Guide Critical Thinking and the Philosophy of Knowledge

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thinking is what philosophers do, and that teaching critical teaching critical thinking alone suffice to introduce . as unique for millenia: truth, knowledge.
Table of contents

In thinking about the suction pump, the scientist first notes that it will draw water only to a maximum height of 33 feet at sea level and to a lesser maximum height at higher elevations, selects for attention the differing atmospheric pressure at these elevations, sets up experiments in which the air is removed from a vessel containing water when suction no longer works and in which the weight of air at various levels is calculated, compares the results of reasoning about the height to which a given weight of air will allow a suction pump to raise water with the observed maximum height at different elevations, and finally assimilates the suction pump to such apparently different phenomena as the siphon and the rising of a balloon A passenger in a car driving in a diamond lane reserved for vehicles with at least one passenger notices that the diamond marks on the pavement are far apart in some places and close together in others.

The driver suggests that the reason may be that the diamond marks are not needed where there is a solid double line separating the diamond line from the adjoining lane, but are needed when there is a dotted single line permitting crossing into the diamond lane. Further observation confirms that the diamonds are close together when a dotted line separates the diamond lane from its neighbour, but otherwise far apart.

A woman suddenly develops a very itchy red rash on her throat and upper chest. She recently noticed a mark on the back of her right hand, but was not sure whether the mark was a rash or a scrape. She lies down in bed and thinks about what might be causing the rash and what to do about it. About two weeks before, she began taking blood pressure medication that contained a sulfa drug, and the pharmacist had warned her, in view of a previous allergic reaction to a medication containing a sulfa drug, to be on the alert for an allergic reaction; however, she had been taking the medication for two weeks with no such effect.

The day before, she began using a new cream on her neck and upper chest; against the new cream as the cause was mark on the back of her hand, which had not been exposed to the cream. She began taking probiotics about a month before. She also recently started new eye drops, but she supposed that manufacturers of eye drops would be careful not to include allergy-causing components in the medication.

The rash might be a heat rash, since she recently was sweating profusely from her upper body. Since she is about to go away on a short vacation, where she would not have access to her usual physician, she decides to keep taking the probiotics and using the new eye drops but to discontinue the blood pressure medication and to switch back to the old cream for her neck and upper chest. She forms a plan to consult her regular physician on her return about the blood pressure medication. Although Dewey included no examples of thinking directed at appraising the arguments of others, such thinking has come to be considered a kind of critical thinking.

Council for Aid to Education Immediate acceptance of an idea that suggests itself as a solution to a problem e. On-going suspension of judgment in the light of doubt about a possible solution is not critical thinking Dewey Critique driven by a dogmatically held political or religious ideology is not critical thinking; thus Paulo Freire [] is using the term e. Derivation of a conclusion from given data using an algorithm is not critical thinking. What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. Ennis lists 14 philosophically oriented scholarly definitions and three dictionary definitions.

Following Rawls , who distinguished his conception of justice from a utilitarian conception but regarded them as rival conceptions of the same concept, Ennis maintains that the 17 definitions are different conceptions of the same concept. Rawls articulated the shared concept of justice as. One could sum up the core concept that involves these three features by saying that critical thinking is careful goal-directed thinking. This core concept seems to apply to all the examples of critical thinking described in the previous section.

As for the non-examples, their exclusion depends on construing careful thinking as excluding jumping immediately to conclusions, suspending judgment no matter how strong the evidence, reasoning from an unquestioned ideological or religious perspective, and routinely using an algorithm to answer a question. Ennis and Bailin et al. As to its goal, some conceptions restrict it to forming a judgment Dewey , ; Lipman ; Facione a.

Others allow for actions as well as beliefs as the end point of a process of critical thinking Ennis ; Bailin et al. As to the criteria and threshold for being careful, definitions vary in the term used to indicate that critical thinking satisfies certain norms: These variant specifications of norms for critical thinking are not necessarily incompatible with one another, and in any case presuppose the core notion of thinking carefully. It expresses a practical program for achieving an educational goal. For this purpose, a one-sentence formulaic definition is much less useful than articulation of a critical thinking process, with criteria and standards for the kinds of thinking that the process may involve.

The real educational goal is recognition, adoption and implementation by students of those criteria and standards. That adoption and implementation in turn consists in acquiring the knowledge, abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker. Conceptions of critical thinking generally do not include moral integrity as part of the concept. Dewey, for example, took critical thinking to be the ultimate intellectual goal of education, but distinguished it from the development of social cooperation among school children, which he took to be the central moral goal. Schools participating in the Eight-Year Study took development of the habit of reflective thinking and skill in solving problems as a means to leading young people to understand, appreciate and live the democratic way of life characteristic of the United States Aikin To supplement these considerations, Siegel Despite the diversity of our 11 examples, one can recognize a common pattern.

Dewey analyzed it as consisting of five phases:. The process of reflective thinking consisting of these phases would be preceded by a perplexed, troubled or confused situation and followed by a cleared-up, unified, resolved situation Dewey Variants of the above analysis appeared in Dewey The variant formulations indicate the difficulty of giving a single logical analysis of such a varied process.

The process of critical thinking may have a spiral pattern, with the problem being redefined in the light of obstacles to solving it as originally formulated. For example, the person in Transit might have concluded that getting to the appointment at the scheduled time was impossible and have reformulated the problem as that of rescheduling the appointment for a mutually convenient time. Further, defining a problem does not always follow after or lead immediately to an idea of a suggested solution. Nor should it do so, as Dewey himself recognized in describing the physician in Typhoid as avoiding any strong preference for this or that conclusion before getting further information Dewey Detectives, intelligence agencies, and investigators of airplane accidents are well advised to gather relevant evidence systematically and to postpone even tentative adoption of an explanatory hypothesis until the collected evidence rules out with the appropriate degree of certainty all but one explanation.

Further, given the great variety of kinds of problems for which reflection is appropriate, there is likely to be variation in its component events. Perhaps the best way to conceptualize the critical thinking process is as a checklist whose component events can occur in a variety of orders, selectively, and more than once. These component events might include 1 noticing a difficulty, 2 defining the problem, 3 dividing the problem into manageable sub-problems, 4 formulating a variety of possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, 5 determining what evidence is relevant to deciding among possible solutions to the problem or sub-problem, 6 devising a plan of systematic observation or experiment that will uncover the relevant evidence, 7 carrying out the plan of systematic observation or experimentation, 8 noting the results of the systematic observation or experiment, 9 gathering relevant testimony and information from others, 10 judging the credibility of testimony and information gathered from others, 11 drawing conclusions from gathered evidence and accepted testimony, and 12 accepting a solution that the evidence adequately supports cf.

Checklist conceptions of the process of critical thinking are open to the objection that they are too mechanical and procedural to fit the multi-dimensional and emotionally charged issues for which critical thinking is urgently needed Paul For such issues, a more dialectical process is advocated, in which competing relevant world views are identified, their implications explored, and some sort of creative synthesis attempted. If one considers the critical thinking process illustrated by the 11 examples, one can identify distinct kinds of mental acts and mental states that form part of it.

To distinguish, label and briefly characterize these components is a useful preliminary to identifying abilities, skills, dispositions, attitudes, habits and the like that contribute causally to thinking critically. Identifying such abilities and habits is in turn a useful preliminary to setting educational goals. Setting the goals is in its turn a useful preliminary to designing strategies for helping learners to achieve the goals and to designing ways of measuring the extent to which learners have done so.

Such measures provide both feedback to learners on their achievement and a basis for experimental research on the effectiveness of various strategies for educating people to think critically. Let us begin, then, by distinguishing the kinds of mental acts and mental events that can occur in a critical thinking process.

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By definition, a person who does something voluntarily is both willing and able to do that thing at that time. The same analysis applies to a voluntary mental process of thinking critically. It requires both willingness and ability to think critically, including willingness and ability to perform each of the mental acts that compose the process and to coordinate those acts in a sequence that is directed at resolving the initiating perplexity.

We can identify causal contributors to willingness to think critically by considering factors that would cause a person who was able to think critically about an issue nevertheless not to do so Hamby For each factor, the opposite condition thus contributes causally to willingness to think critically on a particular occasion. For example, people who habitually jump to conclusions without considering alternatives will not think critically about issues that arise, even if they have the required abilities.

The contrary condition of willingness to suspend judgment is thus a causal contributor to thinking critically. We can identify the ability to think well directly, in terms of the norms and standards for good thinking. In general, to be able do well the thinking activities that can be components of a critical thinking process, one needs to know the concepts and principles that characterize their good performance, to recognize in particular cases that the concepts and principles apply, and to apply them.

The knowledge, recognition and application may be procedural rather than declarative.

Critical Thinking

It may be domain-specific rather than widely applicable, and in either case may need subject-matter knowledge, sometimes of a deep kind. We turn now to these three types of causal contributors to thinking critically. They are not moral virtues but intellectual virtues, of the sort articulated by Zagzebski and discussed by Turri, Alfano, and Greco On a realistic conception, thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues are real properties of thinkers. They are general tendencies, propensities, or inclinations to think in particular ways in particular circumstances, and can be genuinely explanatory Siegel Sceptics argue that there is no evidence for a specific mental basis for the habits of mind that contribute to thinking critically, and that it is pedagogically misleading to posit such a basis Bailin et al.

