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2020 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 2020

Critical Thinking: Where, Why, and How [Part 3 of 3] - Richard Paul Archives

Dec 29, 2020

Richard Paul’s introduction to the program for the 7th International Conference on Critical Thinking (1989) bore the title, ‘Critical Thinking: What, Why, and How.’ This article was divided into three sections: ‘The Logically Illogical Animal,’ ‘Knowledge as Thinking,’ and ‘Lower Order Learning.” The third of these appears below.

There are a variety of forms of lower order learning in the schools. We can understand the forms by understanding the relative lack of logic informing them. Paradigmatically, lower order learning is learning by sheer association or rote. Hence students come to think of history class, for example, as a place where you hear names and dates and places; where you try to remember them and state them on tests. Math comes to be thought of as numbers, symbols, and formulas, mysterious things you mechanically manipulate as the teacher told you to get the right answer. Literature is often thought of as uninteresting stories to remember along with what the teacher said is important about them.

We can improve student performance only by improving their thinking. We can improve their thinking only by creating opportunities and incentives for them to think. We can provide them with opportunities and incentives for them to think only if those who teach are given time to thoughtfully redesign their instruction. We can create time to thoughtfully redesign instruction only if we ease the compulsion to cover huge amounts of subject matter. We can reduce the obsession to cover huge amounts of subject matter only if the curriculum is restructured to focus on basic concepts, understandings, and abilities. We can restructure the curriculum to focus on basic concepts, understandings, and abilities only if faculty understand why such a focus is . . .

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To What Degree Do You Embody Intellectual Empathy? - Linda Elder

December 23, 2020

Intellectual empathy requires us to think within the viewpoints of others, especially those we think are wrong. This is difficult until we recognize how often we have been wrong in the past and others have been right. Those who think differently from us sometimes possess truths we have not yet discovered. Practice in thinking within others’ viewpoints is crucial to your development as a thinker. Good thinkers value thinking within from opposing viewpoints. They recognize that many truths can be acquired only when they “try on” other ways of thinking. They value gaining new insights and expanding their views.

They appreciate new ways of seeing the world. They don’t assume their perspective to be the most reasonable one. They are willing to engage in dialogue to understand other perspectives. They don’t fear ideas and beliefs they don’t understand or have never considered. They are ready to abandon beliefs they have passionately held when those beliefs are shown to be false or misleading.

As you work to develop intellectual empathy, be on the lookout for…

…opportunities to empathize today. Look for examples of empathetic behavior in others. Practice being empathetic. For example, whenever someone takes a position with which you disagree, state in your own words what you think the person is saying. Then ask the person whether you have accurately stated her or his position. Notice the extent to which . . .

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Critical Thinking: Where, Why, and How [Part 2 of 3] - Richard Paul Archives


Richard Paul’s introduction to the program for the 7th International Conference on Critical Thinking (1989) bore the title, “Critical Thinking: What, Why, and How.” This article was divided into three sections: “The Logically Illogical Animal,” “Knowledge as Thinking,” and “Lower Order Learning.” The second of these appears below.

We often talk of knowledge as if it could be divorced from thinking, as if it could be gathered up by one person and given to another in the form of a collection of sentences to remember. When we talk in this way we forget that knowledge is by its very nature dependent on thought. Knowledge is produced by thought, organized, evaluated, maintained, and transformed by thought. Knowledge exists, properly speaking, only in minds that have comprehended and justified it through thought. And when we say think we mean think critically. Knowledge is not to be confused with belief nor with symbolic representation of belief. Humans are quite capable of believing things that are false or things to be true without knowing them to be so. A book contains knowledge only in a derivative sense, because only minds can thoughtfully read it and through that process gain knowledge. We often forget this and design instruction as if recall were equivalent to knowledge.

We need to remember that all knowledge exists in and through critical thought. All the disciplines – Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, History, Philosophy, and so on – are modes of thinking. We know mathematics not to the extent that we can recite mathematical formulas but only to the extent that we can think mathematically. . . .

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Critical Thinking: Where, Why, and How [Part 1 of 3] - Richard Paul Archives

Dec 15, 2020

Richard Paul’s introduction to the program for the 7th International Conference on Critical Thinking (1989) bore the title, "Critical Thinking: What, Why, and How." This article was divided into three sections: "The Logically Illogical Animal," "Knowledge as Thinking," and "Lower Order Learning." The first of these appears below.

Readers will note that Dr. Paul's final sentence, though seemingly intended to encourage patience, drastically underestimated how long human societies might take to incorporate critical thinking into formal education.

