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Critical Thinking Blog by Drs. Linda Elder and Gerald Nosich

Drs. Linda Elder and Gerald Nosich, Senior Fellows of the Foundation for Critical Thinking, have regularly published new articles, essays, and various musings to The Center for Critical Thinking Community Online since mid-2019. As new entries appear, they will be announced below.

While a few (usually shorter) entries will be posted here in full, most complete posts - which can run multiple pages in length - will be found in the Community Online.

Entries from Previous Years

Entries from 2021

Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 5 of 8 - “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice; 1970-1996 - Formal & Informal Logic Courses”) - Richard Paul Archives

Apr 06, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses”
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The fifth of these sections appears below.

First Wave Research Concerns:

  • The design of individual courses in critical thinking or informal logic
  • The critique of formal logic as a tool for the analysis and assessment of "real world" reasoning and argumentation
  • The development of theories of fallacies in thought
  • The development of theories of informal logic, reasoning, persuasion, rhetoric, and argumentation, etc.
  • The exploration of philosophical issues raised by theories developed to account for informal logic, reasoning, and argumentation

In the first wave of critical thinking practice, the dominant paradigm came from philosophy and logic and the dominant educational manifestation was a formal or informal logic course. The idea was to establish a basic course in critical thinking which would provide entering freshmen with the foundational intellectual skills they need to be successful in college work. Almost from the beginning, however, there was a contradiction between the concerns and ideals that gave rise to the theory and practice and actual classroom practice. The ideals were broad and ambitious. The practice was narrow and of limited success.

For example, the State College and University System of California defined the goals of the critical thinking graduation requirement as follows:

Instruction in critical thinking is to be designed to achieve an understanding of the relationship of language to logic, which should lead to the ability to analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas, to reason inductively and deductively, and to reach factual or judgmental conclusions based on sound inferences drawn from unambiguous statements of knowledge or belief. The minimal competence to be expected at the successful conclusion of instruction in critical thinking should be the ability to distinguish fact from judgment, belief from knowledge, and skills in elementary inductive and deductive processes, including an understanding of the formal and informal fallacies of language and thought.

On the one hand, we have a global comprehensive goal and on the other hand a fairly narrow and specialized way to meet that goal. Students do not . . .

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Bertrand Russell on the Functions of a Teacher - Linda Elder

Apr 04, 2021

In his book Unpopular Essays, Bertrand Russell has a paper entitled The Functions of a Teacher. This essay should be essential reading for all teachers, administrators and students of education. The essay, originally published in 1950, among other things, illuminates the importance of teachers expanding the mind of the student, and developing the emotional and ethical dimension of their lives. As you see from this passage, Russell sees teachers as caretakers of civilization, which is at the highest level of responsibility in a society:

Teachers are more than any other class the guardians of civilisation. They should be intimately aware of what civilisation is, and desirous of imparting a civilised attitude to their pupils. We are thus brought to this question: what constitutes a civilized community?...

A country is civilized if it has much machinery, many motorcars, many bathrooms and a great deal of rapid locomotion. To these things, in my opinion most modern men attach much too much importance. Civilization, in the more important sense, is a thing of the mind… it is a matter partly of knowledge, partly of emotion. So far as knowledge is concerned, a man should be aware of the minuteness of himself and his immediate environment in relation to the world in time and space. He should see his own country not only at home, but as one among the countries of the world, all with an equal right to live and think and feel. He should see his own age in relation to the past and the future, and be aware that its own controversies will seem as strange to future ages as those of the past seem to us now… on the side of the emotions, a very similar enlargement from the purely personal is needed if a man is to be truly civilized. Men passed from birth to death, sometimes happy, sometimes unhappy; sometimes generous, sometimes grasping and petty; sometimes heroic, sometimes cowardly and servile. To the man who views the procession as a whole, certain things stand out as worthy of admiration. . . .

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Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 4 of 8 - “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”)

Mar 25, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The fourth of these sections appears below.


