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Glossary: Guide to Critical Thinking Terms and Concepts


Free from errors, mistakes, or distortion. Correct connotes little more than absence of error; accurate implies a positive exercise of one to obtain conformity with fact or truth; exact stresses perfect conformity to fact, truth, or some standard; precise suggests minute accuracy of detail. Accuracy is an important goal in critical thinking, though it is almost always a matter of degree. It is also important to recognize that making mistakes is an essential part of learning.

See also [perfections of thought]


A sentence, concept, or thought having two or more possible meanings. Sensitivity to ambiguity and vagueness in writing and speech is essential to good thinking. A continual effort to be clear and precise in language usage is fundamental to skilled thinking. Ambiguity is a problem more of sentences than of individual words. Many sentences are clearly intended one way; any other construal is obviously absurd and not meant. For example, the phrase "make me a sandwich" is never seriously intended to request metamorphic change. For an example of a problematic ambiguity, consider the statement, "Welfare is corrupt." Among the possible meanings of this sentence are the following: 1) Those who administer welfare programs take bribes to administer welfare policy unfairly; 2) welfare policies are written in such a way that much of the money goes to people who don't deserve it rather than to those who do; 3) a government that gives money to people who haven't earned it corrupts both the giver and the recipient. If two people are arguing about whether or not welfare is corrupt, but interpret the claim differently, they can make little or no progress; they aren't arguing about the same point. Evidence and considerations relevant to one interpretation may be irrelevant to others. Therefore, before taking a position on an issue or arguing a point, it is essential to be clear about the issue at hand.

See also [clarify]


To break up a whole into its parts, to examine in detail so as to determine the nature of, to look more deeply into, an issue or situation. All learning presupposes some analysis of what we are learning, if only by categorizing or labeling things in one way rather than another.

See also [elements of thought]


There are two meanings of this word that need to be distinguished: 1) to engage in a quarrel, bicker; and 2) to persuade by giving reasons. As developing critical thinkers, we strive to move from the first sense of the word to the second; that is, we try to focus on giving reasons to support our views without becoming egocentrically involved in the discussion. This is a fundamental problem in human life. To argue in the critical thinking sense is to use logic and reason, and to bring forth facts to support or refute a point. It is done in a spirit of cooperation and good will.


A reason or reasons offered for or against something, the offering of such reasons. This term refers to a discussion in which there is disagreement and suggests the use of logic and bringing forth of facts to support or refute a point.

See also [argue]

to assume:

To take for granted or to presuppose. Critical thinkers can and do make their assumptions explicit, assess them, and correct them. Assumptions can vary from the mundane to the problematic: I heard a scratch at the door. I got up to let the cat in. I assumed that only the cat makes that noise, and that he makes it only when he wants to be let in. Someone speaks gruffly to me. I feel guilty and hurt. I assume he is angry at me, that he is only angry at me when I do something bad, and that if he's angry at me, he dislikes me. Notice that people often equate making assumptions with making false assumptions. When people say, "Don't assume," this is what they mean. In fact, we cannot avoid making assumptions and some are justifiable. (For instance, we have assumed that people who buy this resource can read English.) Rather than saying "Never assume," we say, "Be aware of and careful about the assumptions you make, and be ready to examine and critique them."

See also [assumption]
See also [elements of thought]


A statement accepted or supposed as true without proof or demonstration; an unstated premise or belief. All human thought and experience is based on assumptions. Our thought must begin with something we take to be true in a particular context. We are typically unaware of what we assume and therefore rarely question our assumptions. In other words, most of our assumptions are unconscious. They operate in our thinking without our knowing it. Much of what is wrong with human thought can be found in the uncritical or unexamined assumptions that underlie it. All of our prejudices, biases, and preconceived generalizations lie in the form of assumptions. We often experience the world in such a way as to assume that we are observing things just as they are, as though we were seeing the world without the filter of a point of view. People we disagree with, of course, we recognize as having a point of view. One of the key dispositions of critical thinking is the on-going sense that as humans we always think within a perspective, that we virtually never experience things totally and absolutistically. There is a connection, therefore, between thinking so as to be aware of our assumptions and being intellectually humble.

By "reasoning based on assumptions" we mean "whatever we take for granted as true" in order to figure something else out. Thus, if you infer that since a candidate is a Republican, he or she will support a balanced budget, you assume that all Republicans support a balanced budget. If you infer that foreign leaders presented in the news as "enemies" or "friends" are in fact enemies or friends, you assume that the news is always accurate in its presentation of the character of foreign leaders. If you infer that someone who invites you to their apartment after a party "to continue this interested conversation" is really interested in you romantically or sexually, you assume that the only reason for going to someone's apartment late at night after a party is to pursue a romantic or sexual relationship. All reasoning has some basis in assumptions we make (but usually do not express openly).


1) The power or supposed right to give commands, enforce obedience, take action, or make final decisions. 2) A person with much knowledge and expertise in a field, and therefore reliable. Critical thinkers recognize that ultimate authority rests with reason and evidence, since it is only on the assumption that purported experts have the backing of reason and evidence that they rightfully gain authority. Much instruction in school and many social and business practices discourage critical thinking by encouraging persons to believe that whatever the "authority" says is true. As a result, most peole do not learn how to assess authority.

See also [knowledge]


1) A mental leaning or inclination. 2) Partiality, prejudice. We must clearly distinguish two different senses of the word "bias." One is neutral, the other negative. In the neutral sense, we are referring simply to the fact that, because of one's point of view, one notices some things rather than others, emphasizes some points rather than others, and thinks in one direction rather than others. This is not in itself a criticism, because thinking within a point of view is unavoidable. In the negative sense, we are implying blindness or irrational resistance to weaknesses within one's own point of view or to the strength or insight within a point of view one opposes. Fair-minded critical thinkers try to be aware of their bias (in sense one) and try hard to avoid bias (in sense two). Many people confuse these two senses. Many confuse bias with emotion or with evaluation, perceiving any expression of emotion or any use of evaluative words to be biased (sense two). Evaluative words that can be justified by reason and evidence are not biased in the negative sense.


To make easier to understand, to free from confusion or ambiguity, to remove obscurities. Clarity is a fundamental perfection of thought and clarification a fundamental aim in critical thinking. The key to clarification is the ability to state, elaborate, illustrate, and exemplify the ideas we express.


An idea or thought, especially a generalized idea of a thing or of a class of things. Humans think within concepts or ideas. We can never achieve command over our thoughts unless we learn how to achieve command over our concepts or ideas. Thus, we must learn how to identify the concepts or ideas we are using, contrast them with alternative concepts or ideas, and clarify what we include and exclude by means of them. In this resource, the concepts of "critical thinking" and "uncritical thinking" are very important ideas. Everything written can be classified as an attempt to explain one or the other of these two ideas. Of course, each of these ideas is explained, in turn, by means of other ideas. Thus, the concept of "thinking critically" is explained by reference to yet other concepts like "intellectual standards for thought." Each discipline develops its own set of concepts or technical vocabulary to facilitate its thinking. All sports develop a vocabulary of concepts that enable persons to make sense of it if they are trying to understand or master the game. One cannot understand ethics without a clear concept of justice, kindness, cruelty, rights, and obligations.

People are often unclear about the concepts they are using. For example, most people say they believe strongly in democracy, but few can clarify with examples what that word does and does not imply. Most people confuse the meaning of words with cultural associations, with the result that "democracy" means to people whatever we do in running our government - any country that is different from ours is undemocratic. We must distinguish the concepts implicit in the English language from the psychological associations surrounding that concept in a given social group or culture. The failure to develop this ability is a major cause of uncritical thought and selfish critical thought.


To decide by reasoning, to infer, to deduce; the last step in a reasoning process; a judgment, decision, or belief formed after investigation or reasoning. All beliefs, decisions, or actions are based on human thought, but seldom as the result of conscious reasoning or deliberation. All that we believe is, one way or another, based on conclusions that we have come to during our lifetime. Thus, by "coming to conclusions" we mean taking something that we believe we know and figuring out something else on the basis of it. When we do this, we make inferences. For example, if you walk right by me without saying hello, I might come to the conclusion (make the inference) that you were angry with me. If the water kettle on the stove began to whistle, I would come to the conclusion (make the inference) that the water in it had started to boil. In everyday life, we are continually making inferences (coming to conclusions) about the people, things, places, and events of our lives. Yet, we rarely monitor our thought processes, we don't critically assess the conclusions we come to, to determine whether we have sufficient grounds or reasons for accepting them. People seldom recognize when they have come to a conclusion. They confuse their conclusions with evidence, and so cannot assess the reasoning that took them from evidence to conclusion. Recognizing that human life is inferential, that we continually come to conclusions about ourselves and the things and persons around us, is essential to thinking critically and reflectively.


To think, act, or speak in agreement with what has already been thought, done, or expressed; to have intellectual or moral integrity. Human life and thought is filled with inconsistency, hypocrisy, and contradiction. We often say one thing and do another, judge ourselves and our friends by one standard and our antagonists by another, lean over backward to justify what we want or negate what does not serve our interests. Similarly, we often confuse desires with needs, treating our desires as equivalent to needs, putting what we want above the basic needs of others. Logical and moral consistency are fundamental values of fair-minded critical thinking. Social conditioning and native egocentrism often obscure social contradictions, inconsistency, and hypocrisy.


