is skilled and active interpretation and evaluation of o b servations and communications , information and argumentation. (1997, p. 21, emphasis added)

We agree with the gist of this claim, but notice what Fisher and Scriven propose as the objects to which critical thinking applies. Not just argumentation, but as well observations, communications and information. About observations, they note that:

What one sees (hears, etc.) are usually things and happenings, and one often has to interpret what one sees, sometimes calling on critical thinking skills to do so, most obviously in cases where the context involves weak lighting, strong emotions, possible drug effects, or putatively magical or parapsychological phenomena. Only after the application of critical thinking—and sometimes not even then—does one know what one “really saw”. … When the filter of critical thinking has been applied to the observations, and only then, one can start reasoning towards further conclusions using these observations as premises. ( Ibid ., p, 37)

An example is the recent large number of convictions in the U.S.A. that originally relied on eyewitness testimony but that have been overturned on the basis of DNA evidence. [2] ,  [3]

The DNA evidence proved that the accused was not the culprit, so the moral certainty of the eyewitness had to have been mistaken. The observation of the eyewitness was flawed. He or she did not think critically about whether the conditions need ed to make a reliable o b servation were present (e.g., were strong emotions like fear involved? was the lighting good? has he or she ordinarily a good memory for faces? was there time to observe carefully? were there distractions present?). Neither, probably, did the lawyers on either side, or else they immorally suppressed what should have been their doubts. As a consequence, innocent people languished in jail for years and guilty parties went free.

Communications are another object for critical thought. When in reply to Harry’s question, “How are you doing?” Morgan says, in a clipped and dull voice and a strained expression on her face, “I’m fine”, Harry needs to be aware that “How are you doing?” often functions as equivalent to a simple greeting, like “Hi” and so the response “Fine” could similarly be functioning as a polite return of the greeting, like “Hi back to you”, and not as an accurate report of the speaker’s condition. Harry needs to notice and interpret other aspects of Morgan’s communication—her lethargic tone of voice and her anxious facial expression—and to recognize the incompatibility between those signals and the interpretation of her response as an accurate depiction of Morgan’s state of well-being. He needs to employ critical interpretive skills to realize that Morgan has communicated that she is not fine at all, but for some reason isn’t offering to talk about it.

If President Trump did in fact say to his then F.B.I. director James Comey, about the F.B.I. investigation of former National Security Advisor Michaell Flynn “I hope you can let this go”, was it legitimate for Comey to interpret the President’s comment as a directive? And was Comey’s response, which was simply to ignore President Trump’s alleged comment, an appropriate response? What was going on? It takes critical thinking to try to sort out these issues. Taking the President’s alleged comment literally, it just expresses his attitude towards the FBI investigation of Flynn. But communications from the President in a tête-à-tête in the White House with the Director of the FBI are not occasions for just sharing attitudes. This was not an occasion on which they could step out of their political roles and chat person-to-person. The President can legitimately be presumed to be communicating his wishes as to what his FBI Director should do, and such expressions of wishes are, in this context, to be normally understood as directives. On the other hand, for the President to direct that an ongoing investigation by the FBI be stopped, or that it come up with a pre-determined finding, is illegal: it’s obstruction of justice. So Comey seemed faced with at least two possible interpretations of what he took the President to be saying: either an out-of-place expression of his attitude towards the outcome of the Flynn investigation or an illegal directive. Which was the President’s intention? However, there are other possibilities.

Was President Trump a political tyro whose lack of political experience might have left him ignorant of the fact that the FBI Director has to keep investigations free of political interference? Or might Trump have thought that the Presidency conveys the authority to influence the outcome of criminal investigations? Or might President Trump have been testing Mr. Comey to see if he could be manipulated? And Mr. Comey could have responded differently. He could have said, “I wish we could let this go too, Mr. President, but there are questions about General Flynn’s conduct that have to be investigated, and as you know, we cannot interfere with an ongoing FBI investigation”. Such a response would have forced the President to take back what he allegedly said, withdrawing any suggestion that his comment was a directive, or else to make it plain that he was indeed directing Comey to obstruct justice. In the event, apparently Mr. Comey did not take this way out, which would at once have displayed loyalty to the President (by protecting him from explicitly obstructing justice) and also have affirmed the independence of the FBI from interference from the White House. Perhaps he thought that the President clearly had directed him to obstruct justice, and judged that giving him an opportunity explicitly to withdraw that directive amounted to overlooking that illegal act, which would be a violation of his responsibilities as Director of the FBI. If so, however, simply not responding to the President’s comment, the path Comey apparently chose, also amounted to turning a blind eye to what he judged to be President Trump’s illegal directive.

As these two examples illustrate, the interpretation of communications, and the appropriate response to them can require critical thinking: recognizing different functions of communication, and being sensitive to the implications of different contexts of communication; being sensitive to the roles communicators occupy and to the rights, obligations, and limits attached to such roles.

As Fisher and Scriven acknowledge, “defining information is itself a difficult task.” They make a useful start by distinguishing information from raw data (“the numbers or bare descriptions obtained from measurements or observations”, op . cit., p. 41). No critical thinking is required for the latter; just the pains necessary to record raw data accurately, In many cases, though, the interpretation of raw data, the meaning or significance that they are said to have, can require critical thinking.

One might go beyond Fisher and Scriven’s list of other things besides arguments to which critical thinking can be applied. A thoughtful appreciation of novels or movies, plays or poetry, paintings or sculptures requires skilled interpretation, imagining alternatives, thoughtful selection of appropriate criteria of evaluation and then the selection and application of appropriate standards, and more. A good interior designer must consider the effects and interactions of space and light and color and fabrics and furniture design, and coordinate these with clients’ lifestyles, habits and preferences. Advanced practical skills in various sciences come into play. A coach of a sports team must think about each individual team member’s skills and deficiencies, personality and life situation; about plays and strategies, opponents’ skills sets; approaches to games; and much more. Conventional approaches need to be reviewed as to their applicability to the current situation. Alternative possibilities need to be creatively imagined and critically assessed. And all of this is time-sensitive, sometimes calling for split-second decisions. The thinking involved in carrying out the tasks of composing a review of some work of literature or art or of coaching a sports team can be routine and conventional, or it can be imaginative, invoking different perspectives and challenging standard criteria.

The list could go on. The present point is that, while argument is central to critical thinking, critical thinking about and using arguments is not all there is to critical thinking. [4]

Bailin, Sharon & Battersby, Mark. (2010). Reason in the Balance , An I n quiry Approach to Critical Thinking , 1 st ed. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Beardsley, Monroe C. (1950). Practical L ogic . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Chaffee, John. 1985. Thinking Critically . Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Dewey, John. (1910, 1991). How We Think . Lexington, MAD.C. Heath; Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

Diestler, Sherry. (2005). Becoming a Critical Thinker , 4 th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Ennis, Robert H. (1996). Critical Thinking . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Feldman, Richard. (1993). Reason and Argument , 2 nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Fisher, Alex.(2001). Critical Thinking, An Introduction . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fisher, Alec & Scriven, Michael. (1997). Critical Thinking, Its Definition and Assessment . Point

Reyes, CA: EdgePress; Norwich, UK: Center for Research in Critical Thinking.

Fogelin, Robert & Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. (2001). Understanding A r guments , An Introduction to Informal Logic , 6 th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Freeman, James B. (1988.) Thinking Logically , Basic Concepts of Reaso n ing . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Grennan, Wayne . (1984). Argument Evaluation . Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Govier, Trudy. (2001). A Practical Study of Argument , 5 th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

O’Keefe, Daniel J. (1977). Two concepts of argument. Journal of the Amer i can Forensic Association , 13 , 121-128.

O‘Keefe, Daniel J. (1982). The concepts of argument and arguing. In J. R. Cox & C. A. Willard (Eds.), Advances in Argumentation Theory and R e search , pp. 3-23. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

  • © J. Anthony Blair ↵
  • According to the Innocence Project, “Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions [in the U.S.A.] overturned through DNA testing nationwide.” (https://www.innocenceproject.org/causes/eyewitness-misidentification/, viewed August 2017). ↵
  • I owe the general organization and many of the specific ideas of this chapter to a series of lectures by Jean Goodwin at the Summer Institute on Argumentation sponsored by the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation and Rhetoric at the University of Windsor. ↵

Studies in Critical Thinking Copyright © by J. Anthony Blair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Arguments in Context

tools of argument in critical thinking

Thaddeus Robinson, Muhlenberg College

Copyright Year: 2021

Publisher: Muhlenberg College

Language: English

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Reviewed by Sarah Lonelodge, Assistant Professor of English/Writing Program Director, Eastern New Mexico University on 12/19/23

Robinson presents a very comprehensive text focused on critical thinking and the analysis and evaluation of arguments. Numerous forms of argument are presented, and the author offers useful tools that students will be able to apply. The text does... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 4 see less

Robinson presents a very comprehensive text focused on critical thinking and the analysis and evaluation of arguments. Numerous forms of argument are presented, and the author offers useful tools that students will be able to apply. The text does not offer students explicit instruction in creating or writing arguments, but this goal is not mentioned as one of the aims of the text. However, it is clear that students would be able to develop thoughtful arguments after reading and interacting with this text. While an index/glossary is not provided, the author presents a summary and key terms in a summary portion for each section.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

The content looks accurate and unbiased to me. Robinson provides a thorough discussion of various methods and possibilities for argument identification, analysis, and evaluation. The examples employed throughout the chapters tend to be based on very neutral situations.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 4

Because the text is focused on critical thinking, I do not see it becoming obsolete any time soon. Perhaps a few of the examples will eventually need updates, but most are fairly timeless. Robinson also presents an effective discussion of media literacy with social media and web-based arguments. Again, this presentation is effective; however, the growth of social media and the expansion of platforms and apps will require updates in the near future to maintain relevance.

Clarity rating: 4

The content of the book is clear and well organized; however, some terminology may be difficult for some students to grasp easily. Depending on the level of student who is using this text, the language may not be an issue. For first- or second-year students, the style and word choice may cause some frustration or may require the use of a dictionary.

Consistency rating: 5

The book is very consistent in its use of language, examples, etc., and its organization/framework is easy to navigate. From chapter to chapter, students will know what to expect.

Modularity rating: 5

I think the book is well modulated. Robinson has created seven distinct units or sections, and each of them have 3-5 chapters of relatively similar length. The length may feel a bit long for some readers, but this determination will depend on the level of student assigned this text.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

Each unit/section is well organized into a text overall and would flow well from one concept to the next. Within each unit/section, the chapters follow a similarly effective organization pattern. I particularly appreciate the summaries at the end of each unit/section as these additions would likely offer students a clear picture of the outcomes of what they read.

Interface rating: 5

I don't see any interface or navigation issues. The display is well organized and easy to follow and read.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

I didn't notice any grammatical issues.

Cultural Relevance rating: 5

I did not notice any culturally insensitive or offensive content. The few images used were neutral and typically more decorative than content specific. The examples utilized through the book were based on concepts that are unlikely to offend anyone, such as a sibling borrowing a vehicle, sports, calculating GPA, and similar topics.

I think this book would be very useful for upper-division college courses in which students would need to identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments. The text is very specific about types and uses of argumentation, and Robinson provides a number of quick, illustrative examples that would likely help readers comprehend the concepts presented.

Table of Contents

  • I. An Introduction to Reasoning
  • II. Argument Analysis
  • III. An Introduction to Evaluation
  • IV. An Introduction to Deductive Arguments
  • V. Common Inductive Arguments
  • VI. Social Arguments
  • VII. Scientific Reasoning

Ancillary Material

About the book.

Arguments in Context is a comprehensive introduction to critical thinking that covers all the basics in student-friendly language.  Intended for use in a semester-long course, the text features classroom-tested examples and exercises that have been chosen to emphasize the relevance and applicability of the subject to everyday life.  Three themes are developed as the text proceeds from argument identification and analysis, to the standards and techniques of evaluation: (i) the importance of asking the right questions, (ii) the influence of biases, cognitive illusions, and other psychological factors, and (iii) the ways that social situations and structures can enhance and impoverish our thinking.  On this last point, the text includes sustained discussion of disagreement, cooperative dialogue, testimony, trust, and social media.  Overall, the text aims to equip readers with a set of tools for working through important decisions and disagreements, and to help them become more careful and active thinkers.

About the Contributors

Thaddeus Robinson . Associate Professor of Philosophy, Muhlenberg College

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Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

Nearly all scholarly writing makes an argument. That’s because its purpose is to create and share new knowledge so it can be debated to confirm, disprove, or improve it. That arguing takes place mostly in journals and scholarly books and at conferences. It’s called the scholarly conversation, and it’s that conversation that moves forward what we humans learn and know.

Your scholarly writing for classes should do the same—make an argument—just like your professors’ journal article, scholarly book, and conference presentation writing does. You may not have realized that the writing you’re required to do mirrors what scholars in universities, the country, and all over the world must do to create new knowledge and debate it. Most arguments put forth a new theory, hypothesis, or new view of a current or ongoing issue. Of course, you’re probably a beginner at constructing arguments in writing, while most professors have been at it for some time. And your audience, for now, also may be more limited than your professors. But the process is much the same. As you complete your research assignments, you, too, are entering the scholarly conversation.

