May 05, 2020
In every country in the world, students are indoctrinated into the ideologies of their culture through schooling. This is, at present, a natural phenomenon stemming from the fact that no human societies now advance or support fairminded critical thinking as a universal ideal. Accordingly, schooling is an agent of the state, of the status quo, and of the mainstream view. Fostering independence of thought in schooling is rare. Teachers who attempt it are often marginalized, removed from the classroom, or otherwise penalized. Consider the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, a legal case in which John Scopes, a high-school teacher in Tennessee, was indicted and convicted for teaching evolution (in violation of the Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach evolution). Though the verdict was overturned on a technicality, the trial illuminates the difficulties teachers face in swimming against the mainstream of the culture, even when the mainstream view is absurd.
Or consider, again, our example of Socrates, going back to 399 BCE, when he was accused, indicted, and ultimately put to death for two reasons:
1. Introducing and believing in gods other than those sanctioned by the state. (Although some accused Socrates of atheism, all evidence points in the opposite direction, including the fact that Socrates believed in life after death.)
2. Corrupting the young (by fostering their intellectual development and encouraging them to question the status quo).
To understand Socrates’ views in connection with education and the problem of sociocentric thought, consider the following passage from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967):
There was reason for fearing Socrates as a social force. Where arete [excellence, in terms of how to make the best of oneself and live a rational life], education, and state were fused in one image, an educator critical of received assumptions was a revolutionary. Socrates not only publicly raised such fundamental questions as “What is arete?” and “Who are its teachers?” but also by discrediting through their own representatives the accepted educational channels and by creating a climate of questioning and doubt, he was suspected by conservative minds of. . .
Apr 22, 2020
I was standing in a rose garden today, keeping my six or more feet distance from other people. I was enjoying the sun streaming down on my face while trying to take in the exquisite magnificence of this public garden that bursts out only a few weeks a year into all manner of colors, shapes and sizes of roses. I won’t try to describe it, because such beauty cannot be described in words.
I noticed a woman walking alone, her face appearing somewhat worried. After a few minutes of circling the roses, she reservedly approached. She said, “Pardon me but do you mind if I ask you a question? I’ll make sure to keep my distance.” I said sure. She said “is it just me, or does it bother you that so many people are going against the rules and co-mingling, without masks, when we’re supposed to be keeping our distance?” (She threw a disappointing look at a few groups nearby standing close together and busily visiting).
I could think of several responses. . . .
Apr 14, 2020
I invite you to look back at the two previous blogs on critical writing. I’ll begin here by recapping some of what was in those previous blogs, but re-reading them as a whole will give more context to the work of writing a paper using critical thinking.
There are many challenges in writing a paper, and critical thinking helps with all of them. Of all those challenges, it probably helps least when it comes to writing mellifluous, beautifully phrased sentences, but it helps--not just a little, but dramatically--in everything else: in creating and developing a paper, one that is well-thought-out, well-organized, speaks to the audience, and communicates something that is worth communicating.
To write a paper (or to write virtually anything non-fictional) you need to have a main thing that you are trying to convey. (In my book, I use the traditional term “thesis statement.) I say “a” main thing—as if it is singular—but in fact that “main thing” can contain multiple parts. In addition to a thesis statement, or as parts of your thesis statement, you need to have other main points . . .
Apr 06, 2020
As many of us are required to stay at home (due to the Corona pandemic) and are therefore not able to enjoy our usual ability to move about, doing the things we want to do outside our homes to keep ourselves occupied and amused, many people are becoming even more irrational than they may have been before. Domestic abuse rates are increasing, articles are being written on how to stay sane during this time. People seem largely without internal resources of critical thought to deal with the situation, even in the short run, much less the long term.
One of the important truths that Jean Piaget, the noted child psychologist, discovered about children is that they overgeneralize their immediate feelings. If something good happens to them, the whole world looks good to them. If something bad happens to them, the whole world looks bad to them. He called this phenomenon egocentric immediacy. What Piaget did not emphasize, however, is that the same reaction patterns are found in much adult thinking. . . .