To assert the opposite of; to be contrary to, go against; a statement in opposition to another; a condition in which things tend to be contrary to each other; inconsistency; discrepancy; a person or thing containing or composed of contradictory elements.

criterion (criteria, pl):

A standard, rule, or test by which something can be judged or measured. Human life, thought, and action are based on human values. The standards by which we determine whether those values are achieved in any situation represent criteria. Critical thinking depends upon making explicit the standards or criteria for rational or justifiable thinking and behavior.

See also [evaluation]

critical listening:

A mode of monitoring how we are listening so as to maximize our accurate understanding of what another person is saying. By understanding the logic of human communication - that everything spoken expresses point of view, uses some ideas and not others, has implications, etc. - critical thinkers can listen so as to enter sympathetically and analytically into the perspective of others. See critical speaking

See also [critical reading]
See also [critical writing]
See also [elements of thought]
See also [intellectual empathy]

critical person:

One who has mastered a range of intellectual skills and abilities. If that person generally uses those skills to advance his or her own selfish interests, that person is a critical thinker only in a weak or qualified sense. If that person generally uses those skills fair-mindedly, entering empathically into the points of view of others, he or she is a critical thinker in the strong or fullest sense.

See also [critical thinking]

critical reading:

Critical reading is an active, intellectually engaged process in which the reader participates in an inner dialogue with the writer. Most people read uncritically and so miss some part of what is expressed while distorting other parts. A critical reader realizes the way in which reading, by its very nature, means entering into a point of view other than our own, the point of view of the writer. A critical reader actively looks for assumptions, key concepts and ideas, reasons and justifications, supporting examples, parallel experiences, implications and consequences, and any other structural features of the written text, to interpret and assess it accurately and fairly. A critical reader does not evaluate a written piece until s/he accurately understands the viewpoint of the author.

See also [elements of thought]

critical society:

A society that rewards adherence to the values of critical thinking and hence does not use indoctrination and inculcation as basic modes of learning. Instead, it rewards reflective questioning, intellectual independence, and reasoned dissent. Socrates is not the only thinker to imagine a society in which independent critical thought became embodied in the concrete day-to-day lives of individuals; William Graham Sumner, North America's distinguished anthropologist, explicitly formulated the ideal:

The critical habit of thought, if usual in a society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators and are never deceived by dithyrambic oratory. They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, uninfluenced by the emphasis or confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens (Folkways, 1906).

Until critical habits of thought pervade our society, however, there will be a tendency for schools as social institutions to transmit the prevailing world view more or less uncritically, to transmit it as reality, not as a picture of reality. Education for critical thinking, then, requires that the school or classroom become a microcosm of a critical society.

critical thinking:

1) Disciplined, self-directed thinking that exemplifies the perfections of thinking appropriate to a particular mode or domain of thinking. 2) Thinking that displays mastery of intellectual skills and abilities. 3) The art of thinking about your thinking while you are thinking in order to make your thinking better: more clear, more accurate, or more defensible. 4) Thinking that is fully aware of and continually guards against the natural human tendency to self-deceive and rationalize in order to selfishly get what it wants. Critical thinking can be distinguished into two forms: "selfish" or "sophistic," on the one hand, and "fair-minded," on the other. In thinking critically, we use our command of the elements of thinking and the universal intellectual standards to adjust our thinking successfully to the logical demands of a type or mode of thinking.

critical writing:

To express ourselves in language requires that we arrange our ideas in some relationships to each other. When accuracy and truth are at issue, then we must understand what our thesis is, how we can support it, how we can elaborate it to make it intelligible to others, what objections can be raised to it from other points of view, what the limitations are to our point of view, and so forth. Disciplined writing requires disciplined thinking; disciplined thinking is achieved through disciplined writing.


An objective judging, analysis, or evaluation of something. The purpose of critique is the same as the purpose of critical thinking: to appreciate strengths as well as weaknesses, virtues as well as failings. Critical thinkers critique in order to redesign, remodel, and make better.

cultural association:

Undisciplined thinking often reflects associations, personal and cultural, absorbed or uncritically formed. If a person who treated me cruelly as a child had a particular tone of voice, I may find myself disliking a person with the same tone of voice. Media advertising juxtaposes and joins logically unrelated things to influence our buying habits. Raised in a particular country or within a particular group within it, we form any number of mental links that, if they remain unexamined, unduly influence our thinking.

cultural assumption:

Un-assessed (often implicit) belief adopted by virtue of upbringing in a society. Raised in a society, we unconsciously take on its point of view, values, beliefs, and practices. At the root of each of these are many kinds of assumptions. Not knowing that we perceive, conceive, think, and experience within assumptions we have taken in, we take ourselves to be perceiving "things as they are," not "things as they appear from a cultural vantage point." Becoming aware of our cultural assumptions so that we might critically examine them is a crucial dimension of critical thinking. It is, however, a dimension almost totally absent from schooling. Lip service to this ideal is common enough; a realistic emphasis is virtually unheard of.

See also [ethnocentricity]
See also [prejudice]
See also [social contradiction]


Facts, figures, or information from which conclusions can be inferred, or upon which interpretations or theories can be based. As critical thinkers, we must make certain to distinguish hard data from the inferences or conclusions we draw from them.

dialectical thinking:

Dialogical thinking (thinking within more than one perspective) conducted to test the strengths and weaknesses of opposing points of view. (Court trials and debates are, in a sense, dialectical.) When thinking dialectically, reasoners pit two or more opposing points of view in competition with each other, developing each by providing support, raising objections, countering those objections, raising further objections, and so on. Dialectical thinking or discussion can be conducted so as to "win" by defeating the positions one disagrees with - using critical insight to support one's own view and point out flaws in other views (associated with critical thinking in the restricted or weak sense), or fair-mindedly, by conceding points that don't stand up to critique, trying to integrate or incorporate strong points found in other views, and using critical insight to develop a fuller and more accurate view (associated with critical thinking in the fuller or strong sense).

See also [multilogical problems]

domains of thought:

Thinking can be oriented or structured with different issues or purposes in view. Thinking varies in accordance with purpose and issue. Critical thinkers learn to discipline their thinking to take into account the nature of the issue or domain. We see this most clearly when we consider the difference between issues and thinking within different academic disciplines or subject areas. Hence, mathematical thinking is quite different from, say, historical thinking. Mathematics and history, we can say then, represent different domains of thought.

See also [the logic of questions]

dominating ego:

The irrational tendency of the mind to seek what it wants through the irrational use of direct control or power over people. Dominating tendencies are an inherent part of one form of egocentric thinking. This form of thinking seeks to gain advantage by irrationally wielding power over another. It is contrasted with submissive egocentric thinking in which one irrationally seeks to gain some end by submitting to a person with power. Domination may be overt or covert. On the one hand, dominating egocentrism can involve harsh, dictatorial, tyrannical, or bullying behavior (e.g., a physically abusive husband). On the other hand, it might involve subtle messages and behavior that imply the use of control or force if "necessary" (e.g., a supervisor reminding a subordinate, by quiet innuendo, that his employment is contingent upon unquestioning loyalty to the organization). Human irrational behavior is always some combination of dominating and submissive acts. No one's irrational acts are exclusively one or the other. In the "ideal" of a Fascist society, for example, everyone, but the dictator, is submissive to everyone above him and dominating to everyone below him.

See also [submissive ego]


A tendency to view everything in relationship to oneself; to confuse immediate perception (how things seem) with reality; the tendency to be self-centered, or to consider only oneself and one's own interests; selfishness. One's desires, values, and beliefs (seeming to be self-evidently correct or superior to those of others) are often uncritically used as the norm of all judgment and experience. Egocentricity is one of the fundamental impediments to critical thinking. As one learns to think critically in a strong sense, one learns to become more rational, and less egocentric See sociocentrism.

See also [human nature]
See also [strong sense critical thinker]
See also [ethnocentrism]
See also [personal contradiction]

elements of thought:

All thought has a universal set of elements, each of which can be monitored for possible problems. They are: purpose, question, point of view, assumptions, inferences, implications, concepts, and information. When we understand the elements of thought, we have a powerful set of tools for analyzing our thinking. We can ask questions such as: Are we clear about our purpose or goal? about the problem or question at issue? about our point of view or frame of reference? about our assumptions? about the claims we are making? about the reasons or evidence upon which we are basing our claims? about our inferences and line of reasoning? about the implications and consequences that follow from our reasoning? Critical thinkers develop skills of identifying and assessing these elements in their thinking and in the thinking of others.


A feeling aroused to the point of awareness, often a strong feeling or state of excitement. It is important to understand that our emotions are integrally related to our thoughts and desires. These three mental structures - thoughts, feelings, and desires - are continually influencing one another in reciprocal ways. We experiences negative feelings for example, when we think things are not going well for us. Moreover, at any given moment, our thoughts, feelings and desires are under the influence either of our rational faculties or our native irrational tendencies. When our thinking is irrational, or egocentric, irrational feeling states emerge. When this happens, we are excited by (what is at base) infantile anger, fear, jealousy, etc., and our objectivity and fair-mindedness decrease. Critical thinkers strive to recognize when dysfunctional thinking is leading to inappropriate or unproductive feeling states. They use their rational passions (which includes, for example, the passion to be fair) to reason themselves into feelings appropriate to the situation as it really is, rather than egocentrically reacting to distorted views of reality. Thus, emotions and feelings are not in themselves irrational; they are irrational only when they arise from egocentric thoughts. Strong sense critical thinkers are committed to living a life in which rational emotions predominate and egocentric feelings reduced to a minimum.

