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.

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