What is Critical Thinking? — University of Louisville Ideas To Action (2024)

The ability to think critically calls for a higher-order thinking than simply the ability to recall information.

Definitions of critical thinking, its elements, and its associated activities fill the educational literature of the past forty years. Critical thinking has been described as an ability to question; to acknowledge and test previously held assumptions; to recognize ambiguity; to examine, interpret, evaluate, reason, and reflect; to make informed judgments and decisions; and to clarify, articulate, and justify positions (Hullfish & Smith, 1961; Ennis, 1962; Ruggiero, 1975; Scriven, 1976; Hallet, 1984; Kitchener, 1986; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Mines et al., 1990; Halpern, 1996; Paul & Elder, 2001; Petress, 2004; Holyoak & Morrison, 2005; among others).

After a careful review of the mountainous body of literature defining critical thinking and its elements, UofL has chosen to adopt the language of Michael Scriven and Richard Paul (2003) as a comprehensive, concise operating definition:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

Paul and Scriven go on to suggest that critical thinking is based on: "universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness. It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue, assumptions, concepts, empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions, implication and consequences, objections from alternative viewpoints, and frame of reference. Critical thinking - in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes - is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking."

This conceptualization of critical thinking has been refined and developed further by Richard Paul and Linder Elder into the Paul-Elder framework of critical thinking. Currently, this approach is one of the most widely published and cited frameworks in the critical thinking literature. According to the Paul-Elder framework, critical thinking is the:

  • Analysis of thinking by focusing on the parts or structures of thinking ("the Elements of Thought")
  • Evaluation of thinking by focusing on the quality ("the Universal Intellectual Standards")
  • Improvement of thinking by using what you have learned ("the Intellectual Traits")

Selection of a Critical Thinking Framework

The University of Louisville chose the Paul-Elder model of Critical Thinking as the approach to guide our efforts in developing and enhancing our critical thinking curriculum. The Paul-Elder framework was selected based on criteria adapted from the characteristics of a good model of critical thinking developed at Surry Community College. The Paul-Elder critical thinking framework is comprehensive, uses discipline-neutral terminology, is applicable to all disciplines, defines specific cognitive skills including metacognition, and offers high quality resources.

Why the selection of a single critical thinking framework?

The use of a single critical thinking framework is an important aspect of institution-wide critical thinking initiatives (Paul and Nosich, 1993; Paul, 2004). According to this view, critical thinking instruction should not be relegated to one or two disciplines or departments with discipline specific language and conceptualizations. Rather, critical thinking instruction should be explicitly infused in all courses so that critical thinking skills can be developed and reinforced in student learning across the curriculum. The use of a common approach with a common language allows for a central organizer and for the development of critical thinking skill sets in all courses.

What is Critical Thinking? — University of Louisville Ideas To Action (2024)

FAQs

What is Critical Thinking? — University of Louisville Ideas To Action? ›

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

How does critical thinking help in university? ›

At university, you are often encouraged to be 'critical' in your thinking, reading and writing. Critical thinking aims to open up and challenge existing knowledge, rather than to reproduce it. Critical thinking, reading and writing can simply be defined as considering more than one point of view or interpretation.

What is critical thinking and why is it important? ›

Critical thinking is the ability to interpret, evaluate, and analyze facts and information that are available, to form a judgment or decide if something is right or wrong. More than just being curious about the world around you, critical thinkers make connections between logical ideas to see the bigger picture.

What is the concept of critical thinking? ›

Critical thinking is a kind of thinking in which you question, analyse, interpret, evaluate and make a judgement about what you read, hear, say, or write. The term critical comes from the Greek word kritikos meaning “able to judge or discern”.

What is the value of critical thinking in university education? ›

One of the primary goals of higher education is to empower students to think independently. Critical thinking encourages students to question assumptions, challenge prevailing beliefs, and explore alternative perspectives.

How does critical thinking help students? ›

Critical thinking helps students make good decisions, empathize with others, and learn from their mistakes. A large part of this is maintaining an analytical, questioning mindset so they can evaluate and apply information to real-world scenarios.

What is the purpose of critical thinking in education? ›

The aim of Critical Thinking is to promote independent thinking, personal autonomy and reasoned judgment in thought and action. This involves two related dimensions: The ability to reason well and. The disposition to do so.

What is the goal of critical thinking? ›

Critical Thinking is the process of using and assessing reasons to evaluate statements, assumptions, and arguments in ordinary situations. The goal of this process is to help us have good beliefs, where “good” means that our beliefs meet certain goals of thought, such as truth, usefulness, or rationality.

What is an example of critical thinking? ›

Critical thinking example 1: Problem-solving

Someone, potentially your manager, presents you with a problem. You immediately go off and start looking for solutions. But do you take a step back first to analyse the situation, gathering and reviewing as much information as possible?

What are the two most important ideas in critical thinking? ›

The key critical thinking skills are identifying biases, inference, research, identification, curiosity, and judging relevance. Let's explore these six critical thinking skills you should learn and why they're so important to the critical thinking process.

What is the main focus of critical thinking? ›

Critical thinking has been described as an ability to question; to acknowledge and test previously held assumptions; to recognize ambiguity; to examine, interpret, evaluate, reason, and reflect; to make informed judgments and decisions; and to clarify, articulate, and justify positions (Hullfish & Smith, 1961; Ennis, ...

What is critical thinking in your own words? ›

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment. To think critically, you must be aware of your own biases and assumptions when encountering information, and apply consistent standards when evaluating sources. Critical thinking skills help you to: Identify credible sources.

What are the main principles of critical thinking? ›

Critical thinking involves asking questions, defining a problem, examining evidence, analyzing assumptions and biases, avoiding emotional reasoning, avoiding oversimplification, considering other interpretations, and tolerating ambiguity.

How is critical thinking used academically? ›

The ability to think critically about a matter—to analyze a question, situation, or problem down to its most basic parts—is what helps us evaluate the accuracy and truthfulness of statements, claims, and information we read and hear.

Why is critical thinking important? ›

For starters, critical thinking fosters superior decision-making by equipping individuals with the tools to weigh options, assess consequences, and arrive at better choices. Critical thinkers also benefit from heightened self-reflection, gaining a profound understanding of their own biases and areas for improvement.

How is critical thinking used in everyday life? ›

By using critical thinking, you can objectively analyze the problem, consider different perspectives, and determine the best course of action. This can lead to more effective problem-solving and decision-making in the workplace, helping you to tackle challenges and reach your goals with confidence.

Why do I need critical thinking skills as a university student? ›

Critical thinking plays a crucial role in effective decision-making. Students who possess strong critical thinking skills can evaluate the pros and cons of different options, anticipate potential consequences, and make informed choices based on evidence and logical reasoning.

Why do we need critical thinking in academic? ›

Critical thinking is vital for academic success and refers to the kinds of skills learners need to enable them to think effectively and rationally about what they want to do and what they believe is the best course of action.

How do you use critical thinking in college? ›

For developing critical skills, it is important to ask more questions. The more you ask questions, the more the curiosity and quest to learn increase. The questions will clarify your thinking, and conceptualizing and analyzing will become more accessible through it.

How can critical thinking skills help academic performance? ›

How Does Critical Thinking Affect Academic Performance? Critical thinking is essential for academic success because it allows students to analyze and evaluate information, ideas, and arguments.

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