Though it is possible to trace a common core of meaning reflected in a rich history of the concept of critical thinking, it does not follow that most of those working in the field are now aware of that history or work with a keen sense of the core meaning of the term (as reflected in that history). In fact, recent history of work in the field suggests that there is a significant level of theoretical “confusion" resulting from the fact that so many scholars working on the concept function independently of each other in multiple disciplines without any unifying agenda or common awareness of the history of the concept.

Part of the reason for this is that critical thinking studies is not a distinctive recognized academic field and hence lacks the discipline-based continuity of such a tradition. The result of recent research in the last 36 years is therefore diffuse rather than centered. Many working on the concept are working on it in a partial way, often heavily influenced in their analysis by their own academic discipline or background.

It goes without saying that insights into how the human mind can “malfunction" intellectually can come from many different sources or fields. Documentation of the problem of cultural bias, for example, is more likely to come from the research of cultural anthropologists than from parasitologists or neurologists. Documentation of the problem of self-deception in human thought is more likely to come from depth psychologists than from, say, physicists. A problem results, of course, when an insight into one problem of human thought is treated as if it were the sole problem for critical thinking to solve. The field of critical thinking studies suffers from the natural tendency of those in all disciplines to treat critical thinking in terms of the insights of their home discipline, failing thereby to do justice to its interdisciplinary meaning and power. This is reflected in the last 30 years or so of research. Let's review those years since the early 70's, in which there are three discernable waves of research into critical thinking.

The three waves represent, in essence, different research agendas and point to different emphases in application. Each wave has its committed adherents, and each therefore represents an important choice influencing future work in the field. The third wave, as I conceptualize it, represents a very recent movement in the field, and, if it takes root, will perform a synthesizing function, integrating the most basic insights of the first two waves and transforming the field into one which is much more historical and conceptually broad than it is at present. But I am getting ahead of myself. I shall summarize these three waves in outline, and then deal with them in more detail.

The first wave of the last 30 years of critical thinking studies is based on a focus on . . .

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Clarify Your Thinking - Linda Elder

Mar 24, 2021

Our own thinking usually seems clear to us, even when it is not. Vague, ambiguous, muddled, deceptive, or misleading thinking are significant problems in human life. If you are to develop as a thinker, you must learn the art of clarifying your thinking—of pinning it down, spelling it out, and giving it a specific meaning. Here’s what you can do to begin. When people explain things to you, summarize in your own words what you think they said. When you cannot do this to their satisfaction, you don’t truly understand what they said. When they cannot summarize to your satisfaction what you have said, they don’t truly understand what you said. Try it. See what happens.

As you work to clarify your thinking, be on the lookout for…

…vague, fuzzy, blurred thinking—thinking that may sound good but doesn’t actually say anything. Try to figure out the real meaning of what people are saying. Compare what people say with what they might really mean. Try to figure out the real meaning of important news stories. Explain your understanding of an issue to someone else to help clarify it in your own mind. Practice summarizing in your own words what others say. Then ask them if you understood them correctly. Be careful to neither agree nor disagree with what anyone says until you (clearly) understand what he or she is saying.


Strategies for clarifying your thinking:

To improve your ability to clarify your thinking (in your own mind, when speaking to others, or when writing, for example), use this basic strategy . . .

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Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 3 of 8 - “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”) - Richard Paul Archives

Mar 16, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The third of these sections appears below.


The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,400 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric. Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in “authority" to have sound knowledge and insight. He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief. He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well. His method of questioning is now known as “Socratic questioning" and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. In his mode of questioning, Socrates highlighted the need in thinking for clarity and logical consistency.

Socrates set the agenda for the tradition of critical thinking, namely: to reflectively question common beliefs and explanations, carefully distinguishing those beliefs that are reasonable and logical from those which – however appealing they may be to our native egocentrism, however much they serve our vested interests, however comfortable or comforting they may be – lack adequate evidence or rational foundation to warrant our belief.