See also [rational passions]
See also [intellectual virtues]


Relying or based on experiment, observation, or experience rather than on theory or meaning. It is important to continually distinguish considerations based on experiment, observation, or experience from those based on the meaning of a word or concept or the implications of a theory. Uncritical thinkers often distort facts or experience in order to preserve a preconceived meaning or theory. For example, an uncritical conservative may distort the facts that support a liberal perspective to prevent empirical evidence from counting against a theory of the world that he or she holds rigidly. Uncritical liberals, of course, return the favor by a parallel distortion of facts that support a conservative perspective. Indeed, within all perspectives and belief systems many will distort the facts rather than admit to a weakness in their favorite theory or belief.

See also [data]
See also [fact]
See also [evidence]

empirical implication:

That which follows from a situation or fact, not due to the logic of language, but from experience or scientific law. The redness of the coil on the stove empirically implies a dangerous level of heat.

ethical reasoning:

Thinking through ethical problems and issues. Despite popular beliefs to the contrary, ethical reasoning is to be analyzed and assessed in the same way than any other domain of reasoning is. Ethical reasoning involves the same elements and is to be assessed by the same standards of clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, and significance. Ethical thinking, when reasonable, is ultimately driven by ethical concepts (for example, fairness) and principles (for example, "Like ethical cases must be treated in a like manner") as well as sound principles of critical thought. Understanding ethical principles is as important to sound ethical reasoning as understanding principles of math and biology are to mathematical and biological reasoning. Ethical principles are guides for human conduct and imply what contributes to good or harm and/or what one is either obligated to do or obligated not to do. They enable us to determine the ethical value of a behavior even when that behavior is not strictly speaking, an obligation. Ethical questions, like questions in any domain of thought, can either be questions with a clear-cut answer, or questions with competing reasonable answers, matters about which we must strive to exercise our best judgment. They are never matters of personal preference. It makes no sense to say, "Oh, you prefer to be fair. Well, I prefer to be unfair!"


A tendency to view one's own race or culture as privileged, based on the deep-seated belief that one's own group is superior to all others. Ethnocentrism is a form of egocentrism extended from the self to the group. Much uncritical or selfish critical thinking is either egocentric or ethnocentric in nature. ('Ethnocentrism' and 'socio-centrism' are used synonymously, for the most part, though 'socio-centricity' is broader, relating to any social group, including, for example, socio-centricity regarding one's profession.) The "cure" for ethnocentrism or socio-centrism is empathic thought (thinking within the perspective of opposing groups and cultures). Such empathic thought is rarely cultivated. Instead, many give mere lip service to tolerance, but always privileging the beliefs, norms, and practices of their own culture. Critical thinkers are aware of the sociocentric nature of virtually all human groups, and resist the pressure of "group think" that emerges from "in-group" thinking. They realize that universal ethical standards supercede group expectations and demands where questions of an ethical nature are at issue. They do not assume that the groups to which they belong to be inherently superior to other groups. Instead, they attempt to accurately critique every group, seeking to determine its strengths and weaknesses. Their loyalty to a country is critically based on the principles and ideals of the country and is not based on uncritical loyalty to person, party, or national traditions.


To judge or determine the worth or quality of. Evaluation has a logic and should be carefully distinguished from mere subjective preference. The elements of its logic may be put in the form of questions that may be asked whenever an evaluation is to be carried out: 1) Do we clearly understand what we are evaluating? 2) Are we clear about our purpose? Is our purpose legitimate? 3) Given our purpose, what are the relevant criteria or standards for evaluation? 4) Do we have sufficient information about that which we are evaluating? Is that information relevant to the purpose? 5) Have we applied our criteria accurately and fairly to the facts as we know them? Uncritical thinkers often treat evaluation as mere preference or treat their evaluative judgments as direct observations not admitting of error.


The data on which a judgment or conclusion might be based or by which proof or probability might be established. Critical thinkers distinguish the evidence or raw data upon which they base their interpretations or conclusions from the inferences and assumptions that connect data to conclusions. Uncritical thinkers treat their conclusions as something given to them in experience, as something they directly observe in the world. As a result, they find it difficult to see why anyone might disagree with their conclusions. After all, the truth of their views is, they believe, right there for everyone to see! Such people find it difficult or even impossible to describe the evidence or experience without confusing that description with their interpretation.


Stated openly and directly; distinctly expressed; definite. The term "explicit" is applied to that which is so clearly stated or distinctly set forth that there is no doubt as to its meaning. What is explicit is often exact and precise, suggesting that which is made unmistakably clear. Critical thinkers strive to make what is implicit in their thinking explicit when that practice enables us to assess the thinking. They realize that problems in thinking often occur when thinking is unclear, vague, or ambiguous.


What actually happened, what is true; verifiable by empirical means; distinguished from interpretation, inference, judgment, or conclusion; the raw data. There is a range of distinct senses of the word "factual." For example, sometimes it means simply "true" as opposed to "claimed to be true"; or "empirical" as opposed to conceptual or evaluative. Sometimes it means "that which can be verified or disproved by observation or empirical study." People often confuse these two senses, even to the point of accepting as true, statements which merely "seem factual," for example, the scientific sounding claim "29.23% of Americans suffer from depression." Purported facts should be assessed for their accuracy, completeness, and relevance to the issue. Sources of purported facts should be assessed for their qualifications, track record, and impartiality.

See also [intellectual humility]
See also [knowledge]


Treating both or all sides alike without reference to one's own feelings or interests; just implies adherence to a standard of rightness or lawfulness without reference to one's own inclinations; impartial and unbiased both imply freedom from prejudice for or against any side; dispassionate implies the absence of passion or strong emotion, hence, connotes disinterested judgment; objective implies a viewing of persons or things without reference to oneself, one's interests, etc.


A cultivated disposition of mind that enables the thinker to treat all perspectives relevant to an issue in an objective manner. It implies having a consciousness of the need to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one's own feelings or selfish interests, or the feelings or selfish interests of one's friend's, community, or nation. It implies adherence to intellectual standards without reference to one's own advantage or the advantage of one's group.


1) Blind belief that does not require proof or evidence. 2) Complete confidence, trust, or reliance. A critical thinker does not accept faith in the first sense, "blind" faith, for every belief is reached on the basis of some thinking, which may therefore be assessed. Critical thinkers have faith or confidence in reason, but this confidence is not "blind." In other words, they recognize that "reason" and "reasonability" have proved their worth in the acquisition of knowledge. Ask yourself, what would it be not to have faith in "evidence," not to have faith in "accuracy," or "relevance?"


An error in reasoning; flaw or defect in argument; an argument that doesn't conform to rules of good reasoning (especially one that appears to be sound); containing or based on a fallacy; deceptive in appearance or meaning; misleading; delusive.

human nature:

The common qualities of all human beings. People have both a primary and a secondary nature. Our primary nature is spontaneous, egocentric, and strongly prone to irrational belief formation. It is the basis for our instinctual thought. People need no training to believe what they want to believe: what serves their immediate interests, what preserves their sense of personal comfort and righteousness, what minimizes their sense of inconsistency, and what presupposes their own correctness. People need no special training to believe what those around them believe: what their parents and friends believe, what is taught to them by religious and school authorities, what is repeated often by the media, and what is commonly believed in the nation in which they are raised. People need no training to think that those who disagree with them are wrong and probably prejudiced. People need no training to assume that their own most fundamental beliefs are self-evidently true or easily justified by evidence. People naturally and spontaneously identify with their own beliefs. They experience most disagreements as personal attacks. The resulting defensiveness interferes with their capacity to empathize with or enter into other points of view.

On the other hand, people need extensive and systematic practice to develop their secondary nature, their implicit capacity to function as rational persons. They need extensive and systematic practice to recognize the tendencies they have to form irrational beliefs. They need extensive practice to develop a dislike of inconsistency, a love of clarity, a passion to seek reasons and evidence and to be fair to points of view other than their own. People need extensive practice to recognize that they indeed have a point of view, that they live inferentially, that they do not have a direct pipeline to reality, that it is perfectly possible to have an overwhelming inner sense of the correctness of one's views and still be wrong.

See also [intellectual virtues]

idea (concept, category):

Anything existing in the mind as an object of knowledge or thought; concept refers to generalized idea of a class of objects, based on knowledge of particular instances of the class. Critical thinkers are aware of the ideas (or concepts) they are using in their thinking. They recognize that all disciplines are driven by key concepts. They recognize that all thinking presupposes concepts in use. They seek to identify irrational ideas. They seek to use words (expressive of ideas) in keeping with educated usage.

See also [clarify]
See also [concept]
See also [logic]
See also [logic of language]


A claim or truth that follows from other claims or truths. By the "implications of reasoning," we mean "that which follows" from our thinking. It means that to which our thinking is leading us. If you say to someone that you "love" them, you imply that you are concerned with their welfare. If you make a promise, you imply that you intend to keep it. If you call a country a "democracy," you imply that the political power is in the hands of the people at large (as against in the hands of a powerful minority). If you call yourself a "feminist," you imply that you are in favor of the political, social, and economic equality of the sexes. We often test the credibility of a person by seeing if they are true to the implications of their own words. "Say what you mean and mean what you say" is a basic principle of critical thinking (and of personal integrity as well, for that matter).