Making an argument means trying to convince others that you are correct as you describe a thing, situation, relationship, or phenomenon and to persuade them to take a particular action. This skill is important not just in college, but also for nearly every professional job you hold after college. So learning how to make an argument is good job preparation, even if you do not choose a scholarly career.

If you realize that your final product for your research project is to make an argument, you will have a significant head start. By keeping this in mind you will know that the resources you’re going to need are those that support the components of an argument for are writing your audience.

Happily (and not coincidentally), most of those components coincide with the information needs we’ll be talking about. We will be discussing meeting information needs by using a variety of resources that will enable you to write the corresponding argument component in your final product.

Critical Thinking in Academic Research Copyright © 2022 by Cindy Gruwell and Robin Ewing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms for thinking carefully, and the thinking components on which they focus. Its adoption as an educational goal has been recommended on the basis of respect for students’ autonomy and preparing students for success in life and for democratic citizenship. “Critical thinkers” have the dispositions and abilities that lead them to think critically when appropriate. The abilities can be identified directly; the dispositions indirectly, by considering what factors contribute to or impede exercise of the abilities. Standardized tests have been developed to assess the degree to which a person possesses such dispositions and abilities. Educational intervention has been shown experimentally to improve them, particularly when it includes dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring. Controversies have arisen over the generalizability of critical thinking across domains, over alleged bias in critical thinking theories and instruction, and over the relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking.

2.1 Dewey’s Three Main Examples

2.2 dewey’s other examples, 2.3 further examples, 2.4 non-examples, 3. the definition of critical thinking, 4. its value, 5. the process of thinking critically, 6. components of the process, 7. contributory dispositions and abilities, 8.1 initiating dispositions, 8.2 internal dispositions, 9. critical thinking abilities, 10. required knowledge, 11. educational methods, 12.1 the generalizability of critical thinking, 12.2 bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, 12.3 relationship of critical thinking to other types of thinking, other internet resources, related entries.

Use of the term ‘critical thinking’ to describe an educational goal goes back to the American philosopher John Dewey (1910), who more commonly called it ‘reflective thinking’. He defined it as

active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Dewey 1910: 6; 1933: 9)

and identified a habit of such consideration with a scientific attitude of mind. His lengthy quotations of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill indicate that he was not the first person to propose development of a scientific attitude of mind as an educational goal.

In the 1930s, many of the schools that participated in the Eight-Year Study of the Progressive Education Association (Aikin 1942) adopted critical thinking as an educational goal, for whose achievement the study’s Evaluation Staff developed tests (Smith, Tyler, & Evaluation Staff 1942). Glaser (1941) showed experimentally that it was possible to improve the critical thinking of high school students. Bloom’s influential taxonomy of cognitive educational objectives (Bloom et al. 1956) incorporated critical thinking abilities. Ennis (1962) proposed 12 aspects of critical thinking as a basis for research on the teaching and evaluation of critical thinking ability.

Since 1980, an annual international conference in California on critical thinking and educational reform has attracted tens of thousands of educators from all levels of education and from many parts of the world. Also since 1980, the state university system in California has required all undergraduate students to take a critical thinking course. Since 1983, the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking has sponsored sessions in conjunction with the divisional meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA). In 1987, the APA’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy commissioned a consensus statement on critical thinking for purposes of educational assessment and instruction (Facione 1990a). Researchers have developed standardized tests of critical thinking abilities and dispositions; for details, see the Supplement on Assessment . Educational jurisdictions around the world now include critical thinking in guidelines for curriculum and assessment.

For details on this history, see the Supplement on History .

2. Examples and Non-Examples

Before considering the definition of critical thinking, it will be helpful to have in mind some examples of critical thinking, as well as some examples of kinds of thinking that would apparently not count as critical thinking.

Dewey (1910: 68–71; 1933: 91–94) takes as paradigms of reflective thinking three class papers of students in which they describe their thinking. The examples range from the everyday to the scientific.

Transit : “The other day, when I was down town on 16th Street, a clock caught my eye. I saw that the hands pointed to 12:20. This suggested that I had an engagement at 124th Street, at one o’clock. I reasoned that as it had taken me an hour to come down on a surface car, I should probably be twenty minutes late if I returned the same way. I might save twenty minutes by a subway express. But was there a station near? If not, I might lose more than twenty minutes in looking for one. Then I thought of the elevated, and I saw there was such a line within two blocks. But where was the station? If it were several blocks above or below the street I was on, I should lose time instead of gaining it. My mind went back to the subway express as quicker than the elevated; furthermore, I remembered that it went nearer than the elevated to the part of 124th Street I wished to reach, so that time would be saved at the end of the journey. I concluded in favor of the subway, and reached my destination by one o’clock.” (Dewey 1910: 68–69; 1933: 91–92)

Ferryboat : “Projecting nearly horizontally from the upper deck of the ferryboat on which I daily cross the river is a long white pole, having a gilded ball at its tip. It suggested a flagpole when I first saw it; its color, shape, and gilded ball agreed with this idea, and these reasons seemed to justify me in this belief. But soon difficulties presented themselves. The pole was nearly horizontal, an unusual position for a flagpole; in the next place, there was no pulley, ring, or cord by which to attach a flag; finally, there were elsewhere on the boat two vertical staffs from which flags were occasionally flown. It seemed probable that the pole was not there for flag-flying.

“I then tried to imagine all possible purposes of the pole, and to consider for which of these it was best suited: (a) Possibly it was an ornament. But as all the ferryboats and even the tugboats carried poles, this hypothesis was rejected. (b) Possibly it was the terminal of a wireless telegraph. But the same considerations made this improbable. Besides, the more natural place for such a terminal would be the highest part of the boat, on top of the pilot house. (c) Its purpose might be to point out the direction in which the boat is moving.

“In support of this conclusion, I discovered that the pole was lower than the pilot house, so that the steersman could easily see it. Moreover, the tip was enough higher than the base, so that, from the pilot’s position, it must appear to project far out in front of the boat. Moreover, the pilot being near the front of the boat, he would need some such guide as to its direction. Tugboats would also need poles for such a purpose. This hypothesis was so much more probable than the others that I accepted it. I formed the conclusion that the pole was set up for the purpose of showing the pilot the direction in which the boat pointed, to enable him to steer correctly.” (Dewey 1910: 69–70; 1933: 92–93)

Bubbles : “In washing tumblers in hot soapsuds and placing them mouth downward on a plate, bubbles appeared on the outside of the mouth of the tumblers and then went inside. Why? The presence of bubbles suggests air, which I note must come from inside the tumbler. I see that the soapy water on the plate prevents escape of the air save as it may be caught in bubbles. But why should air leave the tumbler? There was no substance entering to force it out. It must have expanded. It expands by increase of heat, or by decrease of pressure, or both. Could the air have become heated after the tumbler was taken from the hot suds? Clearly not the air that was already entangled in the water. If heated air was the cause, cold air must have entered in transferring the tumblers from the suds to the plate. I test to see if this supposition is true by taking several more tumblers out. Some I shake so as to make sure of entrapping cold air in them. Some I take out holding mouth downward in order to prevent cold air from entering. Bubbles appear on the outside of every one of the former and on none of the latter. I must be right in my inference. Air from the outside must have been expanded by the heat of the tumbler, which explains the appearance of the bubbles on the outside. But why do they then go inside? Cold contracts. The tumbler cooled and also the air inside it. Tension was removed, and hence bubbles appeared inside. To be sure of this, I test by placing a cup of ice on the tumbler while the bubbles are still forming outside. They soon reverse” (Dewey 1910: 70–71; 1933: 93–94).

Dewey (1910, 1933) sprinkles his book with other examples of critical thinking. We will refer to the following.

Weather : A man on a walk notices that it has suddenly become cool, thinks that it is probably going to rain, looks up and sees a dark cloud obscuring the sun, and quickens his steps (1910: 6–10; 1933: 9–13).

Disorder : A man finds his rooms on his return to them in disorder with his belongings thrown about, thinks at first of burglary as an explanation, then thinks of mischievous children as being an alternative explanation, then looks to see whether valuables are missing, and discovers that they are (1910: 82–83; 1933: 166–168).

Typhoid : A physician diagnosing a patient whose conspicuous symptoms suggest typhoid avoids drawing a conclusion until more data are gathered by questioning the patient and by making tests (1910: 85–86; 1933: 170).

Blur : A moving blur catches our eye in the distance, we ask ourselves whether it is a cloud of whirling dust or a tree moving its branches or a man signaling to us, we think of other traits that should be found on each of those possibilities, and we look and see if those traits are found (1910: 102, 108; 1933: 121, 133).

Suction pump : In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water (when suction no longer works) and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon (1910: 150–153; 1933: 195–198).

Diamond : A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others. Why? The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond lane from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

Rash : A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect. The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication. The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication.

Candidate : Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking. We find an example of such thinking in the performance task on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), which its sponsoring organization describes as

a performance-based assessment that provides a measure of an institution’s contribution to the development of critical-thinking and written communication skills of its students. (Council for Aid to Education 2017)

A sample task posted on its website requires the test-taker to write a report for public distribution evaluating a fictional candidate’s policy proposals and their supporting arguments, using supplied background documents, with a recommendation on whether to endorse the candidate.

Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem (e.g., a possible explanation of an event or phenomenon, an action that seems likely to produce a desired result) is “uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection” (Dewey 1910: 13). On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking (Dewey 1910: 108). Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire (1968 [1970]) is using the term (e.g., at 1970: 71, 81, 100, 146) in a more politically freighted sense that includes not only reflection but also revolutionary action against oppression. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis (2016) lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions. Following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as

a characteristic set of principles for assigning basic rights and duties and for determining… the proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation. (Rawls 1971: 5)

Bailin et al. (1999b) claim that, if one considers what sorts of thinking an educator would take not to be critical thinking and what sorts to be critical thinking, one can conclude that educators typically understand critical thinking to have at least three features.

  • It is done for the purpose of making up one’s mind about what to believe or do.
  • The person engaging in the thinking is trying to fulfill standards of adequacy and accuracy appropriate to the thinking.
  • The thinking fulfills the relevant standards to some threshold level.

One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section. As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question.

If the core of critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking, conceptions of it can vary according to its presumed scope, its presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the thinking component on which one focuses. As to its scope, some conceptions (e.g., Dewey 1910, 1933) restrict it to constructive thinking on the basis of one’s own observations and experiments, others (e.g., Ennis 1962; Fisher & Scriven 1997; Johnson 1992) to appraisal of the products of such thinking. Ennis (1991) and Bailin et al. (1999b) take it to cover both construction and appraisal. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; Lipman 1987; Facione 1990a). Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking (Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b). As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: “intellectually disciplined” (Scriven & Paul 1987), “reasonable” (Ennis 1991), “skillful” (Lipman 1987), “skilled” (Fisher & Scriven 1997), “careful” (Bailin & Battersby 2009). Some definitions specify these norms, referring variously to “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933); “the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning” (Glaser 1941); “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul 1987); the requirement that “it is sensitive to context, relies on criteria, and is self-correcting” (Lipman 1987); “evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations” (Facione 1990a); and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” (Johnson 1992). Stanovich and Stanovich (2010) propose to ground the concept of critical thinking in the concept of rationality, which they understand as combining epistemic rationality (fitting one’s beliefs to the world) and instrumental rationality (optimizing goal fulfillment); a critical thinker, in their view, is someone with “a propensity to override suboptimal responses from the autonomous mind” (2010: 227). These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. As to the thinking component singled out, some definitions focus on suspension of judgment during the thinking (Dewey 1910; McPeck 1981), others on inquiry while judgment is suspended (Bailin & Battersby 2009, 2021), others on the resulting judgment (Facione 1990a), and still others on responsiveness to reasons (Siegel 1988). Kuhn (2019) takes critical thinking to be more a dialogic practice of advancing and responding to arguments than an individual ability.

In educational contexts, a definition of critical thinking is a “programmatic definition” (Scheffler 1960: 19). It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve. The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker.

Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Ennis (1996, 2011) added to his previous list of critical thinking dispositions a group of dispositions to care about the dignity and worth of every person, which he described as a “correlative” (1996) disposition without which critical thinking would be less valuable and perhaps harmful. An educational program that aimed at developing critical thinking but not the correlative disposition to care about the dignity and worth of every person, he asserted, “would be deficient and perhaps dangerous” (Ennis 1996: 172).

Dewey thought that education for reflective thinking would be of value to both the individual and society; recognition in educational practice of the kinship to the scientific attitude of children’s native curiosity, fertile imagination and love of experimental inquiry “would make for individual happiness and the reduction of social waste” (Dewey 1910: iii). Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States (Aikin 1942: 17–18, 81). Harvey Siegel (1988: 55–61) has offered four considerations in support of adopting critical thinking as an educational ideal. (1) Respect for persons requires that schools and teachers honour students’ demands for reasons and explanations, deal with students honestly, and recognize the need to confront students’ independent judgment; these requirements concern the manner in which teachers treat students. (2) Education has the task of preparing children to be successful adults, a task that requires development of their self-sufficiency. (3) Education should initiate children into the rational traditions in such fields as history, science and mathematics. (4) Education should prepare children to become democratic citizens, which requires reasoned procedures and critical talents and attitudes. To supplement these considerations, Siegel (1988: 62–90) responds to two objections: the ideology objection that adoption of any educational ideal requires a prior ideological commitment and the indoctrination objection that cultivation of critical thinking cannot escape being a form of indoctrination.

Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern. Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:

  • suggestions , in which the mind leaps forward to a possible solution;
  • an intellectualization of the difficulty or perplexity into a problem to be solved, a question for which the answer must be sought;
  • the use of one suggestion after another as a leading idea, or hypothesis , to initiate and guide observation and other operations in collection of factual material;
  • the mental elaboration of the idea or supposition as an idea or supposition ( reasoning , in the sense on which reasoning is a part, not the whole, of inference); and
  • testing the hypothesis by overt or imaginative action. (Dewey 1933: 106–107; italics in original)

The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation (Dewey 1933: 106). The term ‘phases’ replaced the term ‘steps’ (Dewey 1910: 72), thus removing the earlier suggestion of an invariant sequence. Variants of the above analysis appeared in (Dewey 1916: 177) and (Dewey 1938: 101–119).

The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process. The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information (Dewey 1910: 85; 1933: 170). People with a hypothesis in mind, even one to which they have a very weak commitment, have a so-called “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998): they are likely to pay attention to evidence that confirms the hypothesis and to ignore evidence that counts against it or for some competing hypothesis. Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation. Dewey’s analysis of the critical thinking process can be faulted as well for requiring acceptance or rejection of a possible solution to a defined problem, with no allowance for deciding in the light of the available evidence to suspend judgment. Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include (1) noticing a difficulty, (2) defining the problem, (3) dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, (4) formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (5) determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, (6) devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, (7) carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, (8) noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, (9) gathering relevant testimony and information from others, (10) judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, (11) drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and (12) accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports (cf. Hitchcock 2017: 485).

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed (Paul 1984). For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted.

If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it. To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so. Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

  • Observing : One notices something in one’s immediate environment (sudden cooling of temperature in Weather , bubbles forming outside a glass and then going inside in Bubbles , a moving blur in the distance in Blur , a rash in Rash ). Or one notes the results of an experiment or systematic observation (valuables missing in Disorder , no suction without air pressure in Suction pump )
  • Feeling : One feels puzzled or uncertain about something (how to get to an appointment on time in Transit , why the diamonds vary in spacing in Diamond ). One wants to resolve this perplexity. One feels satisfaction once one has worked out an answer (to take the subway express in Transit , diamonds closer when needed as a warning in Diamond ).
  • Wondering : One formulates a question to be addressed (why bubbles form outside a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , how suction pumps work in Suction pump , what caused the rash in Rash ).
  • Imagining : One thinks of possible answers (bus or subway or elevated in Transit , flagpole or ornament or wireless communication aid or direction indicator in Ferryboat , allergic reaction or heat rash in Rash ).
  • Inferring : One works out what would be the case if a possible answer were assumed (valuables missing if there has been a burglary in Disorder , earlier start to the rash if it is an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug in Rash ). Or one draws a conclusion once sufficient relevant evidence is gathered (take the subway in Transit , burglary in Disorder , discontinue blood pressure medication and new cream in Rash ).
  • Knowledge : One uses stored knowledge of the subject-matter to generate possible answers or to infer what would be expected on the assumption of a particular answer (knowledge of a city’s public transit system in Transit , of the requirements for a flagpole in Ferryboat , of Boyle’s law in Bubbles , of allergic reactions in Rash ).
  • Experimenting : One designs and carries out an experiment or a systematic observation to find out whether the results deduced from a possible answer will occur (looking at the location of the flagpole in relation to the pilot’s position in Ferryboat , putting an ice cube on top of a tumbler taken from hot water in Bubbles , measuring the height to which a suction pump will draw water at different elevations in Suction pump , noticing the spacing of diamonds when movement to or from a diamond lane is allowed in Diamond ).
  • Consulting : One finds a source of information, gets the information from the source, and makes a judgment on whether to accept it. None of our 11 examples include searching for sources of information. In this respect they are unrepresentative, since most people nowadays have almost instant access to information relevant to answering any question, including many of those illustrated by the examples. However, Candidate includes the activities of extracting information from sources and evaluating its credibility.
  • Identifying and analyzing arguments : One notices an argument and works out its structure and content as a preliminary to evaluating its strength. This activity is central to Candidate . It is an important part of a critical thinking process in which one surveys arguments for various positions on an issue.
  • Judging : One makes a judgment on the basis of accumulated evidence and reasoning, such as the judgment in Ferryboat that the purpose of the pole is to provide direction to the pilot.
  • Deciding : One makes a decision on what to do or on what policy to adopt, as in the decision in Transit to take the subway.

By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. Both the willingness and the ability contribute causally to the person’s action, in the sense that the voluntary action would not occur if either (or both) of these were lacking. For example, suppose that one is standing with one’s arms at one’s sides and one voluntarily lifts one’s right arm to an extended horizontal position. One would not do so if one were unable to lift one’s arm, if for example one’s right side was paralyzed as the result of a stroke. Nor would one do so if one were unwilling to lift one’s arm, if for example one were participating in a street demonstration at which a white supremacist was urging the crowd to lift their right arm in a Nazi salute and one were unwilling to express support in this way for the racist Nazi ideology. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

Consider willingness first. We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so (Hamby 2014). For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities. The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically.

Now consider ability. In contrast to the ability to move one’s arm, which can be completely absent because a stroke has left the arm paralyzed, the ability to think critically is a developed ability, whose absence is not a complete absence of ability to think but absence of ability to think well. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them. The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative. It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind.

Reflections of the sort illustrated by the previous two paragraphs have led scholars to identify the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a “critical thinker”, i.e., someone who thinks critically whenever it is appropriate to do so. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. We start with dispositions, since arguably these are the most powerful contributors to being a critical thinker, can be fostered at an early stage of a child’s development, and are susceptible to general improvement (Glaser 1941: 175)

8. Critical Thinking Dispositions

Educational researchers use the term ‘dispositions’ broadly for the habits of mind and attitudes that contribute causally to being a critical thinker. Some writers (e.g., Paul & Elder 2006; Hamby 2014; Bailin & Battersby 2016a) propose to use the term ‘virtues’ for this dimension of a critical thinker. The virtues in question, although they are virtues of character, concern the person’s ways of thinking rather than the person’s ways of behaving towards others. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski (1996) and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco (2017).

On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory (Siegel 1999). Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis (Bailin et al. 1999a). Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. As children develop, the force of habit will gradually become important in sustaining the disposition (Nieto & Valenzuela 2012). Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Similarly, one could be confident in one’s ability to reason about the theological implications of the existence of evil in the world but not in one’s ability to reason about the best design for a guided ballistic missile.

Facione (1990a: 25) divides “affective dispositions” of critical thinking into approaches to life and living in general and approaches to specific issues, questions or problems. Adapting this distinction, one can usefully divide critical thinking dispositions into initiating dispositions (those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue) and internal dispositions (those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started). The two categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, open-mindedness, in the sense of willingness to consider alternative points of view to one’s own, is both an initiating and an internal disposition.

Using the strategy of considering factors that would block people with the ability to think critically from doing so, we can identify as initiating dispositions for thinking critically attentiveness, a habit of inquiry, self-confidence, courage, open-mindedness, willingness to suspend judgment, trust in reason, wanting evidence for one’s beliefs, and seeking the truth. We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them.

  • Attentiveness : One will not think critically if one fails to recognize an issue that needs to be thought through. For example, the pedestrian in Weather would not have looked up if he had not noticed that the air was suddenly cooler. To be a critical thinker, then, one needs to be habitually attentive to one’s surroundings, noticing not only what one senses but also sources of perplexity in messages received and in one’s own beliefs and attitudes (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Habit of inquiry : Inquiry is effortful, and one needs an internal push to engage in it. For example, the student in Bubbles could easily have stopped at idle wondering about the cause of the bubbles rather than reasoning to a hypothesis, then designing and executing an experiment to test it. Thus willingness to think critically needs mental energy and initiative. What can supply that energy? Love of inquiry, or perhaps just a habit of inquiry. Hamby (2015) has argued that willingness to inquire is the central critical thinking virtue, one that encompasses all the others. It is recognized as a critical thinking disposition by Dewey (1910: 29; 1933: 35), Glaser (1941: 5), Ennis (1987: 12; 1991: 8), Facione (1990a: 25), Bailin et al. (1999b: 294), Halpern (1998: 452), and Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo (2001).
  • Self-confidence : Lack of confidence in one’s abilities can block critical thinking. For example, if the woman in Rash lacked confidence in her ability to figure things out for herself, she might just have assumed that the rash on her chest was the allergic reaction to her medication against which the pharmacist had warned her. Thus willingness to think critically requires confidence in one’s ability to inquire (Facione 1990a: 25; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001).
  • Courage : Fear of thinking for oneself can stop one from doing it. Thus willingness to think critically requires intellectual courage (Paul & Elder 2006: 16).
  • Open-mindedness : A dogmatic attitude will impede thinking critically. For example, a person who adheres rigidly to a “pro-choice” position on the issue of the legal status of induced abortion is likely to be unwilling to consider seriously the issue of when in its development an unborn child acquires a moral right to life. Thus willingness to think critically requires open-mindedness, in the sense of a willingness to examine questions to which one already accepts an answer but which further evidence or reasoning might cause one to answer differently (Dewey 1933; Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Bailin et al. 1999b; Halpern 1998, Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). Paul (1981) emphasizes open-mindedness about alternative world-views, and recommends a dialectical approach to integrating such views as central to what he calls “strong sense” critical thinking. In three studies, Haran, Ritov, & Mellers (2013) found that actively open-minded thinking, including “the tendency to weigh new evidence against a favored belief, to spend sufficient time on a problem before giving up, and to consider carefully the opinions of others in forming one’s own”, led study participants to acquire information and thus to make accurate estimations.
  • Willingness to suspend judgment : Premature closure on an initial solution will block critical thinking. Thus willingness to think critically requires a willingness to suspend judgment while alternatives are explored (Facione 1990a; Ennis 1991; Halpern 1998).
  • Trust in reason : Since distrust in the processes of reasoned inquiry will dissuade one from engaging in it, trust in them is an initiating critical thinking disposition (Facione 1990a, 25; Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001; Paul & Elder 2006). In reaction to an allegedly exclusive emphasis on reason in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, Thayer-Bacon (2000) argues that intuition, imagination, and emotion have important roles to play in an adequate conception of critical thinking that she calls “constructive thinking”. From her point of view, critical thinking requires trust not only in reason but also in intuition, imagination, and emotion.
  • Seeking the truth : If one does not care about the truth but is content to stick with one’s initial bias on an issue, then one will not think critically about it. Seeking the truth is thus an initiating critical thinking disposition (Bailin et al. 1999b: 294; Facione, Facione, & Giancarlo 2001). A disposition to seek the truth is implicit in more specific critical thinking dispositions, such as trying to be well-informed, considering seriously points of view other than one’s own, looking for alternatives, suspending judgment when the evidence is insufficient, and adopting a position when the evidence supporting it is sufficient.

Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process. But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. Some of them are parasitic on one’s conception of good thinking. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Ennis (1991: 8) describes it as the disposition “to determine and maintain focus on the conclusion or question”, Facione (1990a: 25) as “clarity in stating the question or concern”. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct (Halpern 1998: 452). For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions .

Some theorists postulate skills, i.e., acquired abilities, as operative in critical thinking. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Bailin et al. (1999a) argue against viewing critical thinking skills as generic and discrete, on the ground that skilled performance at a critical thinking task cannot be separated from knowledge of concepts and from domain-specific principles of good thinking. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance.

Despite such scepticism, theorists of critical thinking have listed as general contributors to critical thinking what they variously call abilities (Glaser 1941; Ennis 1962, 1991), skills (Facione 1990a; Halpern 1998) or competencies (Fisher & Scriven 1997). Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them. It makes sense instead to try to understand the reasons for the multiplicity and diversity, and to make a selection according to one’s own reasons for singling out abilities to be developed in a critical thinking curriculum. Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in (Glaser 1941), are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students (e.g., Facione 1990a).

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5 . The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Observational abilities : Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. However, there are general abilities of noticing what one’s senses are picking up from one’s environment and of being able to articulate clearly and accurately to oneself and others what one has observed. It helps in exercising them to be able to recognize and take into account factors that make one’s observation less trustworthy, such as prior framing of the situation, inadequate time, deficient senses, poor observation conditions, and the like. It helps as well to be skilled at taking steps to make one’s observation more trustworthy, such as moving closer to get a better look, measuring something three times and taking the average, and checking what one thinks one is observing with someone else who is in a good position to observe it. It also helps to be skilled at recognizing respects in which one’s report of one’s observation involves inference rather than direct observation, so that one can then consider whether the inference is justified. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities (Ennis 1962: 90; Facione 1990a: 16; Ennis 1991: 9). There are items testing a person’s ability to judge the credibility of observation reports in the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, Levels X and Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). Norris and King (1983, 1985, 1990a, 1990b) is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

Emotional abilities : The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. Collaborative critical thinking benefits from ability to recognize one’s own and others’ emotional commitments and reactions.

