Aug 02, 2020
I recently received an email from a professor who said he could see how advantageous it would be to have the Paulian Framework adopted as a first-year university course at his institution, but that some of his colleagues cited a lack of supportive evidence for its effectiveness.
Throughout our 40 years of advancing critical thinking, this argument has frequently been made by skeptical academicians. On the one hand this is completely understandable given the fluff and nonsense that frequently passes for critical thinking, along with the many superficial approaches to bringing thinking skills across the curriculum faculty have been encouraged (or even required) to use over the past few decades.
On the other hand, this viewpoint illuminates a lack of understanding of a robust, integrative conception of critical thinking. This is connected with the fact that a sound theory of critical thinking is not proven by science, nor through research. It is proven through its conceptual soundness; its effectiveness is proven through application of its principles to real life situations (as is the case with all theory).
Unfortunately, in this postmodern era people tend to equate “proof” with proof through scientific research. In other words . . .
Aug 01, 2020
The following is adapted from the 4th edition of my Learning to Think Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum (Pearson, 2012), p. 3-4.
Critical Thinking Is Authentic
Critical thinking, at its heart, is thinking about real problems. Although you can reason out puzzles and brain-teasers, the essence of critical thinking comes into play only when you address real problems and questions rather than artificial ones. Artificial problems often include the questions asked in textbooks in a field or discipline. (They can usually be “answered” merely by finding the appropriate passage in the chapter.)
Critical thinking is far more about what you actually believe or do. It is about good judgment. Artificial, narrow problems may help when you want to hone or practice specialized skills, but even those skills help only if you consciously transfer them to real-life settings. (Honing your skills at guessing the endings of murder mysteries is not likely to be good preparation for becoming a criminal investigator. In murder mysteries, all the clues are provided, the murderer is one of the characters, and someone (the author) has set up the situation to make us guess the murderer’s identity. None of that is so in a criminal investigation.))
Real problems are often messy. They have loose ends. They are usually . . .
Jul 19, 2020
Since the Foundation for Critical Thinking has been advancing fairminded critical thinking for 40 years, it should be no surprise that we stand in solidarity with all those people working across the world to cultivate, support, and lead the way in creating egalitarian societies. It is clear that fairminded critical societies, properly so called, would not support biases, prejudices, or unethical actions based on a person’s skin color or ethnicity (or indeed any other superficial reason). Fairminded critical societies would not allow police to assault and abuse the people it is charged with protecting. It would not advance a police-state mentality designed to control the people.
Going deeper, it is important to recognize that prejudice is a natural part of human thinking – indeed everyone is prejudiced in favor of many things and against others; these prejudices live in our assumptions, which we take for granted, and from which our worldview is formed. Of course, some people are more prejudiced than others; some act on their biases in egregious ways while others are more subtle in the ways they express their biases. Some people have the power to harm other people based on their prejudices and biases. As we have now clearly (and sadly) seen, some groups, like the police, have considerable power to terrorize people based on their prejudices.
While we need to address and redress the immediate illegal and unethical behaviors of the police against African American people in this country, the problem will not be solved until we as humans understand what lies at the heart of bias and prejudice. Until then, only superficial approaches will be taken to the problem, and those superficial approaches, being superficial, will not lead to a more fair and just society. Only revolutionary changes in the way we think can do that. These revolutionary changes must be based in ethical critical thinking, or they will be superficial.
For an excellent treatise on the role of prejudice in all human thinking, read Critical Thinking and the Nature of Prejudice by Richard Paul.
Jul 13, 2020
All academic subjects and disciplines presuppose the use and fulfillment of intellectual standards. This follows from the fact that reasoning lies at the heart of every subject and discipline. Where there is reasoning, there is a need to analyze the component structures of reasoning, and then, ultimately to assess those structures using intellectual standards.
When we recognize that every academic discipline is a mode of thought, we recognize that all thinking within a discipline can be analyzed according to its essential logic. . . .
Jun 29, 2020
There is considerable confusion and misunderstanding about the relationship between thoughts and feelings or the cognitive and affective dimensions of the mind. We see this in some popular but superficial psychology literature that would lead us to believe that thoughts and feelings are not intimately interrelated and that emotions therefore are separate from thinking. We see this depicted in movies and in daily conversation through such lines as “She lives on the emotional rather than intellectual level,” and “he is moved by intuition instead of being shackled by western philosophical logic.”