Whatever their status, critical thinking dispositions need motivation for their initial formation in a child—motivation that may be external or internal. Mere force of habit, however, is unlikely to sustain critical thinking dispositions. Critical thinkers must value and enjoy using their knowledge and abilities to think things through for themselves. They must be committed to, and lovers of, inquiry.

A person may have a critical thinking disposition with respect to only some kinds of issues. For example, one could be open-minded about scientific issues but not about religious issues. Critical thinking dispositions can usefully be divided into initiating dispositions those that contribute causally to starting to think critically about an issue and internal dispositions those that contribute causally to doing a good job of thinking critically once one has started Facione a: The two categories are not mutually exclusive.

We consider briefly what each of these dispositions amounts to, in each case citing sources that acknowledge them. Some of the initiating dispositions, such as open-mindedness and willingness to suspend judgment, are also internal critical thinking dispositions, in the sense of mental habits or attitudes that contribute causally to doing a good job of critical thinking once one starts the process.

But there are many other internal critical thinking dispositions. For example, it is constitutive of good thinking about an issue to formulate the issue clearly and to maintain focus on it. For this purpose, one needs not only the corresponding ability but also the corresponding disposition. Other internal dispositions are motivators to continue or adjust the critical thinking process, such as willingness to persist in a complex task and willingness to abandon nonproductive strategies in an attempt to self-correct Halpern For a list of identified internal critical thinking dispositions, see the Supplement on Internal Critical Thinking Dispositions.

Some theorists postulate skills, i. It is not obvious, however, that a good mental act is the exercise of a generic acquired skill. Inferring an expected time of arrival, as in Transit , has some generic components but also uses non-generic subject-matter knowledge. Talk of skills, they concede, is unproblematic if it means merely that a person with critical thinking skills is capable of intelligent performance. Amalgamating these lists would produce a confusing and chaotic cornucopia of more than 50 possible educational objectives, with only partial overlap among them.

Two reasons for diversity among lists of critical thinking abilities are the underlying conception of critical thinking and the envisaged educational level. Appraisal-only conceptions, for example, involve a different suite of abilities than constructive-only conceptions. Some lists, such as those in Glaser , are put forward as educational objectives for secondary school students, whereas others are proposed as objectives for college students e.

The abilities described in the remaining paragraphs of this section emerge from reflection on the general abilities needed to do well the thinking activities identified in section 6 as components of the critical thinking process described in section 5. The derivation of each collection of abilities is accompanied by citation of sources that list such abilities and of standardized tests that claim to test them.

Careful and accurate observation sometimes requires specialist expertise and practice, as in the case of observing birds and observing accident scenes. These abilities come into play as well when one thinks about whether and with what degree of confidence to accept an observation report, for example in the study of history or in a criminal investigation or in assessing news reports. Observational abilities show up in some lists of critical thinking abilities Ennis Norris and King , , a, b is a test of ability to appraise observation reports.

The emotions that drive a critical thinking process are perplexity or puzzlement, a wish to resolve it, and satisfaction at achieving the desired resolution. Children experience these emotions at an early age, without being trained to do so. Education that takes critical thinking as a goal needs only to channel these emotions and to make sure not to stifle them. A critical thinking process needs transformation of an inchoate sense of perplexity into a clear question.

Formulating a question well requires not building in questionable assumptions, not prejudging the issue, and using language that in context is unambiguous and precise enough Ennis Thinking directed at finding the correct causal explanation of a general phenomenon or particular event requires an ability to imagine possible explanations. Thinking about what policy or plan of action to adopt requires generation of options and consideration of possible consequences of each option.

Domain knowledge is required for such creative activity, but a general ability to imagine alternatives is helpful and can be nurtured so as to become easier, quicker, more extensive, and deeper Dewey Facione a and Halpern include the ability to imagine alternatives as a critical thinking ability. All 11 examples in section 2 of this article include inferences, some from hypotheses or options as in Transit , Ferryboat and Disorder , others from something observed as in Weather and Rash.

None of these inferences is formally valid. Rather, they are licensed by general, sometimes qualified substantive rules of inference Toulmin that rest on domain knowledge—that a bus trip takes about the same time in each direction, that the terminal of a wireless telegraph would be located on the highest possible place, that sudden cooling is often followed by rain, that an allergic reaction to a sulfa drug generally shows up soon after one starts taking it. It is a matter of controversy to what extent the specialized ability to deduce conclusions from premisses using formal rules of inference is needed for critical thinking.

