Thinking Critically in Political Science

Critical thinking means reasonable reflective thinking that is focused on deciding for one's self what to believe and/or do. Critical thinking involves questioning available information in order to go beyond it and form independent evaluations and opinions. Critical thought is independent thought. To think critically you must go beyond the information you read in textbooks and/or other sources by evaluation the strong and weak points of the arguments and ideas presented. In short, you should continually challenge what you learn from newspapers, television, your textbooks and even your instructor. At the same time, you must be willing and prepared to have your own ideas tested by others as well as by yourself. However, this calls for some fortitude; looking at the source of one's ideas and convictions is not always easy and may require personal courage. While critical thinking involves hard work and some degree of personal discomfort, it is a valuable part of your educational experience; essentially, it is what higher education is all about!!

There are several components or skills that are involved in critical thinking: reasonableness, discipline, open mindedness and creativity.

Reasonableness:
Many argue that to think critically means to be objective. However, it is important to remember that regardless of how hard one may try, no one reads, writes, or speaks completely objectively. For example, your textbook is a product of the knowledge and viewpoints of the authors. In fact, this very document is a product of the value the instructor places on the readings, interests, preferences as well as students' independent thought and decision making. Finally, you should keep in mind that your evaluations of the material are colored by your own experiences and knowledge. These evaluations are based on your experiences, values and expectations of how others 'should' act and what government 'ought' to do. Consequently, it might be too much to expect to rid ourselves of our personal perspectives and biases in the effort to be objective. However, we can minimize the influence of these perspectives and biases by trying to remain reasonable.

To say that someone is reasonable is to say that he or she can be reasoned with. In other words, critical thinking is neither a solitary activity nor is it static. It involves processes of social interaction, good sense and practicality as well as idealism. One of the best challenges to illusion and dogma is to expose them to the light of open critical discussion in order to realize practical and realistic solutions to societal problems.

Another important point to remember here is that there are always at least two sides to every issue and every argument. If this was not true, there would be no need to critical thinking because everyone would agree. Moreover, other intelligent and well-meaning people can, and often do disagree; answers are not always clear and disagreement is legitimate. Consequently, it is always best to acknowledge the reasonableness of position of others.

Remember that the capacity for reason is often limited by good judgment; being overly critical of the position of others fails to pay respect to their reasonableness. Acknowledge the potential for you and others to argue, and yet remain to disagree. The only disgrace is in disrespect.

Discipline
Critical thinking is not simply checking a box or filling in a word. It involves thinking things through where linkages may neither be clear nor the path well laid. It requires a dedication to the realm of 'ideas'; conviction to reasoned thought as opposed to illusion. This is where the 'science' part or political science comes in to play. Science assumes common experience, rigor and exploration.
Open Mindedness
One must be open-minded when thinking critically. This does not exclude having settled beliefs and commitments, but it does imply an openness to new perspectives and a willingness to listen to, and possibly learn from others. Get an idea of where you stand on an issue. Then try to find someone with a very different view. Finally, discuss the issue with an open mind; see if the two of you might find some common ground for agreement or disagreement.
Creativity
Formulating hypotheses, alternative ways of viewing a problem, question, possible solution, and plans for investigating something, for example, are all creative acts that come under the above definition of creative thinking.

Reading and Viewing Politics

It is impossible to think critically about any topic until you know something about the topic. Reading, study and discussion are vital part of the learning process. As you engage in the process, however, question and take notes on the following questions:

Remember, a strong argument will identify, address and refute the opposing position. It does not mean to disrespect others' judgment. Critical thinking is a tool by which one can come about reasoned conclusions based on a thoughtful reasoned process. This process incorporates passion and creativity, but guides it with discipline, practicality and common sense.

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