Questioning abilities : A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question. Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough (Ennis 1962: 97; 1991: 9).

Imaginative abilities : Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option. Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper (Dewey 1910: 34–39; 1933: 40–47). Facione (1990a) and Halpern (1998) include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability.

Inferential abilities : The ability to draw conclusions from given information, and to recognize with what degree of certainty one’s own or others’ conclusions follow, is universally recognized as a general critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options (as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder ), others from something observed (as in Weather and Rash ). None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference (Toulmin 1958) that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking. Dewey (1933) locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis (1981a), on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: to translate natural-language statements into statements using the standard logical operators, to use appropriately the language of necessary and sufficient conditions, to deal with argument forms and arguments containing symbols, to determine whether in virtue of an argument’s form its conclusion follows necessarily from its premisses, to reason with logically complex propositions, and to apply the rules and procedures of deductive logic. Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser (1941: 6), Facione (1990a: 9), Ennis (1991: 9), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 99, 111), and Halpern (1998: 452). Items testing inferential abilities constitute two of the five subtests of the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (Watson & Glaser 1980a, 1980b, 1994), two of the four sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), three of the seven sections in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005), 11 of the 34 items on Forms A and B of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992), and a high but variable proportion of the 25 selected-response questions in the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Experimenting abilities : Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash . Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think (1910: 145–156; 1933: 190–202) to the superiority of experimentation over observation in advancing knowledge. Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies. Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence (Glaser 1941: 6), to carry out experiments and to apply appropriate statistical inference techniques (Facione 1990a: 9), to judge inductions to an explanatory hypothesis (Ennis 1991: 9), and to recognize the need for an adequately large sample size (Halpern 1998). The Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) includes four items (out of 52) on experimental design. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions.

Consulting abilities : Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate . Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information (Glaser 1941: 6), to judge whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable (Ennis 1962: 84), to plan a search for desired information (Facione 1990a: 9), and to judge the credibility of a source (Ennis 1991: 9). Ability to judge the credibility of statements is tested by 24 items (out of 76) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level X (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005) and by four items (out of 52) in the Cornell Critical Thinking Test Level Z (Ennis & Millman 1971; Ennis, Millman, & Tomko 1985, 2005). The College Learning Assessment’s performance task requires evaluation of whether information in documents is credible or unreliable (Council for Aid to Education 2017).

Argument analysis abilities : The ability to identify and analyze arguments contributes to the process of surveying arguments on an issue in order to form one’s own reasoned judgment, as in Candidate . The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione (1990a: 7–8), Ennis (1991: 9) and Halpern (1998). Five items (out of 34) on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (Facione 1990b, 1992) test skill at argument analysis. The College Learning Assessment (Council for Aid to Education 2017) incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument.

Judging skills and deciding skills : Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed.

Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: identifying assumptions and constructing and evaluating definitions.

In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: of critical thinking concepts, of critical thinking principles, and of the subject-matter of the thinking.

We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section. Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference (traditionally, between deduction and induction), as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective (case-control) study. Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. (1999b: 293), Fisher & Scriven (1997: 105–106), Black (2012), and Blair (2021).

According to Glaser (1941: 25), ability to think critically requires knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning. If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. Searching intelligently for a causal explanation of some phenomenon or event requires that one consider a full range of possible causal contributors, but it seems more important that one implements this principle in one’s practice than that one is able to articulate it. What is important is “operational knowledge” of the standards and principles of good thinking (Bailin et al. 1999b: 291–293). But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory. Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication (Loftus 2017). People seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to their existing beliefs and expectations, often unconscious of their “confirmation bias” (Nickerson 1998). Not only are people subject to this and other cognitive biases (Kahneman 2011), of which they are typically unaware, but it may be counter-productive for one to make oneself aware of them and try consciously to counteract them or to counteract social biases such as racial or sexual stereotypes (Kenyon & Beaulac 2014). It is helpful to be aware of these facts and of the superior effectiveness of blocking the operation of biases—for example, by making an immediate record of one’s observations, refraining from forming a preliminary explanatory hypothesis, blind refereeing, double-blind randomized trials, and blind grading of students’ work. It is also helpful to be aware of the prevalence of “noise” (unwanted unsystematic variability of judgments), of how to detect noise (through a noise audit), and of how to reduce noise: make accuracy the goal, think statistically, break a process of arriving at a judgment into independent tasks, resist premature intuitions, in a group get independent judgments first, favour comparative judgments and scales (Kahneman, Sibony, & Sunstein 2021). It is helpful as well to be aware of the concept of “bounded rationality” in decision-making and of the related distinction between “satisficing” and optimizing (Simon 1956; Gigerenzer 2001).

Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue. For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter. This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed.

Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests. For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment .

What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? In a comprehensive meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of strategies for teaching students to think critically, Abrami et al. (2015) found that dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring each increased the effectiveness of the educational intervention, and that they were most effective when combined. They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods .

12. Controversies

Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking.

McPeck (1981) attacked the thinking skills movement of the 1970s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject. Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics (e.g., Paul 1985; Siegel 1985) pointed out, McPeck’s central argument needs elaboration, since it has obvious counter-examples in writing and speaking, for which (up to a certain level of complexity) there are teachable general abilities even though they are always about some subject-matter. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey (1910, 1933), Glaser (1941), Passmore (1980), Weinstein (1990), Bailin et al. (1999b), and Willingham (2019).

McPeck’s challenge prompted reflection on the extent to which critical thinking is subject-specific. McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. (He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.) Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso. But the thesis suffers, as Ennis (1989) points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject? Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. Commentators (e.g., Alston 1995; Ennis 1998) have noted that anyone who takes a position has a bias in the neutral sense of being inclined in one direction rather than others. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture (Bailin 1995). These ways favour:

  • reinforcement of egocentric and sociocentric biases over dialectical engagement with opposing world-views (Paul 1981, 1984; Warren 1998)
  • distancing from the object of inquiry over closeness to it (Martin 1992; Thayer-Bacon 1992)
  • indifference to the situation of others over care for them (Martin 1992)
  • orientation to thought over orientation to action (Martin 1992)
  • being reasonable over caring to understand people’s ideas (Thayer-Bacon 1993)
  • being neutral and objective over being embodied and situated (Thayer-Bacon 1995a)
  • doubting over believing (Thayer-Bacon 1995b)
  • reason over emotion, imagination and intuition (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • solitary thinking over collaborative thinking (Thayer-Bacon 2000)
  • written and spoken assignments over other forms of expression (Alston 2001)
  • attention to written and spoken communications over attention to human problems (Alston 2001)
  • winning debates in the public sphere over making and understanding meaning (Alston 2001)

A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments. While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul (1981), for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began. Martin (1992) and Thayer-Bacon (1992) cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon (2000) contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as

thinking that is used to critique arguments, offer justifications, and make judgments about what are the good reasons, or the right answers. (Thayer-Bacon 2000: 127–128)

Alston (2001) reports that her students in a women’s studies class were able to see the flaws in the Cinderella myth that pervades much romantic fiction but in their own romantic relationships still acted as if all failures were the woman’s fault and still accepted the notions of love at first sight and living happily ever after. Students, she writes, should

be able to connect their intellectual critique to a more affective, somatic, and ethical account of making risky choices that have sexist, racist, classist, familial, sexual, or other consequences for themselves and those both near and far… critical thinking that reads arguments, texts, or practices merely on the surface without connections to feeling/desiring/doing or action lacks an ethical depth that should infuse the difference between mere cognitive activity and something we want to call critical thinking. (Alston 2001: 34)

Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women. Thayer-Bacon (1992), for example, has charged modern critical thinking theory with being sexist, on the ground that it separates the self from the object and causes one to lose touch with one’s inner voice, and thus stigmatizes women, who (she asserts) link self to object and listen to their inner voice. Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione (1990c) found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. Kuhn (1991: 280–281) found no difference by sex in either the disposition or the competence to engage in argumentative thinking.

The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly. Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Focus on argument networks with dialectical exchanges reflecting contesting points of view rather than on atomic arguments, so as to develop “strong sense” critical thinking that transcends egocentric and sociocentric biases (Paul 1981, 1984).
  • Foster closeness to the subject-matter and feeling connected to others in order to inform a humane democracy (Martin 1992).
  • Develop “constructive thinking” as a social activity in a community of physically embodied and socially embedded inquirers with personal voices who value not only reason but also imagination, intuition and emotion (Thayer-Bacon 2000).
  • In developing critical thinking in school subjects, treat as important neither skills nor dispositions but opening worlds of meaning (Alston 2001).
  • Attend to the development of critical thinking dispositions as well as skills, and adopt the “critical pedagogy” practised and advocated by Freire (1968 [1970]) and hooks (1994) (Dalgleish, Girard, & Davies 2017).

A common thread in these proposals is treatment of critical thinking as a social, interactive, personally engaged activity like that of a quilting bee or a barn-raising (Thayer-Bacon 2000) rather than as an individual, solitary, distanced activity symbolized by Rodin’s The Thinker . One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks (1994, 2010). Critical thinking for her is open-minded dialectical exchange across opposing standpoints and from multiple perspectives, a conception similar to Paul’s “strong sense” critical thinking (Paul 1981). She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In an introductory course on black women writers, for example, she assigns students to write an autobiographical paragraph about an early racial memory, then to read it aloud as the others listen, thus affirming the uniqueness and value of each voice and creating a communal awareness of the diversity of the group’s experiences (hooks 1994: 84). Her “engaged pedagogy” is thus similar to the “freedom under guidance” implemented in John Dewey’s Laboratory School of Chicago in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It incorporates the dialogue, anchored instruction, and mentoring that Abrami (2015) found to be most effective in improving critical thinking skills and dispositions.

What is the relationship of critical thinking to problem solving, decision-making, higher-order thinking, creative thinking, and other recognized types of thinking? One’s answer to this question obviously depends on how one defines the terms used in the question. If critical thinking is conceived broadly to cover any careful thinking about any topic for any purpose, then problem solving and decision making will be kinds of critical thinking, if they are done carefully. Historically, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ were two names for the same thing. If critical thinking is conceived more narrowly as consisting solely of appraisal of intellectual products, then it will be disjoint with problem solving and decision making, which are constructive.

Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives used the phrase “intellectual abilities and skills” for what had been labeled “critical thinking” by some, “reflective thinking” by Dewey and others, and “problem solving” by still others (Bloom et al. 1956: 38). Thus, the so-called “higher-order thinking skills” at the taxonomy’s top levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are just critical thinking skills, although they do not come with general criteria for their assessment (Ennis 1981b). The revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson et al. 2001) likewise treats critical thinking as cutting across those types of cognitive process that involve more than remembering (Anderson et al. 2001: 269–270). For details, see the Supplement on History .

As to creative thinking, it overlaps with critical thinking (Bailin 1987, 1988). Thinking about the explanation of some phenomenon or event, as in Ferryboat , requires creative imagination in constructing plausible explanatory hypotheses. Likewise, thinking about a policy question, as in Candidate , requires creativity in coming up with options. Conversely, creativity in any field needs to be balanced by critical appraisal of the draft painting or novel or mathematical theory.

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Unit 1: What Is Philosophy?

LOGOS: Critical Thinking, Arguments, and Fallacies

Heather Wilburn, Ph.D

Critical Thinking:

With respect to critical thinking, it seems that everyone uses this phrase. Yet, there is a fear that this is becoming a buzz-word (i.e. a word or phrase you use because it’s popular or enticing in some way). Ultimately, this means that we may be using the phrase without a clear sense of what we even mean by it. So, here we are going to think about what this phrase might mean and look at some examples. As a former colleague of mine, Henry Imler, explains:

By critical thinking, we refer to thinking that is recursive in nature. Any time we encounter new information or new ideas, we double back and rethink our prior conclusions on the subject to see if any other conclusions are better suited. Critical thinking can be contrasted with Authoritarian thinking. This type of thinking seeks to preserve the original conclusion. Here, thinking and conclusions are policed, as to question the system is to threaten the system. And threats to the system demand a defensive response. Critical thinking is short-circuited in authoritarian systems so that the conclusions are conserved instead of being open for revision. [1]

A condition for being recursive is to be open and not arrogant. If we come to a point where we think we have a handle on what is True, we are no longer open to consider, discuss, or accept information that might challenge our Truth. One becomes closed off and rejects everything that is different or strange–out of sync with one’s own Truth. To be open and recursive entails a sense of thinking about your beliefs in a critical and reflective way, so that you have a chance to either strengthen your belief system or revise it if needed. I have been teaching philosophy and humanities classes for nearly 20 years; critical thinking is the single most important skill you can develop. In close but second place is communication, In my view, communication skills follow as a natural result of critical thinking because you are attempting to think through and articulate stronger and rationally justified views. At the risk of sounding cliche, education isn’t about instilling content; it is about learning how to think.