Socrates' practice was followed by the critical thinking of Plato (who recorded Socrates' thought), Aristotle, and the Greek skeptics, all of whom emphasized that things are often very different from what they appear to be and that only the trained mind is prepared to see through the way things look to us on the surface (delusive appearances) to the way they really are beneath the surface (the deeper realities of life). From this ancient Greek tradition emerged the need, for anyone who aspired to understand the deeper realities, to think systematically, to trace implications broadly and deeply, for only thinking that is comprehensive, well-reasoned, and responsive to objections can take us beyond the surface.

In the middle ages, the tradition of systematic critical thinking was embodied in the writings and teachings of such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) who – to ensure his thinking met the test of critical thought – always systematically stated . . .

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Don’t Be a Conformist: Think for Yourself - Linda Elder

Mar 14, 2021

Living a human life entails membership in a variety of human groups. This typically includes one’s nation, culture, profession, religion, family, and peer group. We find ourselves participating in groups before we are aware of ourselves as living beings, in virtually every setting in which we function as persons. Further, every group to which we belong has a social definition of itself and unspoken “rules” that guide the behavior of all members. Each group to which we belong imposes a level of conformity on us as a condition of acceptance. This includes a set of beliefs, behaviors, requirements, and taboos.

Research shows that people, to varying degrees, accept as right and correct whatever ways of acting and believing are fostered in the social groups to which they belong. Typically, this acceptance is uncritical.

Group membership clearly offers some advantages. But those advantages can come with a price. Many people behave unethically because it is expected of them. Groups impose their rules (conventions, folkways, taboos) on individuals. (Consider the way you dress or the sexual laws in your country as obvious examples.) Group membership is, in various ways, “required” for ordinary acts of living.

Suppose, for example, that you did not want to belong to any nation, that you wanted to be a citizen not of a country but of the world. You would not be allowed that freedom. . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Seeing Through Disinformation, False Narratives, Conspiracy Theories, and Fake News - Linda Elder

Mar 06, 2021

The problem of disinformation is now rampant in human societies. The answer is critical thinking, which we must begin to teach and foster more widely in education and throughout the world. I hope you will join me for my upcoming Webinar Q&A (March 17, 2021) entitled, "How Critical Thinking is Essential to Seeing Through Disinformation, False Narratives, Conspiracy Theories, and Fake News"

Read about the upcoming Webinar Q&A here.

Connected with this issue is the question: What is truth in a post-truth era? If you missed our webinar Q&A on this issue (and in preparation for the March 17 Webinar Q&A), you can find it here.

I look forward to your questions.

Running Before the Wind - Linda Elder

Mar 01, 2021

Richard Paul is widely recognized for his contributions to critical thinking. What very few people know about Richard is that he was also a masterful poet. Here is one of his poems, written to me, and now shared with you:

love cannot take 

the sting from the world 

cannot take injustice 

from an unjust world 

cannot take cruelty 

or the crushing of the 

weak or the torment of the poor 

from a cruel and relentless 


the agony the anguish goes on 

the self-righteous still 

sleep well at night 

with their guns and badges 

and magnificata of authority 

with their laws 

and deeds to human life 

the agony the anguish goes on 

but love is our strength 

in the face of it all

our power to say no 

to every lost moment of time 

to transform anger 

into the power to act 

to defy to face down

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Feb 21, 2021

I just finished watching the series entitled, A French Village, a French language series subtitled in English. I highly recommend this program for everyone interested in understanding how history unfolds as a result of pathological ideologies imposed on innocent people. This series is set in a small fictional village in France during the invasion of Nazi Germany and takes us through the years of the occupation and beyond. The series illuminates many problems in human thinking that lead to many forms of disfunction. It shows how a small town is devastated by war, not only during the occupation of enemy forces, but after the occupation ends, as France works to become stable after . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Considering the Idea of Brotherly Love, on This Valentine’s Day - Linda Elder

Feb 14, 2021

On this Valentine’s Day, I revisit Erich Fromm’s classic, The Art of Loving, for a reminder of a deep and abiding concept of love.

In focusing on the problem that love answers, Fromm says:

The deepest need of man… is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness… (p.9).

