Critical Thinking: What It Is And Why It Counts

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By Peter Facione

Consider the “cultural revolutions” undertaken by totalitarian rulers. Notice how in virtually every case absolutist and dictatorial despots seek ever more severe limitations on free expression. They label “liberal” intellectuals “dangers to society” and expel “radical” professors from teaching posts because they might “corrupt the youth.” Some use the power of their governmental or religious authority to crush not only their opposition but the moderates as well — all in the name of maintaining the purity of their movement. They intimidate journalists and those media outlets which dare to comment “negatively” on their political and cultural goals or their heavy handed methods.

The historical evidence is there for us to see what happens when schools are closed or converted from places of education to places for indoctrination. We know what happens when children are no longer being taught truth-seeking, the skills of good reasoning, or the lessons of human history and basic science: Cultures disintegrate; communities collapse; the machinery of civilization fails; massive numbers of people die; and sooner or later social and political chaos ensues.

Or, imagine a media, a religious or political hegemony which cultivated, instead of critical thinking, all the opposite dispositions? Or consider if that hegemony reinforced uncritical, impulsive decision making and the “ready-shoot-aim” approach to executive action. Imagine governmental structures, administrators, and community leaders who, instead of encouraging critical thinking, were content to make knowingly irrational, illogical, prejudicial, unreflective, short-sighted, and unreasonable decisions.

How long might it take for the people in this society which does not value critical thinking to be at serious risk of foolishly harming themselves and each other?

In 2007 world news reports spoke of school buildings and teachers being shot terrorists and violently extreme religious zealots. Education which includes a good measure of critical thinking skills and dispositions like truth-seeking and openmindedness, is a problem for terrorists and extremists because they want to have complete control of what people think. their methods include indoctrination, intimidation, and the strictest authoritarian orthodoxy. In the “black-and-white” world of “us vs. them” a good education would mean that the people might begin to think for themselves. And that is something these extremists do not want.

History shows that assaults on learning, whether by book burning, exile of intellectuals, or regulations aimed at suppressing research and frustrating the fair-minded, evidence-based, and unfettered pursuit of knowledge, can happen wherever and whenever people are not vigilant defenders of open, objective, and independent inquiry.

Does this mean that society should place a very high value on critical thinking?


Does this mean society has the right to force someone to learn to think critically?

Maybe. But, really, should we have to?


“We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which
results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as
explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or
contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. CT is essential as
a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful
resource in one’s personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good
thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal
critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason,
openminded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases,
prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in
complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the
selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which
are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus,
educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines
developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield
useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society.”


American Philosophical Association, Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction. "The Delphi Report," Committee on Pre-College Philosophy. (ERIC Doc. No. ED 315 423). 1990

Brookfield, Stephen D.:Developing Critical Thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting. Josey-Bass Publishers. San-Francisco, CA. 1987.

Browne, M. Neil, and Keeley, Stuart M.: Asking the Right Questions. Prentice-Hall Publishers. Englewood Cliffs, NJ. 2003.

Costa, Arthur L., & Lowery,l Lawrence F.: Techniques for Teaching Thinking. Critical Thinking Press and Software. Pacific Grove CA. 1989.

Facione, Noreen C. and Facione, P. A. : Critical Thinking Assessment and Nursing Education Programs: An Aggregate Data Analysis. The California Academic Press. Millbrae, CA 1997.

Facione, N. C., and Facione, P. A., Analyzing Explanations for Seemingly Irrational Choices, International Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 15 No. 2 (2001) 267-86.

Facione, P.A., Facione N. C., and Giancarlo, C: The Disposition Toward Critical Thinking: Its Character, Measurement, and Relationship to Critical Thinking Skills, Journal of Informal Logic, Vol. 20 No. 1 (2000) 61-84.

Gilovich, Thomas; Griffin, Dale; and Kahneman, Daniel: Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment. Cambridge University Press. 2002.

Goldstein, William, and Hogarth, Robin M. (Eds.): Research on Judgment and Decision Making. Cambridge University Press. 1997.

Esterle, John, and Clurman, Dan: Conversations with Critical Thinkers. The Whitman Institute. San Francisco, CA. 1993.

Janis, I.L. and Mann, L: Decision-Making. The Free Press, New York. 1977.

Esterle, John, and Clurman, Dan: Conversations with Critical Thinkers. The Whitman Institute. San Francisco, CA. 1993.