Ironically, humans are not simply the only “logical” animal, they are also the only ‘Illogical” animal. They are the only animal that uses meanings – ideas, concepts, analogies, metaphors, models, theories, and explanations – to make sense of things, to understand, predict, and control things. They are also the only animal that uses meanings to negate, contradict, and deceive itself, to misconceive, to distort, and stereotype, to become dogmatic, prejudiced, and narrowminded. Humans are the only animal whose thinking can be characterized in terms like clear, precise, accurate, relevant, consistent, profound, and fair; they are also the only animal whose thinking is often imprecise, vague, inaccurate, irrelevant, superficial, trivial, and biased.

Critical thinking makes sense in the light of this paradoxical dichotomy. Humans ought not simply trust their instincts. They ought not believe unquestioningly what spontaneously occurs to them. They ought not accept as true everything taught as true. They ought not assume their experience is unbiased. They need to form, they are not born with, intellectually sound standards for belief, for truth, for validity. They need to cultivate habits and traits which integrate these standards into their lives.

This logical-illogical dichotomy of human nature has implications for human learning. One can learn by means of the rational capacities of the human mind or through its irrational propensities. There are profound reasons for cultivating the capacity of the human mind to discipline and direct its thought through commitment to intellectual standards. Unfortunately much academic learning is of a lower order . . .

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Strive to Be a Person of Integrity: Beware of Your Own Hypocrisy - Linda Elder

Dec 12, 2020

People are hypocritical in at least three ways. First, they tend to have higher standards for those with whom they disagree than they have for themselves or their friends. Second, they often fail to live in accordance with their professed beliefs. Third, they often fail to see contradictions in the behavior of people with whom they identify (such as people of high status).

Hypocrisy, then, is a state of mind unconcerned with honesty. It is often marked by unconscious contradictions and inconsistencies. Because the mind is naturally egocentric, it is naturally hypocritical.

Yet at the same time, it can skillfully rationalize whatever it thinks and does. In other words, the human mind naturally wants to see itself in a positive light. The appearance of integrity is important to the egocentric mind. This is why, as humans, we actively hide our hypocrisy from ourselves and from others (through self-deception and rationalization).

For example, though we may be frequently selfish, we almost never see ourselves in this light. But we readily see selfishness in others. In other words, it is okay for me to be selfish, but not for you to be selfish. Although we expect others to adhere to much more rigid standards than the standards we impose on ourselves, we see ourselves as fair. For instance, the bookkeeper who steals money from her company may deceive herself into believing the company “owes” her that money, because the company has never paid her what she is worth, or, she might reason that the business is highly lucrative so should pay her more, and so on. All are rationalizations that enable her to hide from the truth.

Though we profess certain beliefs, we often fail to behave in accordance with those beliefs. Only to the extent that our beliefs and actions are consistent, only when we say what we mean and mean what we say, do we have intellectual integrity.

When you resolve to live a life of integrity, you routinely examine your own inconsistencies and face them truthfully, without excuses. You want to know the truth about yourself. You want to know the truth in others. By facing your own hypocrisy, you begin to grow beyond it . . .

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"The Heart and Core of Educational Reform" - Richard Paul Archives

Dec 08, 2020

The following, written by Richard Paul, is the introduction appearing in the program for the Third International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform (1985):

We have every reason to believe that critical thinking ought to be the heart and core of educational reform. If a person is adept at thinking critically, she is adept at gathering, analyzing, synthesizing, and assessing information, as well as identifying misinformation, disinformation, prejudice, and one-sidedness. A student with such skills will have the tools of life-long learning. Such skills are developed in a strong sense only when students are given extensive and continuing opportunities to construct and assess lines of reasoning from multiple conflicting points of view. Because of the human mind's spontaneous tendency to egocentric and sociocentric reasoning, it is essential that students reason dialectically or dialogically, that is, empathize with and reason within points of view they oppose as well as within those they support. If children do not grow up with a rich and varied backlog of such experiences, they will not develop genuine fairmindedness. The time to begin this process is no later than the preschool stage. This is where the foundation for fairness to others must be laid. It should be an essential part of the core of all schooling thereafter.

