examples of critical thinking standards

Standards of Critical Thinking

Lesson Overview

Critical thinking is a disciplined thinking governed by clear intellectual standards. But, not every thinking is critical. To identify a critical thinking from the uncritical, we refer to some standards. There is a consensus among philosophers that for thinking to be critical, it has to meet certain standards. Standard of critical thinking refers a conditions or a level that critical thinking should meet to be considered as normal and acceptable. Among the most important of these intellectual standards are clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, consistency, logical correctness, completeness, and fairness. In this lesson, we will discuss these standards.

Activity # 2: Dear learners, do you know any standard of critical thinking? How do you identify good critical thinking from bad critical thinking? What basic standards do you think critical thinking should meet?

Dear learners , we have seen that the term ‗critical thinking‘ generally refers to a wide range of cognitive skills and intellectual dispositions needed to effectively identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments and truth claims. It is critical thinking is a disciplined thinking governed by clear intellectual standards that can be used to identify a critical thinking from the uncritical. Standard of critical thinking refers a conditions or a level that critical thinking should meet to be considered as normal and acceptable. Clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, consistency , logical correctness , completeness , and fairness are some of the most important intellectual standards of critical thinking. Let us discuss these standards in detail.

Clarity refers to clear understanding of concepts and clearly expressing them in a language that is free of obscurity and vagueness. When we construct argument, we should take into consideration or pay close attention to clarity. Before we can effectively evaluate a person‘s argument or claim, we need to understand clearly what the person is saying. Unfortunately, that can be difficult because people often fail to express themselves clearly.

But clarity is a gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we do not yet know what it is saying. For example, the question “What can be done about the education system in Ethiopia?” is unclear. In order to address the question adequately, we would need to have a clearer understanding of what the person is asking. The question is considering the “problem‖ to be. A clearer question might be “What can educators do to ensure that students learn the skills and abilities which help them function successfully on the job and in their daily decision-making?”

Sometimes lack of clarity is due to laziness, carelessness, or a lack of skill. At other times, it results from a misguided effort to appear clever, learned, or profound. As William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, in their classic, “ The Elements of Style ‟, remark that “ Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded road sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter. . . .Only by paying careful attention to language can we avoid such needless miscommunications and disappointments.

Critical thinkers, however, not only strive for clarity of language but also seek maximum clarity of thought. To achieve our personal goals in life, we need a clear conception of our goals and priorities, a realistic grasp of our abilities, and a clear understanding of the problems and opportunities we face. Such self-understanding can be achieved only if we value and pursue clarity of thought.

2) Precision

Precision is a matter of being exact, accurate and careful. Most ideas are vague and obscures though we think we have precise understanding of them. When we try to meticulous these ideas, we will find that they are imprecise. To get precise understanding, we should pay close attention to details. Everyone recognizes the importance of precision in specialized fields such as medicine, mathematics, architecture, and engineering.

Critical thinkers also understand the importance of precise thinking in different contexts. They understand that to cut through the confusions and uncertainties that surround many everyday problems and issues, it is often necessary to insist on precise answers to precise questions: What exactly is the problem we are facing? What exactly are the alternatives? What exactly are the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative? Only when we habitually seek such precision are we truly become critical thinkers.

3) Accuracy

Accuracy is about correct information. Critical thinking should care a lot about genuine information. If the ideas and thoughts one processes are not real, then once decision based on wrong and false information will likely to result in distorting realities. John Rawls, in his book entitled as “ A Theory of Justice ‟ argued that truth is the first virtue of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue. Whether an idea is attractive or sophisticated should be abandoned if it is based on false information.

Accuracy is about having and getting true information. There is a well-known saying about computers: “Garbage in, garbage out.‖Simply put, this means that if you put bad information into a computer, bad information is exactly what you will get out of it. Much the same is true of human thinking. No matter how brilliant you may be, you are almost guaranteed to make bad decisions if your decisions are based on false information. Critical thinkers do not merely value the truth; they also have a passion for accurate, timely information. As consumers, citizens, workers, and parents, they strive to make decisions and this decision should be based on true information.

4) Relevance

The question of relevance is a question of connections. When there is a discussion or debate, it should focus on relevant ideas and information. That is, only those points that bear on the issue should be raised. A favorite debaters‘ trick is to try to distract an audience‘s attention by raising an irrelevant issue. Critical thinkers do not collect any information; they focus and carefully choose only the information that has logical relation with the ideas at hands. Issues raised should have logical connection with the question at hand. Two ideas are relevant when they have logical connection. A critical thinker should be relevant in his ideas and thoughts.

5) Consistency

Consistency is about the quality of always behaving in the same way or of having the same opinions or standards. It is easy to see why consistency is essential to critical thinking. Logic tells us that if a person holds inconsistent beliefs, at least one of those beliefs must be false. Critical thinkers prize truth and so are constantly on the lookout for inconsistencies, both in their own thinking and in the arguments and assertions of others.

