CRITICAL THINKING: AN EXTENDED DEFINITION
Critical thinking is a pervasive academic literature term that is seldom clearly or comprehensively defined. The definitions that are available in various sources are quite disparate and are often narrowly field dependent. "Definitions tend to so broad they are not always helpful in the sense of defining a concrete entity."1 For a term that is often expressed by many as crucial to solid thinking and clear expression, a more accepted, comprehensive, and clear understanding of the term seems useful. This article offers for thought and debate a brief literature review related to critical thinking. This review will be assembled by combining other sources' definitions into this article. It is readily understood that not all users of the term will wish to utilize every possible definitional aspect of critical thinking in their work and conversation; however, having a broad definition resource available for reference may be a valuable tool when the term is broached by scholars.
One definition of critical thinking found in a general psychology text is: "Critical thinking examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, and assesses conclusions." This text also emphasizes recognizing fallacies in our thinking and listening.2 This definition; however, omits explaining how to examine assumptions, discern hidden values, and to assess conclusions. Considering a conversant's/listener's or author's/reader's experiences; education; social, political, economic, and/or ideological proclivities; known or suspected biases and prejudices; and known or suspected motives might accomplish assessing assumptions, hidden values, and conclusions.
Warnick and Inch, communication scholars define critical thinking as "involving the ability to explore a problem, question, or situation; integrate all the available information about it; arrive a solution or hypothesis; and justify one's position."3 This definition excludes specifying ways to explore problems, to raise good questions, to integrate available information, to arrive at solutions/hypotheses, and how to justify positions taken. Problems can be effectively explored by seeking parsimony, clarity, lower costs, and greater consensus for their solution. Good questions probe for more/better information and offer others awareness that the have been paid attention to. The scientific method is a good start in arriving at quality solutions/hypotheses. Positions should be justified on the basis of their cost,
amount of collateral damage incurred, and analysis of the process taken to reach such positions.
Ken Petress, communication scholar and journalist, adds needed content characteristics to critical thinking; among these are:
Evidence is rated, by the critical thinker, based on Sufficiency - is there an adequate amount of support for claims? Relevance - is the evidence presented pertinent to the issue at hand? Reliability - does the support for arguments have a good track record? Does evidence relied upon emanate from expert sources? Consistency - are supporting elements internally and externally consistent with each other and with what we know from other experiences, observations, and sources? Recency - is offered support current rather than being out-of-date? Access - are supporting materials open for receivers' verification? Are secret or anonymous sources avoided? Objectivity - are supporting materials fair and undistorted? Does support originate from expert sources?4
These six criteria limit themselves to the content of messages; other criteria need to be considered for message organization, ethicality, consequence forecasting/consideration, ands content completeness. Some additional factors influencing critical thinking and message reception/creation include: Are embedded terms clearly and completely defined? Are inferences labeled as...
References: 1 Mary Furgol. (2000, February). Teaching History: Passion and Pragmatism.
2 David G. Myers. (2003). Exploring Psychology, 5th ed. New York: Worth,
3 Barbara Warnick and Edward . Inch. (1994). Critical Thinking and
Communication, 2nd ed
4 Ken Petress. (1998, September 18). What Is Critical Thinking and Why Is It
Useful? University Times, p
6 See for example: Richard Paul and Linda Elder. (2001). The Miniature
Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools
Foundation for Critical Thinking; Richard W. Paul. (1995). Critical Thinking:
How to Prepare Students For a Rapidly Changing Richard Paul and Linda
Elder. (2001). Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and
11 Michael Scriven and Richard Paul. (2003). Defiing Critical Thinking.
13 Richard L. Johannesen. (2002). Ethics in Human Communication, 5th ed.
14 S. Ferrett. (1997). Peak Performance. Cited in GED 20902: Online
Professional Development at http://www.ket.org/ged2002/critical/cr3
15 Lorin W. Anderson, David R. Krathwohl, and Benjamin S. Bloom. (2001).
17 ATEEC. (2003). Math Knowledge and Skills for Environmental Technology
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