Such a goal is both cognitive and affective, for emotions and beliefs are always inseparably wedded together. When we describe ourselves as driven by irrational emotions, we are also driven by the irrational beliefs which structure and support them. When we conquer an irrational emotion through the use of our reason, we do it through the utilization of rational passions. It is only the development of rational passions that prevents our intelligence from becoming the tool of our egocentric emotions and the self-serving points of view embedded in them. A passionate drive for clarity, accuracy, and fair-mindedness, a fervor for getting to the bottom of things, to the deepest root issues, for listening sympathetically to opposition points of view, a compelling drive to seek out evidence, an intense aversion to contradiction, sloppy thinking, inconsistent application of standards, a devotion to truth as against self-interest – these are essential components of the rational person. It enables her to assent rationally to a belief even when it is ridiculed by others, to question what is passionately believed and socially sanctioned, to conquer the fear of abandoning a long and deeply held belief. There is nothing passive, bland, or complacent about such a person. All human action requires the marshalling of human energy. All human action presupposes a driving force. We must care about something to do something about it. Emotions, feelings, passions of some kind or other are part of the root of all human behavior. What we should want to free ourselves from is not emotion, feeling, or passion per se, but irrational emotions, irrational feelings and irrational passions. A highly developed intellect can be used for good or ill at the service of rational or irrational passions.

The educational reform needed then is not a return to the past but the forging of a new beginning

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Nov 30, 2020

I am pleased to see a growing number of documentary genre movies and TV series now being spread across the world and brought to us, through, for instance Netflix, as well as a number of independent film production companies across the world. These movies come to us essentially in the form of historical dramas or movies based on real events. Of course, varying degrees of accuracy are represented within and among these movies, with some writers, producers, and directors doing a far better job of adhering to this central standard.

These films, if well-produced, can help us better understand one another as members of the same species, with common needs, desires, goals and emotions. They can help us better understand our differences, and see things from a multicultural perspective. They can help us see how people less fortunate struggle in conditions hardly imaginable to those of us living in wealthy countries like the U.S.

One highly inspiring movie I recommend is The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which you can view at Netflix, at least at the moment. It is a testament to intellectual curiosity and intellectual autonomy, to the power of ideas, to confidence in reason, and to the importance of open and free educational access . . .

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International Critical Thinking Manifesto - Linda Elder

Nov 19, 2020

With many academicians across the world now arguing for critical thinking, it is essential that we agree up the essential principles of critical thinking. A vague conception, or disagreement about core conceptions of critical thinking, will not lead to the changes in society we so desperately need.

Here is our Critical Thinking Manifesto, which we would like to see adopted by all educators in all schools, colleges and universities in every country in the world:

History and Philosophy of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is integral to education and rationality and, as an idea, is traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practices and educational ideals of Socrates. Criticality has played a seminal role in the emergence of academic disciplines and the questions that have given rise to them. Knowledge, in other words, has been discovered and verified by the distinguished critical thinkers of intellectual, scientific, and technological history. For the majority of the idea’s history, however, critical thinking has been "buried", a conception in practice without an explicit name. In the past forty years, however, critical thinking has undergone something of an awakening, a coming-out, a first major social expression, which could, if taken seriously, signal a turning-point in its history and the future of the human species.

This awakening is correlated with a growing awareness that if education is to produce critical thinkers en masse, if it is to globally cultivate nations of skilled thinkers and innovators rather than a dearth of thinkers amid an army of intellectually unskilled, undisciplined, and uncreative followers, then a renaissance and re-emergence of the idea of critical thinking as integral to the advancement of the human species is necessary. Such a reawakening and recognition began in the later 1930's and then surfaced in various forms in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, reaching its most public expression in the 1980’s and into the present. Nevertheless, despite growing scholarship in critical thinking, and perhaps largely due to the disjointed and fragmented efforts to embody it in educational practice, the educational and social acceptance of critical thinking is still in its infancy, still largely misunderstood, still existing more in stereotype than in substance, more in appearance than reality.

Those who support this critical thinking manifesto are committed to the highest standards of excellence . . .

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Let's Build Local Critical Thinking Town Halls Across the World - Linda Elder

Nov 11, 2020

People across the world are increasingly focused on how they can actively make improvements in their local areas. There is no doubt that the future of human societies will entail emphases on developing national and international relationships and this will and should of course continue and grow. We are one species capable of handling highly complex problems and working together under the right conditions.

But we must also do our best thinking locally, to bring our communities together for the public interest. People are often split politically and distrustful of one another. Many pressing and significant issues face our communities. We need to cultivate education systems that actually develop the minds of its students so they learn to reason through complex issues. We need to create parks and programs that enhance the physical and emotional well-being of the people living in the community, to bring more art, theatre, and other forms of culture and beauty to our communities. We need to work toward sustainability of the earth’s resources right at home, sharing and developing resources for doing so. We must give life to the concept of inclusion so all people in our communities can reach their potential. We must work together for solutions. But how? What tools can be used . . .

