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2023 Critical Thinking Blog

The Foundation for Critical Thinking Blog began in 2019. The chief contributor is Dr. Linda Elder, President and Senior Fellow of the Foundation for Critical Thinking. We also post articles and interviews from the Richard Paul Archives, featuring seminal work and ideas from throughout Dr. Paul's life and career. Additionally, there may be occasional contributions from other Foundation for Critical Thinking Fellows and Scholars.

While some entries will be posted in full on this website, others are previews, and their full copies can only be found in the Center for Critical Thinking Community Online .

The copyright of each blog entry belongs to its respective author, except in the case of Richard Paul Archives posts, the copyrights for which belong to Linda Elder.

Entries from Other Years

Entries from 2023

[Part 4 - Final] Bloom’s Taxonomy and Critical Thinking Instruction - Recall Is Not Knowledge

Dec 26, 2023

Rational Learning

To sum up, the authors of the Taxonomy organized cognitive processes into a one-way hierarchy, leading readers to conclude that knowledge is always a simpler behavior than comprehension, comprehension is a simpler behavior than application, application is a simpler behavior than analysis, and so forth through synthesis and evaluation. However, this view is misleading in at least one important sense: achieving knowledge always presupposed at least minimal comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. This counter-insight is essential for well-planned and realistic curriculum designed to foster critical thinking skills, abilities, and dispositions, and it cannot be achieved without the development of the teacher’s critical thinking.

From the very start, for any learning, we should expect and encourage those rational scruples realistically within the range of student grasp, a strategy that requires critical insight into the evidentiary foundation of everything we teach. We should scrutinize our instructional strategies lest we inadvertently nurture student irrationality, as we do when we encourage students to believe what, from the perspective of their own thought, they have no good reason to believe. If we want rational learning (and again, not all learning is rational), then the process leading to belief is more important than belief itself. Everything we believe we have in some sense judged to be credible. If students believe something just because we or the text assert it, they learn to accept blindly.

Right-answer inculcation is not a preliminary step to critical thought. It nurtures irrational belief and unnecessarily generates a mindset that . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Thank You For Your Membership, and Help Us Continue Our Work - Linda Elder

Dec 20, 2023

As we approach 2024, I want to first thank you for your membership in this community and your work in advancing critical thinking wherever you have influence. I also hope you will consider us in your end-of-year charity giving. As the world's longest-running non-profit organization dedicated to advancing fairminded critical thinking, we have survived 43 years with few major benefactors, and with almost no grant funding. We are a rare entity in that our scholarship is unfettered by outside influences from business, government, and other monied interests. But now we need help to continue our work.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking was founded on the understanding that most major problems in modern human societies result from preventable failures in human reasoning. Today, this is clearer than ever: all major impending threats to human survival are a direct function of erroneous human action and the faulty thinking that underlies it. The climate crisis, nuclear proliferation, destructive manipulation through mass media (including social media), breakdowns in democracy, and other human-caused dangers have demonstrated what happens when poor reasoning rules the day. Sadly, disciplined freedom of speech and freedom of thought are rarely encouraged anywhere in schooling or society. For these and many other reasons, this community is so important.

And there are glimmers of hope: all of you who are members of this community are vital to our work, through your continued commitment to critical thinking and through your membership itself. Further, we realize that many of you have used our work to start important local and regional projects in service of a more enlightened and sustainable future. Environmental, educational, and social initiatives in critical thinking still have the potential to evolve from ambitious goals to real forces for change. To all of you who are using critical thinking concepts and tools to make a difference – whether at home, at work, in the classroom, in your community, or anywhere else that quality reasoning can make a difference – we applaud your efforts and achievements. Human societies can only thrive when fairminded critical thinking is valued across the globe and when it becomes the norm human life.

If this community has made a difference in your life, work, teaching, or learning, and if you can, we hope you will make a year-end contribution to our efforts.

You may enjoy reading some of the comments we've received from contributors across the world:

"Critical thinking has helped me find who I am and what I am to do and to believe. I am proud to be an advocate of critical thinking."

"I hope you will be able to continue your commendable work!"

"Because of my interest in critical thinking, Richard Paul recommended that I become a student volunteer at the International Conference on Critical Thinking. I did so for three years, starting in 2011. These experiences forever impacted me, and I am indebted to the work the foundation does. Keep up the great work!"

"I have much gratitude towards the Foundation for providing invaluable resources on thinking and learning. I use these tools regularly with my work in academic support."

"Please accept my small but supportive donation to your organization. I used your website in conjunction with other material used in a course I teach at a local college. I and others found your website to be a valuable resource. My best to you all in the coming year."

"Given in appreciation for your work that has benefited my life, and the complimentary guides I've received in the past."

Visit our Donations Page to learn more about how your contributions can help. Please Contribute Today

I deeply appreciate your support of critical thinking and hope you can help us keep our work going and keep our doors open into the future.

Thank you, each and every one of you, for your many contributions to critical thinking.

[Part 3] Bloom’s Taxonomy and Critical Thinking Instruction: Recall Is Not Knowledge - Richard Paul Archives

Dec 05, 2023

Knowledge as Achievement

The critical thinking movement has its roots in the practice and vision of Socrates, who discovered by a probing method of questioning that few people could rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric. This led to a basic insight into the problem of human irrationality and to a view of knowledge and learning which holds that to believe or assent without reason, judgment, or understanding is to be prejudiced. This belief is central to the critical thinking movement. This view also holds the corollary principle that critical reflection by each learner is an essential precondition of knowledge. Put another way, those who advocate critical thinking instruction hold that knowledge is not something that can be given by one person to another. It cannot simply be memorized out of a book or taken whole cloth from the mind of another. Knowledge, rightly understood, is a distinctive construction by the learner, something that issues out of a rational use of mental processes.

To expect students to assent before they have developed the capacity to do so rationally is to indoctrinate rather than to educate them and to foster . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] View Our Recent Webinar Video Recordings: Ethical Reasoning and Our Open QA - Linda Elder

Nov 27, 2023

In recent blog posts I invited you to two webinars. If you were not able to attend, you can view these at the following links:

Why Ethical Reasoning Is So Important and Why We Tend to Misunderstand It (Linda Elder, 10-24-2023)

Open Critical Thinking Q&A: November 2023 (Gerald Nosich, 11-15-2023)


[Part 2] Bloom’s Taxonomy and Critical Thinking Instruction - Recall Is Not Knowledge

Nov 14, 2023

[Missed Part 1? Read It Here]

A One-Way Hierarchy

Though not designed to further critical thinking instruction as such, Cognitive Domain contains a wealth of information of use in such instruction. Reading it in its entirety is most rewarding, particularly the sections on analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These sections disclose that most of the cognitive processes characterized as essential to higher-order questions in fact presuppose use of basic critical thinking concepts: assumption, fact, concept, value, conclusion, premise, evidence, relevant, irrelevant, consistent, inconsistent, compilation, fallacy, argument, inference, point of view, bias, prejudice, authority, hypothesis, and so forth. This is clear, for example, in the explanation of analysis:

Skill in analysis may be found as an objective of any field of study. It is frequently expressed as one of their important objectives by teachers of science, social studies, philosophy, and the arts. They wish, for example, to develop in students the ability to distinguish fact from hypothesis in a communication, to identify conclusions and supporting statements, to distinguish relevant from extraneous material, to note how one idea relates to another, to see what unstated assumptions are involved in what is said, to distinguish dominant from subordinate ideas or themes in poetry or music, to find evidence of the author’s techniques and purposes . . . (Cognitive Domain, p. 144)

In other words, if the ability to analyze usually requires students to do such things as distinguish facts from hypotheses, conclusions from evidence, relevant from irrelevant material, note relationships between concepts, and probe and detect unstated assumptions, then it seems essential that students become not only familiar with these words (by teachers introducing them frequently into classroom discussion) but also comfortable with using them as they think their way through analytic problems. This need becomes more evident if we recognize that by . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Asking Essential Questions and What Are Your Questions? Join Our Upcoming Webinar Q&A - November 15, 10 A.M. Pacific

Nov 05, 2023

The quality of your life is determined by the quality of our thinking. The quality of your thinking, in turn, is determined by the quality of your questions, for questions are the engine, the driving force behind thinking. Without questions, you have nothing to think about. Without essential questions, you may fail to focus your thinking on the significant and substantive.

When you ask essential questions, you deal with what is necessary, relevant, and indispensable to a matter at hand. You recognize what is at the heart of the matter. Your thinking is grounded and disciplined. You are ready to learn. You are intellectually able to find your way about.

To be successful in life, you need to ask essential questions: essential questions when reading, writing, and speaking; when shopping, working, and parenting; when forming friendships, choosing life-partners, and when interacting with the mass media and the Internet.

Yet few people are masters of the art of asking essential questions. Most have never thought about why some questions are crucial and others peripheral. Essential questions are rarely studied in school. They are rarely modeled at home. Most people question according to their psychological associations. Their questions are haphazard and scattered.

Essential questions fall into a range of categories. Some essential questions are principally analytic, some principally evaluative. Some apply predominantly to academic subjects, others to our innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires.

The categories and lists of essential questions you will find in The Thinker’s Guide to Asking Essential Questions will help you develop your understanding of how to ask essential questions. Recognize that the questions in this guide are illustrative, not exhaustive. Furthermore, the ideas provided in the guide are useful only to the extent that you employ them daily to formulate and pursue essential questions. Practice in asking essential questions eventually leads to the habit of asking essential questions. But you can never practice asking essential questions if you have no conception of them.

To understand the important role of questions in thinking, you must first realize that it is not possible to be a good thinker and a poor questioner. Questions define tasks, express problems, and delineate issues. They drive thinking forward. Answers, on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when an answer generates further questions does thought continue as inquiry. A mind with no questions is a mind that is not intellectually alive. No questions (asked) equals no understanding (achieved). Superficial questions equal superficial understanding, unclear questions equal unclear understanding. In short, if your mind is not actively generating questions, you are not engaged in substantive learning or substantive thinking.

Thinking within disciplines is driven, not by answers, but by essential questions. Had no basic questions been asked by those who laid the foundation for a field — for example, physics or biology — the field would not have been developed in the first place. Every intellectual field is born out of a cluster of essential questions that drive the mind to pursue particular facts and understandings. Biology was born when some humans pursued answers to the questions:

“What are the characteristics of living systems? What structures exist in them? What functions do these structures serve?” Biochemistry was born when biologists began to ask questions such as: “What chemical processes underlie living things? How and why do chemical processes within living things interact and change?”

