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Overview of Critical Thinking

What is the Thinking Process? 

Sensation- Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue, Skin provide our bodies with sensations which they pick up from the outside world. These sensations are transmitted by nerves to the biological structures which will translate them.

Biological-the sensations provided by the senses (eyes, ears, hands, fingers & skin, nose, tongue)  are inputted by nerves to the Brain which then translates, decodes, and encodes messages and sends them out through the nervous system

Psychological-Takes the messages from the brain and translates them into perceptions and reactions.

Cognitive-Translations through the biological and psychological dimensions of the thinking process of the perceptions and reactions into concepts, ideas, assumptions, suppositions, inferences, hypotheses, questions, beliefs, premises, logical arguments,  etc...

Communications-Takes the messages from the brain and translates them into verbal, non-verbal, and written language to communicate the thoughts and ideas which were generated.

Stages of Cognitive Development as defined by Jean Piaget:
1. Birth to 2 years old: - no thinking structures (called schemas) and starts to develop such schemas through exploration of senses and experimentation with environment

2. Preoperational Stage: 2-7 years old - develop language skills and more sophisticated cognitive structures but still is prelogical.

--Not capable of conservation-ability to understand that substance does not change although it changes shape or form

--incapable of decentering-ability to see things from another perspective

3. Concrete Operational Stage: 7 years to Adolescence - begin to grasp conservation and decentering. Begins to question life. Solves problems but haphazardly.

4. Formal Operations Stage:  Adolescence and onward - now capable of sophisticated logical thought. Can think in abstract. Can think hypothetically and solve problems using the logic of combinations
Note: Many theorists postulate a fifth Stage:

5. Dialectical Reasoning  - stage beyond logic where critical thinking lies. Ability to perceive the frequent paradoxes in life and question and analyze the assumptions that underlie logic

What is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking consists of three steps:

1. Becoming aware that assumptions exist

2. Making assumptions explicit

3. Assessing their accuracy

  • Do these assumptions make sense?
  • Do these assumptions fit reality as we understand and live it?
  • Under what conditions do these assumptions seem to hold true? Under what conditions do they seem false?

Misconceptions about critical thinking

  • It is wholly a negative process-it tears down ideas and puts nothing in their place (rather it is a positive process to put things in a more realistic perspective)
  • It will lead to relativistic freeze-the inability to make commitments to people, ideas, structures. (rather commitments are informed ones.)
  • It seems to involve traumatic change-one is expected to abandon old assumptions continually. (rather: Some beliefs stay the same-they are simply more informed)
  • It is dispassionate and cold. (rather: it is highly emotive and liberating to be free of past assumptions and the anxiety of self-scrutiny)

Why is critical thinking important?

  • All actions, decisions, and judgments spring from assumptions - if they are unchecked or inappropriate, we will make poor decisions and wrong judgments
  • In personal relationships we learn to keep our lines of communications open-we avoid uncritically reproducing patterns of the modeled interactions we learned from our parental interaction
  • In the workplace we avoid stagnation and atrophy and are willing to challenge the current paradigms which are uncritically accepted and  may have come down in the workplace from a time and thinking which is no longer relevant to our current reality.

What does the absence of thinking critically look like?

  • We blindly reproduce the damaging reactions we have learned
  • We blindly accept at face value all justifications given by organizations and political leaders
  • We blindly believe TV commercials
  • We blindly trust political commercials
  • We blindly accept and say that if the textbook says it it must be so
  • We blindly accept and say that if the organization does it it must be right

What does Critical Thinking Look Like?

  • Contextual sensitivity - being sensitive to stereotypes about people from a particular group and trying to accept others at face value unconditionally
  • Perspective thinking - trying to get into the other person's head, or walking in the other person's shoes so as to see the world the way that person sees and perceives the world.
  • Tolerance for ambiguity - ability to accept multiple interpretations of the same situation
  • Alert to premature ultimatums - invoking a powerful idea or concept which inspires such reverence that any further debate is forestalled. e.g. a politician invokes "democracy"

Characteristics of People who Excel at Critical Thinking 
Truth seeking: A courageous desire for the best knowledge, even if such knowledge fails to support or undermines one's preconceptions, beliefs or self interests.

Open-mindedness: Tolerance to divergent views, self-monitoring for possible bias.

