What is Critical Thinking?

Thinking can be simply defined as the interaction of ideas and thoughts in our mind. Science has uncovered much about the human brain and, more specially, Psychology has explored the intricate details of how the mind works. While there is still so much that remains unknown about the mind, there have been amazing discoveries that can provide an opportunity to help get the most out of the human intellect. Thinking itself is ongoing. You cannot not think. The human mind is always at work, thinking about more than you may actually be aware of at any given moment. You can also learn how to use you mind better. Just as you can learn to do most anything better than you do it now, you can learn how to think more effectively to produce better outcomes from your thinking.

Critical Thinking is a method of thinking rooted in logical ways of reasoning for the purpose of bringing about the best results from your thought process. It makes the act of thinking better, more useful and effective. It can make you feel more confident about what you know and inspire you to always seek the best answers to every aspect of your life. Critical thinking brings clarity and understanding to whatever you are thinking about and it greatly increases the likelihood of success. Critical Thinking is NOT a passive activity. It doesn’t just happen. It is something that takes a conscious effort on your part to occur. You have to want to do it. A good definition would be that Critical Thinking is skilled and conscious analysis and interpretation of the information gathered from interactions with the world around you.


Seven Qualities of a Critical Thinker

Since critical thinking is about better developing your thought process, there are certain qualities that are required to change ordinary thinking into critical thinking. These are the seven qualities (also known as characteristics, attitudes or attributes) of a Critical Thinker

  1. Truth-seeking. Critical thinkers want to know the truth. Nothing short of the truth will satisfy them. In their quest for the truth, they are willing to consider and accept ideas that contradict their assumptions and self-interest. Such thinkers will follow reason and evidence wherever it may lead. Critical Thinkers are honest with themselves. They refuse to be deceived for the sake of convenience. They do not pretend that the truth can be whatever they wish it to be. They do not try to persuade themselves that driving 30 miles per hour over the speed limit will not endanger themselves or others, that getting drunk every weekend is no signal of a drinking problem, or that missing class has no effect on grades. Critical Thinkers avoid such deceptive beliefs.


  1. Open-minded. Skilled critical thinkers not only recognize that people disagree, but they value that fact. They respect the right of others to express different views and willingly listen to them in order to gain proper insight into the issue. Critical thinkers seek out a variety of viewpoints and they check out their own thinking and speaking habits for any signs of unwarranted bias.


  1. Analytical. Critical thinkers go beyond the surface of appearances to get to the heart of the matter. They dissect an issue to determine the main points that make it come together. Under the scrutiny of observation and evaluation, the critical thinker can more fully understand why the evidence may support a specific conclusion.


  1. Systematic. Critical thinkers know there is a preferred process to uncovering and understanding an issue. Proper methods and tested procedures add credibility and certainty to an outcome and critical thinkers are committed to following that path. They refuse to abide by the policy of “any old way will do.” Critical thinkers will go the distance to ensure that the correct steps are taken to bring about the right outcome.


  1. Self-confident. This attribute supports the others. Critical thinkers trust their intellectual skills and know that their strength lies in the confidence of their abilities. They do not second-guess their commitment to seeking the truth, listening with an open mind, and in doing the hard and useful work of thinking. Their sense of fulfillment and accomplishment stems from their dedication to self and belief in their aptitude to get the job done well.


  1. Inquisitive. Critical thinkers want to know. They thirst for truth. They hunger for knowledge. They desire to know the facts and concepts that can lead to a greater awareness of the issue. They have a dynamic willingness to explore the universe of ideas and possibilities and are always charged with the energy of curiosity to begin the journey of discovery.


