Critical Thinking and Decision Making


Critical thinking is thinking that proceeds on the basis of careful evaluation of premises and evidence and comes to conclusions as objectively as possible through the consideration of all pertinent factors and the use of valid procedures from logic (Carter, 1973).

  • Decision making in democracies is a process of reaching agreement in group situations through discussion, debate, and analysis. Decision making should be more than the aggregation of performed opinions. Opinions must be confronted with each other in the public sphere, and all participants in this public discourse should truly listen to each other’s arguments. To make proper democratic decisions, no groups should be excluded (Lipset, 1995).

Inquiry Skills Used in Critical Thinking

  • To observe is to see and notice somebody/something; to watch somebody/something carefully so as to notice things.

  • To describe is to say what somebody/something is like.

  • To compare is to examine people or things to see how they are alike and how they are different; to judge one thing and measure it against another thing.

  • To identify is to show or prove who or what somebody/something is; to recognize somebody/something as being a particular person or thing.

  • To associate is to link people or things together in one’s mind; to connect people or things because they occur together, or because one produces the other.

  • To infer is to reach an opinion based on available information or evidence; to arrive at a conclusion; to suggest indirectly that something is true.

  • To predict is to say in advance that something will happen; to forecast something.

  • To apply is to make a formal request; to make a law, etc. to operate or become effective in a particular situation; (apply something) to make use of something as relevant or appropriate; to make practical use of something.

Checklist of Observable Behaviors

___ 1. Describe the situation to others

___ 2. Check to see if have the right information and if there is any bias in their thinking (key words: check for bias)

___ 3. Relate the situation to their personal beliefs

___ 4. Consider the importance of the situation.  Consider the importance of your individual activities.  Consider the way your perception of importance matches the overall mission of the bigger organization 

___ 5. Understanding how emotions can influence decisions and help us reflect on the importance of the decision

___ 6. Ask themselves what the result would be (key words: consider the potential results/potential results)

___ 7. Think of different ways to proceed and under what conditions their limitations could be changed (key words: change limitations)

___ 8. Think collaboratively of different ways to proceed (key words: think collaboratively)

___ 9. Decide which ways are the best and what should be done

___ 10. Do a spherical scan (look all around, up and down; anything missing?  Look for other variables that may influence your decisions)

___ 11. Try it and see how it turns out (consider modifying the solution based on the results)

___ 12. Do another spherical scan (look all around, up and down; anything missing?)

___ 13. Consider planning for negative consequences or unintended positive consequences of your full implementation

___ 14. If it turns out OK - Reflect on the whole process and modify it where you think appropriate

___ 15. If it did not turn out OK, start over.  Reconsider the importance of the process


               Carter, C. V. (1973). Dictionary of education. New York: McGraw Hill.

               Lipset, S. M. (Ed.). (1995). The encyclopedia of democracy. Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly.

               Oxford-advanced learner’s dictionary of current English. (1996). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 


To illustrate these skills, a teacher might use examples of common problems that get in the way when we try to tell ourselves the truth about the things we are doing and the decisions we are making. Using examples of common problems in critical thinking, like the ones listed below, the teacher might assign the students to play roles in similar situations. Then the teacher could ask them how they would change the situation in a positive way and assign them to play those roles, too. Common problems in critical thinking that people should avoid (Callahan, 1998):

  • Going too far (overgeneralization)

  • Getting personal

  • "You are another"

  • Cause and effect

  • Making false comparisons

  • Experts

  • Saying things everyone will like

  • Arguing in circles

  • Self-evident truths

  • "It’s either black or white"

  • "If you’re with them you must be …"

The following are examples of common problems in critical thinking (Callahan, 1998):

  • Getting personal : Sometimes people try to win an argument by ignoring the issue and attacking the other person. 

"I don’t care what he said, he’s a jerk, I know it, you know it, everybody knows it, so I’m not paying attention to any of his ideas."  "You’re such a wimp, you sound like somebody who can’t make up his/her mind. You’re not one of us; you’re just out to get the kids to like you and you’ll do anything it takes; your old man was the same way."

  • Arguing in circles:  Sometimes people use a conclusion to prove itself.She must be very smart. She does well on tests. How do we know she is smart? She does very well on tests.


            Callahan, W. P. (1998). Critical thinking and decision making [On-line]. Available: