A Definition of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a way of considering information in order to form an opinion which is based in logic, humility, and research.

Critical thinking lets us decide how we feel about things. It is a practiced set of skills that helps us consider things thoroughly before drawing conclusions about them, and saves us from the assumptions, inferences, and irrational conclusions of anyone who isn’t considering all sides of an argument. Just as we would when forming an argument, we start with our opinion then look into why we think what we do, what others think, why others might think the way they do, and what other questions could possibly be asked about the topic. Then we go about trying to answering those questions (Weston, 2009).

QuestionsCritical thinking takes humility. We have to be willing to honestly consider the possibility that others have valid points, and ultimately be willing to admit that our initial opinion was wrong and adjust accordingly. And, what’s more, we have to be able to either trust that our sources are able to do the same or know how to sift through what in their argument is opinion and what is fact (Browne & Keeley, 2007).

We must either know, or be able to figure out, where to get information. We have to be able to sort through sources, deciding what is reliable and generalizable and what is not (Dowden, 2002; Paul & Elder, 2001; Weston, 2009). We have to understand what our sources are talking about and whether the context fits what we are researching. For example, when John Locke (1689) talks about human understanding, it helps us put his words into context when we know the zeitgeist. Another example is our need to take into consideration the effect that Richard Paul (2001) selling a product has on his discussion of the importance and nature of critical thinking. And when Dr. Dowden (2002) discusses skills needed for critical thinking, is he only targeting those seeking to go to college. Does that change the meaning of the argument for rest of us?

EternalA definition of critical thinking is only the first step in determining whether it is important to us, how to use it, and when to use it; as discussed above, progress requires questions. When researching critical thinking, is it important to know what the end goal is? In other words, does it matter why you want to be able to think critically? Does the definition of critical thinking change when considering media messages as opposed to considering what to eat for lunch? Is there a time when critical thinking becomes unnecessary or overly complicated? Is there a basic formula for critical thinking that can be followed? Does the way in which someone goes about applying critical thinking change the results of their analysis? These questions and more may lead us to making more well-rounded conclusions about critical thinking.


Browne, M. N., & Keeley, S. M. (2007). Asking the right questions: a guide to critical thinking (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Dowden. (2002). A summary of critical thinking skills. Retrieved from: http://www.csus.edu/indiv/d/dowdenb/4/ct-def/ct-skills.htm

Locke, J. (1689). An essay concerning human understanding. In L. Pojman (Ed.), Classics of philosophy (pp 653-689). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2001). Modified from the book by Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2001). Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life.

Weston, A. (2009). A rulebook for arguments. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub.

*Cartoons can be found at http://faculty.spokanefalls.edu/InetShare/AutoWebs/jimp/Cartoons/arethere.gif and
http://faculty.spokanefalls.edu/InetShare/AutoWebs/jimp/Cartoons/questions.gif respectively*

Define ‘Scholarly’

Chris Nitz Photo: Crushed by Knowledge If we objectively define ‘scholarly’ as “concerned with academic learning and research” (Dictionary.com,  2012), we find ourselves with a vague definition. We may be tempted to immediately think of left-brained academics. However, discrepancies in what must be considered academic may change that definition. If, for example, we define academics as pertaining to sciences or literacy, we end with a very different result than if we define academics as pertaining to any subject which facilitates the further development of a particular skill. Sir Ken Robinson (2006) notes that a major short coming of academics now is that we define academics much like the former, but would be served better to treat it as the latter.

Chris Nitz: A Keyboard Kind of LifeHowever, in writing, the target audience is the one that matters. As such, if you are writing to a group of social scientists, the expectation is that the prescribed protocol will be followed (Polkinghorne, 2007), and so on. In this way then, scholarly writing should be defined more along the lines of writing which facilitates the communication of critical thinking and rhetoric within a given field, using the prescribed masteries of that field. This allows for all subjects regardless of the paradigm currently subscribed to in academia.


Dictionary.com (2012). ‘Scholarly’. Retrieved from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/scholarly?s=t

Polkinghorne, D. E. (2007). Qualitative inquiry: validity issues in narrative writing. Qualitative Inquiry13(4), 472.