In your philosophy classes your own ideas and beliefs will very likely be challenged. This does not mean that you will be asked to abandon your beliefs, but it does mean that you might be asked to defend them. Additionally, your mind will probably be twisted and turned about, which can be an uncomfortable experience. Yet, if at all possible, you should cherish these experiences and allow them to help you grow as a thinker. To be challenged and perplexed is difficult; however, it is worthwhile because it compels deeper thinking and more significant levels of understanding. In turn, thinking itself can transform us not only in thought, but in our beliefs, and our actions. Hannah Arendt, a social and political philosopher that came to the United States in exile during WWII, relates the transformative elements of philosophical thinking to Socrates. She writes:

Socrates…who is commonly said to have believed in the teachability of virtue, seems to have held that talking and thinking about piety, justice, courage, and the rest were liable to make men more pious, more just, more courageous, even though they were not given definitions or “values” to direct their further conduct. [2]

Thinking and communication are transformative insofar as these activities have the potential to alter our perspectives and, thus, change our behavior. In fact, Arendt connects the ability to think critically and reflectively to morality. As she notes above, morality does not have to give a predetermined set of rules to affect our behavior. Instead, morality can also be related to the open and sometimes perplexing conversations we have with others (and ourselves) about moral issues and moral character traits. Theodor W. Adorno, another philosopher that came to the United States in exile during WWII, argues that autonomous thinking (i.e. thinking for oneself) is crucial if we want to prevent the occurrence of another event like Auschwitz, a concentration camp where over 1 million individuals died during the Holocaust. [3] To think autonomously entails reflective and critical thinking—a type of thinking rooted in philosophical activity and a type of thinking that questions and challenges social norms and the status quo. In this sense thinking is critical of what is, allowing us to think beyond what is and to think about what ought to be, or what ought not be. This is one of the transformative elements of philosophical activity and one that is useful in promoting justice and ethical living.

With respect to the meaning of education, the German philosopher Hegel uses the term bildung, which means education or upbringing, to indicate the differences between the traditional type of education that focuses on facts and memorization, and education as transformative. Allen Wood explains how Hegel uses the term bildung: it is “a process of self-transformation and an acquisition of the power to grasp and articulate the reasons for what one believes or knows.” [4] If we think back through all of our years of schooling, particularly those subject matters that involve the teacher passing on information that is to be memorized and repeated, most of us would be hard pressed to recall anything substantial. However, if the focus of education is on how to think and the development of skills include analyzing, synthesizing, and communicating ideas and problems, most of us will use those skills whether we are in the field of philosophy, politics, business, nursing, computer programming, or education. In this sense, philosophy can help you develop a strong foundational skill set that will be marketable for your individual paths. While philosophy is not the only subject that will foster these skills, its method is one that heavily focuses on the types of activities that will help you develop such skills.

Let’s turn to discuss arguments. Arguments consist of a set of statements, which are claims that something is or is not the case, or is either true or false. The conclusion of your argument is a statement that is being argued for, or the point of view being argued for. The other statements serve as evidence or support for your conclusion; we refer to these statements as premises. It’s important to keep in mind that a statement is either true or false, so questions, commands, or exclamations are not statements. If we are thinking critically we will not accept a statement as true or false without good reason(s), so our premises are important here. Keep in mind the idea that supporting statements are called premises and the statement that is being supported is called the conclusion. Here are a couple of examples:

Example 1: Capital punishment is morally justifiable since it restores some sense of

balance to victims or victims’ families.

Let’s break it down so it’s easier to see in what we might call a typical argument form:

Premise: Capital punishment restores some sense of balance to victims or victims’ families.

Conclusion: Capital punishment is morally justifiable.

Example 2 : Because innocent people are sometimes found guilty and potentially

executed, capital punishment is not morally justifiable.

Premise: Innocent people are sometimes found guilty and potentially executed.

Conclusion: Capital punishment is not morally justifiable.

It is worth noting the use of the terms “since” and “because” in these arguments. Terms or phrases like these often serve as signifiers that we are looking at evidence, or a premise.

Check out another example:

Example 3 : All human beings are mortal. Heather is a human being. Therefore,

Heather is mortal.

Premise 1: All human beings are mortal.

Premise 2: Heather is a human being.

Conclusion: Heather is mortal.

In this example, there are a couple of things worth noting: First, there can be more than one premise. In fact, you could have a rather complex argument with several premises. If you’ve written an argumentative paper you may have encountered arguments that are rather complex. Second, just as the arguments prior had signifiers to show that we are looking at evidence, this argument has a signifier (i.e. therefore) to demonstrate the argument’s conclusion.

So many arguments!!! Are they all equally good?

No, arguments are not equally good; there are many ways to make a faulty argument. In fact, there are a lot of different types of arguments and, to some extent, the type of argument can help us figure out if the argument is a good one. For a full elaboration of arguments, take a logic class! Here’s a brief version:

Deductive Arguments: in a deductive argument the conclusion necessarily follows the premises. Take argument Example 3 above. It is absolutely necessary that Heather is a mortal, if she is a human being and if mortality is a specific condition for being human. We know that all humans die, so that’s tight evidence. This argument would be a very good argument; it is valid (i.e the conclusion necessarily follows the premises) and it is sound (i.e. all the premises are true).

Inductive Arguments : in an inductive argument the conclusion likely (at best) follows the premises. Let’s have an example:

Example 4 : 98.9% of all TCC students like pizza. You are a TCC student. Thus, you like pizza.

Premise 1: 98.9% of all TCC students like pizza

Premise 2: You are a TCC student.

Conclusion: You like pizza. (*Thus is a conclusion indicator)

In this example, the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow; it likely follows. But you might be part of that 1.1% for whatever reason. Inductive arguments are good arguments if they are strong. So, instead of saying an inductive argument is valid, we say it is strong. You can also use the term sound to describe the truth of the premises, if they are true. Let’s suppose they are true and you absolutely love Hideaway pizza. Let’s also assume you are a TCC student. So, the argument is really strong and it is sound.

There are many types of inductive argument, including: causal arguments, arguments based on probabilities or statistics, arguments that are supported by analogies, and arguments that are based on some type of authority figure. So, when you encounter an argument based on one of these types, think about how strong the argument is. If you want to see examples of the different types, a web search (or a logic class!) will get you where you need to go.

Some arguments are faulty, not necessarily because of the truth or falsity of the premises, but because they rely on psychological and emotional ploys. These are bad arguments because people shouldn’t accept your conclusion if you are using scare tactics or distracting and manipulating reasoning. Arguments that have this issue are called fallacies. There are a lot of fallacies, so, again, if you want to know more a web search will be useful. We are going to look at several that seem to be the most relevant for our day-to-day experiences.

  • Inappropriate Appeal to Authority : We are definitely going to use authority figures in our lives (e.g. doctors, lawyers, mechanics, financial advisors, etc.), but we need to make sure that the authority figure is a reliable one.

Things to look for here might include: reputation in the field, not holding widely controversial views, experience, education, and the like. So, if we take an authority figure’s word and they’re not legit, we’ve committed the fallacy of appeal to authority.

Example 5 : I think I am going to take my investments to Voya. After all, Steven Adams advocates for Voya in an advertisement I recently saw.

If we look at the criteria for evaluating arguments that appeal to authority figures, it is pretty easy to see that Adams is not an expert in the finance field. Thus, this is an inappropropriate appeal to authority.

  • Slippery Slope Arguments : Slippery slope arguments are found everywhere it seems. The essential characteristic of a slippery slope argument is that it uses problematic premises to argue that doing ‘x’ will ultimately lead to other actions that are extreme, unlikely, and disastrous. You can think of this type of argument as a faulty chain of events or domino effect type of argument.

Example 6 : If you don’t study for your philosophy exam you will not do well on the exam. This will lead to you failing the class. The next thing you know you will have lost your scholarship, dropped out of school, and will be living on the streets without any chance of getting a job.

While you should certainly study for your philosophy exam, if you don’t it is unlikely that this will lead to your full economic demise.

One challenge to evaluating slippery slope arguments is that they are predictions, so we cannot be certain about what will or will not actually happen. But this chain of events type of argument should be assessed in terms of whether the outcome will likely follow if action ‘x” is pursued.

  • Faulty Analogy : We often make arguments based on analogy and these can be good arguments. But we often use faulty reasoning with analogies and this is what we want to learn how to avoid.

When evaluating an argument that is based on an analogy here are a few things to keep in mind: you want to look at the relevant similarities and the relevant differences between the things that are being compared. As a general rule, if there are more differences than similarities the argument is likely weak.

Example 7 : Alcohol is legal. Therefore, we should legalize marijuana too.

So, the first step here is to identify the two things being compared, which are alcohol and marijuana. Next, note relevant similarities and differences. These might include effects on health, community safety, economic factors, criminal justice factors, and the like.

This is probably not the best argument in support for marijuana legalization. It would seem that one could just as easily conclude that since marijuana is illegal, alcohol should be too. In fact, one might find that alcohol is an often abused and highly problematic drug for many people, so it is too risky to legalize marijuana if it is similar to alcohol.

  • Appeal to Emotion : Arguments should be based on reason and evidence, not emotional tactics. When we use an emotional tactic, we are essentially trying to manipulate someone into accepting our position by evoking pity or fear, when our positions should actually be backed by reasonable and justifiable evidence.

Example 8 : Officer please don’t give me a speeding ticket. My girlfriend broke up with me last night, my alarm didn’t go off this morning, and I’m late for class.

While this is a really horrible start to one’s day, being broken up with and an alarm malfunctioning is not a justifiable reason for speeding.

Example 9 : Professor, I’d like you to remember that my mother is a dean here at TCC. I’m sure that she will be very disappointed if I don’t receive an A in your class.

This is a scare tactic and is not a good way to make an argument. Scare tactics can come in the form of psychological or physical threats; both forms are to be avoided.

  • Appeal to Ignorance : This fallacy occurs when our argument relies on lack of evidence when evidence is actually needed to support a position.

Example 10 : No one has proven that sasquatch doesn’t exist; therefore it does exist.

Example 11 : No one has proven God exists; therefore God doesn’t exist.

The key here is that lack of evidence against something cannot be an argument for something. Lack of evidence can only show that we are ignorant of the facts.

  • Straw Man : A straw man argument is a specific type of argument that is intended to weaken an opponent’s position so that it is easier to refute. So, we create a weaker version of the original argument (i.e. a straw man argument), so when we present it everyone will agree with us and denounce the original position.

Example 12 : Women are crazy arguing for equal treatment. No one wants women hanging around men’s locker rooms or saunas.

This is a misrepresentation of arguments for equal treatment. Women (and others arguing for equal treatment) are not trying to obtain equal access to men’s locker rooms or saunas.

The best way to avoid this fallacy is to make sure that you are not oversimplifying or misrepresenting others’ positions. Even if we don’t agree with a position, we want to make the strongest case against it and this can only be accomplished if we can refute the actual argument, not a weakened version of it. So, let’s all bring the strongest arguments we have to the table!

  • Red Herring : A red herring is a distraction or a change in subject matter. Sometimes this is subtle, but if you find yourself feeling lost in the argument, take a close look and make sure there is not an attempt to distract you.

Example 13 : Can you believe that so many people are concerned with global warming? The real threat to our country is terrorism.

It could be the case that both global warming and terrorism are concerns for us. But the red herring fallacy is committed when someone tries to distract you from the argument at hand by bringing up another issue or side-stepping a question. Politicians are masters at this, by the way.

  • Appeal to the Person : This fallacy is also referred to as the ad hominem fallacy. We commit this fallacy when we dismiss someone’s argument or position by attacking them instead of refuting the premises or support for their argument.

Example 14 : I am not going to listen to what Professor ‘X’ has to say about the history of religion. He told one of his previous classes he wasn’t religious.

The problem here is that the student is dismissing course material based on the professor’s religious views and not evaluating the course content on its own ground.

To avoid this fallacy, make sure that you target the argument or their claims and not the person making the argument in your rebuttal.

  • Hasty Generalization : We make and use generalizations on a regular basis and in all types of decisions. We rely on generalizations when trying to decide which schools to apply to, which phone is the best for us, which neighborhood we want to live in, what type of job we want, and so on. Generalizations can be strong and reliable, but they can also be fallacious. There are three main ways in which a generalization can commit a fallacy: your sample size is too small, your sample size is not representative of the group you are making a generalization about, or your data could be outdated.

Example 15 : I had horrible customer service at the last Starbucks I was at. It is clear that Starbucks employees do not care about their customers. I will never visit another Starbucks again.

The problem with this generalization is that the claim made about all Starbucks is based on one experience. While it is tempting to not spend your money where people are rude to their customers, this is only one employee and presumably doesn’t reflect all employees or the company as a whole. So, to make this a stronger generalization we would want to have a larger sample size (multiple horrible experiences) to support the claim. Let’s look at a second hasty generalization:

Example 16 : I had horrible customer service at the Starbucks on 81st street. It is clear that Starbucks employees do not care about their customers. I will never visit another Starbucks again.

The problem with this generalization mirrors the previous problem in that the claim is based on only one experience. But there’s an additional issue here as well, which is that the claim is based off of an experience at one location. To make a claim about the whole company, our sample group needs to be larger than one and it needs to come from a variety of locations.

