Criticism is the judgement of the merits and faults of the work or actions of an individual or group by another (the critic). To criticize does not necessarily imply to find fault, but the word is often taken to mean the simple expression of an objection against prejudice, or a disapproval.

Another meaning of criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature, social movements, film, arts, and similar objects and events. The goal of this type of criticism is to understand the work or event more thoroughly. Links to different types of criticism can be found at the bottom of this page.


Varieties of criticism

Logical and factual criticism

In a logical criticism, an objection is raised about an idea, argument, action or situation on the ground that it does not make rational sense (there is something wrong with it because it is illogical, it does not follow, or it violates basic conventions of meaning). Such an objection usually refers to assumptions, coherence, implications and intent. Thus, the illogicality may involve that:

  • Something is being assumed or inferred improperly, without reasonable ground.
  • Something is internally inconsistent or self-contradictory, it is impossible to maintain all of its contents at one and the same time (because it would imply affirming and negating the same thing).
  • Something has implications or effects contrary to itself or negating it.
  • Something has effects contrary to its own purpose or intent, or contrary to the purpose or intent of someone concerned with it.
  • Something involves a language which superficially seems to make sense, but turns out to defy logical sense when examined more closely.

In a factual (empirical) criticism, an objection is raised about an idea, argument, action or situation on the ground that there is something wrong with the evidence of the known experience relevant to it. Typically,

  • Relevant purported facts are claimed to be false or implausible, i.e. not facts at all.
  • Relevant facts are said not to have been definitely established as true, or the likelihood that they are true, has not been established.
  • Relevant facts mentioned imply different stories which cannot be reconciled; accepting a fact would imply another fact which contradicts it in some way (there is overlap here with logical criticism).
  • The presentation of facts is biased; important relevant facts are left out of the story, or the total factual context is ignored.
  • Other relevant facts, which have not been mentioned, shed a different light on the issue.
  • Facts focused upon are not relevant to the purpose of those concerned.

Logical and factual criticism is generally considered important to ensure the consistency, authenticity and predictability of behaviour of any kind. Without the presence of the relevant consistency, authenticity and predictability, one cannot make appropriate sense of behaviour, which becomes disorienting and creates confusion, and therefore cannot guide behavioural choices effectively.

Negative and constructive criticism

Negative criticism means voicing an objection to something only with the purpose of showing that it is simply wrong, false, mistaken, nonsensical, objectionable, disreputable. Negative criticism is also often interpreted as an attack against a person (ad hominem).

Constructive criticism aims to show that the intent or purpose of something is better served by an alternative approach. In this case, criticism is not necessarily deemed wrong, and its purpose is respected; rather, it is claimed that the same goal could be better achieved via a different route.

Both negative and constructive criticism have their appropriate uses, but often it is considered a requirement of criticism that they are combined. Thus, it is often considered that those who find fault with something should also offer an option for putting it right.

Practical and theoretical criticism

Practical criticism is an objection of the type that something does not work in practical reality due to some reason or cause. Often people will say, "that might be fine in theory, but in practice it does not work". Practical criticism usually refers to relevant practical experience, to reveal why a practice is wrongheaded.

Theoretical criticism is concerned with the meaning of ideas, including ideas on which a practice is based. It is concerned with the coherence or meaningfulness of a theory, its correspondence to reality, the validity of its purpose, and the limitations of the viewpoint it offers. Theories can be criticized from the point of view of other theories.

Moral criticism and scientific criticism

Moral criticism is basically concerned with the rights and wrongs of values, ethics or norms which people uphold, or of the conditions which people face. There are many forms of moral criticism, such as:

  • Showing that actions taken are inconsistent or incompatible with certain values being upheld, or values deemed desirable.
  • Counterposing one set of values to another, with the claim that the one set is better than the other.
  • Arguing that certain values are intrinsically objectionable, regardless of any other values that may be relevant.
  • Arguing that certain values ought to be adopted, or rejected, for some reason.

