Standards And Elements Of Critical Thinking


In this section, we offer an interactive model which details the analysis and assessment of reasoning, and enables you to apply the model to real life problems.

On this page we introduce the analysis and assessment of reasoning.  To skip this introduction and go directly to the model, see the links near the bottom of this page. 

Why the Analysis of Thinking Is Important
Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. If you want to think well, you must understand at least the rudiments of thought, the most basic structures out of which all thinking is made. You must learn how to take thinking apart.

All Thinking Is Defined by the Eight Elements That Make It Up
Eight basic structures are present in all thinking: Whenever we think, we think for a purpose within a point of view based on assumptions leading to implications and consequences. We use concepts, ideas and theories to interpret data, facts, and experiences in order to answer questions, solve problems, and resolve issues.

Each of these structures has implications for the others. If you change your purpose or agenda, you change your questions and problems. If you change your questions and problems, you are forced to seek new information and data. If you collect new information and data…

Why the Assessment of Thinking is Important

Once you have analyzed thinking, you then need to assess it, using universal intellectual standards.  Reasonable persons judge reasoning using these standards.  When you internalize them and explicitly use them in your thinking, your thinking becomes more clear, more accurate, more precise, more relevant, deeper, broader and more fair. You should note that we generally focus on a selection of standards. Among others are credibility, sufficiency, reliability, and practicality.

Using the Elements and Standards Online Model

The easy-to-use online model you will find at the following two links were developed to further introduce you to the Elements of Reasoning and Universal Intellectual Standards, and enable you to apply them to real life problems. 

These pages are self-guided and self paced, allowing you to move back and forth between the elements and standards.  When moving around in the model realize that the cursor will need to be moved carefully around the wheel to keep from activating parts of the model you are not focusing on at the moment.  With some practice you will see how the model works and be able to work with it effectively.

Click to Open the "Elements and Standards" Online Model


Using the Elements and Standards To Analyze a Problem



An interactive extension of the Model Above, this tool will allow you to analyze a problem by identifying each of the Elements of  Thought you are using in your reasoning.  Pay attention to the intellectual standards as you do so.  Your analysis and conclusions can be viewed and printed in a report form when you have completed your analysis. You can save the logics of multiple problems in the database and return to review them or update them at any time.

This tool is available to Members (see complimentary membership) of the Critical Thinking Community. You must be logged in to view and use this resource.

Open the "Analyzing a Problem" Online Model.

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What is critical thinking? According to my favorite critical thinking text, it is disciplined thinking that is governed by clear intellectual standards. This involves identifying and analyzing arguments and truth claims, discovering and overcoming prejudices and biases, developing your own reasons and arguments in favor of what you believe, considering objections to your beliefs, and making rational choices about what to do based on your beliefs.

Clarity is an important standard of critical thought. Clarity of communication is one aspect of this.We must be clear in how we communicate our thoughts, beliefs, and reasons for those beliefs.  Careful attention to language is essential here. For example, when we talk about morality, one person may have in mind the conventional morality of a particular community, while another may be thinking of certain transcultural standards of morality. Defining our terms can greatly aid us in the quest for clarity. Clarity of thought is important as well; this means that we clearly understand what we believe, and why we believe it.

Precision involves working hard at getting the issue under consideration before our minds in a particular way. One way to do this is to ask the following questions: What is the problem at issue? What are the possible answers? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each answer?

Accuracy is unquestionably essential to critical thinking. In order to get at or closer to the truth, critical thinkers seek accurate and adequate information. They want the facts, because they need the right information before they can move forward and analyze it.

Relevance means that the information and ideas discussed must be logically relevant to the issue being discussed. Many pundits and politicians are great at distracting us away from this.

Consistency is a key aspect of critical thinking. Our beliefs should be consistent. We shouldn’t hold beliefs that are contradictory. If we find that we do hold contradictory beliefs, then one or both of those beliefs are false. For example, I would likely contradict myself if I believed both that "Racism is always immoral" and "Morality is entirely relative". This is logical inconsistency. There is another form of inconsistency, called practical inconsistency, which involves saying you believe one thing, but doing another. For example, if I say that I believe my family is more important than my work, but I tend to sacrifice their interests for the sake of my work, then I am being practically inconsistent.

The last 3 standards are logical correctness, completeness, and fairness. Logical correctness means that one is engaging in correct reasoning from what we believe in a given instance to the conclusions that follow from those beliefs. Completeness means that we engage in deep and thorough thinking and evaluation, avoiding shallow and superficial thought and criticism. Fairness involves seeking to be open-minded, impartial, and free of biases and preconceptions that distort our thinking.

Like any skill or set of skills, getting better at critical thinking requires practice. Anyone wanting to grow in this area might think through these standards and apply them to an editorial in the newspaper or on the web, a blog post, or even their own beliefs. Doing so can be a useful and often meaningful exercise.

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