  • Begging the Question : An argument begs the question when the argument’s premises assume the conclusion, instead of providing support for the conclusion. One common form of begging the question is referred to as circular reasoning.

Example 17 : Of course, everyone wants to see the new Marvel movie is because it is the most popular movie right now!

The conclusion here is that everyone wants to see the new Marvel movie, but the premise simply assumes that is the case by claiming it is the most popular movie. Remember the premise should give reasons for the conclusion, not merely assume it to be true.

  • Equivocation : In the English language there are many words that have different meanings (e.g. bank, good, right, steal, etc.). When we use the same word but shift the meaning without explaining this move to your audience, we equivocate the word and this is a fallacy. So, if you must use the same word more than once and with more than one meaning you need to explain that you’re shifting the meaning you intend. Although, most of the time it is just easier to use a different word.

Example 18 : Yes, philosophy helps people argue better, but should we really encourage people to argue? There is enough hostility in the world.

Here, argue is used in two different senses. The meaning of the first refers to the philosophical meaning of argument (i.e. premises and a conclusion), whereas the second sense is in line with the common use of argument (i.e. yelling between two or more people, etc.).

  • Henry Imler, ed., Phronesis An Ethics Primer with Readings, (2018). 7-8. ↵
  • Arendt, Hannah, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” Social Research, 38:3 (1971: Autumn): 431. ↵
  • Theodor W. Adorno, “Education After Auschwitz,” in Can One Live After Auschwitz, ed. by Rolf Tiedemann, trans. by Rodney Livingstone (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003): 23. ↵
  • Allen W. Wood, “Hegel on Education,” in Philosophers on Education: New Historical Perspectives, ed. Amelie O. Rorty (London: Routledge 1998): 302. ↵

LOGOS: Critical Thinking, Arguments, and Fallacies Copyright © 2020 by Heather Wilburn, Ph.D is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Critical Thinking Models: A Comprehensive Guide for Effective Decision Making

Critical Thinking Models

Critical thinking models are valuable frameworks that help individuals develop and enhance their critical thinking skills . These models provide a structured approach to problem-solving and decision-making by encouraging the evaluation of information and arguments in a logical, systematic manner. By understanding and applying these models, one can learn to make well-reasoned judgments and decisions.

tools of argument in critical thinking

Various critical thinking models exist, each catering to different contexts and scenarios. These models offer a step-by-step method to analyze situations, scrutinize assumptions and biases, and consider alternative perspectives. Ultimately, the goal of critical thinking models is to enhance an individual’s ability to think critically, ultimately improving their reasoning and decision-making skills in both personal and professional settings.

Key Takeaways

  • Critical thinking models provide structured approaches for enhancing decision-making abilities
  • These models help individuals analyze situations, scrutinize assumptions, and consider alternative perspectives
  • The application of critical thinking models can significantly improve one’s reasoning and judgment skills.

Fundamentals of Critical Thinking

tools of argument in critical thinking

Definition and Importance

Critical thinking is the intellectual process of logically, objectively, and systematically evaluating information to form reasoned judgments, utilizing reasoning , logic , and evidence . It involves:

  • Identifying and questioning assumptions,
  • Applying consistent principles and criteria,
  • Analyzing and synthesizing information,
  • Drawing conclusions based on evidence.

The importance of critical thinking lies in its ability to help individuals make informed decisions, solve complex problems, and differentiate between true and false beliefs .

Core Cognitive Skills

Several core cognitive skills underpin critical thinking:

  • Analysis : Breaking down complex information into smaller components to identify patterns or inconsistencies.
  • Evaluation : Assessing the credibility and relevance of sources, arguments, and evidence.
  • Inference : Drawing conclusions by connecting the dots between analyzed information.
  • Synthesis : Incorporating analyzed information into a broader understanding and constructing one’s argument.
  • Logic and reasoning : Applying principles of logic to determine the validity of arguments and weigh evidence.

These skills enable individuals to consistently apply intellectual standards in their thought process, which ultimately results in sound judgments and informed decisions.

Influence of Cognitive Biases

A key aspect of critical thinking is recognizing and mitigating the impact of cognitive biases on our thought processes. Cognitive biases are cognitive shortcuts or heuristics that can lead to flawed reasoning and distort our understanding of a situation. Examples of cognitive biases include confirmation bias, anchoring bias, and availability heuristic.

To counter the influence of cognitive biases, critical thinkers must be aware of their own assumptions and strive to apply consistent and objective evaluation criteria in their thinking process. The practice of actively recognizing and addressing cognitive biases promotes an unbiased and rational approach to problem-solving and decision-making.

The Critical Thinking Process

tools of argument in critical thinking

Stages of Critical Thinking

The critical thinking process starts with gathering and evaluating data . This stage involves identifying relevant information and ensuring it is credible and reliable. Next, an individual engages in analysis by examining the data closely to understand its context and interpret its meaning. This step can involve breaking down complex ideas into simpler components for better understanding.

The next stage focuses on determining the quality of the arguments, concepts, and theories present in the analyzed data. Critical thinkers question the credibility and logic behind the information while also considering their own biases and assumptions. They apply consistent standards when evaluating sources, which helps them identify any weaknesses in the arguments.

Values play a significant role in the critical thinking process. Critical thinkers assess the significance of moral, ethical, or cultural values shaping the issue, argument, or decision at hand. They determine whether these values align with the evidence and logic they have analyzed.

After thorough analysis and evaluation, critical thinkers draw conclusions based on the evidence and reasoning gathered. This step includes synthesizing the information and presenting a clear, concise argument or decision. It also involves explaining the reasoning behind the conclusion to ensure it is well-founded.

Application in Decision Making

In decision making, critical thinking is a vital skill that allows individuals to make informed choices. It enables them to:

  • Analyze options and their potential consequences
  • Evaluate the credibility of sources and the quality of information
  • Identify biases, assumptions, and values that may influence the decision
  • Construct a reasoned, well-justified conclusion

By using critical thinking in decision making, individuals can make more sound, objective choices. The process helps them to avoid pitfalls like jumping to conclusions, being influenced by biases, or basing decisions on unreliable data. The result is more thoughtful, carefully-considered decisions leading to higher quality outcomes.

Critical Thinking Models

Critical thinking models are frameworks that help individuals develop better problem-solving and decision-making abilities. They provide strategies for analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information to reach well-founded conclusions. This section will discuss four notable models: The RED Model, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Paul-Elder Model, and The Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment.

The RED Model

The RED Model stands for Recognize Assumptions, Evaluate Arguments, and Draw Conclusions. It emphasizes the importance of questioning assumptions, weighing evidence, and reaching logical conclusions.

  • Recognize Assumptions: Identify and challenge assumptions that underlie statements, beliefs, or arguments.
  • Evaluate Arguments: Assess the validity and reliability of evidence to support or refute claims.
  • Draw Conclusions: Make well-reasoned decisions based on available information and sound reasoning.

The RED Model helps individuals become more effective problem solvers and decision-makers by guiding them through the critical thinking process ^(source) .

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical model that classifies cognitive skills into six levels of complexity. These levels are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. By progressing through these levels, individuals can develop higher-order thinking skills.

  • Remembering: Recall information or facts.
  • Understanding: Comprehend the meaning of ideas, facts, or problems.
  • Applying: Use knowledge in different situations.
  • Analyzing: Break down complex topics or problems into sub-parts.
  • Evaluating: Assess the quality, relevance, or credibility of information, ideas, or solutions.
  • Creating: Combine elements to form a new whole, generate new ideas, or solve complex issues.

Paul-Elder Model

The Paul-Elder Model introduces the concept of “elements of thought,” focusing on a structured approach to critical thinking. This model promotes intellectual standards, such as clarity, accuracy, and relevance. It consists of three stages:

  • Critical Thinking: Employ the intellectual standards to problem-solving and decision-making processes.
  • Elements of Thought: Consider purpose, question at issue, information, interpretation and inference, concepts, assumptions, implications, and point of view.
  • Intellectual Traits: Develop intellectual traits, such as intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, and intellectual perseverance.

This model fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of critical thinking ^(source) .

The Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment

The Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment is a standardized test developed by Diane Halpern to assess critical thinking skills. The evaluation uses a variety of tasks to measure abilities in core skill areas, such as verbal reasoning, argument analysis, and decision making. Pearson, a leading publisher of educational assessments, offers this test as a means to assess individuals’ critical thinking skills ^(source) .

These four critical thinking models can be used as frameworks to improve and enhance cognitive abilities. By learning and practicing these models, individuals can become better equipped to analyze complex information, evaluate options, and make well-informed decisions.

Evaluating Information and Arguments

In this section, we will discuss the importance of evaluating information and arguments in the process of critical thinking, focusing on evidence assessment, logic and fallacies, and argument analysis.

Evidence Assessment

Evaluating the relevance, accuracy, and credibility of information is a vital aspect of critical thinking. In the process of evidence assessment, a thinker should consider the following factors:

  • Source reliability : Research and understand the expertise and credibility of the source to ensure that biased or inaccurate information is not being considered.
  • Currency : Check the date of the information to make sure it is still relevant and accurate in the present context.
  • Objectivity : Analyze the information for potential bias and always cross-reference it with other credible sources.

When practicing critical thinking skills, it is essential to be aware of your own biases and make efforts to minimize their influence on your decision-making process.

Logic and Fallacies

Logic is crucial for deconstructing and analyzing complex arguments, while identifying and avoiding logical fallacies helps maintain accurate and valid conclusions. Some common fallacies to watch out for in critical thinking include:

  • Ad Hominem : Attacking the person making the argument instead of addressing the argument itself.
  • Strawman : Misrepresenting an opponent’s argument to make it easier to refute.
  • False Dilemma : Presenting only two options when there may be multiple viable alternatives.
  • Appeal to Authority : Assuming a claim is true simply because an authority figure supports it.

Being aware of these fallacies enables a thinker to effectively evaluate the strength of an argument and make sound judgments accordingly.

Argument Analysis

Analyzing an argument is the process of evaluating its structure, premises, and conclusion while determining its validity and soundness. To analyze an argument, follow these steps:

  • Identify the premises and conclusion : Determine the main point is being argued, how it is related and substance of the argument.
  • Evaluate the validity : Assess whether the conclusion logically follows from the premises and if the argument’s structure is sound.
  • Test the soundness : Evaluate the truth and relevance of the premises. This may require verifying the accuracy of facts and evidence, as well as assessing the reliability of sources.
  • Consider counter-arguments : Identify opposing viewpoints and counter-arguments, and evaluate their credibility to gauge the overall strength of the original argument.

By effectively evaluating information and arguments, critical thinkers develop a solid foundation for making well-informed decisions and solving problems.

Enhancing Critical Thinking

Strategies for improvement.

To enhance critical thinking, individuals can practice different strategies, including asking thought-provoking questions, analyzing ideas and observations, and being open to different perspectives. One effective technique is the Critical Thinking Roadmap , which breaks critical thinking down into four measurable phases: execute, synthesize, recommend, and communicate. It’s important to use deliberate practice in these areas to develop a strong foundation for problem-solving and decision-making. In addition, cultivating a mindset of courage , fair-mindedness , and empathy will support critical thinking development.

Critical Thinking in Education

In the field of education, critical thinking is an essential component of effective learning and pedagogy. Integrating critical thinking into the curriculum encourages student autonomy, fosters innovation, and improves student outcomes. Teachers can use various approaches to promote critical thinking, such as:

  • Employing open-ended questions to stimulate ideas
  • Incorporating group discussions or debates to facilitate communication and evaluation of viewpoints
  • Assessing and providing feedback on student work to encourage reflection and improvement
  • Utilizing real-world scenarios and case studies for practical application of concepts

Developing a Critical Thinking Mindset

To truly enhance critical thinking abilities, it’s important to adopt a mindset that values integrity , autonomy , and empathy . These qualities help to create a learning environment that encourages open-mindedness, which is key to critical thinking development. To foster a critical thinking mindset:

  • Be curious : Remain open to new ideas and ask questions to gain a deeper understanding.
  • Communicate effectively : Clearly convey thoughts and actively listen to others.
  • Reflect and assess : Regularly evaluate personal beliefs and assumptions to promote growth.
  • Embrace diversity of thought : Welcome different viewpoints and ideas to foster innovation.

Incorporating these approaches can lead to a more robust critical thinking skillset, allowing individuals to better navigate and solve complex problems.

Critical Thinking in Various Contexts

The workplace and beyond.

Critical thinking is a highly valued skill in the workplace, as it enables employees to analyze situations, make informed decisions, and solve problems effectively. It involves a careful thinking process directed towards a specific goal. Employers often seek individuals who possess strong critical thinking abilities, as they can add significant value to the organization.

In the workplace context, critical thinkers are able to recognize assumptions, evaluate arguments, and draw conclusions, following models such as the RED model . They can also adapt their thinking to suit various scenarios, allowing them to tackle complex and diverse problems.

Moreover, critical thinking transcends the workplace and applies to various aspects of life. It empowers an individual to make better decisions, analyze conflicting information, and engage in constructive debates.

Creative and Lateral Thinking

Critical thinking encompasses both creative and lateral thinking. Creative thinking involves generating novel ideas and solutions to problems, while lateral thinking entails looking at problems from different angles to find unique and innovative solutions.