March 25, 2020
In editing our textbook: Critical Thinking Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life, 3rd ed, (2012, Paul and Elder), for an upcoming fourth edition, I pulled for you the brief conclusion from our chapter on fallacies. I think you will see immediate application between these thoughts and what we see in the words of politicians and news outlets.
In a world of fairminded critical thinkers, the list of those who reasoned best and the list of those with the most influence in the world would be one and the same. But we don’t exist in an ideal world of intellectually disciplined, empathic thinkers. We live in fundamentally uncritical societies, societies in which skilled manipulators, masters of intellectual tricks and stratagems, are the ones who tend to achieve position, status, and advantage.
A continual struggle for power and control exists in the everyday world, and in that struggle, truth and insight have little chance of competing with big money driving big media. Big money routinely uses the resources of media logic, polished rhetoric, and mass propaganda techniques to gain its ends. Most people, being intellectually unsophisticated, respond to and, even unknowingly, use fallacious thinking. As we hope you realize by now, most of what are traditionally called fallacies are actually highly effective strategies for shaping the opinions and beliefs of others. Fallacies are best understood as “counterfeits” of good reasoning . . .
Mar 24, 2020
Take any one of the elements of reasoning, dwell on it, and you can discover ideas and truths you were unaware of. To consider just three of the elements: there are often deeper-rooted purposesbehind the purposes we explicitly avow; there are more profound questions at issuethat lurk behind virtually any of the questions we ask; in even our most mundane concepts, there are other concepts—un-explored, un-understood, misunderstood, completely un-noticed concepts—that can radically change the way we think and act.
Here, I would like briefly to explore some of the implications of implications.
We say and believe things, but we often do so without being aware of the implications of what we say or believe. . . .
Mar 14, 2020
In the 1980’s a number of important theoreticians, education leaders, and scholars, including Richard Paul and Robert Reich, warned us about the interwoven problems we were to face in the future given increasing interdependence, accelerating change, and intensifying complexity. We were also warned then about the importance of cultivating critical thinking across the populace if we were to survive into our future.
That future is here and now. The pandemic we are facing, the corona virus, exemplifies one of the many highly complex and difficult problems humans must now routinely deal with. We likely face further, perhaps significant spread of this virus, and it is clear that in many ways we are failing the test of critical thinking. People are disseminating and believing disinformation they read through social media. The mainstream media is as usual, sensationalizing. Hysteria is setting in as all manner of food, supplies and even alcohol fly off the store shelves.
When we use the tools of critical thinking, we can more effectively deal with the problems we face, of course. But how do we apply them in complex cases such as this? How do we work through these cases, which requires reasoned judgment all along the way, and the consideration of many, sometimes conflicting variables and viewpoints.
First, it behooves us to consider all the important questions in the question cluster we are dealing with. Our primary question, from which all other questions emerge . . .
Mar 01, 2020
There are so many ways to enter critical thinking and benefit from it. We can take any part of the theory and apply it to everyday life situations. In fact, until we do so, any theory we learn will be inert in the mind, rather than activated. It is when we apply critical thinking that it comes to life. For instance, I was recently in a drugstore, and began noticing some of the unhealthy things in the store (information). What hit me first was the toxic fluorescent lighting (information) (read into the many health problems potentially caused by fluorescents).* I couldn’t help but notice the irony between the fact that a pharmacy should be advancing health when those florescent lights certainly do not (my inference based on the information). Then I began to analyze and assess, from the point of view of critical thinking, many of the things surrounding me in that drug store - the rows of candy filled with processed sugar, rows of processed potato chips and other snack foods, toxic chemicals on the cleaning aisle, make up and skincare products containing who knows how many perhaps toxic chemicals and perfumes as well (all information). . . .