...the experience of separateness arouses anxiety (p. 8).

In a section focused on brotherly love, which is largely missing from today’s perspective, Fromm says:

Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, and orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love. If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow man, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism. Yet, most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty… because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object–and that everything goes by itself afterward (p. 43).

The most fundamental kind of love, which underlies all types of love, is brotherly love. By this I mean the sense of responsibility, care, respect, knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further his life… brotherly love is love for all human beings… in brotherly love there is the experience of union with all men, of human solidarity… Brotherly love is based on experience that we are all one… The differences in talents, intelligence, knowledge are negligible in comparison with the identity of the human core common to all men. In order to experience this identity it is necessary to penetrate from the periphery to the core. If I perceive in another person mainly the surface, I perceive mainly the differences, that which separates us. If I penetrate to the core, I perceive our identity, the fact of our brotherhood (pp. 43-44).

Brotherly love is love between equals: but, indeed, even as equals we are not always “equal”; inasmuch as we are human, we are all in need of help. Today I, tomorrow you. But this need of help does not mean that one is helpless, the other powerful. Helplessness is a transitory condition; the ability to stand and walk on one’s own feet is the permanent and common one (p. 44).

Yet, love of the helpless one, love of the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love. To love one’s flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. The helpless one loves his master, since his life depends on him; the child loves his parents, since he needs them. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose, love begins to unfold (p. 45).

The affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth, freedom is rooted in one’s capacity to love, i.e., in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge (pp. 55-56).

The selfish person is interested only in himself, wants everything for himself, feels no pleasure in giving, but only in taking. The world outside is looked at only from the standpoint of what he can get out of it; he lacks interest in the needs of others and respect for their dignity and integrity (p. 56).

The realm of love, reasoning, and justice exists as a reality only because, and in so much as, man has been able to develop these powers in himself throughout the process of his evolution. In this view there is no meaning to life, except the meaning man himself gives to it; man is utterly alone except insomuch as he helps another (p. 67).

Quotes for this blog are taken from Fromm, E. (1956; 2006). The Art of Loving. (NY: HarperPerennial Modern Classics).

Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today (Part 2 of 8 - 'No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning') - Richard Paul Archives

Feb 09, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  • “Conclusion”

The second of these sections appears below.


Given the complexity of critical thinking – its rootedness in 2500 years of intellectual history as well as the wide range of its application – it is unwise to put too much weight on any one “definition" of critical thinking. Any brief formulation of what critical thinking is is bound to have important limitations. Some theoreticians well established in the literature have provided us with a range of useful “definitions," each with their limitations. In Educating Reason: Rationality, Critical Thinking, and Education, Harvey Siegel (1988) defines critical thinking as “thinking [that is] appropriately moved by reasons". This definition highlights the contrast between the mind's tendency to be shaped by phenomena other than reasons: desires, fears, social rewards and punishments, etc. Robert Ennis (1985) defines critical thinking as “rational reflective thinking concerned with what to do or believe." This definition usefully calls attention to the wide role that critical thinking plays in everyday life, for since all behavior depends on what we believe, all human action depends upon what we in some sense decide to do. Matthew Lipman (1988) defines critical thinking as “skillful, responsible, thinking that is conducive to judgment because it relies on criteria, is self-correcting and is sensitive to context." This definition highlights the need for intellectual standards and self-assessment.

Scriven and Paul (Paul, 1995) define critical thinking (for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking) as follows: “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." . . . “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.

The point is that there is no one way to define what critical thinking is, nor one way to explain it. Nevertheless, there is lurking behind the diverse definitions common understandings. For example, consider the basic explanations of critical thinking expressed in interviews of a number of scholars in the field of critical thinking research conducted by John Esterle and Dan Cluman of The Whitman Institute of San Francisco (1993). One of the questions asked all interviewees was, “What is your conception of critical thinking?" A review of these answers demonstrates, as above, that despite diversity of expression there is a core of common meaning in the field.