Creative thinking allows thinkers to:

  • Devise new concepts and ideas
  • Challenge conventional wisdom
  • Build on existing knowledge to generate innovative solutions

Lateral thinking, on the other hand, encourages thinkers to:

  • Break free from traditional thought patterns
  • Combine seemingly unrelated ideas to create unique solutions
  • Utilize intuition and intelligence to approach problems from a different perspective

Both creative and lateral thinking are essential components of critical thinking, allowing individuals to view problems in a holistic manner and generate well-rounded solutions. These skills are highly valued by employers and can lead to significant personal and professional growth.

In conclusion, critical thinking is a multifaceted skill that comprises various thought processes, including creative and lateral thinking. By embracing these skills, individuals can excel in the workplace and in their personal lives, making better decisions and solving problems effectively.

Overcoming Challenges

Recognizing and addressing bias.

Cognitive biases and thinking biases can significantly affect the process of critical thinking . One of the key components of overcoming these challenges is to recognize and address them. It is essential to be aware of one’s own beliefs, as well as the beliefs of others, to ensure fairness and clarity throughout the decision-making process. To identify and tackle biases, one can follow these steps:

  • Be self-aware : Understand personal beliefs and biases, acknowledging that they may influence the interpretation of information.
  • Embrace diverse perspectives : Encourage open discussions and invite different viewpoints to challenge assumptions and foster cognitive diversity.
  • Reevaluate evidence : Continuously reassess the relevance and validity of the information being considered.

By adopting these practices, individuals can minimize the impact of biases and enhance the overall quality of their critical thinking skills.

Dealing with Information Overload

In today’s world, information is abundant, and it can become increasingly difficult to demystify and make sense of the available data. Dealing with information overload is a crucial aspect of critical thinking. Here are some strategies to address this challenge:

  • Prioritize information : Focus on the most relevant and reliable data, filtering out unnecessary details.
  • Organize data : Use tables, charts, and lists to categorize information and identify patterns more efficiently.
  • Break down complex information : Divide complex data into smaller, manageable segments to simplify interpretation and inferences.

By implementing these techniques, individuals can effectively manage information overload, enabling them to process and analyze data more effectively, leading to better decision-making.

In conclusion, overcoming challenges such as biases and information overload is essential in the pursuit of effective critical thinking. By recognizing and addressing these obstacles, individuals can develop clarity and fairness in their thought processes, leading to well-informed decisions and improved problem-solving capabilities.

Measuring Critical Thinking

Assessment tools and criteria.

There are several assessment tools designed to measure critical thinking, each focusing on different aspects such as quality, depth, breadth, and significance of thinking. One example of a widely used standardized test is the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal , which evaluates an individual’s ability to interpret information, draw conclusions, and make assumptions. Another test is the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests Level X and Level Z , which assess an individual’s critical thinking skills through multiple-choice questions.

Furthermore, criteria for assessing critical thinking often include precision, relevance, and the ability to gather and analyze relevant information. Some assessors utilize the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment , which measures the application of cognitive skills such as deduction, observation, and induction in real-world scenarios.

The Role of IQ and Tests

It’s important to note that intelligence quotient (IQ) tests and critical thinking assessments are not the same. While IQ tests aim to measure an individual’s cognitive abilities and general intelligence, critical thinking tests focus specifically on one’s ability to analyze, evaluate, and form well-founded opinions. Therefore, having a high IQ does not necessarily guarantee strong critical thinking skills, as critical thinking requires additional mental processes beyond basic logical reasoning.

To build and enhance critical thinking skills, individuals should practice and develop higher-order thinking, such as critical alertness, critical reflection, and critical analysis. Using a Critical Thinking Roadmap , such as the four-phase framework that includes execution, synthesis, recommendation, and the ability to apply, individuals can continuously work to improve their critical thinking abilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main steps involved in the paul-elder critical thinking model.

The Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Model is a comprehensive framework for developing critical thinking skills. The main steps include: identifying the purpose, formulating questions, gathering information, identifying assumptions, interpreting information, and evaluating arguments. The model emphasizes clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, and fairness throughout the critical thinking process. By following these steps, individuals can efficiently analyze and evaluate complex ideas and issues.

Can you list five techniques to enhance critical thinking skills?

Here are five techniques to help enhance critical thinking skills:

  • Ask open-ended questions : Encourages exploration and challenges assumptions.
  • Engage in active listening: Focus on understanding others’ viewpoints before responding.
  • Reflect on personal biases: Identify and question any preconceived notions or judgments.
  • Practice mindfulness: Develop self-awareness and stay present in the moment.
  • Collaborate with others: Exchange ideas and learn from diverse perspectives.

What is the RED Model of critical thinking and how is it applied?

The RED Model of critical thinking consists of three key components: Recognize Assumptions, Evaluate Arguments, and Draw Conclusions. To apply the RED Model, begin by recognizing and questioning underlying assumptions, being aware of personal biases and stereotypes. Next, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different arguments, considering evidence, logical consistency, and alternative explanations. Lastly, draw well-reasoned conclusions that are based on the analysis and evaluation of the information gathered.

How do the ‘3 C’s’ of critical thinking contribute to effective problem-solving?

The ‘3 C’s’ of critical thinking – Curiosity, Creativity, and Criticism – collectively contribute to effective problem-solving. Curiosity allows individuals to explore various perspectives and ask thought-provoking questions, while Creativity helps develop innovative solutions and unique approaches to challenges. Criticism, or the ability to evaluate and analyze ideas objectively, ensures that the problem-solving process remains grounded in logic and relevance.

What characteristics distinguish critical thinking from creative thinking?

Critical thinking and creative thinking are two complementary cognitive skills. Critical thinking primarily focuses on analyzing, evaluating, and reasoning, using objectivity and logical thinking. It involves identifying problems, assessing evidence, and drawing sound conclusions. Creative thinking, on the other hand, is characterized by the generation of new ideas, concepts, and approaches to solve problems, often involving imagination, originality, and out-of-the-box thinking.

What are some recommended books to help improve problem-solving and critical thinking skills?

There are several books that can help enhance problem-solving and critical thinking skills, including:

  • “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman: This book explores the dual process theory of decision-making and reasoning.
  • “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking” by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird: Offers practical tips and strategies for improving critical thinking skills.
  • “Critique of Pure Reason” by Immanuel Kant: A classic philosophical work that delves into the principles of reason and cognition.
  • “Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking” by Richard E. Nisbett: Presents a range of cognitive tools to enhance critical thinking and decision-making abilities.
  • “The Art of Thinking Clearly” by Rolf Dobelli: Explores common cognitive biases and errors in judgment that can affect critical thinking.

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Critical Thinking and Decision-Making  - What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking and decision-making  -, what is critical thinking, critical thinking and decision-making what is critical thinking.

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Critical Thinking and Decision-Making: What is Critical Thinking?

Lesson 1: what is critical thinking, what is critical thinking.

Critical thinking is a term that gets thrown around a lot. You've probably heard it used often throughout the years whether it was in school, at work, or in everyday conversation. But when you stop to think about it, what exactly is critical thinking and how do you do it ?

Watch the video below to learn more about critical thinking.

Simply put, critical thinking is the act of deliberately analyzing information so that you can make better judgements and decisions . It involves using things like logic, reasoning, and creativity, to draw conclusions and generally understand things better.

illustration of the terms logic, reasoning, and creativity

This may sound like a pretty broad definition, and that's because critical thinking is a broad skill that can be applied to so many different situations. You can use it to prepare for a job interview, manage your time better, make decisions about purchasing things, and so much more.

The process

illustration of "thoughts" inside a human brain, with several being connected and "analyzed"

As humans, we are constantly thinking . It's something we can't turn off. But not all of it is critical thinking. No one thinks critically 100% of the time... that would be pretty exhausting! Instead, it's an intentional process , something that we consciously use when we're presented with difficult problems or important decisions.

Improving your critical thinking

illustration of the questions "What do I currently know?" and "How do I know this?"

In order to become a better critical thinker, it's important to ask questions when you're presented with a problem or decision, before jumping to any conclusions. You can start with simple ones like What do I currently know? and How do I know this? These can help to give you a better idea of what you're working with and, in some cases, simplify more complex issues.  

Real-world applications

illustration of a hand holding a smartphone displaying an article that reads, "Study: Cats are better than dogs"

Let's take a look at how we can use critical thinking to evaluate online information . Say a friend of yours posts a news article on social media and you're drawn to its headline. If you were to use your everyday automatic thinking, you might accept it as fact and move on. But if you were thinking critically, you would first analyze the available information and ask some questions :

  • What's the source of this article?
  • Is the headline potentially misleading?
  • What are my friend's general beliefs?
  • Do their beliefs inform why they might have shared this?

illustration of "Super Cat Blog" and "According to survery of cat owners" being highlighted from an article on a smartphone

After analyzing all of this information, you can draw a conclusion about whether or not you think the article is trustworthy.

Critical thinking has a wide range of real-world applications . It can help you to make better decisions, become more hireable, and generally better understand the world around you.

illustration of a lightbulb, a briefcase, and the world

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tools of argument in critical thinking

Critical Thinking: Where to Begin

tools of argument in critical thinking

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If you are new to critical thinking or wish to deepen your conception of it, we recommend you review the content below and bookmark this page for future reference.

Our Conception of Critical Thinking...

getting started with critical thinking

"Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness..."

"Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fairminded way. People who think critically attempt, with consistent and conscious effort, to live rationally, reasonably, and empathically. They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.

They strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational, civilized society. At the same time, they recognize the complexities often inherent in doing so. They strive never to think simplistically about complicated issues and always to consider the rights and needs of relevant others. They recognize the complexities in developing as thinkers, and commit themselves to life-long practice toward self-improvement. They embody the Socratic principle: The unexamined life is not worth living , because they realize that many unexamined lives together result in an uncritical, unjust, dangerous world."

Why Critical Thinking?

tools of argument in critical thinking

The Problem:

Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our lives and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

A Brief Definition:

Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it. The Result: 

  A well-cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively;
  • comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It requires rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, and a commitment to overcoming our native egocentrism and sociocentrism. Read more about our concept of critical thinking .

The Essential Dimensions of Critical Thinking

tools of argument in critical thinking

Our conception of critical thinking is based on the substantive approach developed by Dr. Richard Paul and his colleagues at the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking over multiple decades. It is relevant to every subject, discipline, and profession, and to reasoning through the problems of everyday life. It entails five essential dimensions of critical thinking:

At the left is an overview of the first three dimensions. In sum, the elements or structures of thought enable us to "take our thinking apart" and analyze it. The intellectual standards are used to assess and evaluate the elements. The intellectual traits are dispositions of mind embodied by the fairminded critical thinker. To cultivate the mind, we need command of these essential dimensions, and we need to consistently apply them as we think through the many problems and issues in our lives.

The Elements of Reasoning and Intellectual Standards

tools of argument in critical thinking

To learn more about the elements of thought and how to apply the intellectual standards, check out our interactive model. Simply click on the link below, scroll to the bottom of the page, and explore the model with your mouse.

Why the Analysis of Thinking Is Important If you want to think well, you must understand at least the rudiments of thought, the most basic structures out of which all thinking is made. You must learn how to take thinking apart. Analyzing the Logic of a Subject When we understand the elements of reasoning, we realize that all subjects, all disciplines, have a fundamental logic defined by the structures of thought embedded within them. Therefore, to lay bare a subject’s most fundamental logic, we should begin with these questions:

tools of argument in critical thinking

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Our online bookstore houses numerous books and teacher's manuals , Thinker's Guides , videos , and other educational materials .  

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Watch our Event Calendar , which provides an overview of all upcoming conferences and academies hosted by the Foundation for Critical Thinking. Clicking an entry on the Event Calendar will bring up that event's details, and the option to register. For those interested in online learning, the Foundation offers accredited online courses in critical thinking for both educators and the general public, as well as an online test for evaluating basic comprehension of critical thinking concepts . We are in the process of developing more online learning tools and tests to offer the community.  

Utilizing this Website

This website contains large amounts research and an online library of articles , both of which are freely available to the public. We also invite you to become a member of the Critical Thinking Community , where you will gain access to more tools and materials.  If you cannot locate a resource on a specific topic or concept, try searching for it using our Search Tool . The Search Tool is at the upper-right of every page on the website.

Critical thinking definition

tools of argument in critical thinking

Critical thinking, as described by Oxford Languages, is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.

Active and skillful approach, evaluation, assessment, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information obtained from, or made by, observation, knowledge, reflection, acumen or conversation, as a guide to belief and action, requires the critical thinking process, which is why it's often used in education and academics.

Some even may view it as a backbone of modern thought.

However, it's a skill, and skills must be trained and encouraged to be used at its full potential.

People turn up to various approaches in improving their critical thinking, like:

  • Developing technical and problem-solving skills
  • Engaging in more active listening
  • Actively questioning their assumptions and beliefs
  • Seeking out more diversity of thought
  • Opening up their curiosity in an intellectual way etc.

Is critical thinking useful in writing?