Feb 24, 2020
Socrates, who laid down the roots of our critical thinking tradition, was tried, convicted and executed by the democratic state of Athens for two things: 1. believing in God’s other than those sanctioned by the state, and 2. corrupting the minds of the youth (through questioning them and teaching them to question through budding tools of critical thinking). According to Plato, as portrayed in his Apology, Socrates opens his defense with the following statement:
“What effect my accusers have had upon you, gentlemen, I do not know, but for my own part I was almost carried away by them; their arguments were so convincing. On the other hand, scarcely a word of what they said was true. I was especially astonished at one of their many misrepresentations: the point where they told you that you must be careful not to let me deceive you, implying that I am a skillful speaker. I thought that it was peculiarly brazen of them to have the nerve to tell you this only just before events must prove them wrong, when it becomes obvious that I have not the slightest skill as a speaker–unless, of course, by a skillful speaker they mean one who speaks the truth. If that is what they mean, I would agree that I am an orator and quite out of their class.” . . .
In this passage, Socrates illuminates the problem of bad faith and manipulation through use of language, a problem still prominent among politicians, and many others today. It is through critical reasoning that we are in the best position to see through corruption, power mongering, exploitation and indeed all forms of deception and dishonesty through distortion of language and information. I encourage you to read the Apology (an enlightening piece of prose), looking especially for intellectual moves Socrates made (as described by Plato) which are relevant to how we live, and how we should live, now; please post your responses here.
Feb 01, 2020
The idea many people have about critical thinking is just a vague one: it is just “good thinking,” or “careful thinking.”
One problem with this is that we usually compliment people on their “good thinking” only if the conclusions they come to agree with what we ourselves believe: If they believe what I believe, that’s a sure sign that they are thinking critically. It often seems that for some people, they just assume that, whatever critical thinking is, it is the kind of thinking that they themselves do.
We can advance a step by shifting from “thinking” to “reasoning.” A standard explication of reasoning is that it is “coming to conclusions based on reasons and evidence.” Good reasoning, therefore—critical thinking—would be starting with good reasons and evidence, and then coming to conclusions that are justified on the basis the reasons and evidence. . . .
Jan 13, 2020
[To repeat the background of this blog: I am finishing a book on Critical Writing: Using the Concepts and Processes of Critical Thinking to Write a Paper. It will be published by Rowman and Littlefield, probably in Fall, 2020. The following is adapted from an earlier draft of the book.]
One major challenge for students in writing courses is to take a very general, unfocused, all-over-the-place topic, where most start, and from it to create something specific, focused and crisp.
The recommendation in my book is for the student to begin by taking the topic and to analyze it using the elements of reasoning, the Wheel of Reason.
A reminder: Alyssa is a first-year student in a writing course. The only course she has taken in the sciences was an introductory-level course in science for non-majors. But she decides to write a paper on scientific thinking. Notice how such a topic is indeed very general, unfocused, and all-over-the-place. You could go in a thousand different directions, and with just that amorphous topic in front of you, there is nothing to guide you in narrowing it down. . . .
Jan 11, 2020
In Jane Austen’s book Persuasion, the central theme is, well persuasion. After reading the book, answer these questions:
Jane Austen’s work is frequently trivialized, sometimes even by literature scholars. But those who read Austen’s work using keen intellectual tools see the depth of her ideas and the universal nature of her insights into interpersonal and social relationships. . . .
Jan 01, 2020
In revising our guide: The Thinker's Guide for Conscientious Citizens on How to Detect Media Bias & Propaganda, I explore the concept of the liberal minded person. Though the term "liberal" has been used throughout modern history to refer to differing political positions and worldviews, it behooves us to explore how it makes sense to think of the liberal minded person today, especially in relationship with education. The term "liberal education" seems now largely excluded from discussions focused on school reform at any level. This is a pity, given that liberal education, properly conceived, dovetails with any rich conception of critical thinking. . . .