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Discover Your Ignorance - Linda Elder

Oct 27, 2020

Most of us assume whatever we believe to be “right.” Though we were taught much of what we believe before we could critically analyze our beliefs, we nevertheless defend our beliefs as the truth. Good thinkers know this is absurd. When you actively focus on uncovering your ignorance, you realize you are often wrong. You look for opportunities to test your ideas for soundness. You recognize that much of what people believe is based on prejudice, bias, half-truths, and sometimes superstition. You routinely question your beliefs. Your beliefs do not control you; you control your beliefs. You develop intellectual humility—awareness of the extent of your ignorance.

Intellectual humility is the disposition to distinguish, at any given moment and in any given situation, between what you know and what you don’t know. People disposed toward intellectual humility recognize the natural tendency of the mind to think it knows more than it does, to see itself as right when the evidence proves otherwise. They routinely think within alternative viewpoints, making sure they are accurately representing those viewpoints. They consider other viewpoints to understand them in good faith—not to dismiss them.

Socrates, an early Greek philosopher and teacher (c. 470–399 B.C.E.), was a living model of intellectual humility. Consider . . .

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The News Media, Politics, Group Think and What the News Media Should Be Doing - Linda Elder

Oct 13, 2020

The logic of the news media is both simple and complex. On the one hand, many reporters see themselves as objectively informing the public of important information—and in many cases, this is precisely what they are doing. Yet, on the other hand, it seems that reporters themselves do not have a shared conception of objectivity in the news. Indeed, the Society for Professional Journalism has recently removed the term “objectivity” from its list of primary purposes because the term now apparently means different things to different journalists (Atkins, 2016). One might then ask: how can the news be objective when reporters themselves have neither a shared understanding of the very term “objective,” nor feel the need even to aspire to it in their work?


The lack of a shared concept of “objectivity” on the part of journalists reveals that reporting the news is not so straightforward as it usually appears and is presented.

Yet there is an overarching logic underlying the news of which critical news consumers are well aware, and which is the primary focus of this book. For instance, you cannot critically examine the news without understanding the connection between politics and news coverage, because political parties often have deep affiliations with major news outlets—increasingly so as advocacy journalism has become more the norm than an anomaly in recent times. Indeed, some news outlets are flagrant voices for a given political party, without demur nor apparent need to explain their political biases.

Just as politics plays a major role in media bias, so also does money, since politics and money typically go hand in hand. Political forces and advertisers influence media content in ways frequently hidden from the news consumer. Consequently, to understand the logic of the news media is to understand, as a beginning place, the logic of the relationships between . . .

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Distinguishing Weak From Strong Sense Critical Thinking - Still a Problem in Human Societies - Richard Paul Archives

Oct 06, 2020

The following, written by Richard Paul, was adapted from the conference theme from the 4th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, held in 1986. We are still a very long way from the realization of strong sense critical thinking across human societies. (see footnote)


The conference theme has been selected to give participants a central concept by means of which they can understand the basic relationships between all of the various presentations. The field of critical thinking research and instructional approaches is rich and diverse, but there are common core concepts and insights which can be used to organize that diversity and render it coherent. 

There is no question, for example, that there are a body of intellectual skills presupposed in critical thinking, skills which have broad application across the full range of human thought and action. Whenever humans act or think they conceptualize or give meanings to their action and thought. These meanings or conceptualizations may be more or less clear (hence the importance of skills of clarification). These meanings organize and give expression to "information", which may be more or less accurate well­justified, and complete (hence the importance of skills for the gathering, processing and assessing of information). They are based upon beliefs some of which we take for granted (hence the importance of skills for locating and assessing assumptions). They build toward or entail consequences and implications (hence the importance of skills for pinning down and assessing consequences and implications). Finally, human action and thought is based upon and creates meanings within some perspective, point of view, or world view (hence the importance of skills which locate the perspective or point of view within which a given action or line of thought is developed). 

But critical thinking is not just about intellectual skills . . .

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How The Internet Pervades Our Lives and Why Critical Thinking is Essential

Sep 17, 2020

To effectively navigate and participate in the world today, it is necessary to understand how the internet works, and, more broadly, how technologies affect our lives. The internet has become an essential tool and information source for the average person living today. Moreover, technological advances in the past half-century have thrust most people across the world into a highly technical and complex world that they have no choice but to navigate.

Without basic critical thinking abilities, it is impossible to comprehend and properly assess the internet, the news embedded in it, and, more broadly, the technologies surrounding us. We need to look closely at how the internet works.

We need to know how technologies are on one hand improving, and on the other hand diminishing, the quality of our lives. We need to understand the big picture of technology—to both better protect ourselves and to think critically about the technologies we support and participate in.

