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 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. . . .