Everyone thinks, by our very nature. We also feel and desire. Our thinking shapes and determines how we feel and what we want. When we think well, we are motivated to do things that make sense and motivated to act in ways that help rather than harm ourselves and others. At the same time, powerful emotions or desires influence our thinking, help or hinder how well we think in a situation. At any given moment, our minds (that complex of inner thoughts, feelings and desires) can be under the sway of our native irrationality or our potential reasonability. When we are ruled by our irrational tendencies, we see the world from a narrow self-serving perspective. We are not truly concerned with how our behavior affects others. We are fundamentally concerned with getting what we want and/or with validating our beliefs and views. The key to understanding human thought then, is, to understand its essential duality: its capacity for irrationality (being trapped in egocentric and/or sociocentric thought with its attendant self-deception, self-delusion, rationalization, and so forth)) and its capacity for reasonability (freeing itself from self-delusion, myth, and illusion).
Though thinking, feeling and wanting are, in principle, equally important, it is only through thinking that we take command of our minds. It is through thinking that we figure out what is going wrong with our thinking. It is through thinking that we figure out how to deal with destructive emotions. It is through thinking that we change unproductive desires to productive ones. It is fairminded reasonability that frees us from intellectual slavery and conformity. If we understand our mind and its functions, if we face the barriers to our development caused by egocentric and sociocentric thought, if we work upon our mind in a daily regimen, we can take the steps that lead to our empowerment as thinkers.
To take command of your mind, it is essential that you understand the interconnectedness of thinking, feeling, and wanting and how each affects the others, systematically and constantly throughout the day as you work through life’s issues and make decisions. You also need to understand that this triangle of thoughts, feelings and desires can at any given moment be under the control of the rational mind, or, alternatively, the irrational mind (harboring powerful egocentric and sociocentric tendencies).
Once these understandings are made clear, you can begin to target your powerful egocentric or sociocentric emotions by targeting the thinking leading to those emotions; when you are doing this systematically, followed by routinely improving upon your problematic thinking, your emotional life becomes more steady, relaxed, and satisfactory. You become more accepting of what must be accepted, while focusing your energies on positive contributions that can be made, and joy that can be realized.
For more on the relationship between thinking, feeling, and wanting, read our excerpts from The Thinker’s Guide to the Human Mind, from which this blog was adapted (p. 4).
Also work through the activities in our Triangle of Thinking, Feelings and Desires, in the Academy.
To deal with neurotic emotional states and learn to apply logical thinking to your emotional life, I recommend Albert Ellis’ book: A Guide to Rational Living.
Jun 15, 2020
The variables that have given rise to this newest black rights movement, with people flooding the streets and demanding justice, and the ways in which the police have behaved in response, lead us to believe we are in the midst of a revolution that may or will permanently change the way we think of skin color in the future. But the fight for equal rights is long and hard, and frequently there is a backlash that then takes years to recover from, if ever. Some people, mainly those who have lived through it, relate the protests in 1968 to what we are experiencing today. But history will remind us that achieving an egalitarian world is more or less out of reach for us humans. Upholding rights for all humans as well as other sentient creatures across the globe through universal compassion should be our goal. We could imagine a world in which skin color has nothing to do with how we judge a person, but that world is a long way off, at least here in America - the great land that requires students to pledge allegiance to a flag that promises freedom and justice for all but frequently delivers the opposite. We could imagine the kind of world envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Some of us have that dream too. But it seems we are more divided than ever, and moving in the wrong direction, even with talks of equal rights, and despite fresh promises against the use of brutal police tactics.
Egalitarianism, which embraces the treatment of people as equals, has never been achieved on a broad scale in modern human societies. In many ways we have regressed from the progress we seemed to achieve in the 1970’s, after the protests of the late 1960’s. For instance
Jun 04, 2020
To develop as a thinker and reach your potential requires a special way of interacting with your mind, of engaging in self-reflection. It requires learning how to think about our thinking with skill and discipline. Unfortunately disciplined self-reflection is not natural to humans. Rather than intrinsically self-reflecting, the mind intrinsically self-deceives. Rather than automatically developing rational skills across the workings of one’s mind, humans are sometimes reasonable while at other times unreasonable. We do not naturally see through the mistakes and self-deceptive mechanisms that cause our inconsistencies and contradictions. We come to the world focused on how the world can serve us individually and are wired to serve the groups we belong to – we are both selfish and groupish by nature, and we are capable of critical thinking by nature. But this we must work toward through consistent self-reflection using fairminded critical thinking.