One of the most important skills of critical thinking is the ability to distinguish between what is actually implied by a statement or situation from what may be carelessly inferred by people. Critical thinkers try to monitor their inferences to keep them in line with what is actually implied by what they know. When speaking, critical thinkers try to use words that imply only what they can legitimately justify. They recognize that there are established word usages which generate established implications.

See also [clarify]
See also [precision]
See also [logic of language]
See also [critical listening]
See also [critical reading]
See also [elements of thought]


An inference is a step of the mind, an intellectual act by which one concludes that something is so in light of something else's being so, or seeming to be so. If you come at me with a knife in your hand, I would probably infer that you mean to cause me harm. Inferences can be accurate or inaccurate, logical or illogical, justified or unjustified. Inferences are based upon assumptions.

See also [imply/implication]


Statements, statistics, data, facts, diagrams, etc. that are gathered in any way, as by reading, observation, hearsay, etc. Information itself does not imply validity or accuracy. By "using information in our reasoning," we mean using some set of "facts, data, or experiences" to support our conclusions. In other words, whenever someone is reasoning, it makes sense to ask, "What facts or information are you basing your reasoning on?" The "informational" basis for reasoning is always important and often crucial. For example, in deciding whether to support capital punishment it would be important to know whether or not it deters those who contemplate murder. Each of the following statements represent "information" that one might present to support the position that capital punishment is unjustified:

"Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme court in 1976, for every 7 prisoners who were executed, one prisoner awaiting execution was found to be innocent and released."

"At least 381 homicide convictions have been overturned since 1963 because prosecutors concealed evidence of innocence or presented evidence they knew to be false."

"A study by the U.S. General Accounting Office found racial prejudice in death sentencing...: killers of whites were proportionally more likely to be executed than were killers of blacks."

"Since 1984, 34 mentally retarded people have been executed."[1]

[1] Moratorium Now, New York Times, November 22, 1999

It is, of course, a separate question as to whether the information presented here is accurate, and we should recognize that the "other" side would present information as well.


The ability to see clearly and deeply understand the inner nature of things. Instruction for critical thinking fosters insight rather than mere performance; it cultivates the achievement of deeper knowledge and understanding through insight. Thinking one's way into and through a subject leads to insights as one synthesizes what one is learning, relating one subject to other subjects and all subjects to personal experience.

intellectual autonomy:

Having rational control of ones beliefs, values, and inferences. The ideal of critical thinking is to learn to think for oneself, to gain command over one's thought processes. Intellectual autonomy does not entail willfulness, stubbornness, or rebellion. It entails a commitment to analyzing and evaluating beliefs on the basis of reason and evidence, to question when it is rational to question, to believe when it is rational to believe, and to conform when it is rational to conform.

See also [know]
See also [knowledge]

intellectual civility:

A commitment to take others seriously as thinkers, to treat them as intellectual equals, to grant respect and full attention to their views - a commitment to persuade rather than browbeat. It is distinguished from intellectual rudeness: verbally attacking others, dismissing them, or stereotyping their views. Intellectual civility is not a matter of mere courtesy, but arises from a sense that communication itself requires honoring others' views and their capacity to reason.

(intellectual) confidence or faith in reason:

Confidence that in the long run one's own higher interests and those of humankind at large will best be served by giving the freest play to reason - by encouraging people to come to their own conclusions through a process of developing their own rational faculties; faith that (with proper encouragement and cultivation) people can learn to think for themselves, form rational viewpoints, draw reasonable conclusions, think coherently and logically, persuade each other by reason, and become reasonable, despite the deep-seated obstacles in the native character of the human mind and in society. Confidence in reason is developed through experiences in which one reasons one's way to insight, solves problems through reason, uses reason to persuade, and is persuaded by reason. Confidence in reason is undermined when one is expected to perform tasks without understanding why, to repeat statements without having verified or justified them, or to accept beliefs on the sole basis of authority or social pressure.

intellectual courage:

The willingness to face and fairly assess ideas, beliefs, or viewpoints to which we have not given a serious hearing, regardless of our strong negative reactions to them. This courage arises from the recognition that ideas considered dangerous or absurd are sometimes rationally justified (in whole or in part), and that conclusions or beliefs espoused by those around us or inculcated in us are sometimes false or misleading. To determine for ourselves which is which, we must not passively and uncritically "accept" what we have "learned." Intellectual courage comes into play here, because inevitably we will come to see some truth in some ideas considered dangerous and absurd and some distortion or falsity in some ideas strongly held in our social group. It takes courage to be true to our own thinking in such circumstances. Examining cherished beliefs is difficult, and the penalties for non-conformity are often severe.

intellectual curiosity:

A strong desire to deeply understand, to figure things out, to propose and assess useful and plausible hypotheses and explanations, to learn, to find out. People do not learn well, do not gain knowledge, unless they want knowledge - deep, accurate, complete understanding. When people lack passion for figuring things out (suffer from intellectual apathy), they tend to settle for an incomplete, incoherent, sketchy "sense" of things incompatible with a critically developed, richer, fuller conception. This trait can flourish only when it is allowed and encouraged, when people are allowed to pose and pursue questions of interest to them and when their intellectual curiosity pays off in increasing understanding.

intellectual empathy:

Understanding the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others to genuinely understand them. We must recognize our egocentric tendency to identify truth with our immediate perceptions or longstanding beliefs. Intellectual empathy correlates with the ability to accurately reconstruct the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than our own. This trait also requires that we remember occasions when we were wrong, despite an intense conviction that we were right, and consider that we might be similarly deceived in a case at hand.

intellectual humility:

Awareness of the limits of one's knowledge, including sensitivity to circumstances in which one's native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias and prejudice in, and limitations of one's viewpoint. Intellectual humility is based on the recognition that no one should claim more than he or she actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the strengths or weaknesses of the logical foundations of one's beliefs.

intellectual integrity:

Recognition of the need to be true to one's own thinking, to be consistent in the intellectual standards one applies, to hold oneself to the same rigorous standards of evidence and proof to which one holds one's antagonists, to practice what one advocates for others, and to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one's own thought and action. This trait develops best in a supportive atmosphere in which people feel secure and free enough to honestly acknowledge their inconsistencies, and can develop and share realistic ways of ameliorating them. It requires honest acknowledgment of the difficulties of achieving greater consistency.

intellectually disciplined:

The trait of thinking in accordance with intellectual standards, intellectual rigor, carefulness, order, and conscious control. The undisciplined thinker cannot recognize when he or she comes to unwarranted conclusions, confuses ideas, fails to consider pertinent evidence, and so on. Thus, intellectual discipline is at the very heart of becoming a critical person. It takes discipline of mind to keep oneself focused on the intellectual task at hand, to locate and carefully assess needed evidence, to systematically analyze and address questions and problems, to hold one's thinking to intellectual standards such as clarity, precision, completeness, consistency, etc. Such discipline is achieved slowly, bit by bit, and only through deep commitment.

intellectual perseverance:

Willingness and consciousness of the need to pursue intellectual insights and truths despite difficulties, obstacles, and frustrations; firm adherence to rational principles despite irrational opposition of others; a sense of the need to struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended period of time in order to achieve deeper understanding or insight.

intellectual responsibility:

The responsible person keenly feels the obligation to fulfill his or her duties; intellectual responsibility is the application of this trait to intellectual matters. Hence, the intellectually responsible person feels strongly obliged to achieve a high degree of precision and accuracy in his or her reasoning, is deeply committed to gathering complete, relevant, adequate evidence, etc. This sense of obligation arises when people recognize the need for meeting the intellectual standards required by rational, fairminded thought.

intellectual sense of justice:

Willingness and consciousness of the need to entertain all viewpoints sympathetically and to assess them with the same intellectual standards, without reference to one's own feelings or vested interests, or the feelings or vested interests of one's friends, community, or nation; implies adherence to intellectual standards without reference to one's own advantage or the advantage of one's group.

intellectual standards:

The term "standard" applies to some measure, principle, model, etc. with which things of the same class are compared in order to determine their quality or value. Intellectual standards are concepts and principles by which reasoning should be judged in order to determine its quality or value. Because their contextualized application generates the specific criteria by which reasoning is assessed, intellectual standards are fundamental to critical thinking. Critical thinkers are able to take their thinking apart (focusing on the elements of reasoning) and assess the parts of thinking based on intellectual standards. The most important intellectual standards for thinking include clarity, accuracy, relevance, precision, breadth, depth, logic, significance, consistency, fairness, completeness, plausibility, probability, and reliability.

intellectual virtues:

The traits of mind and intellectual character traits necessary for right action and thinking; the traits essential for fair-mindedness. They distinguish the narrow-minded, self-serving critical thinker from the open-minded, truth-seeking critical thinker. Intellectual traits are interdependent. Each develops simultaneously in conjunction with the others. They cannot be imposed from without; they must be developed from within. The intellectual virtues include: intellectual sense of justice, intellectual perseverance, intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, intellectual courage, (intellectual) confidence in reason, and intellectual autonomy.