It is essential to understand, at the outset, that the websites and technologies being created for us are only as good as the reasoning that conceptualizes, creates, and maintains them over time. By this we mean specifically the reasoning of the people overseeing and executing a given website or technology. In many cases, if the reasoning used in the development process is limited in some important dimensions, products are created that the public is then forced into buying, because those are the only such products available to them. A primary assumption that should be questioned, then, is that the people creating the technologies are also experts in understanding how the end-user will want and need to use that technology. For instance, a small number of companies monopolize the design and development of cell phones. . . .

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Unbridled Capitalism is a Powerful Sociocentric Force in Human Life

Sep 07, 2020

Capitalism is the predominant economic force on the planet. Almost all humans and other sentient creatures now experience implications of capitalism. Even countries with socialist governments are intertwined with capitalism. In his book A Theory of Global Capitalism, William Robinson (2004) argues that we are now living in a new economic system of global capitalism, the theory of which he details:

Globalization is the underlying structural dynamic that drives social, political, economic, and cultural-ideological processes around the world in the twenty-first century. … Global capitalism has generated new social dependencies around the world. Billions of people who may have been at the margins of the system or entirely outside of it have now been brought squarely within its confines. The maintenance of the system is very much a life-and-death matter for millions, indeed billions, of people who, willingly or otherwise, have developed a stake in it. (p. xv)

Though capitalism has its strengths, the many negative implications that result from unrestrained capitalism are largely passed over or played down in today’s mainstream western cultures and beyond. In developed countries, people tend to assume capitalism is the best economic system; those who argue for . . .

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To Have or To Be: Wisdom from Erich Fromm - Linda Elder

Aug 26, 2020

In his classic book entitled “To Have Or To Be,” Erich Fromm offers suggestions for cultivating what he calls “The New Man“. We will hopefully forgive his use of the term man for what is intended to mean persons or human beings.

In this remarkable but mostly forgotten book, Fromm argues that for humans to achieve a sense of well-being, all around, we must focus, not on what we can get but what we can be. He points out that capitalism, as we have developed it, and the rise of technology, have together led to massive alienation and a failure in the vast majority of people to achieve what they would hope to achieve, and to be what they would want to be.  Fromm argues that people should focus on cultivating their highest . . .

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Help us Develop Critical Thinking Publications in Your Discipline, Subject and Profession

Aug 17, 2020

Though many people believe critical thinking is now common in human societies, the fact is that we are a long way from realizing fairminded critical societies in any part of the world. For instance, we still have very few books or guides to academic and professional subjects articulated through the explicit tools of critical thinking. We invite all established authors interested in working with us to develop thinker’s guides or books in your areas of specialty, including but not limited to the following list, developed by Richard Paul before he died. Paul envisioned a world in which every subject was understood through the core principles of critical thinking, since reasoning (and hence critical thinking) is at the heart of all domains of human thought. Here are some possibilities (contact me at if you are interested in working with me on a Thinker’s Guide to critical thinking in your field):


  • Anthropological thinking
  • Mathematical thinking
  • Sociological thinking
  • Archeological thinking
  • Biological thinking
  • Botanical thinking
  • Zoological thinking
  • Chemical thinking
  • Biochemical thinking
  • Geological thinking
  • Political thinking
  • Geographical thinking
  • Ecological thinking
  • Physiological thinking
  • Astronomical thinking
  • Financial thinking
  • Medical thinking
  • Pharmacological thinking
  • Psychological thinking
  • Arithmetic thinking
  • Algebraic thinking
  • Geometrical thinking
  • Musical thinking
  • Artistic thinking
  • Biotechnological thinking
  • Criminological thinking
  • Epidemiological thinking
  • Statistical thinking
  • Technological thinking
  • Nano-technological thinking
  • Global thinking
  • Philosophical thinking
  • Metaphysical thinking
  • ___________ thinking
  • Thinking like a doctor
  • Thinking homeopathically
  • Thinking allopathically
  • Thinking like a surgeon
  • Thinking like a psychologist
  • Thinking like an economist
  • Thinking like a librarian
  • Thinking like a lawyer
  • Thinking like an educator
  • Thinking like a teacher
  • Thinking like a principal
  • Thinking like a dean
  • Thinking like a classroom teacher
  • Thinking like a novelist
  • Thinking like a dramatist
  • Thinking like a poet
  • Thinking like a writer
  • Thinking like a civil engineer
  • Thinking like a nurse
  • Thinking like an accountant
  • Thinking like an architect
  • Thinking like a sculpture
  • Thinking like a painter
  • Thinking like a dancer
  • Thinking like a physicist
  • Thinking like a parasitologist
  • Thinking like a linguist
  • Thinking like a computer scientist
  • Thinking like a judge
  • Thinking like a defense attorney
  • Thinking like a prosecutor
  • Thinking like a police officer
  • Thinking like a social worker
  • Thinking like a physical therapist
  • Thinking like a _______________
  • Multi-logical thinking
  • Interdisciplinary thinking
  • Transdisciplinary thinking
  • Thinking Outside the box
  • Visual thinking
  • Thinking Beneath the Surface
  • Integrative thinking
  • Cultural thinking
  • Transcultural thinking
  • Multicultural thinking
  • Pathological thinking
  • Ethnocentric thinking
  • Autonomous thinking
  • Conformist thinking
  • Thinking theologically