There are two kinds of inconsistency that should be avoided. One is logical inconsistency , which involves saying or believing inconsistent things (i.e., things that cannot both or all be true) about a particular matter. The other is practical inconsistency , which involves saying one thing and doing another. Sometimes people are fully aware that their words conflict with their deeds; in short people sometime are hypocrites. From a critical thinking point of view, such personality is not especially interesting. As a rule, they involve failures of character to a greater degree than they do failures of critical reasoning.

More interesting from a critical thinking standpoint are cases in which people are not fully aware that their words conflict with their deeds. Such cases highlight an important lesson of critical thinking: human beings often display a remarkable capacity for self-deception. Author Harold Kushner, in this respect, writes as:

[a]sk the average person which is more important to him, making money or being devoted to his family, and virtually everyone will answer family without hesitation. But watch how the average person actually lives out his life. See where he really invests his time and energy, and he will give away the fact that he really does not live by what he says he believes. He has let himself be persuaded that if he leaves for work earlier in the morning and comes home more tired at night, he is proving how devoted he is to his family by expending himself to provide them with all the things they have seen advertised.

Critical thinking helps us become aware of such unconscious practical inconsistencies, allowing us to deal with them on a conscious and rational basis. It is also common, of course, for people to hold unknowingly inconsistent beliefs about a particular subject. In fact, as Socrates pointed out long ago, such unconscious logical inconsistency is far more common than most people suspect. For example, many today claim that morality is relative, while holding a variety of views that imply that it is not relative. Critical thinking helps us to recognize such logical inconsistencies or, still better, avoid them altogether. A critical thinker should be consistent logically and practically.

6) Logical Correctness

To think logically is to reason correctly; that is, to draw well-founded conclusions from the beliefs held. To think critically, we need accurate and well supported beliefs. But, just as important, we need to be able to reason from those beliefs to conclusions that logically follow from them. Unfortunately, illogical thinking is all too common in human affairs. When we think, we bring a variety of thoughts together into some order. When the combinations of thoughts are mutually supporting and make sense in combination, the thinking is logical. When the combination is not mutually supporting, is contradictory in some sense, or does not make sense the combination, is not logical.

7) Completeness

In most contexts, we rightly prefer deep and complete thinking to shallow and superficial thinking. Of course, there are times when it is impossible or inappropriate to discuss an issue in depth; no one would expect, for example, a thorough and wide-ranging discussion of the ethics of the right to self- determination in a short newspaper editorial. However, thinking is better when it is deep rather than shallow, thorough rather than superficial.

8) Fairness

Critical thinking demands that our thinking be fair – that is, open minded, impartial, and free of distorting biases and preconceptions. That can be very difficult to achieve. Even the most superficial acquaintance with history and the social sciences tells us that people are often strongly disposed to resist unfamiliar ideas, to prejudge issues, to stereotype outsiders, and to identify truth with their own self-interest or the interests of their nation or group.

It is probably unrealistic to suppose that our thinking could ever be completely free of biases and preconceptions; to some extent, we all perceive reality in ways that are powerfully shaped by our individual life experiences and cultural backgrounds. But as difficult as it may be to achieve, basic fair-mindedness is clearly an essential attribute of a critical thinker.

We naturally think from our own perspective, from a point of view, which tends to privilege our position. Fairness implies the treating of all relevant viewpoints alike without reference to one‘s own feelings or interests. Because we tend to be biased in favor of our own viewpoint, it is important to keep the standard of fairness at the forefront of our thinking. This is especially important when the situation may call on us to see things we do not want to see, or give something up that we want to hold onto.

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Michael W. Austin Ph.D.

Standards of Critical Thinking

Thinking towards truth..

Posted  June 11, 2012 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan

What is critical thinking? According to my favorite critical thinking text , it is disciplined thinking that is governed by clear intellectual standards.

This involves identifying and analyzing arguments and truth claims, discovering and overcoming prejudices and biases, developing your own reasons and arguments in favor of what you believe, considering objections to your beliefs, and making rational choices about what to do based on your beliefs.

Clarity is an important standard of critical thought. Clarity of communication is one aspect of this. We must be clear in how we communicate our thoughts, beliefs, and reasons for those beliefs.

Careful attention to language is essential here. For example, when we talk about morality , one person may have in mind the conventional morality of a particular community, while another may be thinking of certain transcultural standards of morality. Defining our terms can greatly aid us in the quest for clarity.

Clarity of thought is important as well; this means that we clearly understand what we believe, and why we believe it.

Precision involves working hard at getting the issue under consideration before our minds in a particular way. One way to do this is to ask the following questions: What is the problem at issue? What are the possible answers? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each answer?

Accuracy is unquestionably essential to critical thinking. In order to get at or closer to the truth, critical thinkers seek accurate and adequate information. They want the facts because they need the right information before they can move forward and analyze it.

Relevance means that the information and ideas discussed must be logically relevant to the issue being discussed. Many pundits and politicians are great at distracting us away from this.