Dewey locates logical forms in setting out the products of reflection rather than in the process of reflection. Ennis a , on the other hand, maintains that a liberally-educated person should have the following abilities: Inferential abilities are recognized as critical thinking abilities by Glaser Knowing how to design and execute an experiment is important not just in scientific research but also in everyday life, as in Rash. Dewey devoted a whole chapter of his How We Think Experimenting abilities come into play at one remove in appraising reports of scientific studies.

Skill in designing and executing experiments includes the acknowledged abilities to appraise evidence Glaser The Collegiate Learning Assessment Council for Aid to Education makes room for appraisal of study design in both its performance task and its selected-response questions. Skill at consulting sources of information comes into play when one seeks information to help resolve a problem, as in Candidate. Ability to find and appraise information includes ability to gather and marshal pertinent information Glaser The ability to detect and analyze arguments is recognized as a critical thinking skill by Facione a: Five items out of 34 on the California Critical Thinking Skills Test Facione b, test skill at argument analysis.

The College Learning Assessment Council for Aid to Education incorporates argument analysis in its selected-response tests of critical reading and evaluation and of critiquing an argument. Judging skills and deciding skills: Skill at judging and deciding is skill at recognizing what judgment or decision the available evidence and argument supports, and with what degree of confidence. It is thus a component of the inferential skills already discussed. Lists and tests of critical thinking abilities often include two more abilities: In addition to dispositions and abilities, critical thinking needs knowledge: We can derive a short list of concepts whose understanding contributes to critical thinking from the critical thinking abilities described in the preceding section.

Observational abilities require an understanding of the difference between observation and inference. Questioning abilities require an understanding of the concepts of ambiguity and vagueness. Inferential abilities require an understanding of the difference between conclusive and defeasible inference traditionally, between deduction and induction , as well as of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.

Experimenting abilities require an understanding of the concepts of hypothesis, null hypothesis, assumption and prediction, as well as of the concept of statistical significance and of its difference from importance. They also require an understanding of the difference between an experiment and an observational study, and in particular of the difference between a randomized controlled trial, a prospective correlational study and a retrospective case-control study.

Argument analysis abilities require an understanding of the concepts of argument, premiss, assumption, conclusion and counter-consideration. Additional critical thinking concepts are proposed by Bailin et al. According to Glaser If we review the list of abilities in the preceding section, however, we can see that some of them can be acquired and exercised merely through practice, possibly guided in an educational setting, followed by feedback. But the development of such critical thinking abilities as designing an experiment or constructing an operational definition can benefit from learning their underlying theory.

Further, explicit knowledge of quirks of human thinking seems useful as a cautionary guide. Human memory is not just fallible about details, as people learn from their own experiences of misremembering, but is so malleable that a detailed, clear and vivid recollection of an event can be a total fabrication Loftus Critical thinking about an issue requires substantive knowledge of the domain to which the issue belongs. Critical thinking abilities are not a magic elixir that can be applied to any issue whatever by somebody who has no knowledge of the facts relevant to exploring that issue.

CRITICAL THINKING - Fundamentals: Truth and Validity [HD]

For example, the student in Bubbles needed to know that gases do not penetrate solid objects like a glass, that air expands when heated, that the volume of an enclosed gas varies directly with its temperature and inversely with its pressure, and that hot objects will spontaneously cool down to the ambient temperature of their surroundings unless kept hot by insulation or a source of heat. Critical thinkers thus need a rich fund of subject-matter knowledge relevant to the variety of situations they encounter.

This fact is recognized in the inclusion among critical thinking dispositions of a concern to become and remain generally well informed. Experimental educational interventions, with control groups, have shown that education can improve critical thinking skills and dispositions, as measured by standardized tests.

For information about these tests, see the Supplement on Assessment. What educational methods are most effective at developing the dispositions, abilities and knowledge of a critical thinker? They also found that in these studies a combination of separate instruction in critical thinking with subject-matter instruction in which students are encouraged to think critically was more effective than either by itself. However, the difference was not statistically significant; that is, it might have arisen by chance.

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  5. Most of these studies lack the longitudinal follow-up required to determine whether the observed differential improvements in critical thinking abilities or dispositions continue over time, for example until high school or college graduation. For details on studies of methods of developing critical thinking skills and dispositions, see the Supplement on Educational Methods.

    Scholars have denied the generalizability of critical thinking abilities across subject domains, have alleged bias in critical thinking theory and pedagogy, and have investigated the relationship of critical thinking to other kinds of thinking. McPeck attacked the thinking skills movement of the s, including the critical thinking movement. He argued that there are no general thinking skills, since thinking is always thinking about some subject-matter. It is futile, he claimed, for schools and colleges to teach thinking as if it were a separate subject.

