Using critical thinking will give you the best ability to learn and reason; it
will improve your life. You may use critical thinking during reading,
listening, writing, learning, and especially dealing with people in your life.
You will need to use critical thinking to successfully complete this class.
Critical thinking: a mode of thinking in which the thinker
quality of their thought by taking charge of the structures
thinking and by imposing intellectual standards upon them.
This definition is full of big words that mean little to us unless we understand
them and can express the definition in words of our own. This is a very
significant component of critical thinking!
• The first important phrase is “taking charge”; that means you must
Now I can put the definition back together in my own words. So I’m going
be actively doing something during critical thinking. That something
is being aware of how you are thinking.
• The second important phrase is “structures inherent in thinking”.
This must mean that there are parts or steps involved in thinking;
people label them elements of thought. Critical thinking involves
being aware of these parts/steps/elements. Since thinking is a
continuum of activities, the parts/steps overlap. Thus the labels we
use are not unique. You can change the labels to ones that
more sense to you. I did!
• The third important phrase is “imposing intellectual standards”.
There are agreed upon standards of critical thinking that enable
you to reach higher abilities of reasoning. In the beginning, it will be
my job to give you feedback about these standards. After some
time, you should be able to determine this for yourself.
to redefine critical thinking as consciously looking at how I am thinking so
that I understand the strengths and fallacies of my thinking process and
strive for increasingly higher levels of thinking as compared to a standard.
For this class, we will have some specific assignments ro practice critical
thinking. However, I expect you to try to think critically during all class
meetings and when completing all assignments. As with any new skill, this
takes lots of practice; everyone can always improve.
The Elements of Thought = part/structures/steps/etc.
1. Purpose: all thinking has some purpose. You may ask yourself, what
are you trying to accomplish by this thinking?
2. Problem: if your purpose is to solve a problem, what is it? If you can’t
state the problem, then there isn’t a good chance that you will be
able to answer it successfully. Some people like to state the problem
in the form of a question but this is not always necessary.
3. Assumptions: these are things that you assume to be true. If your
assumptions are not true, then your thinking will be flawed. Thus you
must always question your assumptions.
4. Frame of reference: everyone has a world view depending upon
background and experiences. You must be aware of it and
it affects your thinking. Some of your assumptions may be
on your frame of reference.
5. Definitions and/or vocabulary: in dealing with thinking, you will
need some vocabulary to communicate your ideas or understand the
ideas of others. Many misunderstandings are a matter of incorrect
vocabulary. Do you have the correct vocabulary? Be aware that
some words have one meaning in everyday language but another in
scientific applications. Be careful of subtle but important differences!
6. Information: all thinking requires some information; unfortunately
many of us use only our assumptions. Assumptions are not always
true. Is your info correct? Can your data be verified? Do you have
facts or gossip? Are the old interpretations still valid or has
new information changed relationships between causes and effects?
7. Conclusions: using the assumptions, definitions, and information, you
should solve the problem or answer some question. Is it the only
conclusion that you could reach? Does it really fit the information
you have collected? You may need to review your conclusions and
see if there are hidden assumptions which might not be true or
verifiable. Is your conclusion one you want or one that fits the facts?
8. Implications and consequences: what could happen as a result of
your thinking? While in classes you’ll receive feedback as grades; we
assume that better grades mean better thinking. Is that assumption
always true? The implications/consequences may be even more
important to consider when using critical thinking in your personal life.
Consider this especially when dealing with the important people in
your life; will one possible solution to your problem hurt them or is
there a better solution? Are you being selfish? Do you feel entitled?
Do selfish or entitled conclusions meet intellectual standards?
Intellectual Standards = how we should think!
Like the elements of thought, the standards are a continuum; the terms
we use are not unique and can be changed.
1. Clarity: you should be able to put things in you own words, give
examples, and illustrate the point you are making. It should also
be clear to the observer what you are saying. This is one of the most
crucial standards in all applications.
2. Completeness: is your statement complete or have you omitted
some important aspect? Have you solved the entire problem?
3. Accuracy: is your information correct? Can information be verified?
Do you have units on numbers?
4. Relevance: are the assumptions, information, or concepts you are
using relevant to answering the question or arriving at the goal of
5. Significance: are you dealing with significant questions, information,
and concepts or is the subject of your thinking trivial?
6. Logic: does what you are saying make sense? Do your conclusions
agree with the information and other things that you have said?
Are you consistent? This is a very important standard, especially in
7. Depth and Breadth: with complex questions, you may have many
aspects to cover before you can answer the question. Depth
involves the complexities while breadth involves other points of view
and perspectives. These are usually very important when dealing
with social and personal interactions or when discussing government
policy and candidates.
8. Fairness: are you trying to convince people of your view or did you
arrive at the conclusions based on your information? Not all
applications for classes require fairness but all aspects of personal life
EGOCENTRIC, SELFISH, ENTITLED THINKING or FEELING
This is natural and is usually invisible to us. This self serving style of thinking
can easily be recognized in the child throwing the temper tantrum or in
the adult manipulating people to get their way. Less obvious examples
include cutting in line, rudeness to others, cell phones in class, and road
rage. In the worst extremes, this is the thinking of prejudice people and
serial killers. Always watch out for this pattern sneaking into your thinking!
The Critical Thinking Approach
1. Determine your question, problem, and/or purpose. State it clearly, at
least in your mind.
2. Determine what type of problem you have; there are three and
unfortunately the first two rarely happen.
• The simplest is one with only one answer; e.g. in which state of the
United States are we now located. These do not require much
thinking, only clarity.
• The second asks a subjective question; e.g. what type of soup is
your favorite. You find few of these questions in school, not because
instructors don’t care but it isn’t a relative question.
• The third requires you to make a judgment because there are
different ways to answer the question; some are better than others
but none are completely right or completely wrong. Using the
elements of thought and the standards, you should be able to
select the answer that is best. The best answer may change over
time as conditions/people in your life change. For example, the
way you succeed in school will vary from assignment to
assignment and from teacher to teacher.
3. If there is more than one question, problem, and/or purpose or if the
question is complex, take them one at a time. Try to put them in an
order that will use the thinking from an earlier question to solve a later
4. Determine what to solve the problem and go find data. Verify
your data and be sure they are relevant.
5. Analyze and interpret the data; how are they related to the question,
problem, and/or purpose? Are all of the data relevant? What logical
conclusion can you form?
6. What do you do from here? How do you implement the solution?
This will vary greatly depending upon the question, problem, and/or
7. In life, you will need to evaluate options more so than in school.
8. Look for feedback. In school, it will be somewhat simpler because
you’ll get grades/comments on your work. In life, there may be illogical
reactions to your solution. As you apply the solution, watch for
reactions and monitor changes in your options. Be prepared to start
again with a new problem or a redefined problem.