Critical Thinking as an Educational Ideal

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Critical thinking arrives at a judgment on a question by looking back in a reasonable way at the relevant evidence; it is “reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do” (Ennis). Its key component skills are those of clarifying meaning, analyzing arguments, evaluating evidence, judging whether a conclusion follows, and drawing warranted conclusions. An ideal “critical thinker” is open-minded and fair-minded, searches for evidence, tries to be well-informed, is attentive to others’ views and their reasons, proportions belief to the evidence, and is willing to consider alternatives and revise beliefs. The process of thinking critically involves problem identification and analysis, clarification of meaning, gathering the evidence, assessing the evidence, inferring conclusions, considering other relevant information, and making an overall judgment. Critical thinking differs from the logical appraisal of arguments in extending beyond a single argument, having a creative component, and involving critical assessment of evidence. Any educational system should aim to teach the knowledge, develop the skills, and foster the attitudes and dispositions of a critical thinker: someone who thinks critically when it is appropriate to do so, and who does so well. It can do so either by infusion in subject-matter courses or through a stand-alone course. Each method has advantages and disadvantages; a combination is theoretically better, but hard to achieve. In a stand-alone course, one should adapt to one’s situation, communicate the course goals, motivate one’s students, use a checklist as a course framework, foster a critical spirit, prefer depth to breadth, use bridging, take advantage of salient issues, use real or realistic examples, pick one’s examples with care, give students lots of guided practice with feedback, check for understanding, encourage meta-cognition, think about context, watch for empty use of technical terms, and design multiple-choice items carefully if one uses them.




Hitchcock, D. (2017). Critical Thinking as an Educational Ideal. In Argumentation Library (Vol. 30, pp. 477–497). Springer Nature.

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