Consistency is a key aspect of critical thinking. Our beliefs should be consistent. We shouldn’t hold beliefs that are contradictory. If we find that we do hold contradictory beliefs, then one or both of those beliefs are false. For example, I would likely contradict myself if I believed both that " Racism is always immoral" and "Morality is entirely relative." This is a logical inconsistency.

There is another form of inconsistency, called practical inconsistency, which involves saying you believe one thing while doing another. For example, if I say that I believe my family is more important than my work, but I tend to sacrifice their interests for the sake of my work, then I am being practically inconsistent.

The last three standards are logical correctness, completeness, and fairness. Logical correctness means that one is engaging in correct reasoning from what we believe in a given instance to the conclusions that follow from those beliefs. Completeness means that we engage in deep and thorough thinking and evaluation, avoiding shallow and superficial thought and criticism. Fairness involves seeking to be open-minded, impartial, and free of biases and preconceptions that distort our thinking.

Like any skill or set of skills, getting better at critical thinking requires practice. Anyone wanting to grow in this area might think through these standards and apply them to an editorial in the newspaper or on the web, a blog post, or even their own beliefs. Doing so can be a useful and often meaningful exercise.

Michael W. Austin Ph.D.

Michael W. Austin, Ph.D. , is a professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

examples of critical thinking standards

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examples of critical thinking standards

Table of Contents, Thinking Tools

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Chapter 7. the standards for thinking.

One of the fundamentals of critical thinking is the ability to assess one's own reasoning. To be good at assessment requires that we consistently take apart our thinking and examine the parts with respect to standards of quality. We do this using criteria based on clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logicalness, and significance. Critical thinkers recognize that, whenever they are reasoning, they reason to some purpose (element of reasoning). Implicit goals are built into their thought processes. But their reasoning is improved when they are clear (intellectual standard) about that purpose or goal. Similarly, to reason well, they need to know that, consciously or unconsciously, they are using information (element of reasoning) in thinking. But their reasoning improves if and when they make sure that the information they are using is accurate (intellectual standard).

Put another way, when we assess our reasoning, we want to know how well we are reasoning. We do not identify the elements of reasoning for the fun of it. Rather, we assess our reasoning using intellectual standards because we realize the negative consequences of failing to do so. In assessing our reasoning, then, we recommend these intellectual standards as minimal:



These are not the only intellectual standards a person might use. They are simply among those that are most fundamental. In this respect, the elements of thought are more basic, because the eight elements we have identified are universal - present in all reasoning of all subjects in all cultures. On the one hand, one cannot reason with no information about no question from no point of view with no assumptions. On the other hand, there are a wide variety of intellectual standards from which to choose - such as credibility, predictability, feasibility, and completeness - that we don't use routinely in assessing reasoning.

As critical thinkers, then, we think about our thinking with these kinds of questions in mind: Am I being clear? Accurate? Precise? Relevant? Am I thinking logically? Am I dealing with a matter of significance? Is my thinking justifiable in context? Typically, we apply these standards to one or more elements.

Taking a Deeper Look at Universal Intellectual Standards

Thinking critically requires command of fundamental intellectual standards. Critical thinkers routinely ask questions that apply intellectual standards to thinking. The ultimate goal is for these questions to become so spontaneous in thinking that they form a natural part of our inner voice, guiding us to better and better reasoning. In this section, we focus on the standards and questions that apply across the various facets of your life.

Questions that focus on clarity include:

Could you elaborate on that point?

Could you express that point in another way?

Could you give me an illustration?

Could you give me an example?

Let me state in my own words what I think you just said. Tell me if I am clear about your meaning.

Clarity is a gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don't yet know what is being said. For example, the question "What can be done about the education system in America?" is unclear. To adequately address the question, we would need a clearer understanding of what the person asking the question is considering the "problem" to be. A clearer question might be, "What can educators do to ensure that students learn the skills and abilities that help them function successfully on the job and in their daily decision-making?" This question, because of its increased clarity, provides a better guide to thinking. It lays out in a more definitive way the intellectual task at hand.

Questions focusing on making thinking more accurate include:

Is that really true?

How could we check to see if that is accurate?

How could we find out if that is true?

A statement may be clear but not accurate, as in, "Most dogs weigh more than 300 pounds." To be accurate is to represent something in accordance with the way it actually is. People often present or describe things or events in a way that is not in accordance with the way things actually are. People frequently misrepresent or falsely describe things, especially when they have a vested interest in the description. Advertisers often do this to keep a buyer from seeing the weaknesses in a product. If an advertisement states, "Our water is 100% pure" when, in fact, the water contains trace amounts of chemicals such as chlorine and lead, it is inaccurate. If an advertisement says, "this bread contains 100% whole wheat" when the whole wheat has been bleached and enriched and the bread contains many additives, the advertisement is inaccurate.