Janis, I.L. and Mann, L: Decision-Making. The Free Press, New York. 1977.

Kahneman, Daniel; Slovic, Paul; and Tversky, Amos: Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Cambridge University Press. 1982.

Kahneman Daniel: Knetsch, J.L.; and Thaler, R.H.: The endowment effect, loss aversion, and status quo bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives. 1991, 5;193-206.

King, Patricia M. & Kitchener, Karen Strohm: Developing Reflective Judgment. Josey-Bass Publishers. San Francisco, CA. 1994

Kurfiss, Joanne G., Critical Thinking: Theory, Research, Practice and Possibilities, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report # 2, Washington DC, 1988.

Marshall, Ray, and Tucker, Marc, Thinking for a Living: Education and the Wealth of Nations, Basic Books. New York, NY. 1992.

Resnick, L. W., Education and Learning to Think, National Academy Press, 1987.

Rubenfeld, M. Gaie, & Scheffer, Barbara K., Critical Thinking in Nursing: An Interactive Approach. J.

Resnick, L. W., Education and Learning to Think, National Academy Press, 1987.

Rubenfeld, M. Gaie, & Scheffer, Barbara K., Critical Thinking in Nursing: An Interactive Approach. J. B. Lippincott Company. Philadelphia PA, 1995.

Siegel, Harvey: Educating Reason: Rationality, CT and Education. Routledge Publishing. New York. 1989.

Sternberg, Robert J.: Critical Thinking: Its Nature, Measurement, and Improvement. National Institute of Education, Washington DC, 1986.

Toulmin, Stephen: The Uses of Argument. Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Wade, Carole, and Tavris, Carol: Critical & Creative Thinking: The Case of Love and War. Harper Collins College Publisher. New York. NY 1993.


U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) Documents National Assessment of College Student Learning: Getting Started, A Summary of Beginning Activities. NCES 93-116.

National Assessment of College Student Learning: Identification of the Skills to Be Taught, Learned, and Assessed, A Report on the Proceedings of the Second Design Workshop, November 1992. NCES 94-286.

National Assessment of College Student Learning: Identifying College Graduates' Essential Skills in Writing, Speech and Listening, and Critical Thinking. NCES 95-001.

Six Questions for Effective Thinking and Problem-Solving “IDEALS”

Identify the problem. — “What’s the real question we’re facing here?”
Define the context. — “What are the facts and circumstances that frame this problem?”
Enumerate choices. — “What are our most plausible three or four options?”
Analyze options. — “What is our best course of action, all things considered?”
List reasons explicitly. — “Exactly why we are making this choice rather than another?”
Self-correct. — “Okay, let’s look at it again. What did we miss?”

About the Author

Dr. Peter A. Facione and his co-investigators have been engaged in research and teaching about reasoning, decision-making, and effective individual and group thinking processes since 1967. Over the years they developed instruments to measure the core skills and habits of mind of effective thinking, these instruments are now in use in many different languages throughout the world. Since 1992 Dr. Facione has presented hundreds of workshops about effective teaching for thinking and about leadership, decisionmaking, leadership development, planning and budgeting, and learning outcomes assessment at national and international professional association meetings and on college and university throughout the nation.

Now “semi-retired,” Dr. Facione, is a principal of the research and consulting firm, Measured Reasons, a strategic consultant with Stratus-Heery Inc., and a Senior Researcher with Insight Assessment. He earned his Ph.D. at Michigan State in 1971, and in subsequent years chaired the Department of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University, served as Dean of the School of Human Development and Community Service at California State University Fullerton, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Santa Clara University, and Provost of Loyola University Chicago. In 1999-2000 Dr. Facione was Chair of the American Conference of Academic Deans. He has been on many boards and panels, including the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the ACE Presidents’ Task Force on Education. He has contributed articles to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Change - The Magazine of Higher Education, and Liberal Education. His latest books, co-authored with Dr. Noreen Facione, are Thinking and Reasoning in Human Decision Making (2007), and Critical Thinking and Clinical Judgment in the Health Sciences (2008). From 1988 through 1990 Dr. Facione was the principal investigator for the American Philosophical Association research project which culminated in the Delphi Report – An Expert Consensus Conceptualization of Critical Thinking. The executive summary of that report is available free of charge from Insight Assessment. That work formed the conceptual basis for the development of the California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory, the California Critical Thinking Skills Test and the many age-specific or profession-specific tools which are part of that family of internationally known testing instruments. Visit

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