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2019 Critical Thinking Blog


Drs. Linda Elder and Gerald Nosich, Senior Fellows of the Foundation for Critical Thinking, have regularly published new articles, essays, and various musings to The Center for Critical Thinking Community Online since mid-2019. This page lists posts that were made through the end of 2019.

While a few (mostly shorter) entries will be posted here in full, most complete posts (which can run multiple pages in length) will be found at the Community Online.



Entries from Other Years

FULL ENTRY: Letters from a Stoic - Linda Elder

Dec 13, 2019

In his book, Letters From A Stoic, Seneca [in addressing his student] says "Judging from what you tell me and from what I hear, I feel that you show great promise.You do not tear from place to place and unsettle yourself with one move after another. Restlessness of that sort is symptomatic of a sick mind. Nothing, to my way of thinking, is better proof of a well-ordered mind than a man's ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company...[with regard to reading] You should extend your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind...So always read well-tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to ones you have read before."

Taken from Letters from a Stoic by Seneca (circa 65 ACE). My version is published by Penguin Classics, NY: 2004, pp. 33-34)

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Critical Writing - Gerald Nosich

Dec 10, 2019

[Some background: 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.]

An initial and crucial early step in writing a paper is to come up with the main thing you will be trying to say in it, often called a “thesis statement” (or sometimes just “thesis.”)  Usually the topic or idea a student starts with is an extremely general one.  A challenge then is, starting with a vague, unfocused topic, to find a specific, crisp, plausible thesis statement. Books on writing recommend a number of ways of finding a thesis statement. Usually they suggest brainstorming, or clustering ideas together, or free writing. Though these may sometimes result in a well-defined thesis, they are at best hit-or-miss.  They work by associative thinking, by letting ideas pop into your head, and—for students, often—waiting for inspiration to come and hoping for the best.

One of the great benefits of critical thinking is that allows people to construct a paper starting with even a very general and unpromising topic. The book recommends beginning the process by analyzing the topic by using the elements of reasoning. Refer to “the Wheel of Reason” . . .

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Evaluating Reasoning: Part 2 - Gerald Nosich

Dec 03, 2019

In a previous blog of mine (November 1, 2019) I invited you to evaluate the reasoning in three sample student essays.  You were asked to compare the three and to rank them with respect to how well-reasoned they are.  That is clearly something you can do whether you are an instructor or not.  And of course it applies not just to assessing the reasoning of students. It applies to assessing the reasoning of anyone.

There are many pitfalls that come up both in thinking well and in evaluating the thinking of others.  Mostly we do such thinking and evaluating without being conscious that we are doing so.  We tend to say or write things that we believe are “right,” and we tend to agree or disagree with something said or written based primarily on whether it is in accord with what we already believe.  We tend not to ask ourselves consciously, explicitly, Is that accurate? Is that relevant to the issue?  Does it stress what is most important in the issue or does it focus on relatively minor aspects? Is it logical?  (These, of course, are some of the standards of critical thinking . . .

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Thoughts from Bertrand Russell on John Stuart Mill - Linda Elder

Dec 02, 2019

The following thoughts were written by Bertrand Russell In his book Portraits From Memory and other essays (New York: Simon & Schuster 1951;1956). These thoughts focus on some of the ways in which John Stuart Mill exemplified excellence in thought and embraced intellectual virtues – how far away would you say we are from his ethical ideals?

It is not easy to assess the importance of John Stuart Mill in 19th-century England. What he achieved depended more upon his moral elevation and his just estimate of the ends of life than upon any purely intellectual merits. His influence in politics and in forming an opinion on moral issues was very great and, to my mind, wholly good. Like other imminent Victorians he combined intellectual distinction with very admirable character (p. 122)… much more important than Mill’s longer treatises were his two short books on the Subjection of Women and On Liberty. In regard to the first of these, the world has gone completely as he would have wished. With regard to the second, there has been an exactly opposite movement . . .

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Socratic Questioning - Linda Elder

Nov 21, 2019

See below an excerpt from an encyclopedia entry I recently wrote for Rutledge encyclopedia of education, in press. One might ask: Why are we still such a long way from realizing societies in which most people embody the skills of intellectual discipline through questioning as demonstrated and advanced by Socrates?

Socrates as Questioner

Socrates was a Greek philosopher and educator who was put to death by the Athenian state, having been found guilty of two crimes: 1) denying the existence of the gods sanctioned by the state, and 2) corrupting the minds of the youth. With regard to the first charge, though Socrates may have questioned conventional powers and ideas purported to come from the received gods, existing evidence implies that he accepted the established faith. The second charge was also blatantly false - that of corrupting the minds of the youth. Socrates’ accusers, prominent leaders within Athenian society, in fact perceived Socrates as a threat to their power, and could not countenance criticism of their own actions. Moreover, Socrates had a great disregard for arbitrary social conventions, social status and wealth, which irritated those in power, given that they themselves followed these practices and pursued these aims. Socrates’ lack of ambition and refusal to pursue material goods reduced him to a level of poverty throughout most of his lifetime. By refusing to compromise his principles, and by urging others to adhere to principles of ethics, he was considered an enemy of those in power . . .

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Evaluating Student Reasoning - Gerald Nosich

Nov 01, 2019

The following is an activity involving evaluating student reasoning. The invitation is to read each of the three short essays and evaluate the critical thinking in each of them. The advice is to evaluate the reasoning as you might if you were a teacher in this history class. You might rank them with regard to the critical thinking each shows: Which of the three shows the best critical thinking, which is second, and which is last? (With regard especially to the essays of Student #2 and Student #3, note that they were written before smartphones or e-tablets, before the active development of most social media, and even before videogames were as prominent as they are now. So in evaluating the essays you may have to overlook the fact that some of the technology discussed is outdated.)

The assignment in the history course is to write a short essay:

“Reasoning about the Significance of Inventions.”

The assignment: Of two inventions discussed in your textbook, which was the most important and why?

Directions: The textbook for the course . . .

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A Quote from Bertrand Russell - Linda Elder

Oct 30, 2019

In his book, entitled Portraits From Memory and Other Essays (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1956, p. 12) Bertrand Russell says:

. . . In such a world as we now have to live in, it grows increasingly difficult to concentrate on abstract matters. The everyday world presses in upon the philosopher and his ivory tower begins to crumble. The future of mankind more and more absorbs my thoughts...It demands a certain fortitude and a certain capacity to look beyond the moment to a more distant future. But I remain convinced, whatever dark times may lie before us, that mankind will emerge, that the habit of mutual forbearance, which now seems lost, will be recovered, and that the reign of brutal violence will not last forever. Mankind has to learn some new lessons . . .

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Conceptualizing Education - Linda Elder

Oct 26, 2019

Recently I wrote an encyclopedia entry for the term "education." Here is the introduction to that entry. I am interested in your thoughts on this introduction and how it relates to your concept of education:

Throughout history, education has been experienced fundamentally as an institutionalized teaching and learning process in which societies attempt to impart knowledge and skills deemed valuable to them; either overtly or inadvertently, this process implicitly entails imposing upon the individual the traditions, norms, and taboos of conventional culture. Education in the higher sense, however, entails the development of advanced literacy skills, essential reasoning abilities, sound ethical principals, and, for many, refined aesthetic sensitivities; it also entails the development of the individual in his or her own right, in conjunction with contributing to a more egalitarian in the world.

In addition to the natural ongoing conflict between education as maintaining dominant cultural ideologies, and education as cultivating reasonable ways of living, tension has always existed in schooling between, first, addressing the needs and desires of the individual and, second, molding the desires of the individual in service to community . . .

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Achieving Self-Actualization - Linda Elder

Sep 25, 2019

In revisiting the works of Abraham Maslow, I am reminded of the concept of self-actualization and its relationship with critical thinking.

Here are some principles of self actualization, expanded to take into account critical thinking ideals:

  1. Living a life of sublime contentment while pursuing self-identified and self-embraced purposes, for which one feels oneself to be particularly well-suited.
  2. Actively pursuing . . .

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Learning is Like a Sun With Rays Going Out in Varied Directions - Linda Elder

Sep 08, 2019

In education, learning is more like a sun with rays of learning going out in many, varied directions at differing rates of speed, than it is like a stream with everyone moving forward together in the same direction and at the same speed. The directions of the sun’s learning rays will depend upon many variables, not least of which in importance are the natural inclinations of a given student. Therefore if a student, or the teacher ”moves ahead” of the other students, this is to be intrinsically expected, since no student will be at the same level of learning alongside another student at any time and any learning that does occur will relate specifically to the goals of a given student. This philosophy is the opposite of the one generally assumed in schooling at all levels . . .

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Critical Action and the Intellectual Virtues - Gerald Nosich

Sep 01, 2019

I recently heard a talk on critical thinking in which the speaker talked about the importance of critical action.  By that term the speaker meant political, social, or economic action based on critical thinking and a strong belief in the value of freedom from repression.  Critical action recognizes the central importance of bringing critical thinking into the wider world.  That is an ideal in which I myself believe deeply.

The example the speaker held up of critical action was the man in the famous photograph from Tiananmen Square, the man who stood there opposing the tanks as they rolled forward.  The man stood there, the speaker said, in defense of democracy, in opposition to repression, an exemplar of critical thinking in action. 

That man is someone I identify with strongly.  In fact, there is a sense in which he has been a hero to me.  I often wonder if I would be as willing to stand up for my deeply held beliefs as courageously as he did.

There are two questions I want to ask you to consider. The first is about critical actionand its relation to . . .

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FULL ENTRY: The Browning Version: For Your Consideration - Linda Elder

Aug 18, 2019

I recommend the movie you may read about at this link:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Browning_Version_(1951_film)

The acting is superb, and the movie entails multiple messages that illuminate failures in thinking. For instructors, the main message is clear enough...What do you take from it?