Critical thinking can help in planning your paper and making it more concise, but it's not obvious at first. We carefully pinpointed some the questions you should ask yourself when boosting critical thinking in writing:

  • What information should be included?
  • Which information resources should the author look to?
  • What degree of technical knowledge should the report assume its audience has?
  • What is the most effective way to show information?
  • How should the report be organized?
  • How should it be designed?
  • What tone and level of language difficulty should the document have?

Usage of critical thinking comes down not only to the outline of your paper, it also begs the question: How can we use critical thinking solving problems in our writing's topic?

Let's say, you have a Powerpoint on how critical thinking can reduce poverty in the United States. You'll primarily have to define critical thinking for the viewers, as well as use a lot of critical thinking questions and synonyms to get them to be familiar with your methods and start the thinking process behind it.

Are there any services that can help me use more critical thinking?

We understand that it's difficult to learn how to use critical thinking more effectively in just one article, but our service is here to help.

We are a team specializing in writing essays and other assignments for college students and all other types of customers who need a helping hand in its making. We cover a great range of topics, offer perfect quality work, always deliver on time and aim to leave our customers completely satisfied with what they ordered.

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Classification Tools to Assess Critical Thinking in Automotive Engineering Students

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  • First Online: 01 June 2024
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tools of argument in critical thinking

  • Carlos Alberto Espinosa-Pinos   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7841-8090 8 ,
  • Paulina Magally Amaluisa-Rendón   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0454-4032 8 &
  • Noemi Viviana Rodríguez-Ortiz   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0499-4789 8  

Part of the book series: Communications in Computer and Information Science ((CCIS,volume 2117))

Included in the following conference series:

  • International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction

Inadequate conflict resolution skills in automotive engineering students can have negative consequences in the workplace. The development of mathematical logical thinking can help students develop critical analysis skills, improve problem-solving ability, develop reasoning skills, and effective communication, enabling them to deal effectively with conflicts and find creative solutions. This research aims to identify predictors of problem-solving ability using classification algorithms. Methodology: In this study, three classification algo-rithms were applied and the KDD process was used to identify predictors of problem-solving ability. The data set includes 60 records of students from the automotive engineering program at Universidad Equinoccial in Quito, Ecuador, to whom three tools were applied: a sociodemographic card, a Shatnawi test related to mathematical logical thinking, and a Watson Glaser test on conflict resolution ability. Results: The best classification model is the K-nearest neighbors’ algorithm and its predictive ability is very good, with a true positive rate versus false positive rate AUC of 0.75, along with a good performance in classifying negative cases. The model can be improved with increased sampling, cross-validation, or hyper-parameter adjustment. Conclusion: Age and mathematical logical thinking are strongly associated with conflict resolution ability. In future research it is important to consider additional variables such as experience in problem-solving projects, technical knowledge and communication skills; to explore the use of more advanced machine learning algo-rhythms; to design specific educational interventions based on the development of mathematical logical thinking; or to compare conflict resolution ability between different engineering disciplines.

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Aiyub, Suryadi, D., Fatimah, S., Kusnandi: Investigation of Watson-Glaser critical thinking skills of junior high school students in solving mathematical problems. J. Phys. Conf. Ser. 1806 (1) (2021). https://doi.org/10.1088/1742-6596/1806/1/012090

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Carlos Alberto Espinosa-Pinos, Paulina Magally Amaluisa-Rendón & Noemi Viviana Rodríguez-Ortiz

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Espinosa-Pinos, C.A., Amaluisa-Rendón, P.M., Rodríguez-Ortiz, N.V. (2024). Classification Tools to Assess Critical Thinking in Automotive Engineering Students. In: Stephanidis, C., Antona, M., Ntoa, S., Salvendy, G. (eds) HCI International 2024 Posters. HCII 2024. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 2117. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-61953-3_8

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June 2024: Dr. Kathryn D. Coduto (COM)

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tools of argument in critical thinking

What made you decide to be a social scientist/ why does social science matter to you?

I love being able to answer questions about the world; I originally wanted to be a journalist for that exact reason. As I went through my undergraduate program, I discovered social scientific research and realized just how much I could do within this field. I also feel empowered by social science; there was a time when the idea of statistics was so intimidating to me. But now, I am confident in my ability to navigate complex questions  and   their solutions through a variety of tools and techniques, all stemming from social scientific training and exploration.

Can you tell us about a recent research project that you’re excited about?

Dr. Allison McDonald, from the Faculty of Computing and Data Sciences, and I have been working on a project investigating sexting behaviors in romantic relationships. We specifically have asked people about how they negotiate, if they do, the sharing of this highly personal information with partners. I’m especially excited about this project, though, because we are also investigating what people do with sexual material once they’ve broken up. There isn’t much research in this area yet, and I think we’re getting really rich insights into how people are thinking about handling sensitive content throughout the lifetime of a relationship. I recently presented this work at the CHI 2024 conference and got some great feedback on potential design implications for improving technologies in these instances. We have another part of the study we’re hoping to launch soon, too.

What is the best piece of professional advice you ever received?

I had great advisors for both my master’s degree (Dr. Danielle Coombs at Kent State University) and my doctoral degree (Dr. Jesse Fox at Ohio State University). They both always encouraged me to follow my interests, and I always felt supported in exploring the ideas I was most passionate about. I think following your interests is critical to staying interested in and excited by the work you do; I love thinking about research and so much of that is because I study the things I am most interested in. I now pass that advice along to my own advisees, too—follow your interests!

What is your favorite course you’ve taught at BU?

I love teaching Communication Research (CM 722). Comm Research is many students’ first experience with social scientific research, especially in a communication context, and I love helping them realize how much they can do with research. I am always so excited when I see different concepts click into place for students, whether that be perfecting a research design, conducting a statistical analysis, or crafting implications from their research. It is always so rewarding.  

Tell us a surprising fact about yourself.

Before coming to BU, I was an assistant professor at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. My favorite place in the world is still Badlands National Park in western South Dakota—I haven’t been anywhere that can top it!

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COMMENTS

  1. Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well. Collecting, analyzing and evaluating information is an important skill in life, and a highly ...

  2. Chapter 2 Arguments

    Chapter 2 Arguments. Chapter 2. Arguments. The fundamental tool of the critical thinker is the argument. For a good example of what we are not talking about, consider a bit from a famous sketch by Monty Python's Flying Circus: 3. Man: (Knock) Mr. Vibrating: Come in.

  3. Arguments and Critical Thinking

    Sherry Diestler, Becoming a Critical Thinker, 4th ed., p. 403. " Argument: An attempt to support a conclusion by giving reasons for it.". Robert Ennis, Critical Thinking, p. 396. "Argument - A form of thinking in which certain statements (reasons) are offered in support of another statement (conclusion).".

  4. PDF The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts & Tools

    The essence of critical thinking concepts and tools distilled into a 20-page pocket-size guide. It is a critical thinking supplement to any textbook or course. It is best used in conjunction with the Analytic Thinking Guide. Keywords: critical thinking concepts; critical thinking tools; analytic thinking; thinker's guide Created Date

  5. Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking

    This is an introductory textbook in logic and critical thinking. The goal of the textbook is to provide the reader with a set of tools and skills that will enable them to identify and evaluate arguments. The book is intended for an introductory course that covers both formal and informal logic. As such, it is not a formal logic textbook, but is closer to what one would find marketed as a ...

  6. Critical Thinking

    Critical Thinking is the process of using and assessing reasons to evaluate statements, assumptions, and arguments in ordinary situations. The goal of this process is to help us have good beliefs, where "good" means that our beliefs meet certain goals of thought, such as truth, usefulness, or rationality. Critical thinking is widely ...

  7. Arguing Using Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking skills are crucial. Critical thinking is a series learned skills. In each chapter of this book you will find a variety of skills that will help you improve your thinking and argumentative ability. As you improve, you will grow into a more confident person being more in charge of your world and the decisions you make.

  8. How to analyse arguments (CHAPTER 4)

    A s critical thinkers, we should know how to analyse arguments clearly. This is because a complete analysis of an argument helps us to arrive at a better understanding of the meaning of the argument. The word 'analyse' means to dissect, or to lay bare. When we analyse an argument we want to lay bare the components of the argument.

  9. Arguments in Context

    Arguments in Context is a comprehensive introduction to critical thinking that covers all the basics in student-friendly language. Intended for use in a semester-long course, the text features classroom-tested examples and exercises that have been chosen to emphasize the relevance and applicability of the subject to everyday life. Three themes are developed as the text proceeds from argument ...

  10. PDF FUNDAMENTALS OF CRITICAL ARGUMENTATION

    Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation presents the basic tools for the iden-tification, analysis, and evaluation of common arguments for beginners. The book teaches by using examples of arguments in dialogues, both in the text itself and in the exercises. Examples of controversial legal, political, and ethi-cal arguments are analyzed.

  11. Making an Argument

    Critical Thinking in Academic Research. Nearly all scholarly writing makes an argument. That's because its purpose is to create and share new knowledge so it can be debated to confirm, disprove, or improve it. That arguing takes place mostly in journals and scholarly books and at conferences. It's called the scholarly conversation, and it ...

  12. Argument & Critical Thinking Tips

    Welcome to Argument & Critical Thinking! In this learning area, you will learn how to develop an argumentative essay and stronger critical thinking skills. This learning area will help you develop your arguments, understand your audience, evaluate source material, approach arguments rhetorically, and avoid logical fallacies.

  13. PDF An Introduction to Critical Thinking

    This guide looks at critical thinking by examining the following critical thinking tools. • Skepticism (questioning evidence) • Understanding Logic and Logical Argument • Understanding Cause and Effect ... argument are proven true, then the argument is a sound argument. This well-known example is a valid argument: • All men are mortal

  14. What Is Critical Thinking?

    Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment. To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources. Critical thinking skills help you to: Identify credible sources. Evaluate and respond to arguments.

  15. Critical Thinking

    Critical Thinking. Critical thinking is a widely accepted educational goal. Its definition is contested, but the competing definitions can be understood as differing conceptions of the same basic concept: careful thinking directed to a goal. Conceptions differ with respect to the scope of such thinking, the type of goal, the criteria and norms ...

  16. LOGOS: Critical Thinking, Arguments, and Fallacies

    LOGOS: Critical Thinking, Arguments, and Fallacies Heather Wilburn, Ph.D. Critical Thinking: With respect to critical thinking, it seems that everyone uses this phrase. Yet, there is a fear that this is becoming a buzz-word (i.e. a word or phrase you use because it's popular or enticing in some way). Ultimately, this means that we may be ...

  17. Critical Thinking Models: A Comprehensive Guide for Effective Decision

    By effectively evaluating information and arguments, critical thinkers develop a solid foundation for making well-informed decisions and solving problems. Enhancing Critical Thinking ... "Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking" by Richard E. Nisbett: Presents a range of cognitive tools to enhance critical thinking and decision-making abilities.

  18. Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking refers to the process of actively analyzing, assessing, synthesizing, evaluating and reflecting on information gathered from observation, experience, or communication. It is thinking in a clear, logical, reasoned, and reflective manner to solve problems or make decisions. Basically, critical thinking is taking a hard look at ...

  19. Critical Thinking and Decision-Making

    Definition. Simply put, critical thinking is the act of deliberately analyzing information so that you can make better judgements and decisions. It involves using things like logic, reasoning, and creativity, to draw conclusions and generally understand things better. This may sound like a pretty broad definition, and that's because critical ...

  20. What Are Critical Thinking Skills and Why Are They Important?

    It makes you a well-rounded individual, one who has looked at all of their options and possible solutions before making a choice. According to the University of the People in California, having critical thinking skills is important because they are [ 1 ]: Universal. Crucial for the economy. Essential for improving language and presentation skills.

  21. Critical Thinking: Where to Begin

    A Brief Definition: Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it. A well-cultivated critical thinker: communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems. Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.

  22. Using Critical Thinking in Essays and other Assignments

    Critical thinking, as described by Oxford Languages, is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. Active and skillful approach, evaluation, assessment, synthesis, and/or evaluation of information obtained from, or made by, observation, knowledge, reflection, acumen or conversation, as a guide to belief and action, requires the critical thinking process ...

  23. PDF Critical Thinking Tools

    Critical Thinking Tools 6 The Main Communication Method of Critical Thinking: The Argument Evaluating arguments is a major element of critical thinking and argumentation is the main communication method. Keep in mind that "argument" does not refer to fighting. It is simply a series of statements used to persuade another of your

  24. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving in the Age of ChatGPT

    Critical thinking and problem-solving are essential skills in management education. ChatGPT and other AI-assisted writing tools might disrupt conventional tools like essay writing and case-study analysis.

  25. Classification Tools to Assess Critical Thinking in Automotive

    The data set includes 60 records of students from the automotive engineering program at Universidad Equinoccial in Quito, Ecuador, to whom three tools were applied: a sociodemographic card, a Shatnawi test related to mathematical logical thinking, and a Watson Glaser test on conflict resolution ability. Results: The best classification model is ...

  26. June 2024: Dr. Kathryn D. Coduto (COM)

    Kathryn (Katy) Coduto is an assistant professor of media science in the Department of Mass Communication, Advertising and Public Relations, in the College of Communications. She .teaches courses in communication research methods, social media strategy, and communication theory. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication from Ohio State University.