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Office of Assessment

Defining Critical Thinking

American Philosophical Association (1990)

“The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit.”

Roberts H. Ennis, University of Illinois, UC (2002)

Dispositions – Ideal critical thinkers are disposed to:
  1. Care that their beliefs be true, and that their decisions be justified; that is, care to “get it right” to the 
         extent possible.
  2. Care to present a position honestly and clearly, theirs as well as others’.
  3. Care about the dignity and worth of every person (a correlative disposition).
Abilities – Ideal critical thinkers have the ability to:
  1. Focus on a question.
  2. Analyze arguments.
  3. Ask and answer questions of clarification and/or challenge.
  4. Judge the credibility of a source.
  5. Observe, and judge observation reports.
  6. Deduce, and judge deduction.
  7. Induce, and judge induction.
  8. Make and judge value definitions.
  9. Define terms and judge definitions.
  10. Attribute unstated assumptions.
  11. Consider and reason from premises, reasons, assumptions, positions, and other propositions with which they disagree or about which they are in doubt – without letting the disagreement or doubt interfere with their thinking.
  12. Integrate the other abilities and dispositions in making and defending a decision. (and “auxiliary” critical thinking abilities)
  13. Proceed in an orderly manner appropriate to the situation.
  14. Be sensitive to the feelings, level of knowledge, and degree of sophistication of others.
  15. Employ appropriate rhetorical strategies in discussion and presentation (orally and in writing), including employing and reacting to “fallacy” labels in an appropriate manner.


The Critical Thinking Community (www.criticalthinking.org/aboutCT/definingCT.cfm)

“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.”
“Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.  It presupposed assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use.  It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”