What Is Critical Thinking?

What exactly is critical thinking? Numerous definitions exist. Ennis (2016) provides three dictionary definitions and 14 academic definitions with a philosophical bent. Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are distinct conceptions of the same concept, following Rawls (1971), who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept.

The core idea that includes these three characteristics could be summed up as careful goal-directed thinking in critical thinking. This fundamental idea seems to apply to all of the examples of critical thinking that were discussed in the section before this one. The exclusion of the non-examples is based on careful thinking, which excludes jumping to conclusions immediately, suspending judgment regardless of the strength of the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and frequently employing an algorithm to answer a question.

Though careful goal-directed thinking is at the heart of critical thinking, conceptions of it can vary depending on the presumed scope, presumed goal, one’s criteria and threshold for being careful, and the focus of the thinking component. In terms of its scope, some conceptions (such as Dewey 1910 and 1933) limit it to constructive thinking based on one’s own observations and experiments, while others (such as Ennis 1962; 1997, Fisher & Scriven; Johnson, 1992) to the evaluation of such thinking’s outcomes. Ennis and Bailin et al. (1991) 1999b) Consider it to encompass both construction and evaluation. Some conceptions limit its purpose to forming a judgment (Dewey 1910, 1933; 1987 Lipman; 1990a, Facione).

Others allow for a process of critical thinking to end with actions as well as beliefs (Ennis, 1991; Bailin and co. 1999b). Definitions of the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms vary, as do the criteria and threshold for caution: intellectually disciplined, reasonable (Ennis, 1991), skilled (Lipman, 1987), skilled, and cautious. These standards are mentioned in a few definitions, such as “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1910, 1933) and “consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge” logical inquiry and reasoning techniques” (Glaser, 1941); “conceptualizing, putting into practice, evaluating, synthesizing, and/or assessing information gathered from, or generated by observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication” (Scriven & Paul, 1987); the requirement that “it is self-correcting, depends on criteria, and sensitive to context” (Lipman, 1987); “evidence-based, conceptual, methodological, criterion-based, or contextual considerations” and “plus-minus considerations of the product in terms of appropriate standards (or criteria)” According to Stanovich and Stanovich (2010), the foundation of critical thinking should be rationality, which they define as the combination of instrumental and epistemic rationality.

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