This might be a very trivial question but…I am unsure if i think critically?
What does critical thinking entail? How do i know if i am doing so? Whenever i see some kind of argument or claim made by someone or something i personally agree with before i do anything i look at the other side of the discussion. The people who disagree with me and i look at their arguments against and what they have to say. And then see what the pro side has to say and then reflect on what i think about it and what my stance is. But i doubt myself sometimes. What do you think guys?
And again sorry if this is a trivial question but its of great importance!
First of all, you’re way ahead of the game. Thinking about your thinking is called “metacognition,” and it is a high-level learning skill. Simply asking the question (which wasn’t trivial) is a sign that you’re a good learner. Stop doubting yourself.
You’ve described the general idea behind critical thinking. Examine both sides of an argument. The only thing that your description is missing is the quality of the sources. In the internet age, that is crucial.
In education, we learned that critical thinking skills involve identifying relevant information, identifying assumptions and presuppositions, evaluating evidence, structuring arguments, addressing competing evidence or counter-arguments, and formulating conclusions. It sounds like that is the kind of thing you are engaged in. The more you learn about a topic, the better you are equipped to figure out what kind of information is actually relevant and what kind of biases or underlying assumptions may be influencing how information is presented. You also learn more about the strengths and weaknesses in your own position and in competing positions so your conclusions can be more nuanced and comprehensive. I think in the long run critical thinkers end up focusing less on whether they are convincing to others (i.e. winning) and more on refining the quality of their reasoning and getting to a place where they are satisfied with their conclusions.
Jay is right on, but I have to admit that I find myself in your position frequently. I try to look at all reasonable sides of an argument, in doing so can see valid points which then make it confusing as to what position is correct. Some arguments in theology as well as science are pretty internally consistent and convincing, but ultimately do not ring true when examined against the whole of experience. Also, there are things that we will just never know in this life. Calvinism, Arminianism, Open Theism or none of the above? Scripture can be found to support all, and bright sincere people study and hold to all these positions, so to some extent we have to embrace the uncertainty. What we should try to do in the process is avoid the arrogance that certainty promotes, yet not be blown to and fro in the process. All of which is to say, I am right there with you, and think it is an excellent question for us all to ask.
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I agree that this is a great question to be asking yourself. Seems in these times we’re more concerned with pointing out all the other people that we believe aren’t thinking critically (whatever our definition of that may be) rather than truly evaluating our own thought processes (and I include myself in this).
If you never doubt yourself and your conclusions, then you could never change your mind. And geez, I have changed my mind on various topics more times than I’d care to admit. The type of thinking that is actually dangerous is the opposite of what you do. That is, well how most people stop at the first peak of the Dunning-Kreuger effect:
It kind of sounds like you jumped out of the gate on many topics with great zeal, learning an awful lot, was really excited about many topics, then hit the step right after that. My encouragement is to keep your chin up and keep asking questions and learning.
The way I approach critical thinking is to ask myself, “If I am wrong, what should I see?”. In science it is known as the null hypothesis, but it can be applied to most situations. Trying to honestly prove yourself wrong is a great way of gaining confidence in your conclusions.
As others have noted, one of the most important skills to have is the ability to recognize what your assumptions are. Your assumptions are what you need to question, and then question some more.
Thanks guys! I’m also talking to a philosophy teacher in school so i’m learning a ton more!
A nice passage on critical thinking just came up in the book I’m reading so I thought I’d share. (from Maryanne Wolf’s Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World)
"In the literary scholar Mark Edmundson’s laudable book Why Read?, he asks, “What exactly is critical thinking?” He explains that it includes the power to examine and potentially debunk personal beliefs and convictions. Then he asks, “What good is this power of critical thought if you do not yourself believe something and are not open to having those beliefs modified? What’s called critical thought generally takes place from no set position at all.”
