The Paradigm of Critical Thinking


K. Niranjanaa Devi
B.Com, MBA, M.Phil, MHR, (Ph.D)
Department of Management Studies
Tamilnadu College of Engineering
Karumathampatti, Coimbatore-641 659


Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. It is thus to be contrasted with: 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills, because it involves the continual use of them; and 3) the mere use of those skills ("as an exercise") without acceptance of their results.


"Critical thinking is that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them".

Why Critical Thinking?

As everyone seems to agree, not only is the amount of information increasing, but the rate of increase is itself increasing. A consequence of this is not quite so apparent. The problems and possibilities for which knowledge is required proliferate in varied and unpredictable ways-in part as a result of the many unintended effects of knowledge put into practice, and in part because of the rising level of expectation that results from information growth and dissemination. Thus, those who seek knowledge for various purposes increasingly need to extend the knowledge bases they have, as well as to add increasingly varied knowledge bases to their repertoire.

Steps to critical thinking:

  • Be willing to say" I don't know", "I am not sure yet".
  • Define your terms.
  • Practice tolerance.
  • Understand before criticizing: Be patient with others point of view.
  • Check the data/idea source.
  • Seek out alternative views/solutions.
  • Look at the problem unbiased; see the problem through another person's eye.
  • Ask questions.
  • Make assumptions.
  • Write it down.
  • Be willing to change your mind.

Critical thinking consists of the mental process of analyzing and evaluating statements or propositions that have been offered as true. It includes a process of reflecting upon the specific meaning of statements, examining offered evidence and reasoning, in order to form a judgment.

One can regard critical thinking as involving two aspects:

    1. a set of cognitive skills, intellectual standards, and traits of mind

    2. the ability and intellectual commitment to use those structures to improve thinking and guide behaviour.

Critical thinking does not include simply the acquisition and retention of information, or the possession of a skill-set which one does not use regularly; nor does critical thinking merely exercise skills without acceptance of the results.

Uses of critical thinking

Critical thinking is important wherever the quality of human thinking significantly impacts the quality of life. For example, success in human life is tied to success in learning. At the same time, every phase in the learning process is tied to critical thinking. Thus, reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done critically or uncritically. Critical thinking is crucial to becoming a close reader and a substantive writer. Expressed most generally, critical thinking is "a way of taking up the problems of life."

Concepts used in critical thinking activities

The following concepts are crucial to all critical thinking:

  • Purpose for thinking: goal, objective
  • Question at issue: the problem
  • Concepts: theories, definitions, axioms, laws, principles, models
  • Assumptions: presuppositions, taken for granted
  • Information: data, facts, observations, experiences
  • Interpretations and inferences: conclusions, solutions
  • Points of view: frame of reference, perspective, orientation
  • Consequences and implications

The six aspects of critical thinking according to Lipman :

(1) The requirement that critical thinking be skillful thinking connects it with normatively relevant considerations of practice. Skillfulness points to the fact that critical thinking is embedded in contexts that furnish reliable information and warranted methodology. 

(2 ) Responsible thinking points to the relationship between the critical thinker and the community that he or she addresses. The critical thinker sees an obligation to present reasons in light of acceptable standards, or to challenge such standards by relevant and persuasive argument. Such reasons are subject to the judgment of competent members of fields relevant to the issues involved, and the critical thinking is obliged to address such members and reflect upon their judgments when making claims and presenting arguments and analyses.

(3) Through the focus on judgment, critical thinking is seen as directed towards non-routine thinking, thinking that cannot be adequately based on algorithms or other mechanical procedures. It is called for in those situations in which considerations must be weighed and alternatives assessed situations that call for the assessment of priorities and determinations of truth and relevance.

(4) Criteria are the most decisive considerations appealed to in an instance of critical thinking. Criteria are those reasons that reflect the critical thinker's assessment of the essential factors to be taken into account when offering an analysis, or when supporting and challenging a claim. Generally, the criteria appealed to reflect the central concepts and methods in the field or fields relevant to the inquiry at hand. But as we shall see immediately below, criteria are not taken as absolute; rather, they may be questioned and changed or even replaced, as critical thinking progresses.

(5) Self-correction requires that thinkers use critical thinking processes as a method for exposing and correcting the procedures employed by the thinker herself. A critical thinker subjects the ongoing process to reflective scrutiny; both the substantive criteria employed and the procedural norms that characterize her reasoning are open to critique and reevaluation.

(6) Sensitivity to context points to an aspect of critical thinking that complements the appeal to general criteria. Sensitivity to context demands that the application of criteria to cases is scrutinized with an eye to the appropriateness of the criteria in use, and their possible modification, in light of the particulars of the situation that prompt the judgment. The critical thinker, thus, sees criteria in relation to the context of their application. The context determines the relevance of plausibility of the criteria employed, and furnishes particular circumstances that may require specific alterations of the criteria when applied to the case at hand.


A well cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems,
  • formulating them clearly and
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to
    interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks open mindedly within alternative systems of thought,
    recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.

K. Niranjanaa Devi
B.Com, MBA, M.Phil, MHR, (Ph.D)
Department of Management Studies
Tamilnadu College of Engineering
Karumathampatti, Coimbatore-641 659

Source: E-mail September 18, 2007


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