Robinson, K. (2006, February). Ken robinson says schools kill creativity.. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

Argumentation Fuels Learning

Argumentation fuels learning. Weston (2009) states “Argument is essential, in the first place, because it is a way of finding out which views are better than others,” that “… argument is a means of inquiry” (p. xi).

Regardless of topic, the argumentation requires an understanding of the power of words and their structure. Just as Prose (2006) came to understand the value of close reading through an examination of Oedipus Rex, so too can we come to appreciate the richness of specifically chosen words through reading and analysis; learning.

Aggressive-ArgumentationBecause there are those who assume that we will mindlessly follow them and their causes, we must be adept in weighing empirical evidence, analyzing analogies, and considering reputability. In order to do this, we must develop and maintain the ability to research topics and understand principles of rhetoric. It behooves us to dive into the meaning of the words used, beyond the celebrity of the speaker, and consider every angle of that which we are exposed to.

Whether crafting a response to a political platform, commenting on the value of a product, or encouraging the patronage of a local business, the words we choose are compelling when used properly. Global activism thrives on powerful communication taking a variety of forms, but starting with purposeful words (de Jong, Shaw, & Stammers, 2005). It is up to those of us who are apt to share information and challenge assumptions, choosing our words carefully, and presenting a comprehensive examination of our view.

Weston (2009) says “Real argument… takes time and practice. Marshaling our reasons, proportioning our conclusion to the actual evidence, considering objections- and all the rest- these are acquired skills” (p. xii). Arguing requires learning.


de Jong, W. de, Shaw, M., & Stammers, N. (2005). Global activism, global media. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.
Prose, F. (2006). Reading like a writer : a guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Weston, A. (2009). A rulebook for arguments. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub.


Being in love with technology (aka ‘technophilia) is not as shocking as it may seem. A passion for inatimate things, living things, things that make our lives easier, and things that facilitate secret (or not so secret) desires has long since been a common thing; unspoken though it may be (Kelly, 2010).

Harlow (1958) introduces the concept of love after measuring a monkey’s preference of articial mothers. If, in 1958, a monkey can show an affinity for an inatimate object, why is it then so hard to admit or imagine that we are able to have real emotions for technology? Mary Chayko (2008) relays the emotional connectedness that we find using virtual technologies; relationships are formed and brought to fruition virtually every day. People, frustrated with their real life situations, find solace in virtual communities and online games which provide alternate realities for them to escape to (Zhou, Jin, Vogel, Fang, & Chen, 2011).

How can technology facilitate these accomplisments, and escape our attention and our devotion? An appreciation for the thing allowing us to reach our goals is inevitable. The more we embrace technophilia, the more prevalent it will become (Kelly, 2010).


Chayko, M. (2008). Portable communities : the social dynamics of online and mobile connectedness. Albany: SUNY.

Harlow, H. (1958). The nature of love. The American Psychologist13, 673-685.

Kelly, K. (2010). Technophilia. In J. Dibbell (Ed.). The best technology writing 2010. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Zhou, Z., Jin, X.-L., Vogel, D. R., Fang, Y., & Chen, X. (2011). Individual motivations and demographic differences in social virtual world uses: An exploratory investigation in Second Life. International Journal of Information Management, 31(3), 261–271. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2010.07.007

The Value of Words

Words have the merit to change behavior. Conditioned responses are the result of a repeated pairing of unconditioned stimulai and conditioned stimulai. Just as Pavlov’s dogs were conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell, people are conditioned to react to different words in a variety of ways. Words such as ‘war’ and ‘love’ invoke different emotions in every person who hear/see them, but these reactions vary based on the recipient’s past experiences or conditioning (Anderson, 2000).

Words have the merit to change perception of self. They are instrumental in the verification of one’s identity. Feedback allows individuals to determine whether their identity standard matches the identity they exhibit to others. Words allow those who are marginalized to try on identities via online connectivity without having to come face to face with others (Burke & Stets, 2009). When we do come face to face, words allow relationships to be conveyed and maintained (Pinker, 2005).

Therefore, the merit of words is directly related to the effect they have on the recipient of those words.


Anderson, J. R. (2000). Learning and memory : an integrated approach. New York: Wiley.

Burke, P., & Stets, J. E. (2009). Identity theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Pinker, S. (2005) The Stuff of Thought. TED Talk. Retrieved from http://blog.ted.com/2007/09/11/steven_pinker/