Edmundson articulates here two connected, insufficiently discussed threats to critical thinking. The first threat comes when any powerful framework for understanding our world (such as political or religious views) becomes so impenetrable to change and so rigidly adhered to that it obfuscates any divergent type of thought, even when the latter is evidence-based or morally-based.
The second threat that Edmondson observes is the total absence of any developed personal belief system in many of our young people, who either do not know enough about past systems of thought (e.g. contributions by Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, or Noam Chomsky) or who are too impatient to examine and learn from them. As a result, their ability to learn the kind of critical thinking necessary for deeper understanding can become stunted. Intellectual rudderlessness and adherence to a way of thought that allows no questions are threats to critical thinking in all of us."
I take issue with that. [… does that earn me any critical readership points? ]
I don’t think any person arrives at anything remotely like “critical thought” or “skepticism” or “doubt” without believing something else first. You can’t simultaneously doubt everything - in fact you can’t doubt anything at all without first embracing something else as your tool to doubt with. Just like you can’t push against something without your own self having a planet to stand on or something to be anchored by.
I don’t know if that’s where Edmundson was taking that, but it’s where my mind immediately went since we so often hear people claim they have no use for any faith (translated: They are unwilling to examine their own faith bases and are in denial about having any faith in the first place … meaning that their un-examined faith gets to have its way with them entirely unchallenged.)
I think that was the author’s point. What is generally called critical thought shouldn’t be called critical thought. He was arguing that you have to believe something first. That’s how Wolf took his meaning because her two threats are being unwilling to modify and not having anything modify.
Ahhh. I’m relieved to have misunderstood. That sounds like a good read.
While I resonate with the concern over the second threat, I’m still stuck back on this from the first:
I’m okay with trying one’s best to attend to and align their views with physical reality that is universally accessible for observation and measurement. That is a fine and necessary thing and a large part of the reason for this site’s existence. But when one takes this “science-mindedness” that we cultivate in ourselves and privileges it as the only legal referee “above the fray” as it were, and by the same token refuses to let this referee be seen as one of the players in need of critical examination, that raises a red flag for me.
Again, I know I’m just going off the paragraph you shared with us and obviously can’t see this author’s wider context or agenda very well, so I’ll be delighted to be wrong again. But when “(such as politics or religious views)” are the players listed as being in need of subjection to a higher critical eye, (which is identified here as coming from “evidence-based divergent thought”), it sounds to me like the latter posture is being privileged. I don’t object to the notion of privilege - reality itself should be privileged over our mere apprehensions and understandings of it. But “science-mindedness” does not always = closest to any/all reality. I would suggest that those who venerate their enthusiastic science-mindedness [faith? what faith? I only consider the evidence-based facts] as the only valid referee; they are doing the secular equivalent of what some religious people do when they declare: “Interpretation? what interpretation? I’m just reading what the Bible plainly says!”
[I did notice that the author also stuck in “…or morally based” too, so other referees are apparently being allowed. I set that aside for the moment, though, so I could enjoy my continued rantlet. ]
The issue is being impenetrable to divergent thought. I think some science-minded folks become impenetrable to evidence-based counter arguments. Or arguments based on moral aspects of reality. She wasn’t arguing anywhere that science-minded thinkers are immune to threats to their critical thinking. Science can be one of those “powerful frameworks for understanding our world” as well.
evidence-based OR morally-based
The author is a lit major, former English teacher, current neuroscientist who reads a TON of books and believes developing the ability to immerse oneself in literature creates important epigenetic changes in the wiring of the human brain that have allowed our species to progress to our current place of scientific advancement.
Her research is into how children/youth who are growing up doing their reading on screens instead of books are developing fundamentally different brain circuitry and she is advocating that unless the coming generations become “bi-literate” (develop “deep reading” brain circuitry and “digital reading” brain circuitry) there will be far-reaching consequences for society. One of the main things she is lamenting is that people don’t read enough fiction, they mostly just skim through information. I think she would be the last person you would hear saying that a worldview based entirely on scientific information is sufficiently true.
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