A General Look at Critical Thinking

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The statement “Critical thinking is the art of thinking about thinking while thinking to make thinking better” (paul & elder, 2012) defines exactly the purpose of critical thinking and if we look carefully we can identify all the three elements of framework for critical thinking. In order to be a good critical thinker, you have to go through the three different aspects of framework for critical thinking. The three components are ‘The Standards’, ‘The Elements’, and the ‘Intellectual Traits’. ‘The Standards’ must be applied to ‘The Elements’, and from ‘The Elements’ we develop to the ‘Intellectual Traits’. These three aspects are then again divided into more areas in which are all influenced with Paul and Elder’s statement (2012).

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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: Clarity, which is the gateway standard, this is the meaning can be understood. So, for example the questions in ‘The Elements’ need to be sharp. Here you have to ask questions such as ‘Could you give an example?’, ‘Is this what you mean?’ or ‘Did I understand you correctly?’. These help you find the correct thought in your thinking.

Another one is Accuracy, this means it has to be true and correct with no mistakes or opinions in the statement. In Accuracy one need to question ‘How could we find out if it is true?’, ‘Is the statement an opinion?’ or ‘Is it really true?’. As these questions help us eliminate any insufficient answers.

Then there is Precision, there shouldn’t be any assumptions but only the exact declaration. During Precision in order to think about thinking to make it better one need to ask, ‘Could you be more exact and to the point?’ and also ‘Could you furnish more details?’. Then one should be accurate on the concepts applied to, found in ‘The Elements’.

Relevance is also part of ‘The Standards’, in which it is related to the material at hand. Any irrelevant thoguhts are dissolves your thinking. Great queries to come up with are, ‘How does this relate to the problem?’, ‘How does this help with the issue?’ or even ‘Is this idea connected to another?’. So, one could benefit to search for the right solution.

Depth, that contains complexities and multiple interrelationships which gets beneath the surface and identify complexities. One could dig deep into the implications applied to in ‘The Elements’. But, to dig deep one should ask, ‘What are the complexities of this issue?’, ‘What are the difficulties we need to address?’ and ‘What are the complexities which need to be clear?’. After the we report any difficulties then we could develop critical thinking.

We also have Breath, as it encompasses multiple and opposite viewpoints. So, by questions like, ‘Are we missing out another perspective?’, and ‘Do we need to look at the issue in another way?’ or even ‘Is it the only possible angle that we can consider?’, we could find different types of answers and choose the best.

Then there is Logic, when the parts make sense together and there are no contradictions. As we come up with thoughts we need to see if they are valid and connected, so we have to ask, ‘Does all this fit together?’, ‘Is it coherent?’ and ‘Is it consequential?’.

Significance is focusing on the important and not on the trivial. This helps to abstract the important information from the rest. Some important questions here are, ‘What bearing does this point has to the issue?’, ‘Am I seeing the bigger picture?’, and ‘Is every point significant?’.

The last but not least is Fairness, as this is justifiable, not self-serving, and not one sided. One need to take other considerations as they can even be better than yours. We need to ask, ‘Am I considering what others might think?’, ‘Am I representing the viewpoints of others?’ and ‘Are the assumptions justified?’.

‘The Standards’ are important for critical thinking as they are applied to ‘The Elements’. So, ‘The Elements’ don’t work without ‘The Standards’. These skills help us to think critically better and identify the best options. 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. The ‘parts’ or elements of thinking are as follows: All reasoning has a Purpose, in which it helps to reason well, you must clearly understand your purpose, and your purpose must be fairminded. Here we need to ask, ‘What different purposes do I have in mind?’, ‘Am I going off into different directions?’, and ‘What is the significance of the purpose?’. Then this could be developed to ‘Confidence in Reason’.

All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some question, to solve some problem. Now, to settle a question, it must be answerable, and you must be clear about it and understand what is needed to answer it adequately. Then to answer well one needs to ask, ‘What am I trying to answer?’, ‘Am I focusing on trivial parts?’ and ‘What important issues are embedded?’

