Critical Thinking For Everyone

For some time now, I've wanted to talk to you about critical thinking. I remember the bad old days when most of my thinking was emotional and reactive and I had no idea that such a thing as critical thinking even existed. It wasn't a happy time. Over the last few years I've learned to think for myself and I can't express how liberating and empowering that is.

If there is one gift you can give to a child or anyone else, it is to teach them to think for themselves. The educational system doesn't teach this important skill. It teaches rote memorization and focuses on test taking. Therefore it's up to you to learn it for yourself.

Unfortunately, I'm self taught and have no formal training in this realm. Which means sharing it with you is harder. So instead of putting it off even longer, I thought maybe we could explore the subject together and develop a plan for sharing with others in our lives or on the web. First, let's define it.

Here is a quote: [Critical thinking is a] desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture. ~ Francis Bacon (1605)

Here is the short and sweet definition:

Critical Thinking: n: the mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion.

But I've found that there are many different interpretations for this concept. You can see a whole page of them here.

Here's another one:
"Critical thinking is best understood as the ability of thinkers to take charge of their own thinking. This requires that they develop sound criteria and standards for analyzing and assessing their own thinking and routinely use those criteria and standards to improve its quality." Elder , L. and Paul, R. "Critical thinking: why we must transform our teaching." Journal of Developmental Education, Fall 1994.

What makes a critical thinker? Here are some attributes:

  • asks pertinent questions

  • assesses statements and arguments

  • is able to admit a lack of understanding or information

  • has a sense of curiosity

  • is interested in finding new solutions

  • is able to clearly define a set of criteria for analyzing ideas

  • is willing to examine beliefs, assumptions, and opinions and weigh them against facts

  • listens carefully to others and is able to give feedback

  • sees that critical thinking is a lifelong process of self-assessment

  • suspends judgment until all facts have been gathered and considered

  • looks for evidence to support assumption and beliefs

  • is able to adjust opinions when new facts are found

  • looks for proof

  • examines problems closely

  • is able to reject information that is incorrect or irrelevant

Just about anyone can learn to think more critically. Even more importantly, you can use it in nearly every aspect of your daily living. You already think all the time, but if you are not consciously trying to think critically, your thoughts will be more biased, distorted, partial, uninformed and prejudiced. You'll make decisions based on your emotions and feelings, you'll rely on your "intuition" and your gut instinct, which can sometimes be useful but can often be quite flawed.

One way that flawed thinking is noticeable is through Logical Fallacies, which we talk about here at HDC.

Here are some other resources that you might find useful:

Well, that is enough to get us started. Do you have any great resources for learning to think critically that you would like to share?


  1. Whenever presented with a something that triggers thinking -- a personal problem, a political thesis, a statement about how something works, a work challenge, etc. -- there are a few immediate questions that pop into my mind. They are nearly automatic by now because of long practice, but if the problem, challenge, or statement is too emotional, I may have to go through the exercise consciously. Some of those questions may be:

    - Can this statement be falsified, i.e., is there a set a of possible circumstances that would disprove it? If I can't imagine any, then it's probably not a useful statement.

    - Is there a way I can turn this problem into a resource? Can I imagine a set of circumstances where the problem would become an advantage? Or does the problem come with effects that are beneficial? Extremely helpful for problem-solving.

    - If I'm inclined to agree with a thesis or statement, does it seem too good to be true? Am I agreeing simply because it is comforting? Can I examine this from someone else's perspective (play devil's advocate) and find counter-arguments? This is also extremely useful for shoring up good ideas and make them better.

  2. There's no more important skill to be teaching our children nowadays.
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. I agree, it's vitally important. You're welcome.

  4. Thanks so much, Sophie! So basically you use part of the Scientific Method modified for any sort of problem, with extra questions as well.