The Thinker, Rodin, Critical Thinking, John DeweyThough the phrase critical thinking wasn’t coined until the early twentieth century, its principles can be traced back to Aristotle. The educator and psychologist John Dewey first used the phrase in its modern sense in his 1910 book How We Think, though there are instances of the words appearing together in texts before this time. Dewey defined critical thinking as “reflective thought,” requiring healthy skepticism, an open mind, and suspended judgment. Critical thinking is active, in contrast to passive acceptance of the ideas of others. Different criteria and tests used to determine whether or not critical thinking is taking place have been put forth by different educators. Robert Ennis’s popular definition from 1989 also states that, “critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do,” adding an emphasis on the resulting action. Critical thinking has been a reoccurring fad in education for over a hundred years, and in 1997, Michael Scriven, an educator who served as president of both the American Educational Research Association and the American Evaluation Association, declared it an “academic competency,” similar to reading and writing.

Relevant Quotations:

“The essence of critical thinking is suspended judgment; and the essence of this suspense is inquiry to determine the nature of the problem before proceeding to attempts at its solution. This, more than any other thing, transforms mere inference into tested inference, suggested conclusions into proof.”

—John Dewey, How We Think (1910)

“Critical thinking, as the term is generally used these days, roughly means reasonable and reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do. 2 In doing such thinking, one is helped by the employment of a set of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that I shall outline, and that can serve as a set of comprehensive goals for a critical thinking curriculum and its assessment. Pedagogical and psychometric usefulness, not elegance or mutual exclusiveness, is the purpose of this outline. It could be used for an overall critical thinking curriculum outline, or as a comprehensive table of specifications for critical thinking assessment.”

—Robert H. Ennis, “An Outline of Goals for a Critical Thinking Curriculum and Its Assessment” (2002)

Read our previous post about the word bomb.
A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects, the English language (more or less as we know it) coalesced between the 9th and 13th centuries. Since then, it has continued to import and borrow words and expressions from around the world, and the meanings have mutated. (Awesome and awful once meant nearly the same thing.) Some specimens in the English vocabulary have followed unusually circuitous routes to their place in the contemporary lexicon, and this series, Lexical Investigations, unpacks those words hiding in our midst.


  1. L.imran -  April 9, 2014 - 3:22 pm

    Some times when i’m sitting down something comes from inside me to force me think that anything we can achived in life when thoughts becomes my thinking it shows me a path and my utter believes start taking me to my goal you know why my faith my passion will power will take me there i put my heart in it one day one day that is my beieve.

  2. legato -  August 12, 2013 - 5:46 pm

    religion suppresses thinking. it makes us accept things taken in the account of faith. and they use the bible to justify this, taking verses that are “tailored” to push their agenda. it’s like believing that a poisoned maid can come back to life with the kiss of a handsome young prince just because a preacher told you it is written (Snow White and the seven dwarfs 36:14).

  3. legato -  August 12, 2013 - 5:26 pm

    i’m not at par w/ all you smart people out here so i need you to tell me if i’m a critical thinker or not.
    we studied the bible in school. who is to know that those are really written words of God? isn’t it true that these are stories taken from different places written by different people who claimed themselves to be important at one point or another? the Catholic Church then collected these books, compiled them and picked which stories or works will be included in the final book. i have learned that there are some books that were not included for one reason or another; sort of like the way Aesop had a collection of fables and the Grimm Brothers had fairy tales. and then religions preached them by taking verses that are convenient for them; justifying and fortifying their religious beliefs through the verses that are suitable.
    now, come to think of it, why hasn’t the bible explained other planets, other galaxies and the possibility of alien life? while it’s true that alien life hasn’t been proven yet, it also true that God, or someone, created not just our planet but other planets and galaxies as well. and the bible doesn’t tell you that or even attempt to explain things that are out of our world, reason being those people who wrote those stories haven’t experienced other worlds yet. and so i think that the bible is merely a collection of stories written by people and collected by people to be told to other people and just like fables and fairy tales, are fictitious and figments of the imagination.
    i’m not an atheist. I do believe in a higher power, a greater being that created all that we see, in our world and outside. but by golly, whoever created all of these sure wasted a lot of space if there are no other beings in other planets or galaxies.

  4. luvmonkey -  July 17, 2013 - 5:26 pm

    Why not just go with the flow? Critical thinking sounds so haaaaaard! Just let go and let others make your decisions for you. Drift along, piggy-backing off the opinions of others, regardless of whether the things you believe in are in direct contradiction of each other. Who cares? You don’t have to explain yourself to anybody.
    Also, make sure to post long rants on your social media network of choice and be sure to misspell lots of words and disregard grammar. That makes you sound really busy! Busy people don’t have time to spell check.

  5. T. R. Ollface -  July 3, 2013 - 8:11 am

    @Smarter Than You

    Yep, it’s amazing how critical thinking abilities come to a screeching halt when it comes to apologizing for religion; it’d be pretty sad if it wasn’t also so entertaining.

  6. Gil P -  July 1, 2013 - 1:52 pm

    Beth O,

    Here is an easy way to tell if you’re thinking critically or not: Take a group you agree with and one you disagree with and then see if you feel the same about them if you flip things around. Example: George Bush authorized warrantless wiretaps. How did you feel? Barak Obama authorized warrantless wiretaps. Do you feel the same way? George Bush authorized gun running across the border. How did you feel? Barak Obama authorized gun running across the border. Do you feel the same way? If you wore a “Question Authority” t-shirt during the last administration, are you still wearing that t-shirt?

    If you come to the same conclusion on each issue no matter who is in control, then you’re a critical thinker.

  7. Smarter Than You -  June 30, 2013 - 2:54 pm

    This thread is proof that even idiots believe they think critically. Good job.

  8. Vicki K -  June 30, 2013 - 11:25 am

    Critical thinking is a skill that is essential to good communication. How can you give an appropriate, tactful response if you don’t truly consider the question? Critical thinking skills are taught or learned. Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that exists in over 120 countries around the world. Toastmasters International is a friendly, safe and inexpensive learning environment where everyone gains better communication skills (thinking, listening and speaking) in a self-paced setting.
    Check it out at http://www.toastmasters.org

  9. Anna -  June 30, 2013 - 11:14 am

    To my limited understanding regarding this sensible topic is very simple:
    Reasonable thinking is more clearly emphasize it without emotion. Unfortunately we are driven by emotions most of the time or always. That is why so many different opinions. Thank you for allowing me to comment

  10. William Heath -  June 30, 2013 - 7:49 am

    A lack of critical thinking is at the base of our problems. Political correctness totally ignores critically thinking, trying to make up for past injustices.

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