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The Components of Thinking

According to Paul and Elder (1997), in order to become critical thinkers we must be able to both identify the components of thinking and assess our use of these components of thinking.

The Elements of Reasoning enable us to analyse our thought, while the Standards are used to assess and evaluate our use of the elements. The Intellectual Traits are characteristics of a fairminded critical thinker. To cultivate the mind, we need command of these essential dimensions, and we need to consistently apply them as we think through the many problems and issues in our lives. (http://www.criticalthinking.org/starting/index.cfm).


The Elements of Reasoning (thought) tell us that all reasoning:

  1. Has a purpose
  2. Is an attempt to answer questions, or solve problems
  3. Is based on assumptions
  4. Is framed by a specific point of view
  5. Is dependent on information, data, and evidence
  6. Contains inferences, or interpretations, that lead to conclusions
  7. Is expressed through concepts and ideas
  8. Has implications and consequences

The Intellectual Standards are used to assess the quality of reasoning. Being able to think critically necessitates a thorough command of these standards, infused in all thinking. We use the Intellectual Standards as a guide to better and better thinking.

The Intellectual Standards include:

  • Clarity- Understandable, the meaning can be grasped
    Could you elaborate? Could you illustrate what you mean? Could you give an example?
  • Accuracy - Free from errors or distortions, true
    How could we check on that? How could we find out if that is true? How could we verify or test that?
  • Precision - Exact to the necessary level of detail
    Could you be more specific? Could you give more details? Could you be more exact?
  • Relevance - Relating to the matter at hand
    How does that relate to the problem? How does that help us with the issue?
  • Depth - Containing complexities and multiple relationships
    What factors make this difficult? What are some of the complexities of this question/situation? What are some of the difficulties we need to deal with?
  • Breadth - Encompassing multiple viewpoints
    Do we need to look at this from another perspective? Do we need to consider another point of view? Do we need to look at this in other ways?
  • Logic - The parts make sense together-no contradictions
    Does this all make sense together? Does your first paragraph fit in with your last one? Does what you say follow from the evidence?
  • Significance - Focusing on the important, not the trivial
    Is this the most important problem focus on? Which of these facts are most important? Is this the central idea to consider?
  • Fairness - Justifiable, not self serving or one-sided
    Is my thinking justifiable in context? Am I taking into account the thinking of others? Is my purpose fair given the situation? Am I using my concepts in keeping with educated usage, or am I distorting them to get what I want?

Intellectual Traits
Consistent application of these standards of thinking to the elements of thinking lead to the development of Intellectual Traits of:

  • Intellectual Humility
  • Intellectual Courage
  • Intellectual Empathy
  • Intellectual Autonomy
  • Intellectual Integrity
  • Intellectual Perseverance
  • Confidence in Reason
  • Fairmindedness

The Result - Consistent utilization of the intellectual traits produce a well-cultivated critical thinker who is able to:

  • Raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
  • Gather and asses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
  • Come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • Think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • Communicate effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.