A Sound Theory of Critical Thinking is Not Proven Through Scientific Research - Linda Elder

Aug 02, 2020

I recently received an email from a professor who said he could see how advantageous it would be to have the Paulian Framework adopted as a first-year university course at his institution, but that some of his colleagues cited a lack of supportive evidence for its effectiveness.

Throughout our 40 years of advancing critical thinking, this argument has frequently been made by skeptical academicians. On the one hand this is completely understandable given the fluff and nonsense that frequently passes for critical thinking, along with the many superficial approaches to bringing thinking skills across the curriculum faculty have been encouraged (or even required) to use over the past few decades.

On the other hand, this viewpoint illuminates a lack of understanding of a robust, integrative conception of critical thinking. This is connected with the fact that a sound theory of critical thinking is not proven by science, nor through research. It is proven through its conceptual soundness; its effectiveness is proven through application of its principles to real life situations (as is the case with all theory).

Unfortunately, in this postmodern era people tend to equate “proof” with proof through scientific research. In other words . . .

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The Authenticity of Critical Thinking Issues - Gerald Nosich

Aug 01, 2020

The following is adapted from the 4th edition of my Learning to Think Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum (Pearson, 2012), p. 3-4.

Critical Thinking Is Authentic

Critical thinking, at its heart, is thinking about real problems. Although you can reason out puzzles and brain-teasers, the essence of critical thinking comes into play only when you address real problems and questions rather than artificial ones. Artificial problems often include the questions asked in textbooks in a field or discipline. (They can usually be “answered” merely by finding the appropriate passage in the chapter.)  

Critical thinking is far more about what you actually believe or do. It is about good judgment. Artificial, narrow problems may help when you want to hone or practice specialized skills, but even those skills help only if you consciously transfer them to real-life settings. (Honing your skills at guessing the endings of murder mysteries is not likely to be good preparation for becoming a criminal investigator. In murder mysteries, all the clues are provided, the murderer is one of the characters, and someone (the author) has set up the situation to make us guess the murderer’s identity. None of that is so in a criminal investigation.))

Real problems are often messy. They have loose ends. They are usually . . .

FULL ENTRY: Why Everyone is Prejudiced and Therein Lies the Problem - Linda Elder

Jul 19, 2020

Since the Foundation for Critical Thinking has been advancing fairminded critical thinking for 40 years, it should be no surprise that we stand in solidarity with all those people working across the world to cultivate, support, and lead the way in creating egalitarian societies. It is clear that fairminded critical societies, properly so called, would not support biases, prejudices, or unethical actions based on a person’s skin color or ethnicity (or indeed any other superficial reason). Fairminded critical societies would not allow police to assault and abuse the people it is charged with protecting. It would not advance a police-state mentality designed to control the people.

Going deeper, it is important to recognize that prejudice is a natural part of human thinking – indeed everyone is prejudiced in favor of many things and against others; these prejudices live in our assumptions, which we take for granted, and from which our worldview is formed. Of course, some people are more prejudiced than others; some act on their biases in egregious ways while others are more subtle in the ways they express their biases. Some people have the power to harm other people based on their prejudices and biases.  As we have now clearly (and sadly) seen, some groups, like the police, have considerable power to terrorize people based on their prejudices.
While we need to address and redress the immediate illegal and unethical behaviors of the police against African American people in this country, the problem will not be solved until we as humans understand what lies at the heart of bias and prejudice. Until then, only superficial approaches will be taken to the problem, and those superficial approaches, being superficial, will not lead to a more fair and just society. Only revolutionary changes in the way we think can do that. These revolutionary changes must be based in ethical critical thinking, or they will be superficial.

For an excellent treatise on the role of prejudice in all human thinking, read Critical Thinking and the Nature of Prejudice by Richard Paul.

