14 Definitions of Critical Thinking

Here at Science Delivered an important part of our mission is promoting confidence and critical thinking. Kids and adults possessing these attributes are well prepared to pursue their goals and navigate life’s obstacles. But while the words ‘critical thinking” gets thrown around quite a bit, we rarely see a critical analysis of the term itself. So what does 'critical thinking' really mean?

The dictionary definition is:

"The objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”

But this definition isn’t overly helpful. So, in order to define this skill that we aim to cultivate, we’ve come up with 14 of our own definitions. Here it goes!

What does 'critical thinking' really mean?

  1. Critical thinking means being willing to change your position or beliefs as you collect more data.

  2. Critical thinking means being open to (quality) data that contradicts your previous beliefs.

  3. Critical thinking can mean ignoring an emotional or “gut” reaction to new information; our guts can make mistakes!

  4. Critical thinking means taking into account the source of the information.

  5. BUT critical thinking also means never (or rarely) dismissing information out of hand simply because of the source.

  6. Critical thinking means understanding that presented facts can be technically true but the manner in which they are presented can be skewed or misleading.

  7. Critical thinking means understanding that people, companies, ads and politicians often rely on authoritative sounding “science” and “statistics” to change your beliefs or behavior. Sometimes the facts they present are legitimate, but often they are not. Learning how to tell the difference makes navigating the world easier.

  8. Critical thinking means viscerally understanding that you don’t know everything.

  9. Critical thinking means resisting believing things solely because they fit in with your worldview.

  10. Critical thinking means understanding that others have had truly different experiences than you and may have different values and expectations of the world. This doesn’t (usually) mean one person’s values are right and another’s are wrong.

  11. We can’t be experts on everything, so we have to trust experts to inform our beliefs and ideas. But experts are not infallible – they can be wrong! In our opinion critical thinking means trusting the experts around 80-85% of the time.

  12. Critical thinking means being skeptical, especially when things seem somewhat unbelievable, but not being dismissive out of hand of new ideas.

  13. Critical thinking is often described as removing emotion from your ideas and decisions, but we only partially agree with that. Sometimes emotions and empathy are needed for sound critical thinking.

  14. Critical thinking means knowing that just because you have believed something all your life, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true! Sometimes beliefs and ideas need to be reevaluated as we grow.


Teaching and engaging in critical thinking is helpful for the individual student and helpful for society. Critical thinking helps counteract bias and lets us evaluate what our biggest needs are and where our energy is best spent. We hope we can help our students obtain these lofty goals!

We’d love to hear from you – is there a definition of critical thinking that you'd like to add to our list?