What are the characteristics of critical thinking

What is critical thinking?

Is puzzling and brooding already critical thinking? (Image source).

Do you think critically?

Your answer is likely a resounding yes. We understand “critical thinking” intuitively as a very desirable characteristic. Anyone who thinks critically thinks independently and is not naive, does not just believe everything. Anyone who thinks critically goes their own way carefully, is not a sheep in the herd.

But what exactly is critical thinking? How exactly can critical thinking be defined so that it doesn't just remain a vague idea but becomes a concrete tool? The definition at this point is taken from our discussion paper on topic1.

Critical thinking is a metacognitive skill

Critical thinking can be understood as follows:

Critical thinking is a metacognitive skill for evaluating truth statements. Critical thinking consists of three components: minimizing logical fallacies, minimizing cognitive distortions, and a probabilistic epistemology.

In the first part of this definition, critical thinking is called metacognitive ability designated. This means that critical thinking is thinking about thinking. It is further postulated that critical thinking is essential for the evaluation of Statements of truth can be applied. Assertion of truth means an assertion about objective reality, which corresponds to a certain extent with reality, or not.

Critical thinking consists of three components: minimizing logical fallacies, minimizing cognitive distortions, and a probabilistic epistemology. These are briefly explained in the next section.

Minimizing logical fallacies

We make inferences about the world by us Arguments set up: We postulate premises and draw logically conclusive conclusions from these premises. But we don't always succeed, because we often make logical fallacies2.

Critical thinking means thinking that is designed to avoid logical fallacies - both formal and informal.

Minimizing cognitive biases

Our automated thinking usually works well enough to maneuver us through everyday life. We use different cognitive heuristics in order to reach a reasonably suitable conclusion with as little cognitive effort as possible. However, these heuristics can sometimes lead to significantly wrong conclusions, which is why they are often referred to as cognitive biases3.

Cognitive distortions can probably not be switched off completely because they are an integral part of our brain. However, it is possible to selectively switch to a slow thinking mode in order to avoid cognitive distortions. This form of slow thinking is part of critical thinking.

Probabilistic Epistemology

We want to be safe. We want to know that connections and causalities are clear and certain as they are; we find it difficult to accept that there are also uncertainties. Our everyday epistmology is of a deterministic nature, because such ad hoc- Epistemology gives us the illusion of certainty.

However, our access to reality is not deterministic and not always secure - we can only make truthful statements with a certain amount of uncertainty. In critical thinking, it is important to express these uncertainties explicitly in the form of a probabilistic epistemology.


  1. Kovic, Marko. 2016. "A Generalized Definition of Critical Thinking." Swiss Skeptics Discussion Paper Series 1 (1). URL: https://www.skeptiker.ch/a-generalized-definition-of-critical-thinking/. [↩]
  2. How unclean we argue: Logical fallacies. URL: https://www.skeptiker.ch/themen/logische-fehlschluesse/ [↩]
  3. How unreliable we think: cognitive biases. URL: https://www.skeptiker.ch/themen/kognitive-verzerrungen/ [↩]