To give one's own conception of, to place in the context of one's own experience, perspective, point of view, or philosophy. Interpretations should be distinguished from the facts, the evidence, and the situation. (I may interpret someone's silence as an expression of hostility toward me. Such an interpretation may or may not be correct. I may have projected my patterns of motivation and behavior onto that person, or I may have accurately noticed this pattern in the other.) The best interpretations take the most evidence into account. Critical thinkers recognize their interpretations, distinguish them from evidence, consider alternative interpretations, and reconsider their interpretations in the light of new evidence. All learning involves personal interpretation, since whatever we learn we must integrate into our own thinking and action. What we learn must be given a meaning by us, must be meaningful to us, and hence involves interpretive acts on our part. Didactic instruction, in attempting to directly implant knowledge in students' minds, typically ignores the role of personal interpretation in learning.


The direct knowing or learning of something without the conscious use of reasoning. We sometimes seem to know or learn things without recognizing how we came to that knowledge. When this occurs, we experience an inner sense that what we believe is true. The problem is that sometimes we are correct (and have genuinely experienced an intuition) and sometimes we are incorrect (having fallen victim to one of our prejudices). A critical thinker does not blindly accept what he or she thinks or believes but cannot prove as true. A critical thinker realizes how easily we confuse intuitions and prejudices. Critical thinkers may follow their inner sense that something is so, but only with a healthy sense of intellectual humility.

There is a second sense of "intuition" that is important for critical thinking, and that is the meaning suggested in the following sentence: "To develop your critical thinking abilities, it is important to develop your critical thinking intuitions." This sense of the word is connected to the fact that we can learn concepts at various levels of depth. If we learn nothing more than an abstract definition for a word and do not learn how to apply it effectively in a wide variety of situations, one might say that we end up with no intuitive basis for applying it. We lack the insight into how, when, and why it applies. We develop critical thinking intuitions when we gain the practical insights necessary for a ready and swift application of concepts to cases in a large array of circumstances. We want critical thinking to be "intuitive" to us, ready and available for immediate translation into their everyday thought and experience.


1) Lacking the power to reason. 2) Contrary to reason or logic. 3) Senseless, absurd. Uncritical thinkers are those who have failed to develop the ability or power to reason well. Their beliefs and practices, then, are often contrary to what is reasonable, sensible, and logical, and are sometimes blatantly absurd. The terms can be applied to persons, acts, emotions, policies, laws, social practices, belief systems, even whole societies... to virtually any human construct.

See also [reason]
See also [rationality]
See also [logic]

irrational learning:

All rational learning presupposes rational assent. And, though we sometimes forget it, not all learning is automatically or even commonly rational. Much that we learn in everyday life is quite distinctively irrational. It is quite possible - and indeed the bulk of human learning is unfortunately of this character - to come to believe any number of things without knowing how or why. It is quite possible, in other words, to believe for irrational reasons: because those around us believe, because we are rewarded for believing, because we are afraid to disbelieve, because our vested interest is served by belief, because we are more comfortable with belief, or because we have ego identified ourselves, our image, or our personal being with belief. In all of these cases, our beliefs are without rational grounding, without good reason and evidence, without the foundation a rational person demands. We become rational, on the other hand, to the extent that our beliefs and actions are grounded in good reasons and evidence; to the extent that we recognize and critique our own irrationality; to the extent that we are not moved by bad reasons and a multiplicity of irrational motives, fears, and desires; to the extent that we have cultivated a passion for clarity, accuracy, and fair-mindedness. These global skills, passions, and dispositions, integrated into behavior and thought, characterize the rational, the educated, and the critical person. See higher and didactic instruction.

See also [lower order learning]
See also [knowledge]


1) The act of judging or deciding. 2) Understanding and good sense. A person has good judgment when he or she typically judges and decides on the basis of understanding and good sense. Whenever we form a belief or opinion, make a decision, or act, we do so on the basis of implicit or explicit judgments. All thought presupposes making judgments concerning what is so and what is not so, what is true and what is not. To cultivate people's ability to think critically is to foster their judgment, to help them develop the habit of judging on the basis of reason, evidence, logic, and good sense. Good judgment is developed, not by merely learning about principles of good judgment, but by frequent practice judging and assessing judgments.


The act of showing a belief, opinion, action, or policy to be in accord with reason and evidence, to be ethically acceptable, or both. Education should foster reasonability in students. This requires that both teachers and students develop the disposition to ask for and give justifications for beliefs, opinions, actions, and policies. Asking for a justification should not, then, be viewed as an insult or attack, but rather as a normal act of a rational person.


To have a clear perception or understanding of, to be sure of, to have a firm mental grasp of; information applies to data that are gathered in any way, as by reading, observation, hearsay, etc. and does not necessarily connote validity; knowledge applies to any body of facts gathered by study, observation, etc. and to the ideas inferred from these facts, and connotes an understanding of what is known. Critical thinkers need to distinguish knowledge from opinion and belief.

See also [knowledge]


The act of having a clear and justifiable grasp of what is so or of how to do something. Knowledge is based on understanding or skill, which in turn are based on thought, study, and experience. "Thoughtless knowledge" is a contradiction. "Blind knowledge" is a contradiction. "Unjustifiable knowledge" is a contradiction. Knowledge implies justifiable belief or skilled action. Hence, when students blindly memorize and are tested for recall, they are not being tested for knowledge. Knowledge is continually confused with recall in present-day schooling. This confusion is a deep-seated impediment to the integration of critical thinking into schooling. Genuine knowledge is inseparable from thinking minds. We often wrongly talk of knowledge as though it could be divorced from thinking, as though it could be gathered up by one person and given to another in the form of a collection of sentences to remember. When we talk in this way, we forget that knowledge, by its very nature, depends on thought. Knowledge is produced by thought, analyzed by thought, comprehended by thought, organized, evaluated, maintained, and transformed by thought. Knowledge can be acquired only through thought. Knowledge exists, properly speaking, only in minds that have comprehended and justified it through thought. Knowledge is not to be confused with belief nor with the symbolic representation of belief. Humans easily and frequently believe things that are false or believe things to be true without knowing them to be so. A book contains knowledge only in a derivative sense, only because minds can thoughtfully read it and through that process gain knowledge.


1) Correct reasoning or the study of correct reasoning and its foundations. 2) The relationships between propositions (supports, assumes, implies, contradicts, counts against, is relevant to...). 3) The system of principles, concepts, and assumptions that underlie any discipline, activity, or practice. 4) The set of rational considerations that bear upon the truth or justification of any belief or set of beliefs. 5) The set of rational considerations that bear upon the settlement of any question or set of questions. The word "logic" covers a range of related concerns all bearing upon the question of rational justification and explanation. All human thought and behavior is to some extent based on logic rather than instinct. Humans try to figure things out using ideas, meanings, and thought. Such intellectual behavior inevitably involves "logic" or considerations of a logical sort: some sense of what is relevant and irrelevant, of what supports and what counts against a belief, of what we should and should not assume, of what we should and should not claim, of what we do and do not know, of what is and is not implied, of what does and does not contradict, of what we should or should not do or believe. Concepts have a logic in that we can investigate the conditions under which they do and do not apply, of what is relevant or irrelevant to them, of what they do or don't imply, etc. Questions have a logic in that we can investigate the conditions under which they can be settled. Disciplines have a logic in that they have purposes and a set of logical structures that bear upon those purposes: assumptions, concepts, issues, data, theories, claims, implications, consequences, etc. The concept of logic is a seminal notion in critical thinking. Unfortunately, it takes a considerable length of time before most people become comfortable with its multiple uses. In part, this is owing to people's failure to monitor their own thinking in keeping with the standards of reason and logic. This is not to deny, of course, that logic is involved in all human thinking. It is rather to say that the logic we use is often implicit, unexpressed, and sometimes contradictory. See higher-.

See also [knowledge]
See also [lower-order learning]
See also [the logic of a discipline]
See also [the logic of language]
See also [the logic of questions]

the logic of a discipline:

The notion that every technical term has logical relationships with other technical terms, that some terms are logically more basic than others, and that every discipline relies on concepts, assumptions, and theories, makes claims, gives reasons and evidence, avoids contradictions and inconsistencies, has implications and consequences, etc. Though all students study disciplines, most are ignorant of the logic of the disciplines they study. This severely limits their ability to grasp the discipline as a whole, to think independently within it, to compare and contrast it with other disciplines, and to apply it outside the context of academic assignments. Typically now, students do not look for seminal terms as they study an area. They do not strive to translate technical terms into analogies and ordinary words they understand or distinguish technical from ordinary uses of terms. They do not look for the basic assumptions of the disciplines they study. Indeed, on the whole, they do not know what assumptions are nor why it is important to examine them. What they have in their heads exists like so many BB's in a bag. Whether one thought supports or follows from another, whether one thought elaborates another, exemplifies, presupposes, or contradicts another, are matters students have not learned to think about. They have not learned to use thought to understand thought, which is another way of saying that they have not learned how to use thought to gain knowledge. Instruction for critical thinking cultivates the students' ability to make explicit the logic of what they study. This emphasis gives depth and breath to study and learning. It lies at the heart of the differences between lower-order and higher-order learning.