It is self-reflective and self-insightful police officers who behave according to principles of ethical critical thinking. Unfortunately, police forces have not typically embraced fairminded critical thinking as a common goal, nor have they offered the level of professional development in critical thinking that would be required to transform the way the police think about their work. Until they do, we will continue to see the tragedies we are seeing today, with police acting unjustly and egregiously (even killing vulnerable people) using their power. Similarly, because politicians typically do not embrace fairminded critical thinking, they fail to pass laws which would protect people against police brutality. When the police and politicians alike learn to identify and change their faulty assumptions, when they learn to analyze their often narrow viewpoints and the frequently distorted ideas that drive the way they behave, when they learn to look at all the relevant evidence in an impartial and fair way, then we will be on the road to "freedom and justice for all." But this will take a concerted effort and a commitment to cultivating fairminded critical societies, a reality that seems too far out of reach given current trends and a failure to take thinking seriously throughout all parts of life. Peaceful protesting can help, but we need something more systemic to change human societies for the long run, and that something is consistent, disciplined reasoning at high levels of quality . . .
May 24, 2020
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4-65) apparently wrote extensively during his lifetime. But little remains of his writings. The best-known works that have made it to us through history are his 124 letters to Lucilius (circa 64), which are early essays on how to live according to Stoic principles. It is from these letters that the following excerpts are drawn. Seneca opens his second letter with a focus on the importance of reading and rereading the works of distinguished authors, in seeking wisdom. He says:
you should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind (p. 33)… so always read well – tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to the ones you have read before . . .
May 05, 2020
In every country in the world, students are indoctrinated into the ideologies of their culture through schooling. This is, at present, a natural phenomenon stemming from the fact that no human societies now advance or support fairminded critical thinking as a universal ideal. Accordingly, schooling is an agent of the state, of the status quo, and of the mainstream view. Fostering independence of thought in schooling is rare. Teachers who attempt it are often marginalized, removed from the classroom, or otherwise penalized. Consider the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, a legal case in which John Scopes, a high-school teacher in Tennessee, was indicted and convicted for teaching evolution (in violation of the Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach evolution). Though the verdict was overturned on a technicality, the trial illuminates the difficulties teachers face in swimming against the mainstream of the culture, even when the mainstream view is absurd.
Or consider, again, our example of Socrates, going back to 399 BCE, when he was accused, indicted, and ultimately put to death for two reasons:
1. Introducing and believing in gods other than those sanctioned by the state. (Although some accused Socrates of atheism, all evidence points in the opposite direction, including the fact that Socrates believed in life after death.)
2. Corrupting the young (by fostering their intellectual development and encouraging them to question the status quo).
To understand Socrates’ views in connection with education and the problem of sociocentric thought, consider the following passage from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967):
There was reason for fearing Socrates as a social force. Where arete [excellence, in terms of how to make the best of oneself and live a rational life], education, and state were fused in one image, an educator critical of received assumptions was a revolutionary. Socrates not only publicly raised such fundamental questions as “What is arete?” and “Who are its teachers?” but also by discrediting through their own representatives the accepted educational channels and by creating a climate of questioning and doubt, he was suspected by conservative minds of. . .
Apr 22, 2020
I was standing in a rose garden today, keeping my six or more feet distance from other people. I was enjoying the sun streaming down on my face while trying to take in the exquisite magnificence of this public garden that bursts out only a few weeks a year into all manner of colors, shapes and sizes of roses. I won’t try to describe it, because such beauty cannot be described in words.
I noticed a woman walking alone, her face appearing somewhat worried. After a few minutes of circling the roses, she reservedly approached. She said, “Pardon me but do you mind if I ask you a question? I’ll make sure to keep my distance.” I said sure. She said “is it just me, or does it bother you that so many people are going against the rules and co-mingling, without masks, when we’re supposed to be keeping our distance?” (She threw a disappointing look at a few groups nearby standing close together and busily visiting).
I could think of several responses. . . .
Apr 14, 2020
I invite you to look back at the two previous blogs on critical writing. I’ll begin here by recapping some of what was in those previous blogs, but re-reading them as a whole will give more context to the work of writing a paper using critical thinking.
There are many challenges in writing a paper, and critical thinking helps with all of them. Of all those challenges, it probably helps least when it comes to writing mellifluous, beautifully phrased sentences, but it helps--not just a little, but dramatically--in everything else: in creating and developing a paper, one that is well-thought-out, well-organized, speaks to the audience, and communicates something that is worth communicating.