All reasoning is done from some point of view. One must identify those points of view relevant to the issue and enter these viewpoints empathetically and in good faith. Some of the critical questions are, ‘Is my approach too narrow?’, ‘Am I thinking broadly enough?’ and ‘Is my viewpoint based on emotion?’

All reasoning is based on data, information and evidence. Here you need to ask, ‘Are my sources sound?’, ‘Is the information relevant?’, and ‘Have I left out any information?’, because the data you are working on needs to be efficient.

All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, concepts and ideas. ‘What is the main idea?’, ‘What are the main concepts?’ and ‘What is the main hypothesis?’ are valid questions.

All reasoning is based on assumptions, but the assumptions need to be valid and not opinion. So, we needs to ask, ‘What is being assumed?’, ‘Are the assumptions clear?’ and ‘Can I fully justify the assumptions?’

All reasoning leads somewhere or has implications and consequences. To reason well through an issue, you must think through the implications that follow from your reasoning. You must think through the consequences likely to follow form the decisions you make. We need to ask, ‘What are the variables that control the consequences?’ and ‘Are the variables clear?’

All reasoning contains inferences or interpretations by which we draw conclusions and give meaning to data. The questions asked need to be, ‘Does the interpretation make sense?’, ‘Does the solution follow?’, and ‘How shall I interpret the data?’

After the elements are applied by the standards, then we move on the develop the intellectual traits from the elements. Consistent application of the standards of thinking to the elements of thinking result in the development of intellectual traits which make up a fairminded thinker. Now the intellectual traits are: Intellectual Humility which opposes Intellectual arrogance. There is consiousness of the limits of one’s knowledge. You need to be aware that egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively and Aware of one’s biases, prejudices, limitations.

Intellectual courage against Intellectual cowardice. Is facing and fairly addressing ideas, beliefs or viewpoints even when they are painful. Also, examing beliefs towards which one has strong negative emotions.

Intellectual empathy contrasting Intellectual self-centredness. Where you need to Put oneself in the place of others. Genuinely understand others, understand their thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Intellectual integrity the contrary of Intellectual hypocrisy. As Striving to be true to one’s own disciplined thinking. Whilst holding onself to the same standards one expects from others.

Intellectual perseverance opposing Intellectual laziness. We have conscious of the need to use intellectual insights and truths in spite of difficulties, obstacles and frustrations. Which does not give up in the face of complexities.

Confidence in reason against Distrust of reason and evidence. Where one’s own higher interest and those of humankind are best served by giving freest play to reason. People can learn to think for themselves, and form insightful viewpoints; draw conclusions. Think clearly, accurately, relevantly and logically; persuade each other by appeal to good reason and sound evidence.

Intellectual autonomy contrasting Intellectual conformity. Thinking for oneself while having rational control of one’s belief, values and inferences. Thinking through and using one’s own thinking rather than uncritically accepting the viewpoints of others.

We also have Fairmindedness which according to Paul and Elder (2012) “Entails the predisposition to consider all relevant viewpoints equally, without reference to one’s own feelings or selfish interests, or the feelings or selfish interests of one’s friends, community or nation. It implies adherence to intellectual standards (such as accuracy, sound logic, and breath of vision), uninfluenced by one’s own advantage or the advantage of one’s group.

After all these steps are done one’s thinking will be better. Now, as to be a strong critical thinker one also has to be ethical, empathize with others, willing to listen to argument they do not uphold, ready to change their viewpoint, and use thinking in a responsible manner. At the end we will be able to be good critical thinkers. Then the Habitual utilization of the intellectual traits produce a well-cultivated fairminded critical thinker who is able to raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely; Gather and assess relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively; Come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards; Think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and communicate effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Works Cited

  1. Paul, R. and Eder, L. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. (2010). Dillon Beach: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.
  2. Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework – University of Louisville Ideas to Action. (2019). Retrieved from
  3. The Elements of Reasoning and the Intellectual Sta. (2019). Retrieved from 

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