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Defining Critical Thinking

Aug 09, 2019

There are many ways to define critical thinking. Here is one way to begin. This is taken from an encyclopedia entry I recently constructed:

Critical thinking is a rich, dynamic, complex concept that entails bringing the most appropriate and highest standards for thought to bear upon the intrinsic (and frequently flawed) reasoning that occurs in the human mind, in order to reason at the highest levels. Critical thinking, in its explicit form, requires disciplining one’s own thinking, as well as understanding and evaluating others’ thinking, by focusing deliberately on the components present in all human reasoning. It requires developing executive-level functioning, in which the mind examines and re-examines its own thought by reasoning about its thinking to improve its reasoning. . . .

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Excerpt from 'The Art of Being' by Erich Fromm

Aug 05, 2019

One distinguished thinker I often turn to for rational words of wisdom is Erich Fromm. In his book, The Art of Being (written between 1974 and 1976), Fromm says

. . . [one] reason for our difficulty to discern the difference between the authentic and the sham lies in the hypnotic attraction of power and fame. If the name of a man or the title of a book is made famous by clever publicity, the average person is willing to believe the work’s claims. This process is greatly helped by another factor: in a completely commercialized society in which salability and optimal profit constitute the core values, and in which every person experiences himself as ”capital” that he has to invest on the market with the aim of optimal profit (success), his inner value counts as little . . .

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Watch the film 12 Angry Men: Look for Intellectual Virtues and Critical Reasoning Moves - Linda Elder

Jul 30, 2019

If you want to see ethical critical thinking vividly displayed in stark relief against bias, myopia and group think, see the movie 12 Angry Men (I recommend the 1957 version. The acting and directing are magnificent). And then see it again and again periodically, given that it is a classic film with many layers, and hence deserving of our analysis and consideration.

Read about the film here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_Angry_Men_(1957_film)


I was introduced to this movie in a social psychology course as a graduate student; Richard Paul and I viewed and explored its many levels through our years together. It was one of our favorite classics . . .

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Students Using the Wheel of Reason - Gerald Nosich

Jul 28, 2019

In my courses I often required students to analyze something important in the course by using the wheel of reason. (Refer to our Academy section - the “Wheel of Reason.”) I often taught philosophy of natural sciences, philosophy of social sciences, philosophy of arts, and health care ethics. In each of these courses students were required to analyze a discipline by applying the eight elements in the wheel of reason, by “going around the circle.” Over the years, students chose a great variety of disciplines or fields or areas to analyze. A few examples of what they chose will give you an idea of the wide range they could apply the wheel of reason to: astrophysics, biology, meteorology; sociology, clinical psychology, behaviorism, rational emotive therapy; jazz, rap, cubism, sculpture, Shakespearean drama; anatomy, physical therapy, nursing.

So here are three examples of student analyses using the wheel of reason (all are used by permission; none has been edited or corrected by me). Note that the analysis counted as a major part of their final grade, and so some students went into considerable detail.

A suggestion: if you are an instructor, what areas, fields, disciplines, or topics could you ask students to analyze using the wheel of reason?
____________________
Logic of Astronomy
1.   Purpose : The fundamental purposes of astronomy are to discover what . . .

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FULL ENTRY: Analyze the Logic of Your Subject or Profession - Send Us Your Examples! - Linda Elder

Jul 16, 2019

Visit our Academy regularly to deepen your understanding of the fundamentals of critical thinking. I suggest that you write out the logic of your profession/discipline after reading The Thinker’s Guide to Analytic Thinking:
https://criticalthinkingcommunity.org/viewDocument.php?doc=../content/library_for_everyone/44/Thinker__sGuidetoAnalyticThinking.pdf&page=1

Here is the activity focused on analyzing the logic of your discipline in the Wheel of Reason section:
https://criticalthinkingcommunity.org/wheelOfReasonActivityAnalyzeProfession?activity=none

After writing out the logic of your profession, subject or discipline, see our examples under the activity. Email us your examples to post! send to: lindaelder@criticalthinking.org.

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FULL ENTRY: Recommended Reading and Video: The Forsyte Saga, A Classic - Linda Elder

Jul 16, 2019

For personal development, I recommend viewing the movie The Forsyte Saga:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Forsyte_Saga_(2002_TV_series)


The Forsyte Saga was published under that title in 1922, but was originally a series of three novels and two interludes published between 1906 and 1921 by English Nobel Prize winner John Galsworthy. Read more about Galsworthy here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Forsyte_Saga

You may access the book here:
https://www.amazon.com/Forsyte-Saga-Wordsworth-Classics/dp/184022438X/ref=sr_1_2?crid=T443PM1RWBQ7&keywords=the+forsyte+saga+john+galsworthy&qid=1563304049&s=gateway&sprefix=the+forsyte+saga+john%2Cmovies-tv%2C163&sr=8-2

This movie and book may be the basis for a book study you create in our Café. The Forsyte Saga exemplifies how money and greed can affect human relationships and the very fabric of human life.

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