CAROLE WADE: “ln our introductory psychology book, Carol Tavris and I have a definition we thought quite a bit about. We define critical thinking as “the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of
well-supported reasons." We wanted to get in the willingness as well as the ability because a person can master critical thinking skills without being the least bit disposed to use them. Also, we didn't want critical thinking to be confined to problem solving. Unless you construe problem solving extremely broadly, critical thinking goes beyond that, to include forming judgments, evaluating claims, defending a position. We said “well-supported reasons" rather than “evidence" because, although our own discipline emphasizes empirical evidence, we wanted to recognize that you don't reach all conclusions or assess all claims on the basis of such evidence. Sometimes there is no empirical evidence and critical thinking is purely a process of reasoned judgment.”

MICHAEL SCRIVEN: "... it's the skill to identify the less obvious alternatives to positions, claims, arguments, generalizations . . .

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How Skilled Are You as a Critical Thinker? A Checklist - Linda Elder

Feb 05, 2021

Many people think they are the ones who think critically, while it is everyone else who needs critical thinking. This is an intrinsic state of the human mind overcome only by cultivating intellectual humility – in one’s own mind, using one’s own thinking. It is natural for us to believe we know more than we do know, and to believe we are more skilled than we are skilled, as reasoners. This is why we need explicit critical thinking.

There are many ways to develop critical thinking skills, abilities and characteristics. We recommend that you spend time reading and viewing videos in our community library, as well as working through activities in our Academy. Also join us for real-time webinar Q&R’s in the community, which are engaging and enjoyable. In these webinars you can connect with us, and with one another, in real time focused on an important issue from the point of view of critical thinking.

To develop as critical reasoners, you will need to read, write, discuss and think your way into the theory of critical thinking.

You will know you are improving when…

• You are better at communicating your ideas and understanding others.

• You are better at sticking to issues and solving problems.

• You pursue more rational goals and can better reach them.

• You are better at asking productive questions.

• You are less selfish.

• You have more control over your emotions.

• You have more control over your desires and behavior.

• You can better understand the viewpoints of others. . . .

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"Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today" [Part 1 of 8 - "Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”] - Richard Paul Archives

Feb 02, 2021

This article was published in the Winter 1996 issue of Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (vol. 16, no. 2) and was titled, “Critical Thinking and the State of Education Today.” The piece was divided into eight sections:

  • “Understanding Substantive Critical Thinking / Avoiding the Growing List of Counterfeits”
  • “No One Definition But A Common Core of Meaning”
  • “A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking”
  • “The State of the Field Today: Three Waves of Research, With Little Sense of History”
  • “The First Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1970-1996 / Formal & Informal Logic Courses
  • “The Second Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1980-1996 / Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Across the Grades”
  • “The Third Wave of Critical Thinking Research & Practice / 1985- / Depth & Comprehensiveness in Theory & Practice”
  •  “Conclusion”

The first of these sections appears below.

It is now generally recognized that the art of thinking critically is a major missing link in education today, and that effective communication and problem-solving skills, as well as mastery of content require critical thinking. It is now generally conceded that the ability to think critically becomes more and more important to success in life as the pace of change continues to accelerate and as complexity and interdependence continue to intensify. It is also generally understood that some major changes in instruction will have to take place to shift the overarching emphasis of student learning from rote memorization to effective critical thinking (as the primary tool of learning).

It is not so clear to most educators how to bring this important shift about, nor what instruction should look like afterwards. All too often the phrase "critical thinking" is nothing more than a vague place-holder for any of a miscellany of changes and/or conceptions of change. All too often, the phrase is used so imprecisely that no one knows exactly what is being said nor how to assess its unclarified effect. For example, results of recent large-scale research into faculty knowledge of critical thinking conducted by the Center For Critical Thinking For the Commission on Teacher Credentialing and encompassing 75 colleges and universities included the following general conclusions about the involvement of randomly chosen faculty in fostering critical thinking in their instruction.

1) Though the overwhelming majority claimed critical thinking to be a primary objective of their instruction (89%), only a small minority could give a clear explanation of what critical thinking is (19%). Furthermore, according to their answers, only 9% of the respondents were clearly teaching for critical thinking on a typical day in class.

