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Critical Thinking: Identifying the Targets


The goal of this chapter is to set out clearly what critical thinking is in general and how it plays itself out in a variety of domains: in reading, in writing, in studying academic subjects, and on the job. Richard Paul and Jane Willsen provide down-to-earth examples that enable the reader to appreciate both the most general characteristics of critical thinking and their specific manifestations on the concrete level. It is essential, of course, that the reader becomes clear about the concept, including its translation into cases, for otherwise she is apt to mis-translate the concept or fail to see its relevance in a wide variety of circumstances.

The danger of misunderstanding and mis-application is touched upon in this chapter at the end, but is developed at great length in another chapter, “Pseudo Critical Thinking in the Educational Establishment” (p. 47).

  • Is this a good idea or a bad idea?
  • Is this belief defensible or indefensible?
  • Is my position on this issue reasonable and rational or not?
  • Am I willing to deal with complexity or do I retreat into simple stereotypes to avoid it?
  • If I can’t tell if my idea or belief is reasonable or defensible, how can I have confidence in my thinking, or in myself?
  • Is it appropriate and wise to assume that my ideas and beliefs are accurate, clear, and reasonable, when I haven’t really tested them?
  • Do I think deeply or only on the surface of things?
  • Do I ever enter sympathetically into points of view that are very different from my own, or do I just assume that I am right?
  • Do I know how to question my own ideas and to test them?
  • Do I know what I am aiming for? Should I?

Effectively evaluating our own thinking and the thinking of others is a habit few of us practice. We evaluate which washing machine to buy after reading Consumer Reports, we evaluate which movie to go see after studying the reviews, we evaluate new job opportunities after talking with friends and colleagues, but rarely do we...

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