Every field stays alive only to the extent that fresh questions are generated and taken seriously as the driving force in thinking. When a field of study is no longer pursuing significant answers to essential questions, it dies as a field. To think through or rethink anything, one must ask the questions necessary to thinking through the logic of that thing, clearly and precisely.

Again, our Thinker’s Guide to Asking Essential Questions will help you develop your questioning abilities in all aspects of your life. In this guide, we introduce essential questions as indispensable intellectual tools. We focus on principles essential to formulating, analyzing, assessing, and settling primary questions. You will notice that our categories of question types are not exclusive. There is a great deal of overlap between them. Deciding what category of question to ask at any point in thinking is a matter of judgment. Having a range of powerful questions to choose from is a matter of knowledge.

Because you cannot be skilled at thinking unless you are skilled at questioning, you should strive for a state of mind in which fundamental questions become second nature. These questions are indispensable to productive thinking, deep learning, and effective living.

I hope you will bring your questions to Dr. Gerald Nosich at our next open QA focused on questions from our community and the public, to be held November 15th, 2023, at 10:00 a.m. PST. In our regular question-and-answer webinars, we open the floor to your questions about critical thinking and its unlimited applications to human life and beyond. Join Dr. Nosich for this webinar - and ask your questions! Register here.


Part of this blog was adapted from The Thinker’s Guide to Asking Essential Questions by Linda Elder and Richard Paul, 2019, Rowman & Littlefield.


[Part 1] Bloom’s Taxonomy and Critical Thinking Instruction: Recall Is Not Knowledge

Oct 24, 2023


In this brief article, Richard Paul analyses and critiques Bloom’s Taxonomy from the perspective of the critical thinking movement. He points out Bloom’s achievements in Cognitive Domains and Affective Domains: the analysis of cognitive processes of thought and their interrelationships; the emphasis on the need for these processes (including critical thinking skills and abilities) to be explicitly and mindfully taught and used; the emphasis on critical thinking values, such as openmindedness and faith in reason.

Dr. Paul then argues that Bloom’s approach suffers from the following two flaws: 1) the attempt to be “value neutral” is impossible and incompatible with the values presupposed in critical thinking education and 2)   Bloom confuses recall with knowledge.

As a result of the way the taxonomy is explained, many teachers identify learning to think critically with merely learning how to ask and answer questions in all of Bloom’s categories: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Teachers typically take the categories to express objectives which they should teach to in strict order: first give the students “knowledge”, then show them how to comprehend it, then how to apply it, etc. Paul, while recognizing that Bloom’s distinctions themselves are important, argues that the common understanding of their link to critical thinking is largely misconceived. Teaching critical thinking is not a simple matter of asking questions from each of Bloom’s categories; moreover, the categories themselves are not independent but interdependent. Paul shows, for example, how knowledge is not something that can be given to a student before he or she comprehends it. He explains how the critical thinking movement has properly emphasized that getting knowledge is in fact a complex achievement involving thought, and so should be understood as the product of rational thought processes, rather than as recall. This insight needs to be brought into the heart of instruction.


It would be difficult to find a more influential work in education today than The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom, et al. 1979). Developed by a committee of college and university examiners from 1949 to 1954 and published as two handbooks – Cognitive Domain and Affective Domain – its objectives were manifold. Handbook I, Cognitive Domain, for instance, lists four . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Developing Ethical Reasoning Abilities – Join Us for Our Upcoming Webinar to Learn More

Oct 16, 2023

The development of ethical reasoning abilities is vitally important—both for living an ethical life and creating an ethical world. We all need the intellectual tools and understandings essential for reasoning through ethical issues and problems in an insightful manner.

Unfortunately, most people confuse ethics with behaving in accordance with social conventions, religious beliefs, and the law. Most people do not see ethics as a domain unto itself, a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient creatures. Most people do not recognize that ethical concepts and principles are universally defined, through such documents as the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and that these concepts and principles are transcultural and trans religious.

One need not appeal to a religious belief or cultural convention to recognize that slavery, genocide, torture, sexism, racism, murder, assault, fraud, deceit, and intimidation are all ethically wrong. Whenever we base ethical conclusions on religious or cultural standards, we separate ourselves from those who hold contrary religious or cultural beliefs and we confuse ethics for other modes of thinking. It is essential, therefore, that we use shared ethical concepts and principles as guides in reasoning through common ethical issues.

We can find a wide array of important ethical concepts by reviewing the terms available for ethical discourse in virtually every natural language. All spoken languages contain synonyms for desirable ethical traits such as being kind, openminded, impartial, truthful, honest, compassionate, considerate, and honorable. All natural languages also contain hundreds of negative ethical traits such as being selfish, greedy, egotistical, callous, deceitful, hypocritical, disingenuous, prejudiced, bigoted, spiteful, vindictive, cruel, brutal, and oppressive. The essential meanings of these terms are not dependent on either theology or social convention. Living an ethical life emerges from the fact that people are capable of either helping or harming others, of contributing to or damaging the quality of other’s lives.

In addition to the ability to distinguish purely ethical terms from those that are theological or conventional, skilled ethical reasoning presupposes the same range of intellectual skills and traits required in other domains. One must be skilled in breaking reasoning down into its component parts. One must be proficient in assessing reasoning for its clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, logicalness and fairness. One must be intellectually humble, intellectually perseverant, and intellectually empathic. All of us need essential foundations in ethics, without which ethical discussion will often end in hopeless disputation or discouraging contradiction and misunderstanding. Developing as an insightful ethical reasoner and person takes time and much practice. No one can do this work for us. Each of us must internalize ethical concepts and principles for ourselves. And we must be committed to developing and living as fairminded critical thinkers.

In our upcoming webinar on ethical reasoning, I will discuss some of the foundations of ethical reasoning all of us need if we are to reason well through ethical issues and problems. Please join us for this webinar to be held October 24 at 10:00 am Pacific Daylight Time. Read more here.

This blog was modified from the letter introduction in The Thinker’s Guide to Ethical Reasoning by Richard Paul and Linda Elder, 2019. NY: Rowman & Littlefield.


[Part 12: Conclusion] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person - Richard Paul Archives

Oct 09, 2023

Concluding Remarks: The Critical Teacher

To be in the best position to encourage critical thinking in their students, teachers must first value it highly in their personal, social, and civic lives. A teacher of critical thinking must be a critical person, a person comfortable with and experienced in critical discussion, critical reflection, and critical inquiry; must be willing to make questions rather than assertions the heart of his or her contribution to student learning; must explicitly understand his or her own frame of reference and that fostered in the society at large; must be willing to treat no idea as intrinsically good or bad; must have confidence in reason, evidence, and open discussion; must deeply value clarity, accuracy, and fairmindedness; and must be willing to help students develop the various critical thinking micro-proficiencies in the context of these values and ideals. To do so, teachers must be students of human irrationality, egocentricity, and prejudice. Their interest must be both theoretical and practical. They must experience (and recognize) irrational drives and behavior in themselves as well as others. A teacher must be patient and capable of the long view, for people, schools, and society change only in the long run, never quickly, and always with some frustration, conflict, and misunderstanding.

Few now realize that the critical teacher is rare and that most of the critical . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Critical Thinking Revealed Podcast: Dr. Alex Hall on the Climate Crisis - Linda Elder

Sep 26, 2023

We have recently launched a new podcast series entitled Critical Thinking Revealed. In this series I will interview top level experts in various fields of study that have broad reaching implications for human life, the lives of other sentient creatures and for planet earth. My goal in this series is to uncover and illuminate the critical thinking these experts are doing and why their thinking is important. My first interview was held with Dr. Alex Hall, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and an expert in climate change. Dr. Hall is a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, who specializes in regional climates, global climate change and climate modeling. Dr. Hall uses observed data as well as numerical models to understand the dynamics of climate variability and climate change. His work also focuses on developing regional earth system models and studying the climate from a regional perspective, particularly in Los Angeles and California, to lay the groundwork for an understanding of climate change at scales most relevant to people and ecosystems.

In this interview we focused on the climate crisis, on the concepts of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, as well as numerical models designed to help us understand climate change. We also discussed what we can each do individually to reduce our individual impact on the earth

I hope you will view this podcast:

It is also available on YouTube, so feel free to share with your colleagues and friends:

[Part 11] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person - Richard Paul Archives

Sep 20, 2023

One of the major ways in which sociocentric bias is introduced into social studies texts is through the fostered illusion of “scientific” objectivity. Nothing suggests that the authors are taking a position on issues about which reasonable people could disagree, or at least that they are taking such a position only when they explicitly admit to to.

The textbook American Democracy In World Perspective, written by four professors at the University of California for use in college political science courses, is an exemplary case in this regard. Virtually everything in its 700-plus pages is oriented toward persuading the reader that he United States has the best form of government, comes closest to “perfect” democracy, and that the fate of freedom in the world depends on the United States: “As democracy fares in the United States, so will it, in the long run, fare throughout the world.”

The text divides all governments into two basic types, democratic and non-democratic, the non-democratic ones are divided into authoritarian and totalitarian ones, in accord with the . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Why the Medical Model for Mental Health Is Problematic; Learn More Through an Upcoming Conference - Linda Elder

Sep 13, 2023

In my upcoming book: Critical Thinking Therapy for Happiness and Self-Actualization, I offer a brief critique of the still pervasive and problematic medical model as the primary guide for mental health. For anyone concerned with this issue, I recommend that you attend the 25th Annual Conference of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) to be held in person and online, October 27 - 29, 2023 in California. According to the society’s announcement, “ISEPP's annual conference is a time for practitioners, academicians, educators, lawyers, and those who have been harmed by the conventional mental health system to gather together in solidarity. It is a time for strengthening our bonds, sharing our work, and reaching out to others who haven't yet heard our message. Our mission is to critique mainstream mental health professional practices that are based on a medical model, and explore alternative ways of helping people in distress without abandoning the cherished principles of informed consent and self-determination.” You can read more about the conference and register here:

The treatment of mental health issues through physiological treatments such as medications (Psychopharmacology) is still the primary line of defense for psychiatrists, who are first trained medical doctors and who then specialize in psychiatry. Psychiatrists typically prescribe medications, and some may engage in talk therapy. They base their medical prescriptions on the notion that mental health issues are characteristically caused by diseases of the brain.

