Sample from Chapter One of Becoming a Critical Thinker

1. What does it mean to think critically?

Why are some people better than others at solving problems and making decisions? The answer seems obvious: some people are smarter than others.

Why are some people better than others at supporting their beliefs and actions with good reasons? Again, the answer seems obvious: some people have more knowledge or are more eloquent than others.

Still, two equally intelligent people can be equally articulate and informed, but not be equally good thinkers. If only one of them is thinking critically, that one will be better at analyzing and evaluating facts and opinions, sources and claims, options and alternatives, etc. The critical thinker will be a better problem-solver and decision-maker.

When we're thinking critically, we're using our knowledge and intelligence effectively to arrive at the most reasonable and justifiable position possible. When we're thinking uncritically, no matter how intelligent or knowledgeable we are, we'll make unreasonable decisions and arrive at unreasonable beliefs or take unjustifiable actions--unless we are lucky and end up making the right choice for the wrong reasons!

Just what do we do when we're thinking critically? To think critically is to think clearly, accurately and fairly while evaluating the reasons for accepting some belief or taking some action. The goal of thinking critically is simple: to guarantee, as far as possible, that one's beliefs and actions are justifiable and can withstand the test of rational analysis. To achieve this goal one must rigorously scrutinize one's own beliefs and actions as well as the beliefs and actions of others. What standards should we use? That is the question we'll begin with: what are the standards of evaluation used by critical thinkers?