See also [knowledge]

the logic of language:

For a language to exist and be learnable by persons from a variety of cultures, it is necessary that words have definite uses and defined concepts that transcend particular cultures. The English language, for example, is learned by many peoples of the world unfamiliar with English or North American cultures. Critical thinkers must learn to use their native language with precision, in keeping with educated usage. Unfortunately, many do not understand the significant relationship between precision in language usage and precision in thought. Consider, for example, how most students relate to their native language. If one questions them about the meanings of words, their account is typically incoherent. They often say that people have their own meanings for all the words they use, not noticing that, were this true, we could not understand each other. People speak and write in vague sentences because they have no rational criteria for choosing words - they simply write whatever words pop into their heads. They do not realize that every language has a highly refined logic one must learn in order to express oneself precisely. They do not realize that even words similar in meaning typically have different implications. Consider, for example, the words explain, expound, explicate, elucidate, interpret, and construe. Explain implies the process of making clear and intelligible something not understood or known. Expound implies a systematic and thorough explanation, often by an expert. Explicate implies a scholarly analysis developed in detail. Elucidate implies a shedding of light upon by clear and specific illustration or explanation. Interpret implies the bringing out of meanings not immediately apparent. Construe implies a particular interpretation of something whose meaning is ambiguous.

See also [clarify]
See also [concept]

the logic of questions:

The range of rational considerations that bear upon the settlement of a given question or group of questions. A critical thinker is adept at analyzing questions to determine what, precisely, a question asks and how to go about rationally settling it. A critical thinker recognizes that different kinds of questions often call for different modes of thinking, different kinds of considerations, and different procedures and techniques. Uncritical thinkers often confuse distinct questions and use considerations irrelevant to an issue while ignoring relevant ones.

lower-order learning:

Learning by rote memorization, association, and drill. There are a variety of forms of lower-order learning in schools that we can identify by understanding the relative lack of logic informing them. Paradigmatically, lower-order learning is learning by sheer association or rote. Hence, students come to think of history class, for example, as a place where you hear names, dates, places, events, and outcomes; where you try to remember them and state them on tests. Math comes to be thought of as numbers, symbols, and formulas - mysterious things you mechanically manipulate as the teacher told you in order to get the right answer.

Literature is often thought of as uninteresting stories to remember along with what the teacher said is important about them. Consequently, students leave with a jumble of undigested fragments, scraps left over after they have forgotten most of what they stored in their short-term memories for tests. Virtually never do they grasp the logic of what they learn. Rarely do they relate what they learn to their own experience or critique each by means of the other. Rarely do they try to test what they learn in everyday life. Rarely do they ask "Why is this so? How does this relate to what I already know? How does this relate to what I am learning in other classes?" To put the point in a nutshell, very few students think of what they are learning as worthy of being arranged logically in their minds or have the slightest idea of how to do so.

monological (one-dimensional) problems:

Problems that can be solved by reasoning exclusively within one point of view or frame of reference. For example, consider the following problems: 1) Ten full crates of walnuts weigh 410 pounds, whereas an empty crate weighs 10 pounds. How much do the walnuts alone weigh? and 2) In how many days of the week does the third letter of the day's name immediately follow the first letter of the day's name in the alphabet? We call these problems and the means by which they are solved "monological." They are settled within one frame of reference with a definite set of logical moves. When the right set of moves is performed, the problem is settled. The answer or solution proposed can be shown by standards implicit in the frame of reference to be the "right" answer or solution. Most important human problems are multilogical rather than monological, non-atomic problems inextricably joined to other problems, with some conceptual messiness to them and very often with important values lurking in the background. When the problems have an empirical dimension, that dimension tends to have a controversial scope. In multilogical problems, it is often arguable how some facts should be considered and interpreted, and how their significance should be determined. When they have a conceptual dimension, there tend to be arguably different ways to pin the concepts down. Though life presents us with predominantly multilogical problems, schooling today over-emphasizes monological problems. Worse, and more frequently, present instructional practices treat multilogical problems as though they were monological. The posing of multilogical problems, and their consideration from multiple points of view, play an important role in the cultivation of critical thinking and higher-order learning.

monological (one-dimensional) thinking:

Thinking that is conducted exclusively within one point of view or frame of reference: figuring out how much this $67.49 pair of shoes with a 25% discount will cost me; learning what signing this contract obliges me to do; finding out when Kennedy was elected President. A person can think monologically whether or not the question is genuinely monological. (For example, if one considers the question, "Who caused the Civil War?" only from a Northerner's perspective, one is thinking monologically about a multilogical question.) The strong sense critical thinker avoids monological thinking when the question is multilogical. Moreover, higher-order learning requires multilogical thought, even when the problem is monological (for example, learning a concept in chemistry), since students must explore and assess their original beliefs to develop insight into new ideas.

multilogical (multi-dimensional) problems:

Problems that can be analyzed and approached from more than one, often from conflicting, points of view or frames of reference. For example, many ecological problems have a variety of dimensions to them: historical, social, economic, biological, chemical, moral, political, etc. A person comfortable thinking through multilogical problems is comfortable thinking within multiple perspectives, in engaging in dialogical and dialectical thinking, in practicing intellectual empathy, in thinking across disciplines and domains.

See also [monological problems]
See also [the logic of questions]
See also [the logic of disciplines]
See also [intellectual empathy]

multilogical thinking:

Thinking that sympathetically enters, considers, and reasons within multiple points of view. See dialogical instruction

See also [multilogical problems]
See also [dialectical thinking]

national bias:

Prejudice in favor of one's country, it's beliefs, traditions, practices, image, and world view; a form of sociocentrism or ethnocentrism. It is natural, if not inevitable, for people to be favorably disposed toward the beliefs, traditions, practices, and world view within which they were raised. Unfortunately, this favorable inclination commonly becomes a form of prejudice: a more or less rigid, irrational ego-identification that significantly distorts one's view of one's own nation and the world at large. It is manifested in a tendency to mindlessly take the side of one's own government, to uncritically accept governmental accounts of the nature of disputes with other nations, to uncritically exaggerate the virtues of one's own nation while playing down the virtues of "enemy" nations. National bias is reflected in the press and media coverage of every nation of the world. Events are included or excluded according to what appears significant within the dominant world view of the nation, and are shaped into stories to validate that view. Though constructed to fit into a particular view of the world, the stories in the news are presented as neutral, objective accounts, and uncritically accepted as such because people tend to uncritically assume that their own view of things is the way things really are. To become responsible critically thinking citizens and fair-minded people, students must practice identifying national bias in the news and in their texts, and to broaden their perspective beyond that of uncritical nationalism. See sociocentrism, dialogical instruction.

See also [ethnocentrism]
See also [bias]
See also [prejudice]
See also [world view]
See also [intellectual empathy]
See also [critical society]
See also [knowledge]


A belief, typically one open to dispute. Sheer unreasoned subjective opinion or preference should be distinguished from reasoned judgment - beliefs formed on the basis of careful reasoning.

See also [evaluation]
See also [judgment]
See also [justify]
See also [know]
See also [knowledge]
See also [reasoned judgment]

perfections of thought:

Thinking, viewed as an attempt to understand or make sense of the world, has a natural excellence or fitness to it. This excellence is manifest in its clarity, precision, specificity, accuracy, relevance, consistency, logicalness, depth, completeness, significance, fairness, and adequacy. These perfections are general achievements of thought. Their absence represent legitimate concerns irrespective of the discipline or domain of thought. To develop one's mind and discipline one's thinking with respect to these standards requires regular practice and long-term cultivation. Of course, achieving these standards is a relative matter and varies to some degree among domains of thought. Being precise while doing mathematics is not the same as being precise while writing a poem, describing an experience, or explaining a historical event. What is more, skilled propaganda, skilled political debate, skilled defense of a group's interests, skilled deception of one's enemy may require the violation or selective application of the above standards. Perfecting one's thought as an instrument for success in a world based on power and advantage differs from perfecting one's thought for the apprehension and defense of fair-minded, balanced truthfulness. To develop one's critical thinking skills merely to the level of adequacy for social success is to sacrifice the higher perfections of thought for pragmatic gain and generally involves more than a little self-deception.

personal contradiction:

An inconsistency in one's personal life, wherein one says one thing and does another, or uses a double standard, judging oneself and one's friends by an easier standard than that used for people one doesn't like; typically a form of hypocrisy accompanied by self-deception. Most personal contradictions remain unconscious. People too often ignore the difficulty of becoming intellectually and morally consistent, preferring instead to merely admonish others. Personal contradictions are more likely to be discovered, analyzed, and reduced in an atmosphere in which they can be openly admitted and realistically considered without excessive penalty.

See also [egocentricity]
See also [intellectual integrity]

point of view (perspective):

Human thought is relational and selective. It is impossible to understand any person, event, or phenomenon from every vantage point simultaneously. Our purposes often control how we see things. Critical thinking requires that this fact be taken into account when analyzing and assessing thinking. This is not to say that human thought is incapable of truth and objectivity, but only that human truth, objectivity, and insight is virtually always limited and partial, virtually never total and absolute. By "reasoning within a point of view," then, we mean that there is inevitably some comprehensive focus or orientation to our thinking. Our thinking is focused on something from some angle. We can change either what we are focused on or the angle of our focus. We often give names to the "angle" from which we are thinking about something. For example, we could look at something politically or scientifically, poetically or philosophically. We might look at something conservatively or liberally, religiously or secularly. We might look at something from a cultural or a financial perspective, or both. Once we understand how someone is approaching a question or topic (that is, what their comprehensive perspective is), we are usually much better able to understand the logic of their thinking as an organized whole.