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Intellectual Standards are Presupposed in Every Subject and Discipline - Linda Elder

Jul 13, 2020

All academic subjects and disciplines presuppose the use and fulfillment of intellectual standards. This follows from the fact that reasoning lies at the heart of every subject and discipline. Where there is reasoning, there is a need to analyze the component structures of reasoning, and then, ultimately to assess those structures using intellectual standards.

  • Are you fully aware of the intellectual standards most important to reasoning well within your subject or discipline?
  • To what degree are these intellectual standards made explicit within the field?
  • To what degree are these intellectual standards violate by professionals within the field?

When we recognize that every academic discipline is a mode of thought, we recognize that all thinking within a discipline can be analyzed according to its essential logic. . . .

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FULL ENTRY: Thoughts, Feelings and Desires - How Do They Interrelate? Why Does It Matter?

Jun 29, 2020

There is considerable confusion and misunderstanding about the relationship between thoughts and feelings or the cognitive and affective dimensions of the mind. We see this in some popular but superficial psychology literature that would lead us to believe that thoughts and feelings are not intimately interrelated and that emotions therefore are separate from thinking. We see this depicted in movies and in daily conversation through such lines as “She lives on the emotional rather than intellectual level,” and “he is moved by intuition instead of being shackled by western philosophical logic.”

Everyone thinks, by our very nature. We also feel and desire. Our thinking shapes and determines how we feel and what we want. When we think well, we are motivated to do things that make sense and motivated to act in ways that help rather than harm ourselves and others. At the same time, powerful emotions or desires influence our thinking, help or hinder how well we think in a situation. At any given moment, our minds (that complex of inner thoughts, feelings and desires) can be under the sway of our native irrationality or our potential reasonability. When we are ruled by our irrational tendencies, we see the world from a narrow self-serving perspective. We are not truly concerned with how our behavior affects others. We are fundamentally concerned with getting what we want and/or with validating our beliefs and views. The key to understanding human thought then, is, to understand its essential duality: its capacity for irrationality (being trapped in egocentric and/or sociocentric thought with its attendant self-deception, self-delusion, rationalization, and so forth)) and its capacity for reasonability (freeing itself from self-delusion, myth, and illusion).

Though thinking, feeling and wanting are, in principle, equally important, it is only through thinking that we take command of our minds. It is through thinking that we figure out what is going wrong with our thinking. It is through thinking that we figure out how to deal with destructive emotions. It is through thinking that we change unproductive desires to productive ones. It is fairminded reasonability that frees us from intellectual slavery and conformity. If we understand our mind and its functions, if we face the barriers to our development caused by egocentric and sociocentric thought, if we work upon our mind in a daily regimen, we can take the steps that lead to our empowerment as thinkers.

To take command of your mind, it is essential that you understand the interconnectedness of thinking, feeling, and wanting and how each affects the others, systematically and constantly throughout the day as you work through life’s issues and make decisions. You also need to understand that this triangle of thoughts, feelings and desires can at any given moment be under the control of the rational mind, or, alternatively, the irrational mind (harboring powerful egocentric and sociocentric tendencies).

Once these understandings are made clear, you can begin to target your powerful egocentric or sociocentric emotions by targeting the thinking leading to those emotions; when you are doing this systematically, followed by routinely improving upon your problematic thinking, your emotional life becomes more steady, relaxed, and satisfactory. You become more accepting of what must be accepted, while focusing your energies on positive contributions that can be made, and joy that can be realized.

For more on the relationship between thinking, feeling, and wanting, read our excerpts from The Thinker’s Guide to the Human Mind, from which this blog was adapted (p. 4).

Also work through the activities in our Triangle of Thinking, Feelings and Desires, in the Academy.

To deal with neurotic emotional states and learn to apply logical thinking to your emotional life, I recommend Albert Ellis’ book: A Guide to Rational Living.

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Will Critical Thinking Accompany This Newest Revolution? What Does History Tell Us? - Linda Elder

Jun 15, 2020

The variables that have given rise to this newest black rights movement, with people flooding the streets and demanding justice, and the ways in which the police have behaved in response, lead us to believe we are in the midst of a revolution that may or will permanently change the way we think of skin color in the future. But the fight for equal rights is long and hard, and frequently there is a backlash that then takes years to recover from, if ever. Some people, mainly those who have lived through it, relate the protests in 1968 to what we are experiencing today. But history will remind us that achieving an egalitarian world is more or less out of reach for us humans. Upholding rights for all humans as well as other sentient creatures across the globe through universal compassion should be our goal. We could imagine a world in which skin color has nothing to do with how we judge a person, but that world is a long way off, at least here in America - the great land that requires students to pledge allegiance to a flag that promises freedom and justice for all but frequently delivers the opposite. We could imagine the kind of world envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Some of us have that dream too. But it seems we are more divided than ever, and moving in the wrong direction, even with talks of equal rights, and despite fresh promises against the use of brutal police tactics.

