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Defining Critical Thinking

People Learn Best and Most Deeply When…

  • They try to answer questions or solve problems they find interesting, intriguing, important or beautiful;
  • They can try, fail, receive feedback, and try again before anyone makes a judgment of their work;
  • They can work collaboratively with other learners struggling with the same problems;
  • They face repeated challenges to their existing fundamental paradigms;
  • They care that their existing paradigms do not work;
  • They can get support (emotional, physical and intellectual) when they need it;
  • They feel in control of their own learning, not manipulated;
  • They believe that their work will be considered fairly and honestly;
  • They believe that their work will matter;
  • They believe that intelligence and abilities are expandable, that if they work hard, they will get better at it;
  • They believe other people have faith in their ability to learn;
  • They believe that they can learn.

Critical Thinking

Abstract Reasoning

Here is a list of “critical thinking” reasoning abilities identified by physicist Arnold Arons. What additions or deletions would you add to the list for your courses?

  1. Consciously raising the questions “What do we know…? How do we know…? Why do we accept or believe…? What is the evidence for…?” when studying some body of material or approaching a problem.
  2. Being clearly and explicitly aware of gaps in available information. Recognizing when a conclusion is reached or a decision made in absence of complete information and being able to tolerate the ambiguity and uncertainty. Recognizing when one is taking something on faith without having examined the “How do we know…? Why do we believe…?” questions.
  3. Discriminating between observation and inference, between established fact and subsequent conjecture.
  4. Recognizing that words are symbols for ideas and not the ideas themselves. Recognizing the necessity of using only words of prior definition, rooted in shared experience, in forming a new definition and in avoiding being misled by technical jargon.
  5. Probing for assumption (particularly the implicit, unarticulated assumptions) behind a line of reasoning.
  6. Drawing inferences from data, observations or other evidence and recognizing when firm inferences cannot be drawn. This subsumes a number of processes such as elementary syllogistic reasoning (e.g., dealing with basic prepositional “if. . .then” statements), correlational reasoning, recognizing when relevant variables have or have not been controlled.
  7. Performing hypothetico-deductive reasoning; that is, given a particular situation, applying relevant knowledge of principles and constraints and visualizing, in the abstract, the plausible outcomes that might result from various changes one can imagine to be imposed on the system.
  8. Discriminating between inductive and deductive reasoning; that is, being aware when an argument is being made from the particular to the general or from the general to the particular.
  9. Testing one’s own line of reasoning and conclusions for internal consistency and thus developing intellectual self-reliance.
  10. Developing self-consciousness concerning one’s own thinking and reasoning processes.