The quality of being accurate, definite, and exact. The standards and modes of precision vary according to subject and context.

See also [the logic of language]
See also [elements of thought]


A judgment, belief, opinion, point of view - favorable or unfavorable - formed before the relevant facts are known, resistant to evidence and reason, or in disregard of facts that contradict it. Self-announced prejudice is rare. Prejudice almost always exists in obscured, rationalized, socially validated, or functional forms. It enables people to sleep peacefully at night even while flagrantly abusing the rights of others. It enables people to get more of what they want, or to get it more easily. It is often sanctioned with a superabundance of pomp and self-righteousness. Unless we recognize these powerful tendencies toward selfish thought in our social institutions, even in what appear to be lofty actions and moralistic rhetoric, we will not face squarely the problem of prejudice in human thought and action. Uncritical and selfishly critical thought are often prejudiced. Most instruction in schools today, because students do not think their way to what they accept as true, tends to give students prejudices rather than knowledge. For example, partly as a result of schooling, people often accept as authorities those who liberally sprinkle their statements with numbers and intellectual-sounding language, however irrational or unjust their positions. This prejudice toward pseudo-authority impedes rational assessment.

See also [insight]
See also [knowledge]


A proposition upon which an argument is based or from which a conclusion is drawn. A starting point of reasoning. For example, one might say, in commenting on someone's reasoning, "You seem to be reasoning from the premise that everyone is selfish in everything they do. Do you hold this belief?"


A fundamental truth, law, doctrine, value, or commitment, upon which others are based. Rules, which are more specific, and often superficial and arbitrary, are based on principles. Rules are more algorithmic; they needn't be understood to be followed. Principles must be understood to be appropriately applied or followed. One important set of principles are ethical principles, which are guides for human conduct. Critical thinking is dependent on principles, not rules and procedures. Critical thinking is principled, not procedural, thinking. Principles must be practiced and applied to be internalizedSee higher order learning,

See also [lower order learning]
See also [judgment]


A question, matter, situation, or person that is perplexing or difficult to figure out, handle, or resolve. Problems, like questions, can be divided into many types. Each has a (particular) logic.

See also [logic of questions]
See also [monological problems]
See also [multilogical problems]


Whenever a problem cannot be solved formulaically or robotically, critical thinking is required: first, to determine the nature and dimensions of the problem, and then, in the light of the first, to determine the considerations, points of view, concepts, theories, data, and reasoning relevant to its solution. Extensive practice in independent problem-solving is essential to developing critical thought. Problem-solving is rarely best approached procedurally or as a series of rigidly followed steps. For example, problem-solving schemas typically begin, "State the problem." Rarely can problems be precisely and fairly stated prior to analysis, gathering of evidence, and dialogical or dialectical thought wherein several provisional descriptions of the problem are proposed, assessed, and revised.

proof (prove):

Evidence or reasoning so strong or certain as to demonstrate the truth or acceptability of a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt. How strong evidence or reasoning have to be to demonstrate what they purport to prove varies from context to context, depending on the significance of the conclusion or the seriousness of the implications following from it.

See also [domain of thought]


Something one intends to get or do, object, aim, goal, end in view. By reasoning having a purpose, we mean that when humans think about the world we do not do so randomly, but rather in line with our goals, desires, needs, and values. Our thinking is an integral part of a patterned way of acting in the world, and we act, even in simple matters, with some set of ends in view. To understand someone's thinking - including our own - we must understand the functions it serves, what it is about, the direction it is moving, the ends that make sense of it. Of course, most of what we are after in our thinking is not obvious to us. Raising human goals and desires to the level of conscious realization is an important part of critical thinking.


A problem or matter open to discussion or inquiry, something that is asked as in seeking to learn or gain knowledge. By reasoning upon some question, issue, or problem we mean that when we think about the world in line with our goals, desires, needs, and values, we often come up against questions we need to answer, problems we need to solve, issues we need to resolve. Therefore, when we find ourselves faced with a difficulty, it always makes sense to say, "What is the question we need to answer?" or "What is the problem we need to solve?" or "What is the issue we need to resolve?" To improve our ability to think well it is important to learn how to put the questions, problems, and issues we need to deal with in a clear and distinct way. Change the question, you change the criteria you have to meet to settle it. Modify the problem, you need to modify how you are going to solve the problem. Shift the issues and new considerations become relevant to its resolution.


That which conforms to principles of good reasoning, is sensible, shows good judgment, is consistent, logical, complete, and relevant. When we refer to something or someone as "rational," we always have in mind the quality of being based on or informed by sound reasoning and/or justified evidence. Rationality is a summary term like "virtue" or "goodness." It is manifested in an unlimited number of ways and depends on a host of principles. There is some ambiguity in it, depending on whether one considers only the consistency and effectiveness by which one pursues one's ends, or whether it includes the assessment of ends themselves. There is also ambiguity in whether one considers selfish ends to be rational, even when they conflict with what is just. Does a rational person have to be just or only skilled in pursuing his or her interests? Is it rational to be rational in an irrational world? See weak sense critical thinking and strong sense critical thinking.

See also [perfections of thought]
See also [irrational/irrationality]
See also [logic]
See also [intellectual virtues]

rational emotions/passions:

R. S. Peters (1973) has explained the significance of the affective side of reason and critical thought in his defense of the necessity of "rational passions":

There is, for instance, the hatred of contradictions and inconsistencies, together with the love of clarity and hatred of confusion without which words could not be held to relatively constant meanings and testable rules and generalizations stated. A reasonable man cannot, without some special explanation, slap his sides with delight or express indifference if he is told that what he says is confused, incoherent, and perhaps riddled with contradictions.

Reason is the antithesis of arbitrariness. In its operation it is supported by the appropriate passions which are mainly negative in character - the hatred of irrelevance, special pleading, and arbitrary fiat. The more developed emotion of indignation is aroused when some excess of arbitrariness is perpetuated in a situation where people's interests and claims are at stake. The positive side of this is the passion for fairness and impartial consideration of claims.

A man who is prepared to reason must feel strongly that he must follow the arguments and decide things in terms of where they lead. He must have a sense of the giveness of the impersonality of such considerations. In so far as thoughts about persons enter his head they should be tinged with the respect which is due to another who, like himself, may have a point of view which is worth considering, who may have a glimmering of the truth which has so far eluded himself. A person who proceeds in this way, who is influenced by such passions, is what we call a reasonable man.


To devise socially plausible explanations or excuses for one's actions, desires, beliefs, etc. when these are not one's actual motives. In other words, to rationalize is to give reasons that "sound good," but are not honest and accurate. Rationalization is often used in situations where one is pursuing one's vested interests while trying to maintain the appearance of high moral purpose. Politicians are continually rationalizing their actions implying that they are acting from high motives when, usually, they are acting as they are because they have received large donations from vested interest groups who profit from the action taken. Those who held slaves often rationalized that slavery was justified because the slaves were like children and had to be taken care of. Rationalization is a defense mechanism used by the egocentric mind to enable people to get what they want without having to face the fact that their motives are selfish or their behavior unconscionable. Rationalizations enable us to keep our actual motives beneath the level of consciousness. We can then sleep peacefully at night while we behave unethically by day.

rational self:

Our character and nature to the extent that we seek to base our beliefs and actions on good reasoning and evidence. Who we are, what our true character is, or our predominant qualities are, is always somewhat or even greatly different from who we think we are. Human egocentrism and accompanying self-deception often stand in the way of our gaining more insight into ourselves. We can develop a rational self, become a person who gains significant insight into what our true character is, only by reducing our egocentrism and self-deception. Critical thinking is essential to this process.

rational society:
See [critical society]
reasoned judgment:

Any belief or conclusion reached on the basis of careful thought and reflection, distinguished from mere or unreasoned opinion on the one hand, and from sheer fact on the other. Few people have a clear sense of which of their beliefs are based on reasoned judgment and which on mere opinion. Moral or ethical questions, for example, are questions usually requiring reasoned judgment. One way of conceiving of subject-matter education is as developing students' ability to engage in reasoned judgment in accordance with the standards of each subject.


The mental processes of those who reason; especially the drawing of conclusions or inferences from observations, facts, or hypotheses; the evidence or arguments used in this procedure. In other words, by "reasoning," we mean "making sense of something by giving it some meaning in your mind." Virtually all thinking is part of our "sense-making" activities. We hear scratching at the door and think, "It's the dog." We see dark clouds in the sky and think, "It looks like rain." Some of this activity operates at a subconscious level (for example, all of the sights and sounds about me have meaning for me without my explicitly noticing that they do). Most of our "reasoning" is quite unspectacular. Our reasoning tends to become explicit to us only when it is challenged by someone and we have to defend it. ("Why do you say that Jack is obnoxious? I thought he was quite pleasant.") A critical thinker tries to develop the capacity to transform thought into reasoning at will, or rather, the ability to make his or her inferences explicit, along with the assumptions or premises upon which those inferences are based. Reasoning is a form of explicit inferring, usually involving multiple steps.


The act of entering empathically into the point of view or line of reasoning of others; learning to think as others do and by that means sympathetically assessing that thinking. (Reciprocity requires creative imagination as well as intellectual skill and a commitment to fair-mindedness.)