2) Though the overwhelming majority (78%) claimed that their students lacked appropriate intellectual standards (to use in assessing their thinking), and 73 % considered that students learning to assess their own work was of primary importance, only a very small minority (8%) could enumerate any intellectual criteria or standards they required of students or could give an intelligible explanation of what those criteria and standards were.

3) While 50% of those interviewed said that they explicitly distinguish critical thinking skills from traits, only 8% were able to provide a clear conception of the critical thinking skills they thought were most important for their students to develop. Furthermore the overwhelming majority (75%) provided either minimal or vague allusion (33%) or no illusion at all (42%) to intellectual traits of mind.

4) When asked how they conceptualized truth, a surprising 41% of those who responded to the question said that knowledge, truth and sound judgment are fundamentally a matter of personal preference or subjective taste. . . .

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Critical Thinking Therapy for Mental Health and Self Actualization - Linda Elder

Jan 30, 2021

For may years we have been contextualizing the principles of critical thinking in numerous fields of study. We now offer counseling in Critical Thinking Therapy as well as instruction in Critical Thinking Therapy for Therapists. Critical Thinking Therapy uses the explicit concepts in critical thinking to help clients (or you) gain command of your emotional life, achieve emotional well-being and realize all of which you are capable as a unique individual. Critical Thinking Therapy is based in the assumption that to gain command of your life requires, first and foremost, gaining command of the thinking that is commanding your life.


Critical Thinking Therapy
for Mental Health and Self-Actualization


Through The Cultivation Of Intellectual And Ethical Character
As Well As One’s Creative Potential



Overview of Critical Thinking Therapy

Critical thinking Therapy begins with the assumption that mental health depends, among other things, on reasonable thinking. Being mentally healthy implies living a reasonable life. One cannot be emotionally healthy while also being an unreasonable person. To be a reasonable person requires critical thinking. Yet mental health professionals generally lack an understanding of critical thinking and its vital importance to effective mental health therapies.

It isn’t that mental health professionals never use critical thinking. All the best therapeutic approaches to mental health have a direct relationship with critical thinking. Yet clinicians do not always choose the best mental health therapies. This is true because they don’t always know how to choose among the theories and therapies within the various schools of thought relevant to cultivating mental health. In other words, they are frequently unclear as to the standards they should use in deciding on the best counseling strategies for their clients. Nor can therapists necessarily effectively apply the best theories when they do choose them, for this also requires critical thinking. And even the best approaches to mental health have limitations or weaknesses. Again, critical thinking is required to figure out these limitations.

Though we should never seek to boil critical thinking down to a single definition capable of explaining and entailing all of its complexities, it is useful to consider a beginning definition.

Critical thinking refers to reasoning (thinking) that adheres to standards of excellence (criteria for thinking). It entails the ability to explicitly take one’s thinking apart and examine each part for quality through intellectual standards (such as clarity, accuracy, relevance, breadth, depth, logicalness, fairness, significance, and sufficiency). It includes fairmindedness, since critical thinkers will always strive to consider relevant viewpoints in good faith. The cultivation of fairminded critical thinking necessitates working toward the embodiment of intellectual virtues such as intellectual empathy, intellectual humility, intellectual integrity, intellectual courage, confidence in reason, and intellectual autonomy. Critical thinking implies understanding one’s own native egocentric and sociocentric tendencies, and actively combatting these tendencies throughout daily life. Critical thinking also entails understanding the intimate relationship between thinking, feelings, and desires. And it involves a creative dimension that enables people to improve their thinking and the quality of their lives, to contribute to the development of human ideas and practices, and to achieve self-fulfillment and self-actualization.

