• Juan-Carlos Duran, PhD

A Definition of Critical Thinking

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is a process which leads the thinker to a clear, concise, rational and unbiased conclusion through introspection, thorough examination and clear evaluation.

Contrary to our own opinions, our thinking is not as clear as we make it out to be. In fact, it’s muddier than we realize (Paul, R. , n.d.). Filled with bias, partiality and distorted information, we judge and reach conclusions based primarily on either false or poorly defined premises. We then base our opinions on these premises.

The Thinking Process

But how do we make our thinking process more clear? Richard Paul, of The Critical Thinking Community offers some steps. In order for one to proceed with a thorough critical thinking process one must:

  • raise vital questions

  • formulate thoughts clearly

  • assess relevant information

  • come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions

  • test these against relevant criteria and standards

  • be open minded and accept alternative systems of thought

  • recognize and assess assumptions, implications, and practical consequences

  • communicate effectively throughout the process, conclusions and solutions

Critical thinking, therefore, takes introspection, depth and a lot more time. It’s certainly not the easy way out - which is why most of us avoid the process altogether. After all, we humans are perfectly content with shortcuts. And it is our widespread use of shortcuts in our critical thinking that became one of the points of reflection this week for me.

Critical Thinking Takes Us Out of Our Comfort Zone

Critical thinking requires accepting the possibilities that one might be wrong; that one’s beliefs may be challenged; and

our final conclusions may not be the desired outcome. Vulnerability to being wrong or seeing and accepting a different point of view can create discomfort.  Critical thinking, then, is subject to being a painful process for us.  And following the critical thinking process entirely is, frankly, a lot more work. No wonder we tend to avoid it.

Will Critical Thought Erode in the Digital Age?

I also found myself thinking about what’s going to happen to our critical thinking as digital technology speeds ahead.

While digital technology is making access to information easier to obtain, it has also filled the web with an incredible amount of information that will only continue growing in volume every day.  When researching, do we really read all that’s available on the web as the subject of our inquiry? Or do we selectively choose what we will read and digest? And if we selectively choose, what are our criteria for choosing our sources? Are these criteria based on critical thinking premises? Will we able to properly follow a critical thinking process amidst a continual barrage of information - some which is misguided?

Taking Control

We need to realize that critical thinking can actually improve, not only our intellect, but also our overall lives. Thus, we can combat the vulnerability of doing the unfamiliar and of taking shortcuts. Critical thinking is to the mind what physical activity is to the body; a vehicle with a mission to reshape and improve. Our everyday habits of thought lead us to, in the words of Richard Paul, being “our own worst enemy.” (Paul, R., n.d.) By not thinking critically we often lead ourselves into bad decisions, bad relationships, bad jobs and then we ask ourselves “why?” Critical thinking helps us see more clearly. It is unbiased. It is logical from beginning to end.

Applying these principles should be a commitment not just for the scholar but for each person as well.


Baldwin, A. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2013, from

Paul, R. (n.d.). Our Concept and Definition of Critical Thinking. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from

QualiaSoup. (2009, December 24). QualiaSoup: Critical Thinking Video. Retrieved April 13, 2013, from