However, the medical model of mental health is fraught with conceptual and practical problems. Though there are clear connections between brain and mind, we are in the infancy stages in terms of understanding these connections in ways useful to mental health. And though drugs are typically given to people with all types of emotional issues, the long-term efficacy of these drugs, and their safety must frequently be called into question. As medical doctors, psychiatrists have an interest in advancing the medical model of the mind since they are medical doctors. This viewpoint seems to take precedence over the scientific studies that frequently show serious adverse consequences for people taking psychiatric drugs long-term.

Here are a few primary questions you can ask of your psychiatrist:

1. Do you use a medical model for understanding the mind? In other words, do you see pharmaceuticals and medical procedures as primary methods for helping clients?

2. What studies can you point me to that show this medication you are prescribing is safe to use and under what conditions it is safe? How do I know it is safe to use all these medications together?

3. Do you also offer therapy sessions? If so, what theories do you use in therapy to help clients?

Thomas Szasz (1974; 2010), a long-term critic of traditional psychiatry, points out that psychiatrists tend to perceive and present psychiatry as scientific in nature, with their reliance on pharmaceuticals and other medical treatments, while also routinely engaging clients in any form of talk therapy (which is certainly not scientific). Szasz sees this mixture as a clear contradiction:

… there is no such thing has “mental illness.” … Alchemist and astrologers … spoke of mysterious substances and concealed their methods from public scrutiny. Psychiatrists have similarly persisted in speaking of mysterious mental maladies and have continued to refrain from disclosing fully and frankly what they do. Indeed, whether as theorists or therapists, they may do virtually anything and still claim to be, and be accepted as, psychiatrists (p. 1).

There is… a serious discrepancy between what psychotherapists and psychoanalysts do and what they say they do. What they do, quite simply, is to communicate with other persons (often called “patients”) by means of language, nonverbal signs, and rules; they analyze—that is, discuss, and explain, and speculate about—the communicative interactions which they observe and in which they themselves engage; and they often recommend engaging in some types of conduct and avoiding others… But what do these experts tell themselves and others concerning their work? They talk as if they were physicians, physiologists, biologists, or even physicists. We hear about “sick patients” and “treatments,” “diagnoses” and “hospitals,” “instincts” and “endocrine functions” and of course “libido” and “psychic energies,” both “free” and “bound.” All this is fakery and pretense whose purpose is to medicalize certain aspects of the study and control of human behavior (pp. 3-4).

In his book Smoke and Mirrors: How You Are Being Fooled About Mental Illness, An Insider’s Warning To Consumers, Chuck Ruby, clinical psychologist and Executive Director of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry, eschews the medical model and argues for rethinking how we label those considered mentally ill:

Using different terms when talking about human suffering would make things clearer and more honest. We would be better served with terms that don’t give the impression of illness, disease, and medicine but more accurately described the very real and distressing problems people endure. It would be especially helpful if we could find good substitutes for the very terms “mental illness” and “mental health,” as they falsely imply medical problems and defective people (p. 7).

This medical language is probably the single most deceptive, yet subtle, influence in perpetuating the myth [of mental illness]. You are being fooled about it by the very language used in talking and thinking about it (p. 8).

For more on the problem of the medical model for mental health, attend the ISEPP’s upcoming annual event. I also recommend these books:

Moncrieff, J. (2008). The myth of the chemical cure: A critique of psychiatric drug treatment. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ruby, C. (2020). Smoke and mirrors: How you are being fooled about mental illness. Welcome, MD: Clear Publishing.

Whitaker, R. (2015). Anatomy of an epidemic: Magic bullets, psychiatric drugs, and the astounding rise of mental illness in America. New York, New York: Broadway Books.

Whitaker, R. and Cosgrove, L. (2015). Psychiatry under the influence: Institutional corruption, social injury, and prescriptions for reform. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.



Ruby, C. (2020). Smoke and mirrors: How you are being fooled about mental illness. Welcome, MD: Clear Publishing.

Szasz, T. (1974:2010). The myth of mental illness. NY: Harper Perineal.


Some of the content in this blog was taken or modified from my book: Critical Thinking Therapy for Happiness and Self-Actualization, in press, to be published 2024, copyright Linda Elder.

[Part 10] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

Aug 31, 2023

Once students consider conflicting perspectives, they should actually argue the cases for them, role playing the thought of those who insightfully hold them. This requires students to learn how to collect the “facts” each side marshals to defend its views and analyze their divergent use of key terms. For example, what exactly differentiates those we label freedom fighters from those we label terrorists? How can we define them without presupposing the truth of someone’s ideology? These crucial terms and many others current in social disputes are often used in self-serving ways by nations and groups, begging most of the crucial social and moral issues. Students need skills in breaking down ideologically biased uses of language. This requires them to develop concepts that do not presuppose specific national ideological slants. This, in turn, requires them to engage in the argumentation for and against their application in key cases.

Unfortunately, even when critical thinking becomes an explicit instructional objective and significant attention is given to formulation of curriculum, unless teachers and curriculum specialists have internalized the concept of strong sense critical thinking, instruction usually fosters sociocentric weak sense critical thinking skills rather than strong sense skills. Consider the following critical thinking writing prompts from a series of . . . 

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The State of Critical Thinking in Human Societies Today - Linda Elder

Aug 24, 2023

Three disturbing, but hardly novel, facts still impede the advancement of ethical critical thinking across human cultures:

• Most teachers and faculty at all levels lack a substantive concept of critical thinking.

• Most teachers and faculty don’t realize that they lack a substantive concept of critical thinking, believe that they sufficiently understand it, and assume they are already teaching it to students.

• Lecture, rote memorization, trivial exercises, and largely ineffective short-term study habits are still the norm in instruction today.

The struggle of critical thinking to find an independent home in academia has led to predictable consequences for human societies: the average person has little or no idea how to analyze reasoning, appropriately assess reasoning, or systematically improve reasoning. The average person has no idea of the importance of explicitly aspiring to intellectual virtues such as intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, and confidence in reason. Because most people lack the skills and dispositions of the fairminded critical person and don’t understand the underlying conceptual frameworks for these processes, they neither understand nor value reasoning, despite its dominant role in the quality of their lives. Accordingly, most businesses, as well as most government . . .

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[Part 9] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

Aug 16, 2023

When students cover a conflict between two countries – especially when one is their own – they should hear the case not just for one but both countries’ perspectives. Often other perspectives are also relevant.

U.S. textbook writers canvassing the Cold War, for example, do not identify themselves as arguing for one selective representation of it. They do not identify themselves as having a pro-U.S. bias. They do not suggest that they represent only one out of a number of points of view. They imply rather that they give an “objective” account, as though the issues were intrinsically monological and so settleable by considering merely one point of view. They imply that the reader need not consider other points of view on the Cold War. They imply that the facts speak for themselves and that they (the textbooks) contain the facts, all the facts, and nothing but the facts. There is nothing dialogical about their modes of canvassing the material nor in the assignments that accompany the account the student is inevitably led to believe.

That some of the most distinguished historians have concluded that the United States bears a large share of the blame for the Cold War Is never, to my knowledge, even casually mentioned. It would seem bizarre to most students in the United States, and their teachers, to hear a distinguished historian like Henry Steele Commager speak of the Cold War as follows:

How are we to explain our obsession with communism, our paranoid hostility to the Soviet Union, our preoccupations with the Cold War, our reliance on military rather than political or diplomatic solutions, and our new readiness to entertain a possibility what was long regarded as unthinkable – atomic warfare?

The notion that U.S. citizens might be obsessed or the victims of “paranoid hostility” completely contradicts how textbooks in the U.S. characterize the country, its philosophy, behavior, and values.

Or consider Arnold Toynbee’s . . .

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[Part 8] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person - Richard Paul Archives Blog

Aug 01, 2023

The Sociocentrically Critical Person and the Ideal of a Critical Society

We can assess any school program for its educative value by determining the extent to which it fosters rational as against irrational belief formation. To the extent that students merely memorize what the teacher or textbook says, or presuppose the correctness of one point of view, and so develop no sense of what would justify rational belief, to that extent the school fosters irrational learning and irrational belief.

Social studies instruction is an excellent area to canvass in this regard because societies naturally inculcate an uncritical monological nationalistic perspective, despite the multilogical nature of the major issues in the field. The tendency is natural because people within a country or culture naturally ego identify with it and hence assume rather than question the policies of its leaders. Thus, the history of those policies and of the social representation of them continually gravitates in a self-serving direction. Reason inadvertently serves an intellectually dishonorable function: the rationalization of the prevailing structure of power and the idealization of national character. Karl Mannheim identified this as the inevitable development of ideology. Lois Wirth suggests the practical . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] View our Podcast - on Intellectual Virtues and Intellectual Empathy (Going Deeper) - Linda Elder

Jul 23, 2023

You are likely aware that Dr. Nosich and I are developing the video library in your community through our new video series: Critical Thinking: Going Deeper. In our discussions we explore the interrelated concepts in critical thinking and the challenges we all face in incorporating these concepts into our thinking. I invite you to view and study our recent dialogue on intellectual virtues and deeper discussion on one virtue: intellectual empathy.

We invite and welcome your comments.

[Part 7] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person - Richard Paul Archives

The Sociocentrically Critical Person and the Ideal of a Critical Society

In my view, Piaget rightly identifies uncritical thought with a tendency toward egocentrism, and critical thought with a tendency toward reciprocity. He recognizes, but does not explore, how egocentricity develops into and partially merges with sociocentricity:

The child begins with the assumption that the immediate attitudes arising out of our own special surroundings and activities are the only ones possible. This state of mind, which we shall term the unconscious egocentricity (both cognitive and affective) of the child is at first a stumbling-block both to the understanding of his own country and to the development of objective relations with other countries. Furthermore, to overcome his egocentric attitude it is necessary to train the faculty for cognitive and affective integration: this is a slow and laborious process consisting mainly in efforts at ‘reciprocity’, and at each new stage of the process, egocentricity re-emerges in new guises farther and farther removed from the child’s initial center of interest. There are the various forms of sociocentricity – a survival of the original egocentricity – and they are the cause of subsequent disturbances and tensions, any understanding of which must be based on an accurate analysis of the initial stages and of the elementary conflicts between egocentricity and understanding of others (Reciprocity).