To write a paper (or to write virtually anything non-fictional) you need to have a main thing that you are trying to convey. (In my book, I use the traditional term “thesis statement.) I say “a” main thing—as if it is singular—but in fact that “main thing” can contain multiple parts. In addition to a thesis statement, or as parts of your thesis statement, you need to have other main points . . .
Apr 06, 2020
As many of us are required to stay at home (due to the Corona pandemic) and are therefore not able to enjoy our usual ability to move about, doing the things we want to do outside our homes to keep ourselves occupied and amused, many people are becoming even more irrational than they may have been before. Domestic abuse rates are increasing, articles are being written on how to stay sane during this time. People seem largely without internal resources of critical thought to deal with the situation, even in the short run, much less the long term.
One of the important truths that Jean Piaget, the noted child psychologist, discovered about children is that they overgeneralize their immediate feelings. If something good happens to them, the whole world looks good to them. If something bad happens to them, the whole world looks bad to them. He called this phenomenon egocentric immediacy. What Piaget did not emphasize, however, is that the same reaction patterns are found in much adult thinking. . . .
March 25, 2020
In editing our textbook: Critical Thinking Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, 3rd ed, (2012, Paul and Elder), for an upcoming fourth edition, I pulled for you the brief conclusion from our chapter on fallacies. I think you will see immediate application between these thoughts and what we see in the words of politicians and news outlets.
In a world of fairminded critical thinkers, the list of those who reasoned best and the list of those with the most influence in the world would be one and the same. But we don’t exist in an ideal world of intellectually disciplined, empathic thinkers. We live in fundamentally uncritical societies, societies in which skilled manipulators, masters of intellectual tricks and stratagems, are the ones who tend to achieve position, status, and advantage.
A continual struggle for power and control exists in the everyday world, and in that struggle, truth and insight have little chance of competing with big money driving big media. Big money routinely uses the resources of media logic, polished rhetoric, and mass propaganda techniques to gain its ends. Most people, being intellectually unsophisticated, respond to and, even unknowingly, use fallacious thinking. As we hope you realize by now, most of what are traditionally called fallacies are actually highly effective strategies for shaping the opinions and beliefs of others. Fallacies are best understood as “counterfeits” of good reasoning . . .
Mar 24, 2020
Take any one of the elements of reasoning, dwell on it, and you can discover ideas and truths you were unaware of. To consider just three of the elements: there are often deeper-rooted purposesbehind the purposes we explicitly avow; there are more profound questions at issuethat lurk behind virtually any of the questions we ask; in even our most mundane concepts, there are other concepts—un-explored, un-understood, misunderstood, completely un-noticed concepts—that can radically change the way we think and act.
Here, I would like briefly to explore some of the implications of implications.
We say and believe things, but we often do so without being aware of the implications of what we say or believe. . . .
Mar 14, 2020
In the 1980’s a number of important theoreticians, education leaders, and scholars, including Richard Paul and Robert Reich, warned us about the interwoven problems we were to face in the future given increasing interdependence, accelerating change, and intensifying complexity. We were also warned then about the importance of cultivating critical thinking across the populace if we were to survive into our future.
That future is here and now. The pandemic we are facing, the corona virus, exemplifies one of the many highly complex and difficult problems humans must now routinely deal with. We likely face further, perhaps significant spread of this virus, and it is clear that in many ways we are failing the test of critical thinking. People are disseminating and believing disinformation they read through social media. The mainstream media is as usual, sensationalizing. Hysteria is setting in as all manner of food, supplies and even alcohol fly off the store shelves.
When we use the tools of critical thinking, we can more effectively deal with the problems we face, of course. But how do we apply them in complex cases such as this? How do we work through these cases, which requires reasoned judgment all along the way, and the consideration of many, sometimes conflicting variables and viewpoints.
First, it behooves us to consider all the important questions in the question cluster we are dealing with. Our primary question, from which all other questions emerge . . .