Bearing upon or relating to the matter at hand; relevant implies close logical relationship with, and importance to, the matter under consideration; germane implies such close natural connection as to be highly appropriate or fit; pertinent implies an immediate and direct bearing on the matter at hand (a pertinent suggestion); applicable refers to that which can be brought to bear upon a particular matter or problem. Many people have problems sticking to an issue and distinguishing information that bears upon a problem from information that does not. Merely reminding them to limit themselves to relevant considerations fails to solve this problem. Sensitivity to (ability to judge) relevance can only be developed with continual practice - practice distinguishing relevant from irrelevant data, evaluating or judging relevance, arguing for and against the relevance of facts and considerations.


Deceiving one's self about one's true motivations, character, identity, etc. One possible definition of the human species is "The Self-Deceiving Animal." Self-deception is a fundamental problem in human life and the cause of much human suffering. Overcoming self-deception through self-critical thinking is a fundamental goal of strong sense critical thinking.

See also [egocentric]
See also [rational self]
See also [personal contradiction]
See also [social contradiction]
See also [intellectual virtues]

selfish interest:

Pursuing what is perceived as in one's interest without regard for the rights and needs of others. To be selfish is to seek what one desires without due consideration for others. Being interested in one's welfare is one thing; trampling on the rights of others while one pursues desires unrelated to fundamental human needs is another. As fundamentally egocentric creatures, humans are naturally given to pursue their selfish interest, using rationalization and other forms of self-deception to disguise their true motives and the true character of what they are doing. To develop as fair-minded critical thinkers is to actively work to diminish the power of one's native selfishness, without sacrificing any of one's legitimate concern for one's welfare and long-term good.

See also [self-deception]
See also [rationalization]
See also [egocentricity]
See also [fair-mindedness]

social contradiction:

An inconsistency between what a society preaches and what it practices. In every society there is some degree of inconsistency between its image of itself and its actual character. Social contradiction typically correlates with human self-deception on the social or cultural level. Critical thinking is essential for the recognition of inconsistencies, and recognition is essential for reform and eventual integrity.


The assumption that one's own social group is inherently and self-evidently superior to all others. When a group or society sees itself as superior, and so considers its views as correct or as the only reasonable or justifiable views, and all its actions as justified, there is a tendency to presuppose this superiority in all of its thinking and thus, to think closed-mindedly. All dissent and doubt are considered disloyal and rejected without consideration. Few people recognize the socio-centric nature of much of their thought.

See also [ethnocentricity]

Socratic questioning:

A mode of questioning that deeply probes the meaning, justification, or logical strength of a claim, position, or line of reasoning. Socratic questioning can be carried out in a variety of ways and adapted to many levels of ability and understanding. See dialogical instruction

See also [elements of thought]
See also [knowledge]


To mention, describe, or define in detail; limiting or limited; specifying or specified; precise; definite. Most people's thinking, speech, and writing tend to be vague, abstract, and ambiguous rather than specific, concrete, and clear. Learning how to state one's views specifically is essential to learning how to think clearly, precisely, and accurately.

See also [perfections of thought]

strong sense critical thinker:

One who is predominantly characterized by the following traits: 1) an ability to question deeply one's own framework of thought; 2) an ability to reconstruct sympathetically and imaginatively the strongest versions of points of view and frameworks of thought opposed to one's own; and 3) an ability to reason dialectically (multilogically) in such a way as to determine when one's own point of view is at its weakest and when an opposing point of view is at its strongest. Strong sense critical thinkers are not routinely blinded by their own viewpoints. They know they have points of view and therefore recognize on what framework of assumptions and ideas their own thinking is based. They realize the necessity of putting their own assumptions and ideas to the test of the strongest objections that can be leveled against them. Learning critical thinking in the strong sense is learning to explicate, understand, and critique our own deepest prejudices, biases, and misconceptions, thereby discovering and contesting our egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. Only if we contest our inevitable egocentric and sociocentric habits of thought, can we hope to think in a genuinely rational fashion. Only dialogical thinking about basic issues that genuinely matter to the individual provides the kind of practice and skill essential to strong sense critical thinking.

We need to develop critical thinking skills in dialogical settings to achieve genuine fairmindedness. If critical thinking is learned simply as atomic skills separate from the empathic practice of entering into points of view that we are fearful of or hostile toward, we will simply find additional means of rationalizing our prejudices.

See also [fair-mindedness]

submissive ego:

Humans are naturally concerned with their interests and are motivated to satisfy their desires. In a world of psychological power and influence, there are two basic ways to succeed: to psychologically "conquer" or "intimidate" (subtly or openly) those who stand in your way, or, alternatively, to psychologically join and serve more powerful others who then: 1) give you a sense of personal importance, 2) protect you, and 3) share with you some of the benefits of their success. The irrational person uses both techniques, though not to the same degree. Those who seem to be more successful submitting to more powerful others have what might be called a "submissive" ego. Those who seem to be more successful using overt force and control have what might be called a "dominating" ego. This behavior can be seen publicly in the relationship of "Rock stars" or "sport stars" to their admiring "followers." Most social groups have an internal "pecking" order, with some playing roles of "leader" and most playing roles of "followers." A fair-minded rational person seeks neither to dominate nor to blindly serve someone else who dominates.

See also [dominating ego]


A systematic statement of principles involved in a subject; a formulation of apparent relationships or underlying principles of certain observed phenomena which has been verified to some degree. Often without realizing it, we form theories that help us make sense of the people, events, and problems in our lives. Critical thinkers put their theories to the test of experience and give due consideration to the theories of others. Critical thinkers do not confuse theories with facts.


The general word meaning to exercise the mental faculties so as to form ideas, arrive at conclusions, etc.; reason implies a logical sequence of thought, starting with what is known or assumed and advancing to a definite conclusion through the inferences drawn; reflect implies a turning of one's thoughts back on a subject and connotes deep or quiet continued thought; speculate implies a reasoning on the basis of incomplete or uncertain evidence and therefore stresses the conjectural character of the opinions formed; deliberate implies careful and thorough consideration of a matter in order to arrive at a conclusion. Though everyone thinks, few people think critically. We don't need instruction to think; we think spontaneously. We need instruction to learn how to discipline and direct our thinking on the basis of sound intellectual standards.

See also [elements of thought]
See also [perfections of thought]


Conformity to knowledge, fact, actuality, or logic: a statement proven to be or accepted as true, not false or erroneous. Most people uncritically assume their views to be correct and true. Most people, in other words, assume themselves to possess the truth. Critical thinking is essential to avoid this, if for no other reason.

uncritical person:

One who has not developed intellectual skills. In other words, one who is naive, conforming, easily manipulated, dogmatic, easily confused, unclear, closed-minded, narrow-minded, careless in word choice, inconsistent, or unable to distinguish evidence from interpretation. Uncriticalness is a fundamental problem in human life, for when we are uncritical we nevertheless think of ourselves as critical. The first step in becoming a critical thinker consists in recognizing that we are uncritical.


Not clearly, precisely, or definitely expressed or stated; not sharp, certain, or precise in thought, feeling, or expression. Vagueness of thought and expression is a major obstacle to the development of critical thinking. We cannot begin to test our beliefs until we recognize clearly what they are. We cannot disagree with what someone says until we are clear about what they mean. We need much practice in transforming our vague thoughts into clear ones.

See also [ambiguous]
See also [clarify]
See also [concept]
See also [logic]
See also [logic of questions]
See also [logic of language]

verbal implication:

That which follows, according to the logic of the language. If I say, for example, that someone used flattery on me, I imply that the compliments were insincere and given only to make me feel positively toward that person, to manipulate me against my reason or interest for some end.

See also [imply]
See also [infer]
See also [empirical implication]
See also [elements of thought]

vested interest:

1) Involvement in promoting personal advantage, usually at the expense of others. 2) People functioning as a group to pursue collective selfish goals and exerting influences that enables them to profit at the expense of others. Many groups that lobby Congress do so to gain money, power, and advantage for themselves by provisions in law that specially favor them. The term "vested interest" classically contrasts with the term "public interest." A group that lobbies congress in the public interest is not seeking to gain special advantage for a comparative few, but protection for virtually all or the large majority. Preserving the quality of the air is a public interest. Building cheaper cars by including fewer safety features is a vested interest - It makes more money for car manufacturers.

See also [selfish interest]

weak sense critical thinkers:

1) Those who do not hold themselves or those with whom they ego-identify to the same intellectual standards to which they hold "opponents." 2) Those who have not learned how to reason empathically within points of view or frames of reference with which they disagree. 3) Those who tend to think monologically (within one narrow perspective). 4) Those who do not genuinely accept, though they may verbally espouse, the values of critical thinking. 5) Those who use the intellectual skills of critical thinking selectively and self-deceptively to foster and serve their selfish interests (at the expense of truth). 6) Those who use critical thinking skills to identify flaws in the reasoning of others and sophisticated arguments to refute other's arguments before giving those arguments due consideration. Those who are able to justify their irrational thinking with highly skilled rationalizations.

See also [monological thinking]
See also [rationalization]
See also [irrational]

world view:

All human action takes place within a way of looking at and interpreting the world. As human life now stands, very little is done to help people grasp how they are viewing the world and how those views determine the character of their experience, their interpretations, their conclusions about events and persons, etc. In learning critical thinking in a strong sense, we discover our own world view and appreciate the insights of the world views of others.

See also [bias]
See also [interpret]

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