One manifestation of the irrational mind is to uncritically presuppose the truth of beliefs and doctrines embedded in social life or values. We intellectually and affectively absorb common frames of . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Understanding Sociocentric Group Validation As a Primary Barrier to Criticality - Linda Elder

Jul 05, 2023

Sociocentric thought and behavior manifests itself in many ways throughout human life. One form of sociocentrism is the perceived need to be validated by and within groups. Groups tend to see their way as the right way and their views as the correct views, even when they haven’t thought seriously about either. Group members implicitly tend to validate one another’s views, reinforcing group beliefs deeply held, beliefs perceived to be in the group’s interests, or beliefs the group just happens to believe are true.

We see this phenomenon throughout human life in every domain. For instance, it is commonly exhibited by sports players and fans— ”our team is the most victorious,” “our athletes are the biggest and most talented,” “our cheerleaders are the sexiest,” “our pitchers are the best,” “our quarterback is the greatest,” “our uniforms are the most colorful,” “our team has the nicest facilities and biggest stadiums,” and so on. We line up behind our team, and we cheer and root for our team. We can’t stand the other team. We always want the other team to lose; we always need to win. When we win, we played the best; when they win, the referees were biased in favor of their team. The way in which people refer to the team they support as “us” and “we” is telling. “We” missed the field goal. The referees gave “us” a bum deal.

This may seem a trivial example, but it helps us recognize the phenomenon of group validation in a common human activity. Unfortunately, this form of sociocentric thought isn’t at all confined to the trivial.

Theoreticians have conceptualized the problem of group validation in different but often overlapping ways. In his article (Oct. 2008) on “mob mentality,” Laurence Gonzales targets a term psychologists call “groupness … the tendency of various animals, including humans, to form in-groups. When the in-group encounters individuals from outside the group, the default response is hostile. People protect their group from outsiders and from outside influences… If a group invests a lot of effort in a goal and succeeds, its boundaries become stronger, and it tends to become even more hostile to outside influences. This may not be overt hostility. It may simply be a subtle and unconscious tendency to reject anything from another group” (p. 28).

Sumner (1906; 1940) describes “folkways” as the socially perceived “right” ways to satisfy all interests according to group norms and traditions. He says that in every society:

There is a right way to catch game, to win a wife, to make one’s self appear … to treat comrades or strangers, to behave when a child is born. … The “right” way is the way which ancestors used and which has been handed down. The tradition is its own warrant. It is not held subject to verification by experience. … In the folkways, whatever is, is right. (p. 28)

John Stuart Mill (1859; 1997), in On Liberty, points out that all countries throughout history have tended to hold their views uncritically, while perceiving such views to be prima facie correct. He says that, when deciding on rules and laws to be followed,

No two ages and scarcely any two countries, have decided it alike; and the decision of one age or country is a wonder to another. Yet the people of any given age and country no more suspect any difficulty in it, than if it were a subject on which mankind had always been agreed. The rules which obtain among themselves appear to them self-evident and self-justifying. This all but universal illusion is one of the examples of the magical influence of custom …(p. 45)

In human societies, children are systematically indoctrinated into the beliefs of their culture and expected to accept those beliefs without question, i.e., to take them on blind faith. Children are taught to see the customs and taboos of the society as the right way to live, rather than as some ways to live among many possibilities.

People often don’t know why they believe what they do. They haven’t objectively examined their thoughts. They haven’t considered other ways of looking at the beliefs they have been expected to accept uncritically. They have little or no sense of how their views are enmeshed in cultural beliefs passed down through generations over time. They cannot see that these views are largely arbitrary, based more in “the way we have always done things” than in well-reasoned perspectives.

Trapped in narrow present-day views, people often lack the knowledge that can be gained through a broader historical perspective. They don’t see that there is frequently a more reasonable way of looking at issues, ideas, and situations than that which their culture expects or requires. At the same time, they often fiercely defend their beliefs (i.e., the beliefs of the group) as evidently reasonable.

In studying how children understand and relate to rules, Piaget (1962) uncovered the roots of this problem. He noted that children pass through the following three stages of development:

Stage one—the child, being fundamentally egocentric, does not see rules as obligatory, and basically does what feels good. Rules, when followed, are unconsciously received.

Stage two—rules are considered sacred and untouchable, emanating from adults and lasting forever.

Stage three—rules are considered the result of mutual consent. The child believes that to be loyal one must “respect” the laws. Laws can be altered if you can enlist general opinion on your side. (p. 28)

Piaget considers the “collective rule,” the belief that everyone must follow the rules, to be initially external to the child. But over time, the child begins to see the rules as freely chosen, a product of mutual consent and an “autonomous conscience.” In other words, the child uncritically accepts the rules and laws of society, and yet sees them as independently chosen. This phenomenon is evident in adult thinking as well. Many rules of society are accepted without question, blindly, yet people believe they have come to their beliefs through their own good reasoning. Though they uncritically adhere to societal customs and taboos, still they see themselves as autonomous thinkers.

In 1993, Richard Paul, was one of the earliest philosophers to detail the connection between sociocentric thought and prejudice. He says:

Traditional research into the nature of prejudice has these seven basic flaws:

1) Researchers tend to approach prejudice as an aberration, something abnormal or atypical, something outside the normal mechanisms of thought, desire and action … 2) They tend to emphasize the dysfunctional nature of prejudice. To ignore the many advantages in power, wealth, status, and peace of mind that come from prejudiced states of mind. 3) They tend to focus on negative prejudices, “prejudices-against;” and assume that positive prejudices, “prejudices-for”, are independent of negative ones and largely benign. 4) They play down or ignore prejudices against belief systems and ideologies, as though prejudices were only against people as such. 5) They fail to emphasize how prejudice is embedded in the pervasive problem of everyday human irrationality. 6) They tend to focus on the content of prejudices, rather than on the mode of thinking generating them. 7) They fail to recognize that significant prejudice reduction requires long-term strategies for developing fair and openminded persons in fair and openminded societies. (pp. 229-230)

The problems Paul illuminates are directly linked to the human propensity to validate group beliefs. All such propensities are steeped in prejudicial thinking, in the rich sense of the term Paul elaborates. All humans are naturally prejudiced toward their group’s beliefs; they naturally prejudge situations and events according to what they already believe, and to what their group believes.

Those who think critically are keenly aware of the fact that there are many problems caused by group validation in human life. They are on the lookout for this tendency in the groups in which they are members, and in the groups that would have them as members. Whenever they detect such tendencies in their own thought, they attempt to intervene in their thinking to avoid accepting group beliefs that fail the test of reasonability. When feasible, they point out this problem to the group and attempt to influence the group toward a more reasonable, openminded view.



1. It is important to understand that whether and to what extent a group is engaging in groupishness must be determined case by case, using unbiased reasoning and evidence.

2. And the extent to which someone is “inside of” or “outside of” a group may be a matter of degree. For instance, because of stratification that exists within groups, every larger group has potentially a number of smaller groups within it. Some of those smaller groups will get more of the “goodies” within the group than others. Thus, the larger group might pursue the goals of the entire group while at the same time privileging certain smaller groups of people within the larger group. This phenomenon is seen quite plainly within countries that seek to get resources for the larger population in the country (“more for our country”), but which dole out those resources lopsidedly, giving more to the ruling class or wealthy than to the people at large.



Gonzales, L. (2008, October). Deep survival: Mob mentality. National Geographic Adventure. Carmel: National Geographic Society.

Mill, J. S. (1859; 1997). The spirit of the age, on liberty, the subjection of women. Alan Ryan (ed.), New York, NY: Norton and Company.

Paul, R. (1990; 2012). Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.

Piaget, J. (1962). The moral judgment of the child. New York: Collier Books.

Sumner, W. G. (1906; 1940). Folkways: A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals. New York: Ginn and Co.


{This blog was adapted from: Liberating the Mind by Linda Elder, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, pp. 17-20).}

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[Part 6] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person - Richard Paul Archives

Jun 27, 2023

The Egocentrically Critical Person

Piaget’s basic model for the egocentric mind, developed by studying the thinking of children, has significant application, with the appropriate translation, to much adult thinking and therefore significant application for the design of critical thinking instruction. Few adults have experience in reciprocal critical thought, that is, in reasoning within their antagonists’ point of view. Few have experience in making the structure of their own thought conscious. Few, as Socrates discovered, can explain intelligibly how they came to their beliefs, or provide rational justifications for them.

The egocentrism of most adult thought parallels the egocentrism of childish thought, as Piaget characterized it in Judgment and Reasoning in the Child:

Egocentrism of thought necessarily entails a certain degree of unconsciousness with the egocentric thinker ‘in a perpetual state of belief’. (p. 137)

[The egocentric thinker:]

  • [is] confident in his own ideas,
  • [is] naturally . . . (untroubled) about the reasons and motives which have guided his reasoning process,
  • [seeks] to justify himself in the eyes of others . . . only under the pressure of argument and opposition . . .
  • [is] incapable either by introspection or retrospection of capturing the successive steps . . . [his] mind has taken (pp. 137-138)
  • [is] not conscious of the meaning assigned to the concepts and words used . . . (p. 149)
  • suffers from illusions of perspective, (p. 165)
  • ignorant of his own ego, takes his own point of view to be absolute, and fails to establish . . . that reciprocity which alone would ensure objectivity (p. 197)
  • [is] intelligent without being particularly logical,
  • [uses] thought . . . at the service of desire,
  • Simply believes . . . without trying to find the truth, (p. 203)
  • Assimilates everything he hears to his own point of view. (p. 208)
  • He does not try to prove whether such and such of his idea does or does not correspond to reality. When the questions is put to him, he evades it. It does not interest him, and it is even alien to his whole mental attitude. (p. 247)

We naturally tend to think egocentrically, especially in domains of significant personal or social interests. Egocentrism is, in some sense, as typical of adult as childish thought. It takes a special cultivated discipline to recognize and. . .

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[FULL ENTRY] How Inclusion, Diversity, and Social Justice Require Critical Thinking - Linda Elder

Most of the concepts we use in our thinking are handed down to us or influenced by societal conditioning; these ideas may be developed or given new life when emerging generations discuss and apply them. Many of these concepts lack substance, coming and going as fads do; others have the potential to bring about needed change, but are ultimately ineffective because they lack criticality.

The important ideas that remain with us – exerting positive influence across generations – are those that give us the most power to improve human conditions, the conditions of all sentient species, and the life of the planet itself. These are ideas that stand the test of time.

In my recent webinar, I explored from a critical thinking viewpoint the now widely used terms inclusion, diversity, and social justice. Since these notions can be approached superficially or deeply, and since each can be used for good or misused for ill, a rich conception of them is needed if they are to help transform human societies for the better. Otherwise, they will fade away as buzzwords – or, perhaps worse, they may be abused in opposition to the spirit of their most reasonable and ethical interpretations.

