Defining Critical Thinking

This definition of critical thinking was designed by our pilot faculty in 2012-13, and draws from other standard definitions (by Gerald Nosich, Linda Paul & Richard Elder, and Michael Brookshire) to describe aspects of critical thinking that reflect UNC Asheville's philosophy, mission and interdisciplinary approach to the liberal arts.


Critical thinking is asking good, probing questions. It is an analysis that examines the assumptions and logical processes that lead to particular decisions and/or conclusions. A critical thinker asks questions that aim to encourage deeper understanding and to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information. Critical thinkers approach inquiry with an open mind and can look at things from many angles. It is the ability to analyze choices and redefine one’s approach based on best practices.


Critical thinking translates into a wide range of applications. It is the ability to analyze and critique solutions as well as the ability to locate and evaluate material related to the question at hand. Critical thinkers apply relevant information and evidence in their thought processes to come to conclusions based on accurate and fair interpretations of data. Good critical thinkers come to believe the results of their reasoning and internalize those examined beliefs. Critical thinking echoes Nobel laureate George Pólya’s approach to problem solving:

  1. understand the problem
  2. devise a plan
  3. carry out plan
  4. look back and make sure your answers make sense.

Critical thinking transfers to all aspects of one’s life, and can be applied to personal, political and professional scenarios.


Critical thinking is the ability to view and consider questions from a variety of perspectives,and then having the capacity to answer those questions by thinking about them using reasoning. Critical thinkers reflect on their conclusions to ask “Is it reasonable?” Critical thinking is “thinking about your thinking.” Critical thinking is thinking about process, thinking in order to reach a clearer understanding of one’s self and the world. It means developing an awareness that your attitudes/opinions change through life. Critical thinkers evaluate their own assumptions/biases, and develop an ability to detach themselves from these unexamined assumptions. It is an on-going process, involving conscious examination, mindfulness of prejudices, and awareness of the social constructedness of one’s own thinking. It means being comfortable enough to explore other aspects and points of views, respect different opinions, and being curious about alternative understandings, processes,communications, and articulations of ideas.


Critical thinking is the ability to effectively communicate a question in writing and/or orallyand to explore the possible solutions from a variety of perspectives. Good critical thinkerscommunicate clearly with a strong sense of audience and of purpose. Critical thinkersapproach writing as a process, employing standards of clarity, relevance, accuracy andfairness in their revisions. Good communication that is driven by critical thinking helps othersto join in meaningful conversations and to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other’s differences. Critical thinking helps to promote civil discourse.


Critical thinking is logical. It involves recognizing contradictions and circular reasoning. Critical thinkers apply deductive and inductive logic. They work to determine assumptions by retracing steps from assumptions to conclusion and by examining the associated reasoning that leads to one’s conclusions. Critical thinking involves making decisions based on credible data that reflects depth and breadth of the question at hand. Critical thinkers can assess limitations of assumptions and realms in which they are valid or practical. They demonstratethe ability to evaluate theories/hypotheses based on weight of evidence and the ability to then define one’s approach based on research. Critical thinking is the ability to take theories/hypotheses and generate testable predictions, then test them. Critical thinking is systematic thinking which, through examining and testing assumptions, leads to a clearer understanding of the world, and of one’s beliefs, choices and actions.


Critical thinkers are creative in their ability to design solutions for a variety of scenarios. Critical thinking demands the ability to creatively apply solutions to problems, and to conceptualize imagined alternative paths and/or perceptions of a topic/belief/opinion/argument. Critical thinking reflects imagination and flexibility. It is the ability to be changed by the process of thinking: to be open to shifting ideas/opinions/beliefs against the measure of our own positions. It is the ability to make connections and to understand something deeply, not only in terms of a straightforward definition and systematic categorization, but also in terms of a concept’s association, connotation, metaphorical meaning(s) and elaborations. It leads to a more complex sense of ideas in their operational and allegorical meanings. Critical thinking demands imagination and openness. We agree that critical thinking has an affective dimension insofar as it reflects the generosity to consider the beliefs of others, not necessarily with a desire to change or reach consensus, but rather to learn from and with others. Good critical thinking demands intellectual honesty, empathy, humility, courage, curiosity and fairness.