Good thinkers listen carefully to statements and, when there is reason for skepticism, question whether what they hear is true and accurate. In the same way, they question the extent to which what they read is correct, when asserted as fact. Critical thinking, then, implies a healthy skepticism about public descriptions as to what is and is not fact.

At the same time, because we tend to think from a narrow, self-serving perspective, assessing ideas for accuracy can be difficult. We naturally tend to believe that our thoughts are automatically accurate just because they are ours, and therefore that the thoughts of those who disagree with us are inaccurate. We also fail to question statements that others make that conform to what we already believe, while we tend to question statements that conflict with our views. But as critical thinkers, we force ourselves to accurately assess our own views as well as those of others. We do this even if it means facing deficiencies in our thinking.

In Search of the Facts

One of the most important critical thinking skills is the skill of assessing the accuracy of "factual" claims (someone's assertion that such-and-so is a fact).

In an ad in the New York Times Nov. 29, 1999, p. A15)-->, a coalition of 60 nonprofit organizations accused the World Trade Organization (a coalition of 134 nation states) of operating in secret, undermining democratic institutions and the environment. In the process of doing this, the nonprofit coalition argued that the working class and the poor have not significantly benefited as a result of the last 20 years of rapid expansion of global trade. They alleged, among other things, the following facts:

Using whatever sources you can find www.turnpoint.org ),--> discuss the probable accuracy of the factual claims. For example, visit the the World Trade Organization website ( www.wto.org ). They might challenge some of the facts alleged or advance facts of their own that put the charges of the nonprofit coalition into a different perspective.

Questions focusing on making thinking more precise include:

Could you give me more details?

Could you be more specific?

A statement can be both clear and accurate but not precise, as in "Jack is overweight." (We don't know how overweight Jack is - 1 pound or 500 pounds.) To be precise is to give the details needed for someone to understand exactly what is meant. Some situations don't call for detail. If you ask, "Is there any milk in the refrigerator?" and I answer "Yes," both the question and the answer are probably precise enough for the circumstance (though it might be relevant to specify how much milk is there). Or imagine that you are ill and go to the doctor. He wouldn't say, "Take 1.4876946 antibiotic pills twice per day." This level of specificity, or precision, would be beyond that which is useful in the situation.

In many situations, however, specifics are essential to good thinking. Let's say that your friend is having financial problems and asks you, "What should I do about my situation?" In this case, you want to probe her thinking for specifics. Without the full specifics, you could not help her. You might ask questions such as, "What precisely is the problem? What exactly are the variables that bear on the problem? What are some possible solutions to the problem-in detail?

Questions focusing on relevance include:

How is this idea connected to the question?

How does that bear on the issue?

How does this idea relate to this other idea?

How does your question relate to the issue we are dealing with?

A statement can be clear, accurate, and precise, but not relevant to the question at issue. For example, students often think the amount of effort they put into a course should contribute to raising their grade in the course. Often, however, effort does not measure the quality of student learning and therefore is irrelevant to the grade. Something is relevant when it is directly connected with and bears upon the issue at hand. Something is also relevant when it is pertinent or applicable to a problem we are trying to solve. Irrelevant thinking encourages us to consider what we should set aside. Thinking that is relevant stays on track. People are often irrelevant in their thinking because they lack discipline in thinking. They don't know how to analyze an issue for what truly bears on it. Therefore, they aren't able to effectively think their way through the problems and issues they face.

Questions focusing on depth of thought include:

How does your answer address the complexities in the question?

How are you taking into account the problems in the question?

How are you dealing with the most significant factors in the problem?

We think deeply when we get beneath the surface of an issue or problem, identify the complexities inherent in it, and then deal with those complexities in an intellectually responsible way. Even when we think deeply and deal well with the complexities in a question, we may find the question difficult to address. Still, our thinking will work better for us when we can recognize complicated questions and address each area of complexity in it.

A statement can be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant, but superficial - lacking in depth. Let's say you are asked what should be done about the problem of drug use in America and you answer by saying, "Just say no." This slogan, which was for several years used to discourage children and teens from using drugs, is clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. Nevertheless, it lacks depth because it treats an extremely complex issue superficially - i.e. it hardly addresses the pervasive problem of drug use among people in our culture. It does not address the history of the problem, the politics of the problem, the economics of the problem, the psychology of addiction, and so on.

Questions focusing on making thinking broader include:

Do we need to consider another point of view?

Is there another way to look at this question?

What would this look like from a conservative standpoint?

What would this look like from the point of view of...?

A line of reasoning may be clear, accurate, precise, relevant, and deep, but lack breadth. Examples are arguments from either the conservative or the liberal standpoint that get deeply into an issue but show insight into only one side of the question.

When we consider the issue at hand from every relevant viewpoint, we think in a broad way. When multiple points of view are pertinent to the issue, yet we fail to give due consideration to those perspectives, we think myopically, or narrow-mindedly. We do not try to understand alternative, or opposing, viewpoints.