Many business and government offices are now grappling with how to bring about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In some cases, they are grasping at straws, by, for instance, hiring comedians to deal with these ideas. In some cases, inclusion and diversity programs are leading to their opposites – employees becoming even more entrenching within their prejudices and biases. Without critical thinking at the heart of any inclusion and social equity programs, these programs simply will not take hold over the long term. To view this recent webinar, visit this link:


For more on the problem of prejudice in thinking, read Richard Paul’s essay, For Critical Thinking and the Nature of Prejudice.


[Part 5] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person - Richard Paul Archives

Jun 06, 2023

Critical Thinking and the Socratic Ideal

The concept of strong sense critical thinking, of critical thought integrated into the personal and social life of the individual, is not new. It was introduced into Western intellectual tradition in the chronicles of the life and death of Socrates (470-399 BC), one of the most important and influential teachers of ancient Greece. As a teacher, he was committed to the importance of ideas and their critique in the conduct of everyday human life. It is to him that the precept “the unexamined life is not worth living” is attributed. It is in him that the ideal of conscientious civil disobedience and critical autonomy of thought is first to be found. He illustrated the possibility and the value of sharpness of mind, clarity of thought, and commitment to practical insight based on autonomous reason. He championed reason, the rational life, and a rationally structured ethic, the intimate fusion of reason the passion. He disclaimed authority on his own part but claimed the right to independently criticize all authoritative beliefs and established institutions. He made it clear that teachers cannot be educators in the fullest sense unless they can criticize the received assumptions of their social groups and are willing to nurture a climate of questioning and doubt among their students. He demonstrated the intimate connection between a passionate love of truth and knowledge, the ability to learn through the art of skilled questioning, and the willingness to face personally and socially embarrassing truths. He spoke often with those who had a sophistic (weak sense) command of critical thinking skills, who could, through their skills of persuasion and knowledge of the vulnerabilities of people, make the false appear true and the true false.

Socrates taught by joining in discussions with others who thought they knew or understood a basic or important truth, for example, what justice is, or knowledge or virtue. When questioned by Socrates – who probed the justification and foundation for the belief, examining its consistency or inconsistency with other beliefs – it became clear that his discussants did not know or understand what they . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Target Your Unreasonable Thoughts that Cause You to Suffer Emotionally

May 30, 2023

Emotions come from, and influence, our thoughts. Many unreasonable thoughts are recurring and become habitual, causing you pain, frustration, and any number of other negative emotions. Unreasonable thoughts are based in selfish, self-denigrating, hypocritical, prejudicial, biased, conformist, and/or otherwise narrowminded or illogical reasoning.

While unreasonable thinking frequently leads to negative, destructive thinking, reasonable or sensible thoughts should lead to more positive and productive emotions, and to a higher level of overall contentment. Reasonability is based to a large degree on the routine application of intellectual standards to one’s reasoning – standards such as accuracy, logicalness, breadth, depth, significance, and fairness. Of course, some situations in which humans find themselves are horrifying. It would be extremely difficult to employ critical thinking about one’s emotions while being tortured, for example. But as a general principle, in terms of mundane everyday life concerns, the more reasonably, logically, and openmindedly you think, the more satisfying will be your emotional life.

To eliminate or at least diminish your negative, unproductive thoughts requires first becoming conscious of them. Here is a routine exercise you can engage in to effectively deal with your negative emotions by uncovering the thinking that causes them. Whenever you experience a negative feeling, immediately pause all your actions (where possible) and see if you can identify the thinking leading to this feeling. What precisely is the thinking that leads to this feeling? Is it reasonable or unreasonable? If it is reasonable, and if the situation is the actual problem, you will need to change your life circumstances where possible. This will require you to change your thinking; if there is nothing you can do in an unpleasant situation, correct your thinking with a more realistic way of looking at the situation. Facing the situation directly is the first step to changing it, or even knowing if you should change it. But do not hide from the truth about the thinking underlying your emotions.

Imagine, for instance, that you ruminate over the notion that you are not loved by a given person to whom you have given your love and who you have depended on for a long-term intimate relationship. This person has left you for good now. You feel you can’t “stand it.” You feel that you can’t tolerate the situation because you must be loved by that person who has left you. Through this way of thinking, you have left yourself no choice but to be miserable.

But you need not think this way at all; you have the choice to simply look at the situation logically and realize that this is the way it is, and you need to move on to creating your future. Consider: Is this person the only person in the world you can love? Of all the many thousands of people you might meet in your lifetime, is this the only person on the planet for you? Are you unworthy of love simply because one person does not love you (or your parents didn’t love you)? And even if you never find the great love of your life (and most people do not), aren’t there many ways to give and receive love?

Obsessing over not being loved by a given person or persons is unreasonable in several ways. First, it presupposes that your well-being depends on what someone else feels toward you – a way of thinking that is bound to lead to pain, since each of us will at times be rejected. Second, it presupposes that love is based in getting your way rather than understanding and respecting the needs of the one who is loved. If the person you love believes he or she must move on from your relationship to grow and develop in her or his own way, the reasonable way to show your love is by letting that person go, however much pain it may cause you. By acting out, throwing a tantrum, following the person around, or talking down about the person, you only demonstrate immaturity and lack of self-command. And you prove that you do not in fact love that person but are instead irrationally dependent on her or him.

All your negative emotional states should be examined and analyzed in a way similar to the analysis in the example above. With this in mind, complete these statements for each negative thought you had this past week:

1. The negative thought I experienced was . . .

2. This negative thought is a problem because . . .

3. I need to replace this thought with the following realistic thought . . .

4. Based on this analysis, I intend to change in the following ways . . . [Again, note that you may just need to change your thinking in the situation to be more realistic or reasonable, like when you feel you have been rejected when you have not been. Alternatively, you may need to get out of a situation or relationship that is causing these recurring negative thoughts. Either way, you must first change your thinking.]

Now that you have recognized some of your powerful negative thoughts and emotions, you need to actively rework your thinking (and your behavior when needed). See more on the relationship between thoughts and emotions in the Center for Critical Thinking Community Online, at this link: .

This material in this blog has been slightly modified from the upcoming book: Critical Thinking Therapy for Mental Health and Self-Actualization: Workbook, by Linda Elder, in press.

[Part 4] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

May 17, 2023

Michael Scriven represents (strong sense) critical thinking skills as not only requiring “a whole shift of values for most of us” but also as essential for survival in a world in which “the wrong decision can mean injury or long-term commitment to a disastrous form of life such as addiction or criminality or resented parenthood.” For students to “transfer” their critical thinking skills to such situations, they need to practice fairminded thought on controversial (multilogical) issues:

The real case, in dealing with controversial issues is the case as put by real people who believe in what they are saying. But the schools – and to a varying but often equal extent the colleges – are not willing to let there be that kind of serious discussion of the argument on both sides of controversial issues. Of course, they don’t mind having the bad guys’ position represented by someone who doesn’t agree with it, in the course of dismissing it. But only the completely naïve would suppose that such a presentation is likely to make the best case for the position. The notions of a fair hearing, or of confronting your accuser which are so deeply entrenched in our system of justice obviously transfer immediately to the intellectual sphere. If you want to hear the arguments for a political position other than those of the majority parties, for example the political position that the largest countries on earth espouse, you cannot possibly assume that it will be fully and fairly represented by someone to whom it is anathema.”

Unfortunately, many teachers will naturally fear highlighting controversial issues in the classroom. It is fair to say, I believe, few teachers have had much experience working with such issues. Many know only processes for laying out and testing for . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Eliminate Resentment in Your Life; Do You Resent Someone Now? - Linda Elder

May 08, 2023

Resentment is one of the many destructive emotions experienced by humans. All humans experience brief episodes of resentment, including when they have indeed been mistreated. But whatever may be its origins, when allowed to continue past a few minutes, resentment may grow like a cancer in your mind—easily engulfing you and impeding any chance you may have of being happy. Resentment may cause you to act out towards other people, to sabotage them, to harm them.

Resentment comes from thinking that somebody has done something to you that they had no right to do, or in other words, that they have wronged you. It is not irrational to be disappointed and even angry when someone has mistreated you. In many such cases, the person who has wronged you can be given the chance to redress the wrong. Some cases are more complicated, such as when the wrong is egregious (in which case your best option may be to avoid that person in the future), or when the person who has mistreated you cannot make amends (such as a deceased parent). Of course, you may also feel resentment based on your own faulty reasoning about another person’s behavior or motives. In such a case, your misunderstanding of the other person’s intentions leads you to a misplaced and destructive feeling of resentment.

Critical thinkers take command of their feelings by understanding the thinking underlying those feelings, throughout every day, as they move through varied contexts and circumstances. They then correct any detected faulty thinking that leads to negative emotions such as resentment.

One common example of resentment occurs when you stay in a relationship in which you perceive your partner to treat you without respect, consideration, or love, and you continually blame the other person for wronging you (whether the person actually has or not). You may be in the habit of repeating to yourself, again and again, phrases like, “This is so unfair. How can he be so inconsiderate and selfish? Why do I have to put up with this? If he really loved me, he would never treat me like this.” Ironically, it is in fact your own mind which is wronging you the most. If you decide to stay in a relationship in which you feel that you are not treated as well as you wish, at least understand that you are making the active decision to stay in the relationship. If you then harbor the negative emotion of resentment while in the relationship, you should recognize that you are actively deciding to be resentful, though you know your partner’s limitations. Is it possible to leave the relationship? Do you want to leave the relationship? What are you getting in the relationship that keeps you from leaving? Do the positives outweigh the negatives in the relationship? If this is an important issue in your life, write out in detail your answers to the questions above.

Think about the last time you experienced resentment. Complete these statements:

1. The situation was as follows . . .

2. I felt resentment because . . .

3. In other words, I do not like when I am treated as follows . . .

4. The thinking I am doing which is causing this resentment is . . .

5. The thinking I am doing that is problematic in this situation is . . .

6. I need to change my thinking to the following . . .

7. Once I change my thinking, my behavior should change as follows . . .

As you move through this week, check in with yourself routinely to make sure you are not harboring the feeling of resentment. Each time you experience resentment, complete the statements above for that situation. Do this until you no longer feel resentment as a powerful emotion in your life. Remember, if you cannot change your situation, you can change your mind. You can control how you think about the situation. This understanding is at the heart of becoming a critical thinking person.