Mar 01, 2020
There are so many ways to enter critical thinking and benefit from it. We can take any part of the theory and apply it to everyday life situations. In fact, until we do so, any theory we learn will be inert in the mind, rather than activated. It is when we apply critical thinking that it comes to life. For instance, I was recently in a drugstore, and began noticing some of the unhealthy things in the store (information). What hit me first was the toxic fluorescent lighting (information) (read into the many health problems potentially caused by fluorescents).* I couldn’t help but notice the irony between the fact that a pharmacy should be advancing health when those florescent lights certainly do not (my inference based on the information). Then I began to analyze and assess, from the point of view of critical thinking, many of the things surrounding me in that drug store - the rows of candy filled with processed sugar, rows of processed potato chips and other snack foods, toxic chemicals on the cleaning aisle, make up and skincare products containing who knows how many perhaps toxic chemicals and perfumes as well (all information). . . .
Feb 24, 2020
Socrates, who laid down the roots of our critical thinking tradition, was tried, convicted and executed by the democratic state of Athens for two things: 1. believing in God’s other than those sanctioned by the state, and 2. corrupting the minds of the youth (through questioning them and teaching them to question through budding tools of critical thinking). According to Plato, as portrayed in his Apology, Socrates opens his defense with the following statement:
“What effect my accusers have had upon you, gentlemen, I do not know, but for my own part I was almost carried away by them; their arguments were so convincing. On the other hand, scarcely a word of what they said was true. I was especially astonished at one of their many misrepresentations: the point where they told you that you must be careful not to let me deceive you, implying that I am a skillful speaker. I thought that it was peculiarly brazen of them to have the nerve to tell you this only just before events must prove them wrong, when it becomes obvious that I have not the slightest skill as a speaker–unless, of course, by a skillful speaker they mean one who speaks the truth. If that is what they mean, I would agree that I am an orator and quite out of their class.” . . .
In this passage, Socrates illuminates the problem of bad faith and manipulation through use of language, a problem still prominent among politicians, and many others today. It is through critical reasoning that we are in the best position to see through corruption, power mongering, exploitation and indeed all forms of deception and dishonesty through distortion of language and information. I encourage you to read the Apology (an enlightening piece of prose), looking especially for intellectual moves Socrates made (as described by Plato) which are relevant to how we live, and how we should live, now; please post your responses here.
Feb 01, 2020
The idea many people have about critical thinking is just a vague one: it is just “good thinking,” or “careful thinking.”
One problem with this is that we usually compliment people on their “good thinking” only if the conclusions they come to agree with what we ourselves believe: If they believe what I believe, that’s a sure sign that they are thinking critically. It often seems that for some people, they just assume that, whatever critical thinking is, it is the kind of thinking that they themselves do.
We can advance a step by shifting from “thinking” to “reasoning.” A standard explication of reasoning is that it is “coming to conclusions based on reasons and evidence.” Good reasoning, therefore—critical thinking—would be starting with good reasons and evidence, and then coming to conclusions that are justified on the basis the reasons and evidence. . . .
Jan 13, 2020
[To repeat the background of this blog: I am finishing a book on Critical Writing: Using the Concepts and Processes of Critical Thinking to Write a Paper. It will be published by Rowman and Littlefield, probably in Fall, 2020. The following is adapted from an earlier draft of the book.]
One major challenge for students in writing courses is to take a very general, unfocused, all-over-the-place topic, where most start, and from it to create something specific, focused and crisp.
The recommendation in my book is for the student to begin by taking the topic and to analyze it using the elements of reasoning, the Wheel of Reason.
A reminder: Alyssa is a first-year student in a writing course. The only course she has taken in the sciences was an introductory-level course in science for non-majors. But she decides to write a paper on scientific thinking. Notice how such a topic is indeed very general, unfocused, and all-over-the-place. You could go in a thousand different directions, and with just that amorphous topic in front of you, there is nothing to guide you in narrowing it down. . . .
Jan 11, 2020
In Jane Austen’s book Persuasion, the central theme is, well persuasion. After reading the book, answer these questions:
Jane Austen’s work is frequently trivialized, sometimes even by literature scholars. But those who read Austen’s work using keen intellectual tools see the depth of her ideas and the universal nature of her insights into interpersonal and social relationships. . . .
Jan 01, 2020
In revising our guide: The Thinker's Guide for Conscientious Citizens on How to Detect Media Bias & Propaganda, I explore the concept of the liberal minded person. Though the term "liberal" has been used throughout modern history to refer to differing political positions and worldviews, it behooves us to explore how it makes sense to think of the liberal minded person today, especially in relationship with education. The term "liberal education" seems now largely excluded from discussions focused on school reform at any level. This is a pity, given that liberal education, properly conceived, dovetails with any rich conception of critical thinking. . . .