Being a Good thinker: Critical Thinking

by Anna Blanch on June 15, 2010

I’ve been thinking more lately about the qualities of good thinkers. The comments on the original post where I asked What Makes a Good Thinker? started to head in that direction and I wanted to explore these ideas further. I also explored Growing and Making Good thinkers in an earlier post.

As part of the preparatory reading for Cambridge Scholars Network, which I’ll be attending in July I was encouraged to read and respond to some articles by Richard Paul, from – the following images are from a talk to the International Conference on Critical Thinking.

While I am not convinced that being a good critical thinker necessarily makes you a good thinker, this a helpful matrix and series of resources to help get you started in thinking about exactly what skills you are aiming to develop (both in yourself and your students).

Richard Paul expresses what it means to be a proficient critical thinker in the form of a series of statements that he proposes should be what we aspire to for ourselves and as an expression of what it is that we endeavor to instill in our students:

I use the standards of clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic and fairness. I seek to be clearer. I seek to be accurate. I seek to be precise. I seek to stay focused on the issue. I assess my thinking for relevance. I try to deepen my thinking and notice when I’m being superficial. I try to broaden my thinking to make my thinking more comprehensive. I try to notice when other people’s thinking is narrow and superficial rather than deep and broad. 

I check my thinking for how logical it is. Does it really make sense or am I contradicting myself/? Am I following through the implications of my thought in a consistent logical fashion? Am I focusing on the significant questions putting the insignificant questions, the peripheral questions, in the background? And, am I able to assess other people’s thinking fair-mindedly even though they disagree with me ? Can I be fair to them?

The general idea is that a good critical thinker will be able to analyze thinking, assess thinking, and then reconstruct their thinking. It is about having internalized the skills to be able to enter and learn new systems. Paul summarizes that Critical thinking requires you:

  • to work on your thinking continually, 
  • to make your thinking the object of thought; 
  • to make your behavior the object of your thinking;
  • to make your beliefs the object of your thinking.

I am not convinced about the place of truth or the development  of moral virtues in Paul’s critical thinking model even as the final stage suggests that one should make their beliefs the object of your thinking. As we discussed in an earlier post about being a good thinker that a good thinker will be interested first and foremost in seeking the Truth – and i would contend is a consequence of the development of both intellectual and moral virtues.

I have a funny feeling I will be returning to the idea of intellectual and moral virtues soon enough.

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Anna M Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD candidate in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts, University of St Andrews, Scotland.

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  • Paul

    Very helpful! Thanks so much!!
    My recent post “No doctrine is an island”

  • Goannatree
  • Gorazd

    Anna, if I understand you correctly, good thinking for you includes moral quality, and something like wisdom? I try to understand what good critical thinking is and I agree that it is not simply identical to the capacity of intellectual rigour. I think it should include something like an ability to put in words some "intuitive" insights we may possess, "tacit knowledge" which comes out of life. But at the same time, good thinking should also be capable to abandon securities which can also be tied to intuitively acceptable positions that can prove to be wrong, however. In short, I believe thinking is a dynamic process which includes processing of feelings as well. Am I making any sense to you?

    You asked me for the link to my blog:
    You are most welcome to come and leave a comment. I have not yet advertised it, nor developed it very far, but I plan to continue and build it up properly. The title may change, however. 🙂
    My recent post William Wordsworth and Nature Mysticism

  • Claire

    Anna, your post is very interesting.
    I completed a uni subject called “Critical Thinking” a few years ago and found that my logic was very different from the logic required to answer the most assessment questions correctly. While I achieved pass marks, I examined the ‘correct’ results and I still did not agree with the ‘correct’ logic.
    I can relate to the concept of intuition. I often use instinct/intuition in my work and that instinct/intuition is definitely based on my many years worth of experiences and interviews with my clients. I have seen a change in my instinct/intuition over the years and I make assessments much more quickly and accurately now. I agree with Gorazd – the ability to put insights into words, especially in language appropriate to the listener is required.
    Anyway, I am glad to have come across Goannatree – it has made my head hurt too and not in a bad way, just expanded me somewhat 

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