  1. Mature. In their maturity, critical thinkers possess a wisdom born of experience. They understand that a problem can have more than one solution, even solutions that appear to contradict each other. They resist the temptation to reach quick, superficial answers and they are willing to suspend judgement when evidence is incomplete. At the same time, critical thinkers also recognize that human beings are often called to act before all the facts are in. Only through maturity are critical thinkers able to know more confidently whether it is best to wait for further study or to move forward and avoid missing an opportunity for progress.[1]

Following Good Reasoning by Avoiding Mistakes in Logic

Avoid these six common mistakes (fallacies) in Logic (reasoned thinking):

  • Jumping to Conclusions (as you read above, a mature thinker knows when to wait before reaching a conclusion to avoid regret)
  • Making it Personal (always stick to issue, don’t be tempted to allow personalities sway judgement)
  • Basing a Decision on Emotion (emotions can have a powerful hold on decision making, don’t allow them to cloud your thinking)
  • Appealing to Popularity (just because everyone else believes it doesn’t make it the right choice)
  • Appealing to Tradition (just because its the way you’ve always believed before it doesn’t make it correct now)
  • Red Herring (whether occurring accidentally or purposefully, these points that are added to the discussion will be sure to throw your thinking off track) [2]


Try Out Your won Critical Thinking Ability

Using critical thinking, analyze an answer the following:


According to International Law, if an airplane should crash on the EXACT border between two countries, would UNIDENTIFIED survivors be buried in the country that they were traveling TO or the country that they were traveling FROM?


In History class, we read the story of Azeeka, an ancient African warrior who was condemned to death. For his execution, he had to choose between three rooms. The first room was full of raging fires, the second was full of assassins with loaded guns, and the third was full of wild lions that had not eaten in one year. He survived his execution and went on to lead his people in victory. Can you guess which room that he choose?


There are two plastic buckets filled with water. How could you empty all of the water out of the buckets and into a larger barrel, without reusing the buckets or any other dividers, and still be able to tell which water came from which jug after it is put into the barrel?


What is black when you buy it, red when you use it, and gray when you throw it away?


This is an unusual paragraph. How quickly can you find out what is so unusual about it? It looks so plain that you would think that nothing is wrong with it. In fact, nothing is wrong with it. It is unusual though. Study it, and think about it, but you still may not find anything odd. But if you work on it a bit, you just might find out. Try to do so without any coaching. Good Luck!


More Critical Thinking Questions

Try answering these questions by using critical thinking.

1. How many animals of each species did Moses bring onto the ark?
2. Is it acceptable for a man to marry his widow’s sister?
3. In baseball or softball, how many outs are there in each inning?
4. If you had only one match, and entered a freezing cold room with a kerosene heater, an oil heater, a gas heater, and a wood-burning stove, which would you lite first to get the maximum heat?
5. January, March, May, July, August, October and December have 31 days. April June, September and November have 30 days. How many have 28 days?
6. If a doctor gave you three pills and told you to take one every half hour, how long would they last?
7. Divide 30 by ½ and then add 10. What is the answer?
8. A farmer has 17 sheep. All but nine die. How many are left?
9. If you take two apples away from three apples, what have you got?
10. How far can Thumper, the cute, fluffy rabbit, hop into the woods?
11. An archaeologist claims that he found two coins dated 46 B.C. How do you know he is lying?
12. You have three U.S. coins that total 55 cents. One of them is not a nickel. What are the other two?
13. A woman gave a beggar one dollar. The woman is the beggar’s sister, but the beggar is not the woman’s brother. How can this be?
14. You are participating in a race. You overtake the second person. What position are you now in?
15. If you overtake the last person, what position are you in?
16. A house is built with four sides, it is square in shape and each side of the house faces south. According to popular legend, who would live in that house?
17. Take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30. Now add 20. Now add another 1000. Now add 10. What do you have?
18. Mary’s father had five daughters: Nana, Nene, Nini, and Nono. What was the name of the fifth daughter?


  1. Facione, Peter A., Critical Thinking, (1990) (Millbrae, CA.: California Academic Press)
  2. Wanda Teays, Second Thoughts, McGraw-Hill, 1996


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