It is clear that therapists typically neither use nor impart a comprehensive, explicit conception of critical thinking in their work with clients because they are rarely, if ever, taught such a conception. They may themselves think critically to some degree on any number of topics . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Open Letter to President Biden, Calling for Critical Thinking in Education Once and For All - Linda Elder

Jan 22, 2021

Entreaty to Make Critical Thinking the Highest Priority in American Education


Dear President Biden:

You have been elected at another momentous time in our history. We face many overwhelming problems that can only be solved using the highest-level reasoning we can collectively achieve. Therefore, as you consider the earliest moves you will make as president, we implore you to place critical thinking at the heart of your education policy.

The simple fact is that if we are to come anywhere close to effectively addressing the problems we now face together on this planet, we will have to think seriously about the problems in thinking that are causing these problems. This can only be done through explicit, fairminded critical thinking. The attack on Washington on January 6 exemplifies how far we are away from this reality.

At the Foundation for Critical Thinking – an education 501(c)(3) non-profit organization – we have been advancing a rich, integrated conception of fairminded critical thinking for more than 40 years. And though in the last decade the term “critical thinking” has gained in use, it has not gained much in currency. American public education, on the whole, has never actively embodied or cultivated intellectual and ethical development.

Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that 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. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

And yet, at present, thinking is virtually ignored in human societies. The only way we can hope to create critical societies, societies in which fairminded reasonable thought is a primary goal and collective value, is if we begin to take thinking seriously. 

Put another way, critical thinking is essential to reasoning well through any issue or problem, through every subject and discipline. But it is largely disregarded in our schools, colleges, universities, social institutions, government, and, indeed, in all domains of human thought.

Most of our work at the Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking in the past four decades has been with teachers and faculty (from primary grades through higher education). Because critical thinking is essential to reasoning well in every part of human life, it is essential to education. Sadly, because it is far from a cultural value, because teachers have not learned how to foster it, because “leaders” ignore it, because most people have no real conception of it or how to go about engaging in it, we are advancing only very slowly to bring it into the heart of everyday life.

Critical thinking is, whether we see it or not, the missing piece. In schooling today, we do not help students take command of their own minds. Studies show that, for the most part, we are not teaching them to discipline their own thinking. We are not teaching them that the only way to learn a subject or discipline is to think through problems and issues in it using disciplined  thinking. We are not engaging their intellects. We are not teaching them how to fully and deeply comprehend what they read. We are not teaching them to write with clarity, precision and purpose. We are not teaching students to integrate ideas within and among subjects. We are not teaching them to enter (in good faith) viewpoints with which they disagree. We do not approach them as thinkers. In short, we are failing to develop the intellect. 

Instead, we are largely alienating students from education. Most students leave our high schools, colleges and universities without being able to think scientifically, mathematically, historically, sociologically, anthropologically, economically, or psychologically. They are not learning to think as good citizens concerned with the public interest. They are not learning to be good parents or intimate partners. They go out into the world, faced with the tremendously complex realities we all now face, without the intellectual skills they need to survive and prosper in it.

This is not surprising given that, for the most part, teachers themselves are not learning critical thinking in their own “educational processes.” 

It is true that some students learn some critical thinking implicitly along the way. But, as is evident in the state of current affairs, our collective thinking simply isn’t good enough. In fact, where people do tend to think critically in today’s societies, it is frequently sophistic or selfish critical thinking they become skilled in.

As a country we have been “reforming” education for several decades, and we continue to fail in this because we ignore the very foundations of education. These foundations are found in a rich conceptualization of critical thinking, which entails:

1.    learning to analyze thinking (to identify purposes in thinking, the questions being asked, the information being used, the beliefs being taken for granted, the concepts guiding the thinking, the viewpoint of the reasoning, and so forth),

2.    learning to assess thinking using intellectual standards (like clarity, accuracy, significance, depth, breadth, fairness, logic and relevance),

3.    developing intellectual traits of mind (like intellectual empathy, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, intellectual humility, fairmindedness, confidence in reason, and intellectual sense of justice).

Moreover, a substantive conception of critical thinking implies a deep concern with the problematics in thinking. This entails, for example, recognizing that people need explicit ways to deal with their native egocentricity (tendencies toward self-deception, selfishness, narrow-mindedness, rationalization, etc.). And it entails awareness of one’s natural tendencies toward sociocentricity (to blindly follow the crowd). 

In sum, critical thinking is necessary because:

1.    though everyone thinks,

2.    we can’t count on our thinking to be of high quality (in fact we can count on it, quite often, to be biased, to distort information and points of view, to see things from a narrow self-serving perspective, and so forth).

The simple fact is that any education policy which ignores critical thinking will fail for the very reason that skilled thinking is the key to sound education policy and practice. And at the heart of intelligent thought are the concepts, principles, skills and traits of critical thinking.

I leave you with two quotes:

The critical habit of thought, if usual in 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. . . . 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. (William Graham Sumner in Folkways, 1906)

[Critical thinking is a] desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture. (Francis Bacon, 1605)

We are homo sapiens, the thinking species. But we are perhaps centuries or more away from homo criticus, the species that thinks critically. If we are to reverse the downward spiral we are at present experiencing, we must begin to actively and deliberately foster fairminded critical thinking in our schools, our homes, our social institutions, in government, and indeed, in every part of human life.

If you are interested in discussing how critical thinking can become an educational value in this country, we are ready to help.


Linda Elder, Ed. D.                                                     
Educational Psychologist                                          
Senior Fellow and President
Foundation for Critical Thinking

The Deadly Riot at the US Capital is a Manifestation of Sociocentric Thinking - Dr. Linda Elder

Jan 13, 2021

As we continue to try to make sense of the events of January 6, 2021, people are asking questions like: How could so many people have been involved in the crimes connected with breaking into the Capital building in a bizarre attempt to stop the counting of electoral votes? Now that at least some of them have been located and will be held accountable, what did they think would happen when they flashed their smiling faces across the world as they raided the Capital - attacking, injuring and even in one case killing, law enforcement officers? Clearly the group was disorganized on the whole, and the people involved had different motives – with some of them willing to kill in cold blood, while others were simply following along, as naïve thinkers will do. What did the “leaders” of these groups expect would happen – that they would somehow actually stage a coup and take over our government? What did the followers expect would happen when they unlawfully entered the Capital spewing hatred across their shirts and out of their mouths? Were some there to harm or even kill elected legislators and leaders? Were some just following orders from group leaders, pushed along by the US president, without thinking through what they were doing and why? When we hear the actual complaints of these grumbling people, we hear things like, the left wing wants to bring us socialism, communism, Marxism (mimicking what they have heard from their president). But we rarely hear reasoning about what is wrong, why it is wrong, how they have been wronged, what they fear about progressive ideas.

Swept up in mass hysteria, which has been exemplified ad nauseam throughout history, many of these people were simply following along with a group that would accept them for their simplistic beliefs that, though out of touch with reality, were shared by the overall group. Collectively they validated one another and could “feel good, even exhilarated.” They thought of themselves as unique and special, a group standing together on principle.  But what principles? In the final analysis, sadly, we see, in essence, merely another gross contextualization of various forms of sociocentric thinking, which runs through human societies. In the following excerpt . . .

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New Year’s Resolutions and The Art of Loving - Linda Elder

Jan 01, 2021

As we move into the new year, we are once again reminded of the life we have lived and the life we are yet to live, of the mistakes we have made and the resolutions we have failed to live up to. We seek to live at a higher level, but how can this be done in the largely pathological world in which we find ourselves? Our reflections, at the beginning of each new year tend to be either repeats of reasonable past resolutions at which we have failed, (such as eating more healthy foods and exercising more), or are superficial declarations suggested to us from mainstream media (such as reading more books).

To live at a level that brings greater contentment and satisfaction entails expanding our minds in new and edifying directions, which are hard to find in our world filled with glitz, glamour, triviality, and ostentation.  To find a reasonable path to enlightenment, we should look to the best thinking available to us. For me, this means regularly reading in the classics, as many of you know.

For instance, as we face the new year, this is a good time to revisit our concept of love – to ask ourselves whether and to what degree we understand how to live a life that embodies . . .

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