This material in this blog has been slightly modified from the upcoming book: Critical Thinking Therapy for Mental Health and Self-Actualization: Workbook, by Linda Elder, in press.

[Part 3] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person - Richard Paul Archives

Apr 25, 2023

Strong sense critical thinkers are not routinely blinded by their own points of view. They know that they have a point of view and therefore recognize on what framework of assumptions and ideas their own thinking rests. They realize they must put their own assumptions and ideas to the test of the strongest objections that can be leveled against them. Critical proponents of a socialist economic system, for example, can analyze economic events from the perspective of an insightful proponent of capitalism. Critical proponents of a capitalist economic system can analyze economic events from the perspective of an insightful proponent of socialism. This implies, by the way, that economics should not be taught in a way which presupposes capitalism, socialism, or any other economic system as the correct one. In other words, the issue as to what economic system is most justified is a multilogical issue.

Similarly, the strong sense critical thinker’s thought is disciplined to avoid confusing concepts that belong in different categories. For example, they do not confuse “democracy,” a political concept, with “capitalism,” an economic concept. They realize that any important connection between democracy and capitalism must be argued for, not assumed, that free enterprise should not be routinely injected into U.S. social studies texts as a neutral synonym for capitalism, any more than people’s democracy should be routinely injected into Soviet social studies texts as a neutral synonym for Soviet communism. They can recognize when terms are used in this question-begging way. A teacher who values strong sense critical thinking fosters these abilities.

The importance of. . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Addressing Complex Questions - Linda Elder

Apr 17, 2023

In my last blog I emphasized the importance of being able to appropriately reason through complex questions. I focused on our recent webinar on the complex questions facing us as we attempt to effectively deal with problems of ecological sustainability and renewal of the earth’s resources.

When addressing complex conceptual questions, we cannot look to simple definitions or facts to determine answers, and we must consider all relevant sides to the issue in good faith. Standard definitions do not settle the question, but rather open the argument. Divergent points of view can be brought to bear on the definitions stretching them this way or that. Well-reasoned arguments can be devised from different standpoints. Consequently, there are better and worse answers to complex conceptual questions, but, at the present time, no “correct” or definitive answer.

Consider these examples:

1. To what extent is psychology scientific? To what extent is it not?

2. Is democracy compatible with communism? Are there different forms of democracy? Of communism? Is democracy compatible with capitalism? What does each concept presuppose and imply? What must we consider in attempting to answer these questions?

3. What is a true friend? Can you be a true friend to someone you dislike?

4. What is the difference between love, friendship, and mere emotional attachment?

5. Who is most responsible for the failure of the peace process in the Middle East?

6. What countries in the world should be considered rogue states?

7. Which of our laws are just and which unjust? And how does one decide?

To answer complex conceptual questions, we need first to analyze the ways educated persons use the concepts that guide the settling of the questions. We need to figure out the most basic meanings of the terms crucial to the questions.

Consider the question: Is it possible to attain peace in the Middle East? In addressing this question, we need to know how widely or how narrowly we are using the term “Middle East.” This should be a straight-forward stipulation (“By the Middle East I have in mind…”).

Once this is done, we can move to the more difficult analysis of the concept of “peace” intended in the question. What degree or forms of “peace” does one intend? What forms of “peace” can one imagine? What are some model cases of “peace”? By “peace”, do we mean all people living in friendship, mutual respect, and mutual security? What other concepts are intimately connected with “peace”? Suppose one country, being militarily superior, in effect fully conquers its “enemies” imposing “peaceful” conditions on them (where overt resistance is absent and imposed laws are not violated by the conquered people). Would such a state be a state of “peace”? Is “peace” consistent with mutual hatred? Or suppose an agreement is reached in which those who sign for one of the groups agree to conditions that most of its members reject? Or suppose one of the groups is forced by vastly inferior military power to accept conditions that are unjust (for example, giving up much of their land and potential development) merely to gain some level of freedom and self-government?

Would we consider any of these as achieving “peace?” To figure out what we mean by “peace” we need to consider, in addition to a rich set of cases, the context from which (and the history in which) this question emerges. We need to consider, for example, the current structure of power in the Middle East and the agendas of all the participant nations, what outcomes are possible and which of those, if any, warrant the term “peace?”

There are no easy answers to complex conceptual questions, but analyzing them helps us understand the nature and limits of our ideas. We are, for example, a long way from understanding the concept of world peace because its meaning is obfuscated by the machinations of power on the one hand, and human irrationality on the other. For the powerful, peace probably comes down to conditions under which their dominance is quietly accepted. Peace then means their group getting what they want, rightly or wrongly.

There appears to be two conflicting logics at work: the logic of peace (ideally speaking) and the logic of peace (in a world of vastly unequal military and economic power).

When addressing a complex question, which entails more than one domain of thought, unpack the primary question by formulating prior questions according to domain. Does the question, for example, include an economic dimension? Does it include a biological, social, cultural, political, ethical, psychological, religious, historical, or some other dimension? For each dimension of thinking inherent in the question, formulate questions that force you to consider complexities you otherwise may miss. Make sure you include all essential questions on your lists of questions within each domain.

When focusing on domains within questions, consider such questions as:

  • What are the essential domains of thinking inherent in this complex question?
  • In other words, are we considering (in good faith) all the relevant, significant domains within the question?
  • What important domains might we be leaving out?

Before articulating domains within the original question, and then the questions within each essential domain, make sure your original question is appropriately detailed for the context and exact situation.

The following example focuses on the problem of the destruction of the earth’s resources primarily through human activity, and we begin by asking this vague question: How do we save the earth? Then we bring greater precision to that question until we have clear direction (through the precise question) for our thinking. This enables us to clearly see and then effectively address the complexities in the problem.

Note that many more questions would need to be added to the domains in the example below- and other domains would be added. This is only a starting point for thinking about sustainability and about how to approach complex questions more generally.

Out of concern for the health of the earth, we might begin with a vague question like:

What can we do to save the earth?

We can detail this vague question, making it more precise as follows:

How can we best address the enormous challenge of sustaining and enhancing the earth, its resources, and its atmosphere in order to prevent mass extinction, and so the earth can be restored to the highest levels of health for all its creatures and living entities?  

The following are some domains of the questions inherent within this question, and some sample questions within each domain. Note that these domains do not exist in isolation, but instead overlap with each other, sometimes extensively.


  • What scientific information is relevant to effectively answering the question at issue? (This will entail a very broad list of questions)
  • What are some of the significant documented human activities currently affecting other species and their abilities to live and thrive within their specific ecosystems? What species' populations have disappeared or are endangered; what species have so overpopulated that they create harmful ecological imbalances (e.g., humans)?
  • What are some significant documented human activities that are most negatively affecting the health of humans and other sentient creatures?
  • What are the significant documented human activities most negatively affecting the earth’s atmosphere?
  • What are the significant documented human activities most negatively affecting the earth’s waterways and oceans?
  • What are the significant documented human activities most negatively affecting the earth’s air quality?
  • What are the significant documented human activities most negatively affecting the earth’s core and surface?
  • What are some significant proven viable solutions humans can use now to limit and reverse the degradation of the earth, and to restore healthy ecological balances across the planet?
  • What are some significant proven viable solutions humans can use now to restore native habitats and rewild the earth’s surface everywhere possible?
  • What are some significant proven viable solutions humans can use now to restore water habitats and rewild the earth’s waterways and oceans everywhere possible?
  • What are some significant proven viable solutions humans can use now to improve air quality and atmospheric quality?
  • What are the most effective regenerative farming practices?
  • Given current research, what appear to be the most promising scientific developments for ecological health as we move into the future?


  • What chemicals are responsible for ongoing damage to the environment, and in what ways?
  • What benefits do these chemicals have? To what extent does corporate messaging exaggerate these benefits? To what extent do other types of messaging over-represent these benefits? To what degree do the environmental implications outweigh any benefits these chemicals may have?
  • How can potentially harmful chemicals be produced, stored, transported, used, and disposed of more safely and efficiently, such that they will do less environmental damage while still providing needed benefits?
  • What chemicals cannot feasibly be produced and used such that their benefits outweigh their environmental harms? What such chemicals have been identified in the past, and how can these past cases inform our current assessments?


  • What ethical principles should guide the way we think about the question at issue?
  • What ethical principles have been violated through human treatment of the planet earth?
  • In terms of the health of the earth, what are our ethical obligations to each other, to other species, and to future life on earth?
  • How can w[1]e better meet our ethical obligations in the context of ecological sustainability?


  • What economic benefits have been and are achieved through ecological destruction? Are these benefits justifiable, given the ecological destruction they cause?
  • What economic forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?
  • What long-term economic harm has been caused by ecological destruction?
  • To what degree has economic productivity been negatively impacted due to harming the environment? (For example, by introducing more neurotoxins to our drinking water, air, and food, people become sick and are then unable to work.)
  • In what ways can we provide for the material needs of humans while limiting and reversing damage to the environment and our bodies? In what ways do vested economic interests make these changes difficult to implement, and how can the influence of these interests be diminished?
  • What appear to be the most promising economic practices for improving ecological health across the planet?


  • What political forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world? What roles does power play in answering the question at issue?
  • To what extent, and in what significant ways, does politics influence the way people perceive the health of the planet and their relationships with the earth's ecosystems?
  • What and whose interests do each of these relationships and influences serve?
  • What and whose interests do each of these relationships and influences harm?
  • How can politics be used as a tool to facilitate greater sustainability? What educational, legal, and other changes would this require?


  • What psychological forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?
  • What role does selfishness play in ecological destruction?
  • How does human intellectual arrogance stand in the way of facing and addressing the problem of ecological destruction?


  • What sociological forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?
  • What role does groupishness (group selfishness) play in ecological destruction?
  • How does group conformity stand in the way of facing and addressing the problem of ecological destruction?


  • What historical forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?
  • How have humans tended to view the earth’s resources historically?
  • What can we learn from the way humans have treated the earth in the past to develop best practices for the earth in the future?


  • What religious forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?
  • What can religious institutions better do to contribute to the health of the earth?


  • What educational forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?
  • How do schools typically treat the issue of sustainability?
  • To what degree is the health of the earth considered an important issue within schools, colleges, and universities anywhere in the world?
  • How and where are people learning about the problems embedded in achieving ecological health across the planet?


Part of this blog was modified from The Art of Asking Essential Questions, by Linda Elder and Richard Paul. See excerpts (pp. 11-18) at this link.