Humans are frequently guilty of narrow-mindedness for many reasons: limited education, innate socio-centrism, natural selfishness, self-deception, and intellectual arrogance. Points of view that significantly disagree with our own often threaten us. It's much easier to ignore perspectives with which we disagree than to consider them, when we know at some level that to consider them would mean to be forced to reconsider our views.

Let's say, for example, that you like to watch / listen to TV in the bedroom as a way of falling to sleep. But let's say that your spouse has difficulty falling to sleep while the TV is on. The question at issue, then, is "Should you have the TV on in the bedroom while you and your spouse are falling asleep?" It is easy enough to rationalize your "need" to have the TV on every night while falling asleep, by saying such things to your spouse as "It is impossible for me to fall asleep without the TV on. And, after all, I really don't ask that much of you. Besides, you don't seem to have any real problem falling to sleep with the TV on." Yet both your viewpoint and your spouse's are relevant to the question at issue. When you recognize your spouse's viewpoint as relevant, and then intellectually empathize with it - when you enter her / his way of thinking so as to actually understand it - you will be thinking broadly about the issue. You will realize common consideration would require you to come to an agreement that fully takes into account both ways of looking at the situation. But if you don't force yourself to enter her/his viewpoint, you do not have to change your self-serving behavior. One of the primary mechanisms the mind uses to avoid giving up what it wants is unconsciously to refuse to enter viewpoints that differ from its own.

Questions that focus on making thinking more logical include:

Does all of this fit together logically?

Does this really make sense?

Does that follow from what you said?

How does that follow from the evidence?

Before, you implied this, and now you are saying that. I don't see how both can be true.

When we think, we bring together a variety of thoughts in some order. When the combined thoughts are mutually supporting and make sense in combination, the thinking is logical. When the combination is not mutually supporting, is contradictory in some sense, or does not make sense, the combination is not logical. Because humans often maintain conflicting beliefs without being aware that we are doing so, it is not unusual to find inconsistencies in human life and thought.

Let's say we know, by looking at standardized tests of students in schools and the actual work they are able to produce, that for the most part students are deficient in basic academic skills such as reading, writing, speaking, and the core disciplines such as math, science, and history. Despite this evidence, teachers often conclude that there is nothing they can do to change their instruction to improve student learning (and in fact that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the way they teach). Given the evidence, this conclusion seems illogical. The conclusion doesn't seem to follow from the facts.

Let's take another example. Say that you know a person who has had a heart attack, and her doctors have told her she must be careful what she eats. Yet she concludes that what she eats really doesn't matter. Given the evidence, her conclusion is illogical. It doesn't make sense.

Questions that focus on making thinking more significant include:

What is the most significant information we need to address this issue?

How is that fact important in context?

Which of these questions is the most significant?

Which of these ideas or concepts is the most important?

When we reason through issues, we want to concentrate on the most important information (relevant to the issue) in our reasoning and take into account the most important ideas or concepts. Too often we fail in our thinking because we do not recognize that, though many ideas may be relevant to an issue, it does not follow that all are equally important. In a similar way, we often fail to ask the most important questions and are trapped by thinking only in terms of superficial questions, questions of little weight. In college, for example, few students focus on important questions such as, "What does it mean to be an educated person? What do I need to do to become educated?" Instead, students tend to ask questions such as, "What do I need to do to get an "A" in this course? How many pages does this paper have to be? What do I have to do to satisfy this professor?"

In our work, we too often focus on that which is pressing, at the expense of focusing on that which is significant. In our personal lives, we also often focus on the trivial mundane details, rather than the important bigger picture of our lives. Very few people, for example, have seriously thought about questions such as:

What is the most important thing I could do in my life?

What are the most important things I should try to accomplish this week, this month, this year?

How can I help my children become kind, caring, contributing members of society?

How can I best relate to my spouse so that she understands the deep love I feel for her?

How can I keep my mind focused on the things that matter most to me (rather than the unimportant trivial details)?

Questions that focus on ensuring that thinking is fair include:

Is my thinking justified given the evidence?

Am I taking into account the weight of the evidence that others might advance in the situation?

Are these assumptions justified?

Is my purpose fair given the implications of my behavior?

Is the manner in which I am addressing the problem fair - or is my vested interest keeping me from considering the problem from alternative viewpoints?

Am I using concepts justifiably, or am I using them unfairly in other to manipulate someone (and selfishly get what I want)?

When we think through problems, we want to make sure that our thinking is justified. To be justified is to think fairly in context. In other words, it is to think in accord with reason. If you are vigilant in using the other intellectual standards covered thus far in the chapter you will (by implication) satisfy the standard of fairness. We include fairness in its own section because of the powerful nature of self-deception in human thinking. For example, we often deceive ourselves into thinking that we are being fair and justified in our thinking when in fact we are refusing to consider significant relevant information that would cause us to change our view (and therefore not pursue our selfish interest). We often pursue unfair purposes in order to get what we want even if we have to hurt others to get it. We often use concepts in an unjustified way in order to manipulate people. And we often make unjustified assumptions, unsupported by facts, which then lead to faulty inferences.

