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To answer these questions, we turn to The Foundation for Critical Thinking. On their website (http://www.criticalthinking.org//) , they provide a concise history of critical thinking and also present a number of definitions, including the well-known and often quoted one proposed by Sumner (1906/1940, as cited by The Foundation for Critical Thinking, n.d.-a) who defined critical thinking as:
the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not. The critical faculty is a product of education and training. It is a mental habit and power. It is a prime condition of human welfare that men and women should be trained in it. It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances. (para.1)
The Foundation for Critical Thinking (n.d.-b) further defined critical thinking as:
that mode of thinking--about any subject, content, or problem--in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism. (para. 2)
They go on to describe a “well-cultivated” critical thinker as one who:
You might find it helpful as you make your way through the MA program to keep this list of the characteristics of a critical thinker posted for handy reference. Ask yourself from time to time: “Am I engaging in this level of thinking?”
As you review these and other definitions of critical thinking and view critical thinking as an activity, you will see that they have some aspects in common. Essentially, critical thinking has four main components: