Home All I Think “Critically,” Therefore I Am: The 25th Strength

I Think “Critically,” Therefore I Am: The 25th Strength

written by John Yeager 11 July 2009

John M. Yeager, Ed.D, MAPP, is Director of the Center for Character Excellence at The Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana. John consults with Dave Shearon, and Sherri Fisher at www.FlourishingSchools.com, an organization that integrates best practices in education with cutting edge Positive Psychology research. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.

John's articles are here.

Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking

We all think, but may not think well. Critical thinking, however, is a reflective process that is clear, precise and purposeful.

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” Socrates

While critical thinking is often considered an allied asset of the VIA strength Open-mindedness, Socratic logic shows that open-minded thinkers are not necessarily critical thinkers. Consummate critical thinking is a rich and complex strength that is comprised of a constellation of many other strengths, including open-mindedness, curiosity, love of learning, persistence, integrity, and self-regulation. Stanovich claims that one must have knowledge of a person’s overall thinking process in order to qualify an individual’s open-mindedness as general and persistent strength. jy critical thinking coverThe following definition of critical thinking comes from The Delphi Report on Critical Thinking, a qualitative research model produced by a panel of forty-six experts from philosophy, education, ocial sciences and physical sciences:

The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances permit. (p.3)

Gentleman and Scholar

Gentleman and Scholar

The Foundations of Critical Thinking
The intellectual foundations of critical thinking go back to the Greek root word “kritike,” which means the art of judgment. Socrates has been anointed in many circles as the antecedent of critical thinking (i.e. the Socratic Method). Plato and Aristotle emphasized the examination of words and actions of others, along with individual thoughts and actions. Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Thomas Aquinas and Charles Darwin all subscribed to critical thinking as an essential systematic process to navigate the world.

Gender and Critical Thinking

Women’s voices were marginalized in the area of critical thinking until the late 20th century. Carol Gilligan (1993) posited that women may structure their thought processes a bit differently than men do. In her book, In a Different Voice, she claims that men tend to work on a hierarchical ordering of thinking, rather than a relational, connected pathway of thought more commonly attributed to women.

Other notable voices include Nel Noddings and Mary Field Belenky. Noddings (2003) focused on a moral approach to critical thinking as a prerequisite to a foundation of “logical consistency.”

Belenky considered four different ways that women tend to think critically in asserting their authority and capabilities: silent knowing, received knowledge, subjective knowledge, procedural knowledge and constructed knowledge. They have enriched the trait of critical thinking from a perspective that has strong implications for men and women alike.

Contemporary theorists such as Richard Paul and Robert Ennis (1982) emphasized two senses of critical thinking. In the weak sense, the critical thinker adequately sees his or her own and as well as others’ positions. The strong sense enhances the capacity of the weak sense with a deeper understanding and more encompassing worldview.

The Criteria for Critical Thinking as a Persistent Strength

Critical Thinking passes muster as it satisfies all ten criteria for a character strength. Some of the criteria are described below:

Criterion 1: It is fulfilling, because it leads to greater and more complex understanding and the respect for differing points of view.

Criterion 2:It is morally valued, in that it systematically examines differing points of view of self, and the consonant and dissonant attitudes of others.

Criterion 4: Non-felicitous opposites include wishful or magical thinking, mistrust of reason, as well as disinterested, indifferent, and uninterested thinking.

Criterion 6: Critical thinking cannot be decomposed into other strengths. However, the strengths of open-mindedness, curiosity, love of learning, persistence, integrity, and self-regulation are all essential ingredients that make up critical thinking.

Criterion 10: From an institutional perspective, the development of critical thinking rubrics in American high schools and colleges is a strong reflection on the importance of critical thinking and the future of education (Facione et al., 1995).

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I would not give a fig (care) for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Consummate critical thinking is simplicity on the other side of complexity, a constellation of components that are systematically employed to function as the 25th strength of character.



American Philosophical Association (1990). Critical thinking: A statement of expert consensus for purposes of educational assessment and instruction – The Delphi Report. P. Facione (project direcor). Millbrae, CA: The California Academic Press.

Belenky, M.F., Clinchy, B.M., Goldberger, N.R., & Tarule, J.M. (1986). Women’s Ways Of Knowing: The Development Of Self, Voice, And Mind 10th Anniversary Edition. New York: Basic Books.

Facione, P.A., and Facione, N.C. (1992). The California Critical Thinking Dispositions Inventory (CCTDI). Millbrae, CA: California Academic Press.

Facione, P.A., Sanchez, CA, Facione, NC & Gainene, J., (1995). The disposition towards critical thinking. Journal of General Education. 44(1), 1025.

Gilligan, C. (1993). In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MASS: Harvard University Press.

Noddings, N. (1984/2003). Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, Second Edition, with a New Preface. Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stanovich, K. E. (1999). Who Is Rational?: Studies of individual Differences in Reasoning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

ImagesMind courtesy of Ala7lam
A Gentleman and a Scholar courtesy of Unhindered by Talent

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WJ 11 July 2009 - 3:51 pm

John, I suspect much of the thinking around PP is superficial as opposed to critical. For example there is a tendancy to apply all interventions equally. eg Everyone gets a gratitude exercise when research suggests that it may be more effective for females than males. Similarly interventions developed in American apply to all cultures.

Interestingly research suggests that negative emotions promote narrow detailed thinking which is a part of the critical thinking process.

Barry Elias 11 July 2009 - 6:10 pm

Well done, Dr. Yeager.
Barry Elias
July 11, 2009

John Yeager 12 July 2009 - 3:47 pm

Hi, Wayne-
Interventions are applied and made-to-fit by numerous MAPP-trained coaches who would disagree that everyone gets the same thing. Part of using one’s critical thinking is what our training and immersion in empirical research hone: becoming increasingly “habitually inquisitive, well-informed, [and] trustful of reason.” But we don’t ignore the individual, hence the strengths focus.

Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build model theorizes that positive emotions promote flexible thinking, an essential part of critical thinking, which is different than what you seem to be suggesting (“negative emotions promote narrow detailed thinking which is a part of the critical thinking process”). Perhaps the word “critical” here could be clarified. It does not mean negative, and is not the same as criticism. Instead, it is the balance of open-mindedness and focused inquiry. Neither of those will operate strictly in the realm of negative emotion, and the flow which results when people who have this strength use it means it is generating positive emotion.



John Yeager 12 July 2009 - 3:48 pm

Thanks, Barry.


WJ 12 July 2009 - 5:12 pm

John, have you seen the research on how a negative mood state enhances critical thinking. So there is a time and a place for everything – positive emotions when you want to be creative, negative mood when you want to have a closer look.

By the way were you aware of the research that suggests that gratitude is more effective for women – I bet most MAPPers aren’t.

Margaret Greenberg 13 July 2009 - 3:12 pm

John, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your 25th strength! I especially like the work you cited by Gilligan on the difference between men and women.

Senia 14 July 2009 - 6:00 pm

Thank you, John!

I have an important academic event coming up this week, and I want to be all these things:

habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking result

Thanks for focusing me when I need it!

Senia 14 July 2009 - 6:01 pm

p.s. John, I really like your “simplicity on the other side of complexity” by OWH summary.


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