Let's focus on an example where the problem is unjustified thinking owing to ignoring relevant facts. Let's say, for instance, that Kristi and Abbey share the same office. Kristi is cold natured and Abbey is warm-natured. During the winter, Abbey likes to have the window in the office open while Kristi likes to keep it closed. But Abbey insists that it's "extremely uncomfortable" with the window closed. The information she is using in her reasoning all centers around her own point of view - that she is hot, that she can't work effectively if she's hot, that if Kristi is cold she can wear a sweater. But the fact is that Abbey is not justified in her thinking. She refuses to enter Kristi's point of view, to consider information supporting Kristi's perspective, because to do so would mean that she would have to give something up. She would have to adopt a more reasonable, or fair, point of view.

When we reason to conclusions, we want to check to make sure that the assumptions we are using to come to those conclusions are justifiable given the facts of the situation. For example, all of our prejudices and stereotypes function as assumptions in thinking. And no prejudices and stereotypes are justifiable given their very nature. For example, we often make broad sweeping generalizations such as:

Liberals are soft on crime

Elderly people aren't interested in sex

Young men are only interested in sex

Jocks are cool

Blondes are dumb

Cheerleaders are airheads

Intellectuals are nerds

The problem with assumptions like these is that they cause us to make basic - and often serious - mistakes in thinking. Because they aren't justifiable, they cause us to prejudge situations and people and draw faulty inferences - or conclusions - about them. For example, if we believe that all intellectuals are nerds, whenever we meet an intellectual we will infer that he or she is a nerd (and act unfairly toward the person).

In sum, justifiability, or fairness, is an important standard in thinking because it forces us to see how we are distorting our thinking in order to achieve our self-serving ends (or to see how others are distorting their thinking to achieve selfish ends).

Bringing Together the Elements of Reasoning and the Intellectual Standards

We have considered the elements of reasoning and the importance of being able to take them apart, to analyze them so we can begin to recognize flaws in our thinking. We also have introduced the intellectual standards as tools for assessment. Now let us look at how the intellectual standards are used to assess the elements of reason ( Table 7.1 & Figure 7.1 ).

Figure 7.1. Critical thinkers routinely apply the intellectual standards to the elements of reasoning.

Purpose, goal, or end in view.

Whenever we reason, we do so to some end, to achieve an objective, to satisfy some desire or fulfill a need. One source of problems in human reasoning is traceable to defects at the level of goal, purpose, or end. If the goal is unrealistic, for example, or contradictory to other goals we have, if it is confused or muddled, the reasoning used to achieve it will suffer as a result.

As a developing critical thinker, then, you should get in the habit of explicitly stating the purposes you are trying to accomplish. You should strive to be clear about your purpose in every situation. If you fail to stick to your purpose, you are unlikely to achieve it. Let's say that your purpose in parenting is to help your children develop as life-long learners and contributing members of society. If you keep this purpose clearly in mind and consistently work to achieve it, you are more likely to be successful. But it is easy to lose sight of such an important purpose in the daily life of dealing with children. It is all too easy to get pulled into daily battles over whether a child's room is kept clean, whether they wear clothes considered "appropriate," whether they can get their nose pierced or their stomach tattooed. To achieve your purpose, you must revisit again and again what it is you are trying to accomplish. You must ask yourself on a daily basis questions like, "What have I done today to help my child develop as a rational, caring person?"

As an employee, you can begin to ask questions that improve your ability to focus on purpose in your work. For example: Am I clear as to my purpose - in this meeting, in this project, in dealing with this issue, in this discussion? Can I specify my purpose precisely? Is my purpose a significant one? Realistic? Achievable? Justifiable? Do I have contradictory purposes?

Question at Issue or Problem to Be Solved

Whenever you attempt to reason something through, there is at least one question to answer - one question that emerges from the problem to be solved or issue to resolve. An area of concern in assessing reasoning, therefore, revolves around the very question at issue.

An important part of being able to think well is assessing your ability to formulate a problem in a clear and relevant way. It requires determining whether the question you are addressing is an important one, whether it is answerable, whether you understand the requirements for settling the question, for solving the problem.

As an employee, you can begin to ask yourself questions that improve your ability to focus on the important questions in your work. You begin to ask: What is the most fundamental question at issue (in this meeting, in this project, in this discussion)? What is the question, precisely? Is the question simple or complex? If it is complex, what makes it complex? Am I sticking to the question (in this discussion, in this project I am working on)? Is there more than one important question to be considered here (in this meeting, etc.)?

Point of View, or Frame of Reference

Whenever we reason, we must reason within some point of view or frame of reference. Any "defect" in that point of view or frame of reference is a possible source of problems in the reasoning.

A point of view may be too narrow, may be based on false or misleading information, may contain contradictions, and may be narrow or unfair. Critical thinkers strive to adopt a point of view that is fair to others, even to opposing points of view. They want their point of view to be broad, flexible, and justifiable, to be clearly stated and consistently adhered to. Good thinkers, then, consider alternative points of view as they reason through an issue.

As an employee, you begin to ask yourself questions that improve your ability to focus on point of view in your work. These questions might be: From what point of view am I looking at this issue? Am I so locked into my point of view that I am unable to see the issue from other points of view? Must I consider multiple points of view to reason well through the issue at hand? What is the point of view of my colleague? How is she seeing things differently than I? Which of these perspectives seems more reasonable given the situation?

Information, Data, Experiences

Whenever we reason, there is some "stuff," some phenomena about which we are reasoning. Any "defect," then, in the experiences, data, evidence, or raw material upon which a person's reasoning is based is a possible source of problems.

Those who reason should be assessed on their ability to give evidence that is gathered and reported clearly, fairly, and accurately. Therefore, as a developing thinker, you should assess the information you use to come to conclusions, whether you are reasoning through issues at work or reasoning through a problem in your personal life. You should assess whether the information you are using in reasoning is relevant to the issue at hand and adequate for achieving your purpose. You should assess whether you are taking the information into account consistently or distorting it to fit your own (often self-serving) point of view.

At work, you can begin to ask yourself questions that improve your ability to focus on information in your work. These questions might be: What is the most important information I need to reason well through this issue? Are there alternate information sources I need to consider? How can I check to see if the information I am using is accurate? Am I sure that all of the information I am using is relevant to the issue at hand?

Concepts, Theories, Ideas

All reasoning uses some ideas or concepts and not others. These concepts include the theories, principles, axioms, and rules implicit in our reasoning. Any defect in the concepts or ideas of the reasoning is a possible source of problems in our reasoning.

As an aspiring critical thinker, you begin to focus more deeply on the concepts you use. You begin to assess the extent to which you are clear about those concepts, whether they are relevant to the issue at hand, and whether your principles are inappropriately slanted by your point of view. You begin to direct your attention to how you use concepts, what concepts are most important, and how concepts are intertwined in networks.

As a person interested in developing your mind, you begin to ask questions that improve your ability to focus on the importance of concepts in your life. These questions may include: What is the most fundamental concept I am focused on in this situation? How does this concept connect with other key concepts I need to consider? What are the most important theories I need to consider? Am I clear about the important concepts in this meeting? What questions do I need to ask to get clear about the concepts we are discussing?


All reasoning must begin somewhere. It must take some things for granted. Any defect in the assumptions or presuppositions with which reasoning begins is a possible source of problems in the reasoning.

Assessing skills of reasoning involves assessing our ability to recognize and articulate assumptions, again according to relevant standards. Our assumptions may be clear or unclear, justifiable or unjustifiable, consistent or contradictory.

As a person interested in developing your mind, you begin to ask questions that improve your ability to analyze the assumptions you and others are using. These questions could include: What am I taking for granted? Am I justified in taking this for granted? What are others taking for granted? What is being assumed in this meeting? What is being assumed in this relationship? What is being assumed in this discussion? Are these assumptions justifiable, or should I question them?

Implications and Consequences

Whenever we reason, implications follow from our reasoning. When we make decisions, consequences result from those decisions. As critical thinkers, we want to understand implications whenever and wherever they occur. We want to be able to trace logical consequences. We want to see what our actions are leading to. We want to anticipate possible problems before they arise.

No matter where we stop tracing implications, there always will be further implications. No matter what consequences we do see, there always will be other and further consequences. Any defect in our ability to follow the implications or consequences of our reasoning is a potential source of problems in our thinking. Our ability to reason well, then, is measured in part by our ability to understand and enunciate the implications and consequences of reasoning.

In your work and personal life, you begin to ask yourself questions that improve your ability to focus on the important implications in your thinking and the thinking of others. These questions could include, for example: What are the most important implications of this decision? What are the implications of my doing this versus my doing that? Have we thought through the implications decision in this meeting? Have I thought through the implications of my parenting behavior? Have I thought through the implications of the way I treat my spouse?

All reasoning proceeds by steps in which we reason as follows: "Because this is so, that also is so (or is probably so)" or, "Because this, therefore that." The mind perceives a situation or a set of facts and comes to a conclusion based on those facts. When this step of the mind occurs, an inference is made. Any defect in our ability to make logical inferences is a possible problem in our reasoning. For example, if you see a person sitting on the street corner wearing tattered clothing, a worn bed roll beside him and a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag in his hand, you might infer that he is a bum. This inference is based on the facts you perceive in the situation and of what you assume about them. The inference, however, may or may not be logical in this situation.

Critical thinkers want to become adept at making sound inferences. First, you want to learn to identify when you or someone else has made an inference. What are the key inferences made in this discussion? Upon what are the inferences based? Are they justified? What is the key inference (or conclusion) I made in this meeting? Was it justified? What is the key inference in this way of proceeding, in solving this problem in this way? Is this inference logical? Is this conclusion significant? Is this interpretation justified? These are the kinds of questions you begin to ask.

As a person interested in developing your mind, you should ask questions that improve your ability to spot important inferences wherever they occur. Given the facts of this case, is there more than one logical inference (conclusion, interpretation) one could come to? What are some other logical conclusions that should be considered? From this point on, develop an inference detector, the skill of recognizing the inferences you are making in order to analyze them.

Using Intellectual Standards to Assess Your Thinking: Brief Guidelines

As we have emphasized, all reasoning involves eight elements, each of which has a range of possible mistakes. Here we summarize some of the main "checkpoints" you should use in reasoning (See also Tables 7.2 7.9 ).

Take time to state your purpose clearly.

Choose significant and realistic purposes.

Distinguish your purpose from related purposes.

Make sure your purpose is fair in context (that it doesn't involve violating the rights of others).

Check periodically to be sure you are still focused on your purpose and haven't wandered from your target.

Take time to clearly and precisely state the question at issue.

Express the question in several ways to clarify its meaning and scope.

Break the question into sub-questions (when you can).

Identify the type of question you are dealing with (historical, economic, biological, etc.) and whether the question has one right answer, is a matter of mere opinion, or requires reasoning from more than one point of view.

Think through the complexities of the question (think deeply through the question).

Clearly identify your assumptions and determine whether they are justifiable.

Consider how your assumptions are shaping your point of view.

Clearly identify your point of view.

Seek other relevant points of view and identify their strengths as well as weaknesses.

Strive to be fair-minded in evaluating all points of view.

Restrict your claims to those supported by the data you have.

Search for information that opposes your position as well as information that supports it.

Make sure that all information used is clear, accurate, and relevant to the question at issue.

Make sure you have gathered sufficient information.

Make sure, especially, that you have considered all significant information relevant to the issue.

Clearly identify key concepts.

Consider alternative concepts or alternative definitions for concepts.

Make sure you are using concepts with care and precision.

Use concepts justifiably (not distorting their established meanings).

Infer only what the evidence implies.

Check inferences for their consistency with each other.

Identify assumptions that lead you to your inferences.

Make sure your inferences logically follow from the information.

Trace the logical implications and consequences that follow from your reasoning.

Search for negative as well as positive implications.

Consider all possible significant consequences.

[*] Monological problems are ones for which there are definite correct and incorrect answers and definite procedures for getting those answers. In multilogical problems, there are competing schools of thought to be considered.

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

Critical Thinking

Intellectual Standards

Critical Thinking - Standards of Thought - Part 2 - By Richard Paul

Universal intellectual standards are standards which must be applied to thinking whenever one is interested in checking the quality of reasoning about a problem, issue, or situation.

There are intellectual standards that critical users use to assess whether the logic in our mind mirrors the logic of the thing to be understood.  by linda elder and richard paul &  the foundation for critical thinking.

examples of critical thinking standards

Critical Thinking Intellectual Standards: Thinking About My Thinking

Clarity                  to what extent is my point easily understood by myself and others  , accuracy             to what extent is my information at hand true or correct without distortion  , precision             to what extent is my information exact and specific to the necessary level of detail  , relevance          to what extent does my information and input relate to the issue at hand  , depth                  to what extent am i engaging with the complexities of the issue  , breadth               to what extent am i considering the issue at hand within the necessary contexts  , logic                   to what extent do my conclusions follow from the evidence  , significance        to what extent can i identify and focus on the most important aspects of the issue  , fairness               to what extent am i able to avoid privileging my own biases, from  the foundation for critical thinking, part 2 - dr. richard paul defines the universal standards with which thinking may be "taken apart" evaluated and assessed. excerpted from the socratic questioning video series. (9:55).

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Ideas to Action (i2a)

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them. (Paul and Elder, 2001). The Paul-Elder framework has three components:

Graphic Representation of Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework

According to Paul and Elder (1997), there are two essential dimensions of thinking that students need to master in order to learn how to upgrade their thinking. They need to be able to identify the "parts" of their thinking, and they need to be able to assess their use of these parts of thinking.

Elements of Thought (reasoning)

The "parts" or elements of thinking are as follows:

Universal Intellectual Standards

The intellectual standards that are to these elements are used to determine the quality of reasoning. Good critical thinking requires having a command of these standards. According to Paul and Elder (1997 ,2006), the ultimate goal is for the standards of reasoning to become infused in all thinking so as to become the guide to better and better reasoning. The intellectual standards include:

Intellectual Traits

Consistent application of the standards of thinking to the elements of thinking result in the development of intellectual traits of:

Characteristics of a Well-Cultivated Critical Thinker

Habitual utilization of the intellectual traits produce a well-cultivated critical thinker who is able to:

Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2010). The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Dillon Beach: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.

Copyright © 2012 - University of Louisville , Delphi Center


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