On Critical Thinking Dispositions

Written by Argumentful

Ever since critical thinking debate gained momentum in the 1980’s, the question of whether critical thinking includes more than just skills has been one of the central points of discussion.

In this article I will aim to offer an account of what the critical thinking dispositions might be in an effort to increase the awareness of these tendencies that contribute greatly to the act of thinking critically in our everyday lives.

Critical thinking became a hot topic through the 1980’s. Given the tremendous momentum gained by the critical thinking movement in those years, a panel of experts started to work through a Delphi process aiming to answer a few significant questions such as: what are the skills and dispositions which make for critical thinking?

They concluded that critical thinking should be concerned with certain core cognitive skills, but also with “affective dispositions of critical thinking”, or in their own words:

“As water strengthens a thirsty plant, the affective dispositions are necessary for the critical thinking skills identified to take root and to flourish in students.”

The result of the panel discussions contained, among others, a list of the dispositions which a critical thinker should have. They are reproduced from the original paper written by Peter Facione, grouped in two categories and shown below.

Approaches to life and living in general:

  • Inquisitiveness with regard to a wide range of issues
  • Concern to become and remain generally well-informed
  • Alertness to opportunities to use critical thinking
  • Trust in the processes of reasoned inquiry
  • Self-confidence in one’s own ability to reason
  • Open-mindedness regarding divergent world views
  • Flexibility in considering alternatives and opinions
  • Understanding of the opinions of other people
  • Fair mindedness in appraising reasoning
  • Honesty in facing one’s own biases, prejudices, stereotypes, egocentric or sociocentric tendencies
  • Prudence in suspending, making or altering judgments
  • Willingness to reconsider and revise views where honest reflection suggests that change is warranted.

Approaches to specific issues, questions or problems:

  • Clarity in stating the question or concern
  • Orderliness in working with complexity
  • Diligence in seeking relevant information
  • Reasonableness in selecting and applying criteria
  • Care in focusing attention on the concern at hand
  • Persistence though difficulties are encountered
  • Precision to the degree permitted by subject and circumstances.

This separation between the two categories is significant, as it does indicate that the critical thinker cannot exhibit the tendency of thinking critically just in specific situations, rather being such a thinker should be a matter of choice throughout one’s entire existence. Or as Siegel (1988) so vividly puts it:

“Just as sugar has the disposition to dissolve in water while still in the sugar bowl, so does the critical thinker have the dispositions, habits of mind and character traits we have considered while not engaged in reason assessment or (other) rational action.”

Another list is offered by Perkins, Jay and Tishman who identified eight main dispositions, each with further sub-categories:

Being broad and adventurous:

  • Tendency to be open minded and to look beyond what is given
  • Impulse to probe assumptions and examine alternative points of view
  • Desire to tinker with boundaries and play with new ideas
  • Urge to speculate, generate many options and explore multiple interpretations

Disposition toward sustained intellectual curiosity:

  • A zest for inquiry
  • Urge to find and pose problems
  • Tendency to wonder, question, probe

Disposition to clarify and seek understanding:

  • Desire to apprehend things clearly
  • Impulse to anchor ideas to experience and seek connections to prior knowledge
  • Urge to sharpen conceptions and examples
  • Desire to grasp the essence of things

Disposition to be planful and strategic:

  • Urge to set goals and to make and execute plans
  • Tendency to approach things in a calculated and/ or stepwise fashion
  • Desire to think ahead

Disposition to be intellectually careful:

  • Urge for precision
  • Hunger for mental orderliness and organization
  • Desire to be thorough

Disposition to seek and evaluate reasons:

  • Leaning toward healthy scepticism
  • Tendency to question the given, to probe assumptions and biases
  • Drive to pursue and demand justification
  • Urge to discover underlying grounds and sources

Disposition to be metacognitive:

  • Urge to be cognitively self-aware and to monitor the flow of one’s thinking
  • Impulse to stand back and take stock
  • Desire to be self-challenging

Such dispositions have also been called good habits of mind (Dewey, 1930) or critical spirit (Siegel, 1988).

Consider these definitions and classifications above and ask yourself if you display such tendencies.

We also need to be aware of two challenges with dispositions, which Robert Ennis identified:

-dispositions are not obvious- in order for a disposition to be observed, something has to happen, so that the person displays the disposition or not;

-once the person being assessed becomes aware of being observed, they might pretend to actually possess that disposition, which defeats the purpose.

I believe that dispositions must be included as part of critical thinking skills, abilities and tendencies, because they are the ones that move us to act. It’s not enough to possess certain skills and abilities if we don’t put them into practice. And this putting into practice has to be a way of living, not something we do every now and again, but something we do always.

They are the motivational factors that urge us to think well. But if people have critical thinking skills, why wouldn’t they use them?

There are a variety of reasons, such as prejudice, impatience, bias, overconfidence or just a failure to notice that the situation needs more careful thinking.

And this is the essence of having and applying such tendencies: prejudice, impatience or bias all disappear when one’s way of responding to opposing points of view is marked by a tendency to think critically.

So, do you have what it takes?

You May Also Like…


Leave a Reply