    Rather, teachers should lead their pupils to become autonomous thinkers by teaching school subjects in a way that brings out their cognitive structure and that encourages and rewards discussion and argument. As some of his critics e. To make his argument convincing, McPeck needs to explain how thinking differs from writing and speaking in a way that does not permit useful abstraction of its components from the subject-matters with which it deals. He has not done so. Nevertheless, his position that the dispositions and abilities of a critical thinker are best developed in the context of subject-matter instruction is shared by many theorists of critical thinking, including Dewey , , Glaser , Passmore , Weinstein , and Bailin et al.

    McPeck argued for a strong subject-specificity thesis, according to which it is a conceptual truth that all critical thinking abilities are specific to a subject. He did not however extend his subject-specificity thesis to critical thinking dispositions. In particular, he took the disposition to suspend judgment in situations of cognitive dissonance to be a general disposition.

    Conceptual subject-specificity is subject to obvious counter-examples, such as the general ability to recognize confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions. A more modest thesis, also endorsed by McPeck, is epistemological subject-specificity, according to which the norms of good thinking vary from one field to another. Epistemological subject-specificity clearly holds to a certain extent; for example, the principles in accordance with which one solves a differential equation are quite different from the principles in accordance with which one determines whether a painting is a genuine Picasso.

    But the thesis suffers, as Ennis points out, from vagueness of the concept of a field or subject and from the obvious existence of inter-field principles, however broadly the concept of a field is construed. For example, the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning hold for all the varied fields in which such reasoning occurs. A third kind of subject-specificity is empirical subject-specificity, according to which as a matter of empirically observable fact a person with the abilities and dispositions of a critical thinker in one area of investigation will not necessarily have them in another area of investigation.

    The thesis of empirical subject-specificity raises the general problem of transfer. If critical thinking abilities and dispositions have to be developed independently in each school subject, how are they of any use in dealing with the problems of everyday life and the political and social issues of contemporary society, most of which do not fit into the framework of a traditional school subject?

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    Proponents of empirical subject-specificity tend to argue that transfer is more likely to occur if there is critical thinking instruction in a variety of domains, with explicit attention to dispositions and abilities that cut across domains. But evidence for this claim is scanty. There is a need for well-designed empirical studies that investigate the conditions that make transfer more likely.

    It is common ground in debates about the generality or subject-specificity of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that critical thinking about any topic requires background knowledge about the topic. For example, the most sophisticated understanding of the principles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning is of no help unless accompanied by some knowledge of what might be plausible explanations of some phenomenon under investigation.

    Critics have objected to bias in the theory, pedagogy and practice of critical thinking. The critics, however, are objecting to bias in the pejorative sense of an unjustified favoring of certain ways of knowing over others, frequently alleging that the unjustly favoured ways are those of a dominant sex or culture Bailin A common thread in this smorgasbord of accusations is dissatisfaction with focusing on the logical analysis and evaluation of reasoning and arguments.

    While these authors acknowledge that such analysis and evaluation is part of critical thinking and should be part of its conceptualization and pedagogy, they insist that it is only a part. Paul , for example, bemoans the tendency of atomistic teaching of methods of analyzing and evaluating arguments to turn students into more able sophists, adept at finding fault with positions and arguments with which they disagree but even more entrenched in the egocentric and sociocentric biases with which they began.

    Martin and Thayer-Bacon cite with approval the self-reported intimacy with their subject-matter of leading researchers in biology and medicine, an intimacy that conflicts with the distancing allegedly recommended in standard conceptions and pedagogy of critical thinking. Thayer-Bacon contrasts the embodied and socially embedded learning of her elementary school students in a Montessori school, who used their imagination, intuition and emotions as well as their reason, with conceptions of critical thinking as. Students, she writes, should. Some critics portray such biases as unfair to women.

    Her charge does not imply that women as a group are on average less able than men to analyze and evaluate arguments. Facione c found no difference by sex in performance on his California Critical Thinking Skills Test. The critics propose a variety of remedies for the biases that they allege. In general, they do not propose to eliminate or downplay critical thinking as an educational goal. Rather, they propose to conceptualize critical thinking differently and to change its pedagogy accordingly.

    Their pedagogical proposals arise logically from their objections. They can be summarized as follows:. One can get a vivid description of education with the former type of goal from the writings of bell hooks , She abandons the structure of domination in the traditional classroom. In addition to various definitive aspects of critical thinking, the varying philosophical beliefs concerning the nature of the individual responsible for the thinking process also impacts whether one believes critical thinking can be learned.

