What is weak vs strong critical thinking? In what qualities of critical thinking do you find you have strengths? What qualities of critical thinking do you think you can improve upon?

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teachsuccess's profile pic

teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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My colleague has already addressed, in a concise and excellent explanation, the topic of weak versus strong critical thinking above, so I will concentrate my answer on the two questions below:

In what qualities of critical thinking do you find you have strengths?

Many of us may have strengths which contribute to our reputation as excellent critical thinkers. I list some strengths below that you might recognize in yourself:

1) Intellectual courage-the courage to revise previously held beliefs or viewpoints when necessary.

2) Intellectual humility- when we recognize our own biases and the limits of our own knowledge, we are able to pursue further investigations into the truth of a matter.

3) Intellectual empathy- this involves trying to understand someone else's position first before we start in with our own arguments.

4) Intellectual perseverance- this is the willingness to overcome difficulties and obstacles in our search for the truth.

5) Intellectual good faith- this is integrity; it is to hold ourselves to the same high standards of evidence and proof as we hold our opposition.

What qualities of critical thinking do you think you can improve upon?

To excel in critical thinking, many of us will want to improve:

Our thought and communication processes. To explain: perhaps we feel threatened by an opposing worldview and feel the need to lash out. Our carefully constructed belief system may have been built for us by someone else, and our need to lash out is indicative of our fear that our trust in this revered individual or institution may have been misplaced.

It is an awful feeling when we come to the realization that our firmly held beliefs may have to be revised; we are led to question our sanity. We become defensive and argumentative instead of hearing out the other party. We vehemently rationalize our beliefs to protect our position (a very weak critical analysis tool). In the process, we cannot critically assess the legitimacy of the other position because of our emotional fight or flight response. This is when our bodies are overwhelmed with an avalanche of hormones that enable us to either fight or flee from what we consider a dangerous situation.

Often, it may just be our pride at stake, but this fact is worth contemplating if we want to pinpoint areas for improvement. It is good to recognize and accept the limitations of our human natures and that of others; this allows us to listen from a more compassionate place. Listening is a key tool in critical thinking. Whether we are discussing controversial topics such as global warming, terrorism, gun rights or abortion, this tool is key to calmer and more reasonable discourse.

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caledon's profile pic

caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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I like to think that I'm pretty good at considering multiple viewpoints and evaluating things from a practical rather than ideological perspective, although I tend toward finding negatives and negations. Sometimes the Socratic method is criticized for only being able to identify falsehood, and not truth; this is pretty much how I feel. It bothers me a bit because I feel like I can't provide a good alternative argument, and pessimism is tiring. However I try to use this, both in my own rational thinking and in my teaching, to dissect and rebuild an argument in a stronger way, whether or not I agree with it. 

I think weakness and strength in critical thinking cannot be categorized in any quantifiable way; it has a lot to do with the context of the thinker and the argument. In fact, I find that some definitions of "weak" critical thought are themselves guilty of weak critical thought, by their own definition of the term (as is this sentence). Several of these definitions carry with them a moral ideology, such as weak critical thinkers being selfish; it's interesting to see qualifications of rhetorical skill transforming into psychoanalytical judgments, since I think it says as much about the authority as it does about those being evaluated.

Generally, I would say that weak critical thought tends to lead to false conclusions, or ones which do not prioritize issues appropriately. For example, I think weak critical thought manifests in many cases of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, such as when a student constantly demands justification for why they should have to do an assignment. This applies some principles of critical thinking and skepticism, but it stems from a false pretense and has a strong cognitive bias, despite the ease with which one could make a case for objectivity. 

Strong critical thinking should be very cautious when considering the definition of its own objectivity. For example, I have to point out that I'm being paid to write this, which in my opinion negates my ability to argue that I'm being completely objective. However, this can easily lead to the rejection of any and all authority or standards by which to make the evaluation at all. Strong critical thinking should be able to come to a conclusion, as well as an understanding of how and why that conclusion was reached, and whether an equally valid but different interpretation would be possible under a different measure of objectivity.

gsenviro's profile pic

gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Critical Thinking is the intellectual ability to analyze an argument, a scenario or a situation. It helps a person take rational decisions based on this skill. 

A weak critical thinker is someone who is considered to have lower level skills and uses their ability to further their own arguments or means. They fail to see any good in arguments that counter their own. They can make good arguments look bad and bad arguments look good.

A strong critical thinker, on the other hand, has higher level skills and is considered ethical and high-minded. Strong critical thinkers use their skills to analyze a situation or argument fairly, including their own and then make fair decisions.

I believe I am strong in "Intellectual confidence in reason" and weak in "intellectual empathy". I can reason confidently based on my knowledge base and intellect and analyze and support an argument or situation. However, I sometimes can not empathize with my students when I feel they could have done better on assignments and research projects. 

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