Careers & Education

What is critical thinking?

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thinking cap
A critical thinker is almost always wearing his figurative thinking cap.
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If you are lazy, incurious and undisciplined, you are not a critical thinker.

Critical thinking means that an individual puts some actual thought, effort and analysis into the process of thinking and does not take information at face value. Critical thinking is a thought process during which information is evaluated, as well as the process used to make the correct conclusion in an effort to guide one's behavior.

Critical thinking includes fairness, accuracy, logic, depth, intellectual clarity and credibility. In other words, if you are a critical thinker, you do not automatically accept the information that you are given. You take it, look at it from different angles, mull it over, turn it inside out, consider extenuating circumstances, mitigating factors and ponder all facets and possibilities before coming to a conclusion. 

If you are a critical thinker, you ask questions, using alternative thought systems, assessing as you go along, recognizing implications, consequences and assumptions and you are able to communicate so that others can join in figuring out solutions to problems that are complex.

A critical thinker is by nature more open-minded than someone who accepts what she is told and never questions, doubts or challenges the information. A person who is talented in critical thinking is curious and wants to know more and discover how to solve problems creatively. The individual who thinks critically examines beliefs, assumptions and opinions and weighs them against the facts. When the person does not have enough information or understanding to come to a logical conclusion or decision he is not hesitant to say so. A critical thinker is someone who is self-disciplined, self monitored and self-directed and is not afraid to ask questions, fearing that he will appear dumb.


When engaging in critical thinking, you learn to apply, synthesize, analyze, evaluate and conceptualize information that you have observed, experienced, gathered or that has been communicated or generated. Everything is turned inside out and upside down before you come to a conclusion. It is possible to teach critical thinking skills by encouraging analysis of problems, and exploring solutions, rather than just memorizing answers to questions.

Your conclusion should be based on relevance, evidence, breadth, depth, precision, clarity, accuracy good reasoning and fairness.

Critical thinking can be used to exploit and take advantage of if it is used for selfish reasons. For example, if an individual is masterful at deceit and manipulating he is probably very adroit at using critical thinking to get his way. Of course, his reasoning is typically flawed intellectually although that does not matter if he gets others to buy into it. If the others are not critical thinkers they will never know, until it is too late, that they have been conned. 

A critical thinker is nothing if not disciplined intellectually because this type of thinking takes time and requires examination of concepts, assumptions, reasons that lead to conclusions, empirical grounding, different viewpoints and frames of references. The ideal jury would be a group of critical thinkers.

Critical thinking includes historical thinking, scientific thinking, economic thinking, philosophical thinking, moral thinking and mathematical thinking.

No one is a critical thinker all of the time. We are all susceptible to periods of complete subjectivity and cannot be objective. If you strive to become a critical thinker, most of the time, you are going to have to work at it.

Critical thinking requires that you consider the topics at hand in a thoughtful manner, make reasonable and logical inquiries and persistently examine beliefs and knowledge. As a critical thinker you can find workable solutions to problems and you must be able to use language clearly and accurately as well as be able to interpret information and evaluate what you hear in order to come up with a conclusion or decision that is just and warranted.

If you are lazy or disinterested in getting to the root cause of something then you are not a critical thinker. If you are inherently incurious then you will not become a critical thinker. If you are not comfortable, or interested, in rocking the boat or challenging long-held theories, rules, concepts and laws, then you are not critical thinker material.

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