Scientific criticism is not primarily concerned with moral values, but more with quantitative values. It focuses on whether something can be proved to be true or false, or what the limits of its valid application are, quite irrespective of whether people like that or not, or what the moral implications are. For this purpose, the scientist employs logic and relevant evidence offered by experience, as well as experimentation, and gives attention to the intent and purpose of relevant activity. Obviously a scientist is also a moral being with moral biases, but science aims to ensure that moral biases do not prejudice scientific findings (the requirement of objectivity). A scientist can also criticize a certain morality on scientific grounds, but in a scientific capacity he or she does not do so on the ground that the morality itself is intrinsically objectionable, but rather that "it flies in the face of the facts", i.e. it involves assumptions or valuations which are contrary to the known logical and factual evidence that is relevant.

Religious and scholarly criticism

The psychology of criticism

The psychology of criticism is primarily concerned with the motivation or intent which people have for making criticisms. The motivation may be rational or it may be non-rational or arbitrary; it may be healthy or unhealthy.

Criticism and narcissists

Vulnerability with their own self-esteem makes individuals with narcissistic personality disorder very sensitive to criticism or defeat. Although they may not show it outwardly, criticism may haunt them and leave them feeling humiliated, degraded, hollow, and empty. They may react with disdain, narcissistic rage, or defiant narcissistic personality disorder.[1]

Narcissists are extremely sensitive to personal criticism and extremely critical of other people. They think they must be seen as perfect or superior or infallible or else they are worthless. There's no middle ground.[2]

Criticism and paranoids

Individuals with paranoid personality disorder are often rigid, critical of others, although they have great difficulty accepting criticism themselves.[3]

Criticism and avoidants

Individuals with avoidant personality disorder are hypersensitive to criticism or rejection. They build up a defensive shell. If in criticism lies a perceived hidden meaning of negativity towards the individual as a person, a defensive shell will immediately go in place.

Criticism and dependents

Individuals with dependent personality disorder are readily willing to "self-correct" in response to criticism.

Constructive criticism

Constructive criticism is criticism in which the focus is on improving the content of a work or behavior of a person while consciously avoiding attacking the source of the work or behavior. Such criticism is carefully framed in politically sensitive language, often acknowledging that the critic themselves may have a fully or partially mistaken perspective. As such, insults and openly hostile language are avoided, and ideal constructive criticism is peppered with phrases like "I feel..." and "It's my understanding that..." and so on. Also, critics should strive to put themselves in the position of the person being criticized.[4]

Some people are not open to any criticism at all, even constructive criticism.[5] Also, there is an art to truly constructive criticism: Being well-intentioned is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for constructively criticizing, since one can have good intentions but poor delivery ("I don't know why my girlfriend keeps getting mad when I tell her to stop with the fries already; I'm just concerned about her weight"), or egocentric intentions but appropriate delivery ("I'm sick of my subordinate coming in late for work, so I took her aside and we had a long, compassionate talk about her work-life balance. I think she bought it."). As the name suggests, the consistent and central notion is that the criticism must have the aim of constructing, scaffolding, or improving a situation, something which is generally obstructed by hostile language or personal attacks.

One style of constructive criticism employs the "hamburger method"[6], in which each potentially harsh criticism is surrounded by compliments. The idea is to help the person being criticized feel more comfortable, and that the critic's perspective is not entirely negative. This is a specific form of the greater concept that criticism should be focused on maintaining healthy relationships and being mindful of the positive as well as the negative.[7]


Hypercriticism is a feature of certain personality types and is colloquially known as nitpicking or nagging. Nitpicking is minute, trivial, unnecessary, and unjustified criticism or faultfinding.[8] Nagging is scolding, complaining, or constantly finding fault.[9]


Hypocriticism is criticism by somebody (a hypocrite) who criticizes another but does the same as the person they are criticizing.[10] Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie[10].


Self-criticism (or auto-critique) refers to the pointing out of things critical/important to one's own beliefs, thoughts, actions, behaviour or results; it can form part of private, personal reflection or a group discussion. Most people regard self-criticism as healthy and necessary for learning, but excessive or enforced self-criticism as unhealthy.

See also


External links

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