Analyticity: Demanding the application of reason and evidence, alert to problematic situations, inclined to anticipate consequences.

Systematicity: Valuing organization, focus and diligence to approach problems of all levels of complexity.

Critical Thinking Self-Confidence: Trusting of one's own reasoning skills and seeing oneself as a good thinker.

Inquisitiveness: Curious and eager to acquire knowledge and learn explanations even when the applications of the knowledge are not immediately apparent.

Cognitive Maturity: Prudence in making, suspending, or revising judgment. An awareness that multiple solutions can be acceptable. An appreciation of the need to reach closure even in the absence of complete knowledge.

These characteristics are measured by the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory:

Major Components in Critical Thinking

1. Perception

Perceptions are the way we receive and translate our experience

Perceptions are also a significant filtering system

Perceptions are how we perceive and therefore define how we think


2. Assumptions

Assumptions are Central to Critical Thinking

Assumptions are Implied and we typically are not conscious of them

Assumptions are not always bad

Assumptions rest on the notion that some ideas are obvious

Assumptions make us comfortable with our present beliefs and allow us to shut out alternatives

3. Emotion

Trying to “Leave emotion out of it!” is  Impossible.

Emotion is part of everything we do and think

Emotions as personal barriers are a given

Critical thinkers don’t ignore or deny emotions; accept and manage them

4. Language

Thinking can’t be separated from Language

Three primary purposes of language are to:

  • Inform
  • Persuade
  • Explain

Language denotes and connotes

Language makes ues of metaphors 

5. Metaphors

Metaphors are powerful language tools which influence how we think and problem solve. 
Metaphors are figures of speech which can give great color and depth to our language. 
Metaphors can be short phrases, stories, or poems. 
Metaphors are verbal messages which can be easily visualized by the reader or listener. 


6. Argument

Arguments are claims, used to persuade that something is (or not) true or should (or not) be done

Arguments contains three basic elements

  • Issue
  • One or more reasons (premises)
  • One or more conclusions

Argurments can be valid or invalid based on structure

Only premises and conclusions of arguments are true or false

Goal of Critical Thinking is sound arguments

  • Valid (proper structure)
  • With true premises
  • Sound argument has both: so the conclusion must be true
  • Therein the beauty and usefulness of logic

7. Fallacy

Reasoning that doesn’t meet criteria for sound argument is fallacious

  • Valid
  • True premises
  • Complete (all relevant information)
  • Fallacy is incorrect pattern of reasoning
  • Does not always mean conclusion is false
  • Ads & editorials

8. Logic
Two methods of reasoning


  • Facts, certainty, syllogisms, validity, truth of premises sound arguments & conclusions


  • Diverse facts, probability, generalizations, hypotheses, analogies inductive strength

9. Logical Problem Solving

Logic problems like any problem


  • Understand the problem-Read & heed
  • ID unknowns and knowns
  • Look for the relationships between these (visual aids)
  • Generate strategy from step above
  • Apply and solve
  • Repeat if necessary

Requirements for Effective Critical Thinking

Six Cognitive Skills

  1. Interpretation
  2. Analysis
  3. Evaluation
  4. Inference
  5. Explanation
  6. Self-regulation

Affective Dispositions “a critical spirit”

Involves the following characterisics:


1. Interpretation

Comprehend & express meaning or significance of wide variety of experiences, situations, data, events, judgments, conventions, beliefs, rules, procedures, or criteria.

2. Analysis

Identify the intended & actual inferential relationships among statements, questions, concepts, descriptions, or other forms of representation intended to express belief, judgment, experiences, reasons, information, or opinion

3. Evaluation

Assess the credibility of statements or other representations which are accounts or descriptions of a person’s perception, experience, situation, judgment, belief, or opinion; and to assess the logical strength of the actual or intended inferential relationships among statements, descriptions, questions, or other forms of representation

4. Inference

Identify and secure elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions; to form conjectures and hypotheses; to consider relevant information & to educe the consequences flowing from data, statements, principles, evidence, judgments, beliefs, opinions, concepts, descriptions, questions, or other forms of  representation

6. Explanation

State the results of one’s reasoning; justify that reasoning in terms of evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, and contextual considerations upon which one’s results were based; and to present one’s reasoning in the form of cogent arguments.

7. Self-regulation

Self consciously to monitor one’s cognitive activities, the elements used in those activities, and the results educed, particularly by applying skills in analysis and evaluation to one’s own inferential judgments with a view toward questions, confirming, validation, or correcting either one’s reasoning or results.

Affective Dispositions

  • Something else is needed
  • More to Critical Thinking than just cognitive skills
  • Human beings more than just thinking machines
  • “the Critical Spirit” (affective dispositions)
  • A probing inquisitiveness
  • A keenness of mind
  • A zealous dedication to reason
  • A hunger or eagerness for reliable information

Critical Thinking is . . .

How you approach

  • Problems
  • Questions
  • Issues
  • The best way we know to get to the truth.

Experts conclude: Critical Thinking is pervasive, purposeful human phenomenon  and that the Ideal critical thinker is characterized also by how he or she approaches life and living in general

Approaches to life characterizing good Critical Thinking:

  • Inquisitiveness about wide range of issues
  • Concern to become and stay well-informed
  • Alertness to opportunities to use Critical Thinking
  • Self-confidence in one’s abilities to reason
  • Open-mindedness about divergent world views
  • Flexibility in considering alternatives & opinions
  • Understanding the opinions of other people
  • Fair-mindedness in appraising reasoning
  • Honesty in facing one’s own biases, prejudices, stereotypes, egocentric, and sociocentric tendencies
  • Prudence in suspending, making, altering judgments
  • Willingness to reconsider and revise views
  • Clarity in stating question or concern
  • Orderliness in working with complexity
  • Diligence in seeking relevant information
  • Reasonableness in selecting and applying criteria
  • Care in focusing attention on the concern at hand
  • Persistence through difficulties
  • Precision to the degree permitted by subject and circumstances


Value of Critical Thinking

Why is Critical Thinking of Value?

You can answer—why of value to you?

What’s value of cognitive skills?

What’s value of the critical spirit?

Would these mean more success at what you do?

Would it mean better grades for students?

  • Grades – Yes!
  • In a study of 1,100 college students-significant correlation between Critical Thinking scores and college GPA
  • Critical Thinking skills can be learned
  • Significant correlation between Critical Thinking and reading comprehension

Main Purpose of College Experience

Achievement of liberal (liberated) education.  It’s about

  • Learning to learn
  • Learning to think for one’s self
  • Leads away from naïve acceptance of authority
  • Leads above self-defeating relativism
  • Beyond ambiguous contextualism
  • Culminates in principled, reflective judgment

All of Us Need Critical Thinking and Thinkers

Critical Thinking is fundamental, if not essential for, “a rational and democratic” society

  • Electorate
  • Judiciary
  • International commerce

Business and civic leaders maybe more interested in Critical Thinking than even educators

Necessary condition for the success of democratic institutions and free market society

Logic in Critical Thinking

Deduction vs Induction Logic = Scientific Method


Draw a conclusion that follows know facts stated in premises

Relies on certainty based on connection of premises & conclusion

Valid Argument vs Sound Argument

Deductive reasoning can be used when the premises (reasons, facts, evidence, etc.) prove with absolute certainty that the conclusion is true, assuming the premises are true


Derives probable conclusion from observation of diverse facts

Learning from experience

Argument by analogy

Hypothetical Reasoning

Inductive Reasoning is required when you cannot ascertain the absolute certainty of the conclusion based on given evidence, but you can establish probability

Valid vs Invalid Arguments

Hypothetical syllogisms (conditional arguments) can have two valid and two invalid structures

Structures of Syllogisms Antecedent Consequent
valid Affirming (modus poens) Denying  (modus tellens)
invalid Denying Affirming

5 Most Common Fallacies

  1. Non Sequitur-irrelevant reason-premise no relationship to conclusion

  2. Ad hominum-person’s character attacked to discredit arguer rather than argument

  3. Post hoc ergo propter hoc-generalization-one event which follows was caused by 1st 

  4. Slippery slope-black & white-no gray or middle ground-argues against 1st step since eventually follow through to the last one

  5. Appeal to Emotion-emotional appeals rather than logical reasons to persuade 


Logic Problems

  1. The Premise – establishes the setting of the problem, subjects, how subjects are related, number of subjects (4-10)
  2. The Conditions- rules which impose specific restrictions upon relationship among subjects (2-10 conditions)
  3. The Question-questions about relationship-require deductive analysis