A full copy of this guide can be obtained here.

For a link to the sustainability questions detailed above, see:

[Part 2] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person - Richard Paul Archives

Apr 05, 2023

Thinking Critically in the “Strong” Sense

One cannot develop a coherent concept of critical thinking without developing a coherent concept of rationality, irrationality, education, socialization, the critical person, and the critical society, as they bear on and mutually illuminate one another. This holistic approach distinguishes the mode of theorizing of most philosophers working on the concept of critical thinking from that commonly used by most cognitive psychologists concerned with the nature of thinking. Cognitive psychologists often treat cognitive processes and their “pathology” separate from any consideration of the affective, social, or political life of the thinker. The research findings of clinical and social psychologists rarely integrate self-deception, egocentricity, or ethnocentricity into the problem definitions or conclusions of cognitive psychology. Consequently, cognitive psychologists rarely focus on messy real-life multilogical problems that cross disciplines; instead they restrict their attention to artificial or self-contained monological problems, problems whose solutions can typically be found in a field-specific conceptual framework without reference to major personal or social bias. The more basic and difficult human problems, for whose solutions there are competing frameworks, and in which the problem of bias and vested interest looms large, are routinely ignored.

It is hard to go very far into the core concept of the critical person, however, without recognizing the centrality of multilogical thinking, the ability to think accurately and fairmindedly within opposing points of view and contradictory frames of reference. Multilogical problems, whose fairminded treatment requires us to suspend our egocentric tendency to confuse the framework of our own thinking with “reality” and reason within opposing points of view, are among the most significant human problems and among those most resistant to solution. The problems of human understanding, of war and peace, of economic, political, and social justice, of who our friends and who our enemies are, of what we should accept as the most basic framework of our thinking, of our own nature, our goodness and our evil, our history and that of those we oppose, of how we should interpret our place in the world, and how to best satisfy our needs and critically assess our desires - all such problems are at the heart of the basic frustrations and conflicts that plague human life and all require multi-system thinking. We cannot justifiably assume the correctness of any one point of view as the only perspective within which these basic human problems can be most rationally settled. Schooling should improve the student’s ability to distinguish monological from multilogical problems and to address each appropriately.

On this view, we distinguish two important senses of critical thinking, a weak sense and a strong one. Those who . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Don’t Be Submissive; Don’t Be an Underdog - Linda Elder

Mar 29, 2023

In my last blog, I briefly discussed dominating behavior. It’d opposite, submissive behavior, is also an irrational form of thinking you may engage in, which you need to analyze in yourself and which you want to avoid.

A person playing a submissive role acquiesces to the domination of another or others to get something he or she egocentrically values— such as a sense of security, a feeling of protection, or a chance for advancement. These people exchange their freedom to achieve these ends (real or imagined). The submissive person, or “underdog,” learns the art of helplessness. Characteristics typically include servility, or subservience, often accompanied by feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and resentment. The underdog gains some indirect influence over the top dog through flattering subservience. Ironically, clever underdogs sometimes “control” unskillful top dogs. Submitters, like dominators, can be either successful or unsuccessful in achieving their goals.

People are often subservient in some situations and dominating in others. In other words, they switch roles in different situations. For example, they might be subservient at the office and dominating at home, or subservient to their spouse while dominating their children. At other times, they might be rational.

Top-dog/underdog (dominating/submissive) patterns are played out in numerous settings and situations in human life, and they lead to much cruelty and suffering. Reasonable persons avoid playing either of these roles. They recognize top-dog and underdog patterns in themselves, insofar as they exist, and they work to avoid them. They realize these tendencies will come up again and again in their thoughts, and therefore their behavior.

Going along with a decision when you disagree with it is not necessarily egocentric submissive (or underdog) behavior. For example, if another person knows more about a situation or issue than you, and you are not in a position to research the information yourself, it might make sense to go along (even though the little information you have about the situation might lead you to disagree). You must decide, in any given situation and at any given moment, whether you are egocentrically submitting to others or whether you are rationally conceding. Self-deception is always a lurking force in the human mind.

Dominating and submissive egocentric thought is always camouflaged, at least to some extent, through self-deception. Hence, it appears in the mind as logical.

To get command of your subservient nature, to the extent that you are prone to this tendency, begin observing your behavior closely when you are with others. Do you tend to go along with them without thinking through whether it makes sense to do so? Do you resent doing so afterwards? Do you feel like someone else has control over you? Only by bringing your subservient thinking and behavior to the forefront of your thoughts will you be able to get command of it and change it. If you have a strong submissive tendency, be prepared for a long, hard fight with it.

Be on the lookout this week for…

…submissive behavior—yours and others’. One of the hallmarks of submissiveness is conformity, a phenomenon common in human life. So, look closely at your behavior in situations where you tend to conform. People who are submissive to others often feel resentment. Notice when you are resentful after having “gone along.” When you submit against your will, do you notice yourself doing so, do you feel impotent, or do you just think negative thoughts? Perhaps you make a flippant or sarcastic comment. Perhaps you act in a passive/ aggressive way.

Don’t blame others for controlling you; instead, realize you are allowing them to do so and figure out how to stop being submissive. Also notice when others are submissive in relationship to you. Can you determine what they are after? Do they get what they want through their submissive behavior?

Strategies for avoiding irrational submission:

• Pinpoint underdog behavior in yourself by identifying situations in which you tend to go along with others without good reason. In these situations, you might resent the subservient role you play. Yet your resentment is submerged. You don’t explicitly resist. You say what you are expected to say (but don’t really mean). After going along, you blame others for your frustration. To what extent do you find yourself behaving in a subservient way in your everyday life? Why are you doing it? What are you getting for doing it? What do you think would happen if you spoke up and said what you really think? What do you think you would lose?

• Identify specific circumstances in the past in which you behaved in a submissive manner. Did you feel resentful? Defensive? Irritable? Intimidated?

• Much submissiveness in society goes unnoticed, and most people are egocentrically submissive in some areas of their lives. For example, most people do not recognize their submission to their peer group, to irrational cultural requirements and taboos, or to socially defined authorities (people with high social status) who might lead people to act against their interests. Determine how important it is to be your own person, to think for yourself, and to be in command of your life. Insisting you are free does not make you free. Freedom begins with recognizing the extent of your slavery and subservience to social conventions, rules, and ideology.

• Realize that the submitter, like the dominator, can be either successful or unsuccessful. To the extent that you egocentrically submit to others, how “successful” are you? Do you tend to get what you want through submission? What precisely are you getting? What price are you paying for the reward? To what extent are you being dishonest in the situation—either with yourself or others?

• Catch yourself being submissive, such as in a meeting or in a conversation. At that moment, speak up. Say, as rationally as possible, precisely what you think. Notice the sense of self you gain.

• Take a global look at your behavior to determine the extent to which you are dominating, submissive, or rational. In what areas of your life do you tend to dominate? In what areas do you tend to submit? In what areas are you rational? What percentage of the time are you dominating, submissive, or reasonable? Start observing yourself closely to take control of yourself. When you do, you might be surprised by the inner sense of integrity you gain.


This blog was slightly modified from 30 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living by Linda Elder and Richard Paul, 2013, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, pp. 123-126.


[Part 1] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person - Richard Paul Archives

Mar 14, 2023


Written for Thinking: The Second International Conference (1987), this paper explores a series of themes familiar to Richard Paul’s readers: that most school learning is irrational rather than rational, that there are two different modes of critical thinking and hence two different kinds of critical persons, that strong sense critical thinking is embedded in the ancient Socratic ideal of living an examined life, and that social studies instruction today is, in the main, sociocentric. Paul illustrates this last point with items from a state department of education critical thinking test and illustrations from a popular university-level introductory political science text. Paul closes with an argument in favor of a new emphasis on developing the critical thinking abilities of teachers: “If, in our haste to bring critical thinking into the schools, we ignore the need to develop long-term strategies for nurturing the development of teachers’ own critical powers and passions, we shall surely make the new emphasis on critical thinking into nothing more than a passing fad, or worse, into a new, more sophisticated form of social indoctrination and scholastic closedmindedness.”


As the clarion call for critical thinking instruction from kindergarten to graduate school grows louder, those responsible for classroom instruction, heavily overworked as they typically are, naturally look for simple answers to the question, “What is critical thinking?”, answers that generate routine and simple in-service strategies. Few see, in fact many resist seeing, how much of what is deeply ingrained in standard instructional procedures and theory needs serious reformation before students truly become critical thinkers in their daily personal, professional, and civic lives.

This chapter clarifies and develops some of the theoretical and practical implications of the . . .

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How Egocentric and Sociocentric Thinking Impede Our Use of Intellectual Standards - Linda Elder

Mar 07, 2023

In our ongoing podcast series, Critical Thinking: Going Deeper, Dr. Gerald Nosich and I are exploring some of the many layers and complexities in the foundations of critical thinking. In one of our latest podcasts, we discuss how egocentric and sociocentric thinking act as ongoing barriers to the human ability to employ intellectual standards as we reason through problems and issues in our lives (this applies to us all). I encourage you to view this podcast, which should help you explore how your own self-centered and group-centered tendencies may be keeping you from achieving your goals and your potential.

Access the podcast here.

You can view the entire ongoing podcast series in our A/V Library here.

For more on the barriers to critical thinking – egocentric and sociocentric thinking see excerpts from The Thinker’s Guide to the Human Mind and Liberating the Mind.

Also complete the activities in the Wall of Barriers.


[Part 8, Final] Critical Thinking, Moral Integrity, and Citizenship: Teaching for the Intellectual Virtues - Richard Paul Archives

Feb 21, 2023

We do not now teach for the intellectual virtues. If we did, not only would we have a basis for integrating the curriculum, we would also have a basis for integrating the cognitive and affective lives of students. Such integration is the basis for strong sense critical thinking, for moral development, and for citizenship. The moral, social, and political issues we face in everyday life are increasingly intellectually complex. Their settlement relies on circumstances and events that are interpreted in a variety of (often conflicting) ways. For example, should our government publish misinformation to mislead another government or group which it considers terrorist? Is it ethical to tolerate a . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Thinking Critically About the Earth’s Preservation – Restoring, Renewing and Rewilding - Linda Elder

Feb 14, 2023

I am delighted that so many of you were able to join us for our webinar entitled Thinking Critically About the Earth’s Preservation. If you missed the webinar, view the full video presentation here:

You can also pass along this excerpt from the video to your colleagues, family and friends interested in learning how the tools of critical thinking are essential to working through issues focused on the earth’s preservation:

In the full webinar, I focus briefly on how the elements of reasoning and intellectual standards help us reason more effectively through ecological questions. Then I demonstrate how when dealing with any complex question, we need to unpack that question by delineating and then working through the subquestions that need to be addressed before we can answer the broader question we began with. So, for instance, if we begin with the question: How can we save the earth?, or how can we best preserve and restore the earth’s resources?, we will first need to give the appropriate level of precision to the question. Then we need to determine the domains of thought within which we need to think to address the original complex question. Then we are in a position to delineate the questions we need to answer within each domain before we can effectively address our original question. For more on domains of questions, see our Asking Essential Questions Guide, pp. 17-18.