Egalitarianism, which embraces the treatment of people as equals, has never been achieved on a broad scale in modern human societies. In many ways we have regressed from the progress we seemed to achieve in the 1970’s, after the protests of the late 1960’s. For instance

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Humans Are Not Typically Self-Reflective or Self-Insightful; This Includes Police Officers and Politicians - Linda Elder

Jun 04, 2020

To develop as a thinker and reach your potential requires a special way of interacting with your mind, of engaging in self-reflection. It requires learning how to think about our thinking with skill and discipline. Unfortunately disciplined self-reflection is not natural to humans. Rather than intrinsically self-reflecting, the mind intrinsically self-deceives. Rather than automatically developing rational skills across the workings of one’s mind, humans are sometimes reasonable while at other times unreasonable. We do not naturally see through the mistakes and self-deceptive mechanisms that cause our inconsistencies and contradictions.  We come to the world focused on how the world can serve us individually and are wired to serve the groups we belong to – we are both selfish and groupish by nature, and we are capable of critical thinking by nature. But this we must work toward through consistent self-reflection using fairminded critical thinking.


It is self-reflective and self-insightful police officers who behave according to principles of ethical critical thinking. Unfortunately, police forces have not typically embraced fairminded critical thinking as a common goal, nor have they offered the level of professional development in critical thinking that would be required to transform the way the police think about their work. Until they do, we will continue to see the tragedies we are seeing today, with police acting unjustly and egregiously (even killing vulnerable people) using their power. Similarly, because politicians typically do not embrace fairminded critical thinking, they fail to pass laws which would protect people against police brutality. When the police and politicians alike learn to identify and change their faulty assumptions, when they learn to analyze their often narrow viewpoints and the frequently distorted ideas that drive the way they behave, when they learn to look at all the relevant evidence in an impartial and fair way, then we will be on the road to "freedom and justice for all." But this will take a concerted effort and a commitment to cultivating fairminded critical societies, a reality that seems too far out of reach given current trends and a failure to take thinking seriously throughout all parts of life. Peaceful protesting can help, but we need something more systemic to change human societies for the long run, and that something is consistent, disciplined reasoning at high levels of quality . . .

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Wisdom of Seneca - Linda Elder

May 24, 2020

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4-65) apparently wrote extensively during his lifetime. But little remains of his writings. The best-known works that have made it to us through history are his 124 letters to Lucilius (circa 64), which are early essays on how to live according to Stoic principles. It is from these letters that the following excerpts are drawn. Seneca opens his second letter with a focus on the importance of reading and rereading the works of distinguished authors, in seeking wisdom. He says:


you should be extending 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 (p. 33)… so always read well – tried authors, and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to the ones you have read before . . .

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Indoctrination is a Historic Problem Based in Sociocentrism - Linda Elder

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. . .

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Smelling the Roses or 'Why Won’t Those People Wear Masks?' - Linda Elder

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. . . .

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Critical Writing. Part 3. - Gerald Nosich

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 . . .

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Are You Commanding Your Thoughts, or Falling Prey to Negative Thoughts Due to Our Stay Home Orders? - Linda Elder

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. . . .

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How Fallacies Pervade Politics, the News, and, Yes, Even Your Thinking - Linda Elder

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 . . .

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Implications - Gerald Nosich

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. . . .

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How Do We Deal With a Worldwide Pandemic? - Linda Elder

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 . . .

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Think Critically in the Moment...Wherever You May Be - Linda Elder

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). . . .

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FULL ENTRY: How Socrates Nailed Bad Faith and Dishonesty on the Part of Politicians - Linda Elder

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.

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So What is Critical Thinking? - Gerald Nosich

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. . . .

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Critical Writing, Part 2 - Gerald Nosich

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. . . .

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Persuasion - Linda Elder

Jan 11, 2020

In Jane Austen’s book Persuasion, the central theme is, well persuasion. After reading the book, answer these questions:

  • Why is persuasion an important concept in human life?
  • What role does persuasion play in human life?
  • More specifically, what role does it play in your life?
  • Are you easily persuaded?
  • Do you frequently persuade others?
  • In what directions and in what ways do you persuade yourself? What do your inner voices persuade you to do, good or bad?

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. . . .

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The Liberally Educated Mind - Linda Elder

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. . . .

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