    Yet without a fundamental discipline specific definition of critical thinking, it is difficult to measure educational outcomes. Another problematic aspect of trying to clearly understand critical thinking and its place in nursing education results from attempts to measure it. Measurement of critical thinking in nursing has yielded inconclusive findings. These contradictory findings require further exploration and understanding to better design and complete future research in this area.

    A clear link between nursing education and critical thinking has not been established despite prominent calls for the necessity of critical thinking in nurses and the proof of critically thinking graduates. Ferguson and Day [ 27 ] purport that many scholars believe critical thinking is not necessarily a direct outcome of nursing education.

    Inconsistent and mixed results are evident in many studies examining the critical thinking skills and abilities of students at various points in their nursing education programs. This inconsistency speaks to the need for additional exploration into critical thinking as an outcome of nursing education programs and the potential creation of a nursing specific critical thinking measure [ 1 , 4 , 26 ].

    There has been no nursing specific critical thinking measure created to date and given the varied nature of definitions and measurement results, a deeper examination of critical thinking from various perspectives is warranted.

    Critical Thinking (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

    By using the concepts of person, truth and nature of nursing, the potential of learning critical thinking is investigated. Critical thinking is usually associated with skills and abilities demonstrated at the individual level. As individuals we are unique in personalities and abilities. One philosophical perspective purports that man is a rational and autonomous being [ 28 ]. However, it would appear that what makes us similar and different is at the heart of whether one can learn to think critically.

    More specifically, if individuals are similar, then some aspects of the processes of thinking critically must be similar in order to clearly identify and label such skills and dispositions found in general definitions. These similarities provide a common foundation from which core thinking skills can be defined, taught and hopefully measured. Conversely, the differences in each individual showcase the autonomous and personal nature of applying critical thinking skills in various contexts.

    Different philosophical perspectives on the nature of being offer an interesting starting point to understand whether critical thinking can be learned. From a reductionist perspective, humans are essentially similar biological beings with brain power regulated by chemicals. Cognitive activity is supported by evidence and as human beings we have more similarities than differences.

    However, any differences are usually explained by physical changes and validated by science. The assumptions underlying a reductionist perspective on being are that science explains all intellectual activity by reducing each step to a simple, empirically proven brain state [ 29 ]. Overall, a reductionist perspective is not compatible with the definition of critical thinking offered by Scheffer and Rubenfeld [ 10 ]. Furthermore, a reductionist viewpoint does not account for the relational properties human beings exhibit within a larger social context.

    Although some cognitive processes, such as logic and rational thought can be explained by scientific evidence, the main essence of individuality related critical thinking and the reliance on the specific context of nursing is not explained through reductionist principles. Moreover, a linear scientific viewpoint fails to consider the critical thinking process and the overall goals of nursing.

    One could not learn anything contextually based or meaning driven part of thinking critically in nursing if critical thinking was viewed using this perspective. Although learning of cognitive behavioral skills would be feasible using a reductionist lens, it is unclear whether the less tangible critical thinking skills and dispositions could be learned or even valued from this perspective.

    Dualism espouses that mind and body are seamlessly connected and that sensory perceptions and motor skills are inseparable [ 29 ]. The unified being would then focus on the relationship between oneself and the world, ultimately becoming part of that environment. From a dualistic perspective, each human being experiences the world differently, without similarities to other individuals.

    Critical thinking in nursing, as defined by Scheffer and Rubenfeld [ 10 ], appears incongruent with this perspective. Since critical thinking as defined by Scheffer and Rubenfeld predicts and transforms knowledge as one aspect of quality nursing care, it is suggestive of a relational process.

    Critical thinking based on a dualistic perspective would be so personalized that the overall goal of nursing, doing good for others, would be lost. Individuals could not learn critical thinking from this perspective because they might not consider undertaking similar processes and actions not driven from their own interpretation. An alternate viewpoint is that of the dependent concept of person where mental and physical states are thought to be closely linked but not inseparable. As well, this perspective allows for feelings in addition to brain states to be involved in thinking, through the link with the physical world.

    The main principle of the dependent position focuses on the cognitive realm being related to the physical self and the physical world. This perspective embraces the role of self, inclusive of similar physical attributes and unique mental states. Within the nursing context, individuals from this perspective would be able to learn critical thinking through similar cognitive processes as others, with a unique application that would celebrate individual differences.

    Whenever an individual thinks, it is undoubtedly about something. As well, how one views truth is an important piece in how knowledge is utilized when thinking critically. Based on a received viewpoint of knowledge, information is solely obtained through deductive methods that verify propositions through scientific means and deem valuable facts empirically proven [ 30 ].

    This viewpoint assumes a general stance that knowledge is value free, objective and quantifiable. From the correspondence perspective of truth, knowledge is proven and justifiable until it is contested and falsified [ 30 ]. This view of the Truth big T versus small t is based on one objective and removed reality - the pursuit of one universal Truth. When comparing a nursing critical thinking [ 10 ] definition to the received viewpoint, some aspects related to making rational, operational and sound judgments resonate between them.

    However, the overall complexities in the world of nursing would not be compatible with the unbending nature of knowledge and Truth associated with the received or correspondence viewpoint. Seymour, Kinn, and Sutherland [ 31 ] argued against adopting a received or correspondence perspective as it would narrow the reasoning strategies one could use in critical thinking and limit the overall goal of engaging in thinking for mere truth versus understanding. If one adopts a received or correspondence perspective, the important personal attributes and necessary context to critically think in nursing would be rendered unimportant.

    Based on these viewpoints of knowledge and truth, there would be no room for an individual to learn to think critically as these perspectives do not align with the more feminine skills and dispositions of critical thinking as defined in nursing. The perceived view acknowledges a value laden nature of understanding and supports knowing from multiple means. The perceived view highlights the individual nature of knowledge construction and emphasizes the need for subjective, intuitive, human factors in both theoretical and practical knowledge [ 30 ]. Similar to this viewpoint is the pragmatic perspective on truth, and the existence of probable truths in nursing.

    This viewpoint is open to numerous understandings and thus various origins of what constitutes truth. The goal of this perspective on truth is to not rely on evidence as defined in the correspondence view, but to examine observations and to respect the humanity, subjectivity, and usefulness of claims [ 30 ]. The perceived and pragmatic perspectives on knowledge and truth are congruent with the multiple ways of knowing represented by a nursing based definition of critical thinking.

    Based on the critical thinking definition provided by Scheffer and Rubenfeld [ 10 ], the personal traits of critical thinking include intuition as do the perceived and pragmatic viewpoints. The main goal of the perceived view for knowledge and the pragmatic view on truth is understanding, which also resonates and corresponds with the goals of critical thinking in a nursing context. Although critical thinking involves inductive reasoning, it also involves deduction as evident in the received viewpoint. Thus the full cognitive complement of skills that are involved in critical thinking is not necessarily captured entirely with the perceived and pragmatic perspectives.

    Another important aspect of this debate is how one views the nature of nursing and whether a certain perspective supports critical thinking and is conducive to the facilitation of critical thinking in nursing. Thus far we have discussed the viewpoints on how one might view the concept of person, knowledge and truth. The concept of the nature of nursing offers a macro layer to this discussion, where the overall essence of nursing is brought into the equation. Is nursing a science, an art, both or none? Nursing is constantly evolving and increasing in complexity. One perspective is that nursing is a science.

    Johnson [ 32 ] categorized nursing from a science perspective and discussed three distinct sub-types: The basic science view supports the attainment of knowledge and Truth as the main goal of nursing [ 32 ]. This view does not address the means for obtaining this knowledge but relies solely on description and explanation to make generalizations about nursing. Applied science supports the integration of other disciplinary knowledge into nursing through a resynthesis process [ 32 ].

    Nursing integrates knowledge from other disciplines to achieve pragmatic outcomes and to develop a more rich and diverse knowledge base. Nursing as an applied science does not foster nursing built solely from knowledge created from within the discipline but supports the ongoing development of nursing knowledge through contributions from other disciplines.

    Nursing as a practical science embraces truths as a means to an end goal of helping others and doing good. This practical perspective aligns science with art in nursing and uses practical knowledge to presuppose theoretical knowledge [ 32 ]. The practical science viewpoint offers the same goal of using critical thinking to integrate truths, which achieve higher order outcomes of quality care.

    Critical Thinking in Every Domain of Knowledge and Belief

    Many would argue that choosing not to use scientifically-based knowledge created to enhance what is known about the world, is immoral and could ultimately cause harm to patients if ignored. Shared principles of analysis, purposeful application, reasoning and action based on principles are evident in both critical thinking and nursing as a practical science.

    Thus, the learning of critical thinking in a practical nursing context is justifiable and possible due to the congruence of principles and goals. In this sense, students learn to employ theoretical knowledge through critical thinking to meet pragmatic outcomes. Another perspective supposes that nursing is an art. From this perspective, nursing is more than just the application of science and objective facts. It is the ability to nurse in an artful manner that more specifically encompasses what Johnson [ 33 ] regarded as the ability to grasp meaning, establish meaningful connections, skillfully perform nursing activities, rationally determine an applicable course of action, and morally conduct his or her nursing practice p.

    From an artful perspective, nursing can be learned in the practice setting and consists of behaviors and intellectual activities that draw upon nursing knowledge applied in a practical sense. Scientific knowledge plays a part in nursing as an art and is used as the antecedent to action [ 33 ]. Artful nursing actions are not considered automatic but are more grounded in intellectualism and judged by certain established standards [ 33 ]. In this sense, the nature of nursing as an art is a very fertile ground from which those who think critically can grow. This perspective also supports the view that individuals could learn something as elusive as critical thinking as it mirrors the ambiguity and complexity of an artful nursing environment.

    A discipline can be defined as a branch of knowledge, education or learning that evolves from creative thinking about pertinent issues [ 35 ]. The discourse surrounding critical thinking in nursing education is necessary to advance the discipline through questioning and scholarly discussions. To generate and foster the application of nursing knowledge in practice, critical thinking is a necessary skill.

    As the discipline evolves alongside societal needs, the complexity of health care, increased use of technology, and increased patient acuity requires nurses with well-developed critical thinking.

    2. Examples and Non-Examples

    In turn, this requires educational nursing institutions to ensure that its graduates have these higher order thinking skills in order to provide quality patient care and to further the application and questioning of important philosophical issues such as critical thinking within the discipline. Further discussion about whether students can learn critical thinking is at the crux of whether nursing as a discipline should focus on this concept as a valuable and viable outcome in nursing education.

    We believe, as do others, that critical thinking can be learned to a certain point and that fostering this skill should remain an important aim in nursing education [ 5 , 16 , 31 ]. It is evident that multiple views exist related to whether critical thinking can be learned in nursing. Not all available views have been discussed in this paper. However, based on the discussions focused on the concepts of person, knowledge, truth and the nature of nursing, we believe some are more aligned with supporting, fostering, and developing critical thinking.

    It is suggested that the discipline should support a pluralistic approach to explain and welcome a variety of perspectives on critical thinking. As situational contexts vary and the nature of nursing varies dependent on the context, critical thinking can transcend these differences and assume a variety of different forms to best suit the situation. We believe that one perspective alone cannot possibly explain and support critical thinking in nursing. Thus the use of pluralism or multiple lenses and perspective is necessary to capture the depth and breadth of the knowledge and essence of what constitutes nursing.

    Guiliano, Tyer-Voila and Lopez [ 36 ] support pluralism and multiple ways of knowing, which translates into supporting unity versus diversity of knowledge. Given the complexity and diversity of nursing, it is feasible and realistic that the philosophical perspectives within nursing are also complex and diverse [ 37 ]. Multiple perspectives would more effectively capture the various aspects of critical thinking and could help explain the concept, its principles, and how critical thinking is learned by students. Whether or not critical thinking can be learned is a difficult topic to philosophically debate.

    However, this paper has attempted to add to the discussion surrounding this subject and foster a critical spirit of discourse.

    1. History

    This issue cannot be solved without further scholarly exploration to uncover and understand the various facets of critical thinking, beginning with a solid conceptual analysis of critical thinking in the literature. Without further attention and questioning, the very vagueness that is thought to plague many definitions of critical thinking and critical thinking research attempting to measure outcomes, will continue to grow and lead to ambivalent operationalization of critical thinking in nursing. Although one could advocate for a pluralistic approach to explain the multifaceted nature of critical thinking and its many applications in a nursing context, there are drawbacks to treading this path as well.

    By not examining specific perspectives further and not analyzing why some perspectives are better suited to the current definition and application of critical thinking, one becomes complacent in accepting that everything has multiple meanings and viewpoints. This perspective can fragment the nursing profession and discipline by raising more questions than answers.

    Moreover, it would cause confusion among educators and nurses by continuing to use an elusive concept without truly knowing whether it fits within the nursing context. Thus, if we decide to adopt a pluralistic approach, we should do so with caution and with the intent to foster scholarly discussion versus agreeing to disagree without thought. A further incentive for nursing to take a closer look at critical thinking is that much of the literature currently used in nursing derives from other disciplines.

    More needs to be known about critical thinking in nursing and more specifically how students learn this important skill and its associated attributes. The goal of this initial philosophical exploration was to further understand critical thinking and the implications of exploring it using different philosophical perspectives. If the discussion ends here we are no further along from where we started. There needs to be additional scholarly attempts to understand critical thinking within nursing by comparing it to various philosophical concepts and previous understanding.

    By exploring critical thinking philosophically, multiple ways of understanding this important concept are illuminated to better inform whether we think critical thinking can be learned in nursing education. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.