[Part 7] Critical Thinking, Moral Integrity, and Citizenship: Teaching for the Intellectual Virtues - Richard Paul Archives

Jan 30, 2023

Some Thoughts on How to Teach for the Intellectual Virtues

To teach for the intellectual virtues, one must recognize the significant differences between the higher order critical thinking of a fairminded critical thinker and that of a self-serving critical thinker. Though both share a certain command of the micro-skills of critical thinking and hence would, for example, score well on tests such as the Watson-Glaser Critical Appraisal or the Cornell Critical Thinking Tests, they are not equally good at tasks which presuppose the intellectual virtues. The self-serving (weak sense) critical thinker would lack the insights that underlie and support these virtues.

I can reason well in domains in which I am prejudiced – hence, eventually, reason my way out of prejudice – only if I develop mental benchmarks for such reasoning. Of course one insight I need is that when I am prejudiced it will seem to me that I am not, and similarly, that those who are not prejudiced as I am will seem to me to be prejudiced. (To a prejudiced person, an unprejudiced person seems prejudiced). I will come to this insight only insofar as I have analyzed experiences in which I was intensely convinced I was correct on an issue, judgment, or point of view, only to find, after a series of challenges, reconsiderations, and new reasonings, that my previous conviction was in fact prejudiced. I must take this experience apart in my mind, clearly understand its elements and how they fit together (how I became prejudiced; how I inwardly experienced that prejudice; how intensely that prejudice seemed true and insightful; how I progressively broke that prejudice down through serious consideration of opposing lines of reasoning; how I slowly came to new assumptions, new information, and ultimately new conceptualizations).

Only when one gains analyzed experiences of working and reasoning one’s way out of prejudice can one gain the higher order abilities . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Censorship in Schools, Teachers Hiding Books, and How Dissenters Are Frequently Punished - Linda Elder

Jan 26, 2023

Censorship of books in schools is a growing concern. Pen America has gathered data to help us see how bad the problem is, for those concerned to preserve and advance freedom of thought and freedom of speech. You can read their recent report titled: Banned in the US: The Growing Movement to Censor Books and Schools:

Some U.S. states have far more severe censorship laws than others. In this article entitled “Florida Teachers Forced to Remove or Cover Up Books to Avoid Felony Charges,” The Guardian (January 24, 2023)” helps illuminate one of the many barriers to advancing critical thinking, with teachers potentially becoming felons for sharing books considered politically incorrect with students:

In Florida schools, according to law, teachers are no longer allowed to use their professional judgment in determining what books to share with students. Instead, a librarian or “certified media specialist” must approve teachers’ books. If teachers violate the guidelines, they may face felony charges. Another blow to the educational process. Still, apparently some teachers are quietly objecting by covering up, or in other words, hiding their books.

But what if they get caught? Can teachers not be trusted to choose appropriate books for their students? If not, how can they be trusted to teach students at all? Will teachers want to work in an oppressive system, with censorship laws that violate basic tenets of education? What are some important implications for student learning and for their intellectual development if they are not allowed access to material considered threatening to those in power? Will administrators and teachers finally object in mass to this outrage of censorship?

Dissenters Are Frequently Punished in Human Societies

Of course, throughout history dissenters have often been punished for refusing to go along with unjust laws – for the purpose of changing the laws. The censorship problem mentioned above is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how harsh these punishments may be. And it is part of a much larger problem coming from sociocentric thought which permeates through human societies.

Because people are expected to go along with mainstream views, dissenters, or those who simply do not live in accordance with conventional traditions, are often treated harshly. One of the most well-known dissenters in history is Socrates (c. 470–399 BCE), who was put to death by the state for “corrupting” the young by teaching them to think critically about traditions and customs, and for presumably not believing in the gods sanctioned by the “city.” Galileo advanced the notion, put forth by Copernicus, that the sun (rather than the earth) was the center of the universe, which got him in trouble with authorities (1615). He was warned to abandon his view, which he did to save his skin. Later he defended his views (1632) in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Consequently, he was tried by the Inquisition, found suspect of heresy, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

When Charles Darwin introduced his conception of evolution, “it was everywhere met with ridicule and abuse” (Macdonald, 1931; 1972, p. vii). In the 70 years between when Darwin published his first book and Macdonald wrote his important work, Fifty Years of Free Thought,

“the whole scientific world accepted [Darwin’s] conclusion, and his theory of evolution is taught in every school worthy of the name. Amongst the intelligent people of the world, it is almost as well established as the once heretical doctrine that the earth is round. It is well to take a look at the story of privation and suffering of the early apostles of freedom and science who at great risk and through dire privations went up and down the world seeking to emancipate the human mind.” (p. vii)

Critical thinkers realize that human societies tend to punish those who publicly go against mainstream views. Critical thinkers are willing to stand alone in their beliefs and in fact become comfortable holding views that differ, often dramatically, from those of others. People must decide for themselves the price they are willing to pay to publicly dissent against the views of society when it might be dangerous to do so. But in the privacy of their own minds, they give the widest possible play to reason.

In critical societies, people are encouraged to dissent, to say what they believe, and to discuss and debate in good faith. They value the importance of dissent and expect dissent as a matter of course. But where is such a society?

MacDonald, G. (1931; 1959). 50 years of free thought. NY: Arno Press, p.vii.

(Part of this blog was adapted from: Liberating the Mind by Linda Elder (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, pp. 39- 43.)

[Part 6] Critical Thinking, Moral Integrity, and Citizenship: Teaching for the Intellectual Virtues - Richard Paul Archives

Jan 17, 2023

Defense Mechanisms and the Intellectual Virtues

A major obstacle to developing intellectual virtues is the presence in the human egocentric mind of what Freud has called “defense mechanisms”. Each represents a way to falsify, distort, misconceive, twist, or deny reality. Their presence represents, therefore, the relative weakness or absence of the intellectual virtues. Since they operate in everyone to some degree, no one embodies the intellectual virtues purely or perfectly. In other words, we each have a side of us unwilling to face unpleasant truth, willing to distort, falsify, twist, and misrepresent. We also know from a monumental mass of psychological research that this side can be powerful, can dominate our minds strikingly. We marvel at, and are often dumbfounded by, others whom we consider clear-cut instances of these modes of thinking. What is truly “marvelous”, it seems to me, is how little we take ourselves to be victims of these falsifying thoughts, and how little we try to break them down. The vicious circle seems to be this: because we, by and large, lack the intellectual virtues, we do not have insight into them, but because we lack insight into them, we do not see ourselves as lacking them. They weren’t explicitly taught to us, so we don’t have to explicitly teach them to our children.

Insights, Analyzed Experiences, and Activated Ignorance

Schooling has generally ignored the need for insight or intellectual virtues. This deficiency is intimately connected with another one, the failure of the schools to show students they should not only test what they “learn” in school by their own experience, but also test what they experience by what they “learn” in school. This may seem a hopeless circle, but if we can see the distinction between a critically analyzed experience and an unanalyzed one, we can see the link between the former and insight, and the latter and prejudice, and will be well on our way to seeing how to fill these needs.

We subject little of our experience to critical analysis. We seldom take our experiences apart to judge their epistemological worth. We rarely sort the “lived” integrated experience into its component parts, raw data, our interpretation of the data, or ask ourselves how the interests, goals, and desires we brought to those data shared and structured that interpretation. Similarly, we rarely seriously consider the possibility that our interpretation . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Understanding What It Takes To Internalize and Advance Critical Thinking - Linda Elder

Jan 10, 2023

Humans face many problems caused by poor reasoning that can only be solved through critical reasoning. This has always been the case. But this doesn’t mean we need to accept things as they are when it is clear they need improving. It can be more than disheartening (indeed it can be sickening) to perceive something of the almost unlimited potential of the human species while daily witnessing poverty, ignorance, bias, prejudice, incompetence, waste, selfishness, and blatant disregard for human and animal rights and the health of the planet.

To address these problems and eventually achieve fairminded critical societies requires that people work together to embrace and advance ethical critical thinking principles. And this requires that we collectively internalize an integrated, comprehensive, universally accessible concept of ethical critical thinking.

This is a primary reason for the development of our community. At the Foundation for Critical Thinking, we have known for decades that the one- and two-day workshop in critical thinking can never transform a person into a critical thinker. People take for granted that you cannot learn to play the violin or tennis in two days. And yet we are typically asked to teach all that is important to know about theory and application of critical thinking in two, or one day, or even less. Not infrequently when we ask how much time an organization has dedicated for professional development in critical thinking, they give such responses as, “We are really excited about critical thinking; we have set aside an entire hour for your presentation.”

We know that this way of thinking, this continually giving short shrift to critical thinking and its complexities, will never build fairminded, intelligent, cultivated societies for the long run. We also know that most people need to work together to advance their learning, rather than trying to learn critical thinking on their own. Therefore, we have built our community with many opportunities for you to learn directly from our senior fellows and scholars, in our regular webinars and study groups, as well as to work through our libraries and academy activities on your own time.

If we are to develop as reasoners, any one of us, it is essential that we find and regularly interact with like-minded people seeking to advance as fairminded critical thinkers who are also studying robust theory of critical thinking and regularly applying it throughout their lives.

I encourage you to frequently visit our webinars page to make sure you don’t miss any webinars or study groups led by our fellows and scholars. These provide unique opportunities to study with our international authorities on critical thinking.

You will not want to miss the January 12 webinar this week with Dr. Nosich – Reasoning Through a Problem Using Critical Thinking.

Then I hope you will join me for the February 1 webinar on Thinking Critically About the Earth’s Preservation.

You can also view the recorded videos after each webinar, in the AV library (also found in the webinars section of the community)

Read about our webinars here:

Register for the upcoming study group at our sister website here: