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Tom Shipka: Are you a critical thinker? Take this test

Tom Shipka
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By Tom Shipka

Thinking is like playing tennis, driving a car, giving a talk, dieting, or speaking a foreign language. It can be done well or badly. In modern education jargon, good thinkers are called critical thinkers. Critical thinkers have a mix of attitudes, skills and habits that set them apart from sloppy thinkers. Are you a critical thinker? Test yourself by answering these questions. Award yourself a score on each item as high as five (5) or as low as one (1).

___ 1. I am a successful problem-solver.

___ 2. When I face a problem or mystery, I follow Occam’s Razor, i.e., I seek the simplest adequate solution or explanation instead of a needlessly complex one.

___ 3. Before I make a decision, I first gather as many relevant facts as time permits and I anticipate the likely consequences of each course of action.

___ 4. I strive for informed beliefs, that is, beliefs based on solid evidence and sound arguments. I do not embrace beliefs simply because they are popular or consoling.

___ 5. I appreciate the indispensable role of skepticism in an intelligent and responsible life. I refuse to embrace a claim or adopt a practice, however satisfying or intriguing, until I find reasonable grounds for it.

___ 6. I can explain and defend my beliefs and practices capably.

___ 7. My beliefs are coherent, that is, some of them don’t contradict others.

___ 8. My practices are coherent, that is, some of them don’t contradict others.

___ 9. My beliefs and practices are coherent, that is, some of the former don’t contradict some of the latter.

___ 10. I use language with precision and clarity.

___ 11. I am a good listener.

___ 12. I strive to be objective and even-handed in my assessments. I do not exaggerate the benefits or harms of a belief, a practice, an argument, a person, an organization, a lifestyle, a movement, a product or a service.

___ 13. I know that my perceptions can be distorted by my beliefs, expectations, biases and state of mind.

___ 14. I know that my memory is selective and constructive and seldom provides a literal report of the past.

___ 15. I am open-minded and flexible. I am willing to hear or read an elaboration or defense of a position that strikes me initially as weird, foolish, far-fetched or immoral.

___ 16. I am sensitive to human fallibility, that is, the fact that humans make mistakes. Accordingly, I have the courage to reevaluate a long-cherished belief or practice and to acknowledge that it may be mistaken.

___ 17. I am sensitive to human fallibility, that is, the fact that humans make mistakes. Accordingly, I welcome constructive criticism.

___ 18. I am sensitive to human fallibility, that is, the fact that humans make mistakes. Accordingly, I recognize that well-educated and well-trained persons, even experts, can be mistaken.

___ 19. I successfully detect bias, special pleading, code words, propaganda and exaggeration in what I hear or read.

___ 20. I strive to be honest, fair and objective. I scrupulously avoid lying and exaggerating, and treating speculation, gossip or rumor as fact, in order to influence or persuade others.

___ 21. I am aware that many TV programs, films and publications deviate from the historical record and contradict well-established scientific laws and theories.

___ 22. I strive to stay intellectually alive.  magazines and other publications.

___ 23. I strive to stay intellectually alive. I balance my reading, radio listening and TV viewing so that I expose myself to a variety of views and perspectives.

___ 24. I strive to stay intellectually alive. I participate regularly in serious, civil conversations about significant issues facing the human community locally, nationally and globally.

___ 25. I detect common fallacies in reasoning such as:

*Stereotyping (assuming that all members of a group share the same strengths or weaknesses of one or a few members of the group that I observe).

*Hasty generalization (jumping to a conclusion based on insufficient evidence).

*Ad hominem (disqualifying a claim or argument based solely on its advocate or supporter).

*The slippery slope (assuming that a modest change will necessarily trigger dire consequences).

*The time fallacy, also called post hoc ergo propter hoc (assuming that because one event preceded another, the former caused the latter; confusing correlation with causation).

*The appeal to ignorance, or shifting the burden of proof (assuming the correctness of a claim or belief simply because it has not been disproven).

___  26. I strive to avoid the use of such fallacies in my own reasoning. 

The highest score possible is 130 points. How did you do? If you are especially bold and brave, you might invite another person who knows you well to evaluate you on this same test, compare the two scores, and discuss any discrepancies.

FFRF Member Tom Shipka is emeritus professor of philosophy at Youngstown State University.

Versions of this essay appeared previously in The Vindicator, David Stewart and H. Gene Blocker’s book, Fundamentals of Philosophy, Shipka and  Arthur J. Minton’s book, Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery, and Shipka’s Commentaries: 162 Essays on WYSU.