This handout is available in an alternative format on request
WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?
Critical thinking is a higher order of thinking: it is the practice of using a number of different advanced thinking skills in a variety of complex ways.
Critical thinking focuses on thought: it looks at how facts are proven, arguments are formed, conclusions are reached, not just what the facts, argument or conclusion may be.
Critical thinking is self-reflexive: it involves reflecting on, questioning and testing your own thinking processes.
Critical thinking is discipline-specific: it engages in particular forms of reasoning, such as mathematical reasoning, historical analysis or literary interpretation, which are specific to a particular discipline.
HOW IS CRITICAL THINKING DIFFERENT FROM THINKING?
On information: data, facts, examples
On ideas: opinions, positions
On ideas: assumptions, biases, flaws in reasoning, point
of view, context, implications
Organizing and making connections
between pieces of information or ideas,
sometimes making basic inferences
To form an opinion about what you are
Deeply and broadly questioning and testing the ways in
which an idea is formed as well as how you have been
interpreting and examining the idea. Thinking about your
own thinking while you are thinking about the thinking of
To apply criteria in forming a conclusion or evaluation
about what you have been thinking about and how you
have been thinking about it.
WHAT IS GOOD CRITICAL THINKING?
Good critical thinking meets the criteria of these intellectual values:
HOW DO WE THINK CRITICALLY?
1. We Begin With the Right Approach
Reason: We base our thinking in logic, not feelings.
Self-Awareness: We pay attention to our own and others’ assumptions, biases and perspectives. Integrity: We care about doing our intellectual work honestly and accurately rather than about being right. Discipline: We put effort into doing our work comprehensively and precisely. Open-mindedness: We consider alternatives and other points of view. 2. We Look Deeper and Farther
There are countless ways in which we look deeper and farther when thinking critically. For example, we look deeper when we make inferences about an argument’s hidden assumptions and values. We look farther when we connect a study to theories in our discipline. We always think about the implications and importance of what we find. 3. We Ask Complex Questions
We develop and pose questions that help us look deeper and more broadly and that require a variety of thinking processes to answer. We generate specific, complex questions based on what exactly we are thinking about, starting with basic critical inquiry:
Who is the implied audience?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this?
What are the different possible solutions to this problem and which seems most effective? What is the nature of the relationship between this and that? What exactly is the logical flaw in this reasoning?
Is this really relevant to that? If not, where does the connection break down? What are the underlying assumptions and values?
4. We Answer Questions Using a Variety of Thinking Processes Analysis: breaking something into parts to better understand the parts and the whole (identifying, classifying, categorizing, comparing)
Synthesis: making connections between the parts and the whole to see the pattern of relationships (organizing, connecting, designing, predicting)
Interpretation: examining the connection (s) between the parts and the whole to make inferences about the implications and meanings of the pattern(s) (associating, inferring, decoding) Evaluation: forming judgments about meanings, qualities and values (justifying, critiquing, verifying, deciding) 5. We Reflect on How We Are Answering the Questions
Throughout the process, we ask ourselves questions such as:
Is that clear or is there still some confusion I need to clarify? Is that really true?
Do I need to be more specific or detailed?
How is that connected to the central focus?
Am I thinking about this in a complex enough way or should I go deeper and further in my thinking? Do I need to consider a bigger framework or a different point of view?
WHAT MIGHT BE AN EXAMPLE OF CRITICAL THINKING?
As critical thinking is a highly complex operation, the following examples are mere sketches of what is involved. SUBJECT
What are the qualities of an
Analysis: breaking down the role of
the Manager into tasks and inferring
the qualities needed to complete each
How does Hester’s child Pearl’s
name in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s
The Scarlet Letter function as a
What are some of the barriers to
instituting democracy in the
nations of the developing world?
Is this study on the higher
disease rate of farmed Chinook
Interpretation: examining the
implications of the pattern of
connections between a passage that
uses a pearl as a metaphor, the
cultural symbolism of pearls in the
historical context of the novel, the
circumstances of the child’s conception
and the value of the child to Hester.
Synthesis: making connections by
establishing the similarities and
differences between a number of
developing world countries in terms of
problems preventing democratic
Evaluation: judging the scope, controls
and methodology of the study to
determine if the scientific method was
Have I included all relevant
tasks? Are there some
qualities a good Manager
has that aren’t related to a
Can I really prove that the
symbolism of Pearl’s name
functions as an assertion
that children born of sin are
yet pure and valuable or
have I gone too far?
Do I have a clear set of
Should I look at studies that
support an opposing view
to see if there is anything I
© Jennifer Duncan. The Writing Centre, University of Toronto Scarborough. SEE ALSO: www.criticalthinking.org
Handout also available at http://ctl.utsc.utoronto.ca/twc/webresources.