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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.

As new blog entries appear, they will be announced here. While some entries will be posted in full, 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 Previous Years


Entries from 2024

[FULL ENTRY] Cultivating Your Mind by Commanding Your Egocentricity and Register Now for Our Conference! - Linda Elder

Apr 24, 2024

There are so many resources and opportunities in our community that it may be difficult to know where to begin or how to proceed with your learning. I hope you will take advantage of our ongoing webinars and that you join us for our upcoming conference which you can learn about here. Register now for the 44th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking, and take advantage of our Early Early bird discount of 10% off registration fees.  

In this blog, and others to follow, I will offer assignments from the community for you to work through, with the goal of helping you continually cultivate your own critical thinking abilities and dispositions. Remember that we learn critical thinking by actively incorporating it into our thinking routinely, systematically, and on a daily basis. Nothing short of active commitment to the cultivation of your own mind will lead you through the higher stages of critical thinking development and into the self-actualizing process.

People frequently miss the barriers to criticality, so this first set of assignments focuses on this irrational aspect of human reasoning. Specifically, you will be focused on the problem of egocentricity in human life and identifying it in your own thoughts and actions.

Here are your assignments, should you choose to take this journey:

1. View this dialogue on the problem of egocentricity.

2. Read the excerpts found here from The Thinker’s Guide to the Human Mind.

3. Complete these activities:

a. Analyze a Self-Centered Person You Know Well

b. Identify Your Irrational Purposes

4. Please share in our ConneCT section any of your thoughts on these activities.


[Part 5] Critical Thinking, Human Development, and Rational Productivity - Richard Paul Archives

What Is Irrational Production? [2 of 2]

As Adam Smith recognized, private vested interests naturally try to increase their wealth regardless of the public good. Hence, ironically, no private interest is in favor of more, but rather in favor of less competition in its own industry (unless an increase in competition would increase its own profits). When it is possible to take advantage of the public, private interests will almost inevitably do so. Thus, during OPEC’s oil embargo, U.S. oil companies raised their own prices at home as well as abroad even though internal consumption of Arab oil was no more than 10% of our market. The OPEC action, in other words, provided a convenient excuse to join in a monopolistic practice of a special interest cartel. The result was windfall profits extracted from the U.S. public under artificially created, non-competitive conditions. The public, on the other hand, was continually led to believe that “Arabs” were exclusively to blame, as though U.S. companies hadn’t taken advantage of the situation to advance their own interests, irrespective of the public good.

I am arguing that the nature and conditions of production and productivity are never things-in-themselves, forces independent of political and social decisions, but rather intimately bound to such decisions. These decisions may be rational (in the public interest) or irrational (against the public interest). Whether they are the one or the other, can only be determined by full and fair public argument. If a nation is to function as a democracy, then its citizens must be armed with the critical thinking skills which enable them to penetrate the propagandistic arguments which are creatively and adroitly developed by private interests to keep violations of the public good from public recognition. The history of the country is shot through with cases in which the public was deceived into supporting policies in which public interest was sacrificed to private greed. A tremendous price in lives and resources has been paid as a result of the public’s inability to think critically to a sufficient degree to protect itself from irrational modes of production. We are, in my opinion, very far from . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] View My Latest Interview and Hats Off to Leaders Bringing Critical Thinking to Poland - Linda Elder

Apr 08, 2024

Though explicit fairminded critical thinking is still rarely fostered in any country in a broad way, we applaud the good efforts of Maciej Winiarek and Katarzyna Winiarek who are working to bring initial understandings of critical thinking to their home country of Poland. Mr. Winiarek recently invited me to be interviewed for their podcast, which will be translated into Polish and is soon to be released through their youtube channel. In this interview, Mr. Winiarek brought us into the current history of critical thinking and some of the academic and intrinsic human barriers to critical thinking. He also asked me to illuminate additional core concepts in critical thinking.

You can view the full video interview in the Community Online here. If you lack an existing account, a 30-day free trial is available.

Some brief clips from the interview are being released on our YouTube channel.

We look forward to our continued work with Maciej and Katarzyna in helping them lay the groundwork for cultivating critical thinking throughout Poland. Let us know what you are doing to advance critical thinking in your country, school, college, university or organization.

 


[Part 4] Critical Thinking, Human Development, and Rational Productivity - Richard Paul Archives

Mar 25, 2024

What Is Irrational Production? [1 of 2]

It is a platitude, but an important platitude to keep in mind, that the productive resources of society should be marshaled to serve public need and public good, as against the vested interests of a relative few at the expense of the public good. Production is irrational to the extent that it fails to serve the public good, insofar as it is production wasteful of non-renewable resources, destructive of public health, or at the expense of basic human needs. One valuable rule of thumb is this: any economic practice is of questionable rationality if it can be maintained only by keeping the public in ignorance as to specific nature and modes of operation. The public cannot be understood to sanction that which it does not comprehend.

Production and productivity are to be viewed as collective as well as individual decisions in a functioning democracy. For these decisions to be made in a rational fashion, the public must have been educated to think critically, for when some narrow interest group seeks to maintain some form of irrational production (either as a whole or in part), it is inevitable that public relations and lobbying efforts will be launched which function, at least in part, to obfuscate public recognition of its own interests. For instance, it was in the narrow egocentric interest of asbestos manufacturers to minimize public disclosure of the health hazards of working and building with asbestos. The asbestos industry obscured the public interest to serve its own. As a result of the industry successfully protecting its vested interest, a mode of production was maintained for decades at great expense and loss in public health.

Since it is unrealistic to expect industries with narrow vested interests to abandon those interests for the public good, it becomes necessary that the public be armed with the . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] How Critical Thinking is Sabotaged by Philosophers, Other Academicians and Business Charlatans - Linda Elder

Mar 11, 2024

We have recently been reviewing, editing, and beginning to release some of our older archive video and audio, including this audio from the 8th International Conference on Critical Thinking and Educational Reform sponsored by the Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, our sister institution.

In this video, you can hear an early introduction by Gerald Nosich, along with some of Richard Paul’s 1988 comments on the state of critical thinking in education, as well as some lively personal anecdotes from his own higher education experiences.

Sadly, much of what Richard discusses in this keynote address in terms of problems in schooling are still prevalent today, 44 years after he established the Center for Critical Thinking. During the 1980’s, when these comments were made, Richard envisioned critical thinking being gradually but steadily incorporated and integrated across schooling at all levels. He imagined centers for critical thinking being established, first across the country and then internationally. This has not happened.

In some ways, the problem of the lack of critical thinking in K-12 schooling and higher education has worsened since before we had a rich conception of critical thinking from which to draw. This is true for several reasons. One primary reason is that the field of Informal Logic in philosophy early on grabbed the title Critical Thinking, so that critical thinking in academia continues to be dogged by argumentation and fallacy theory, both of which are secondary or peripheral, not primary, concepts in critical thinking (and both of which were prevalent before the concept of critical thinking was developed far beyond the narrow vision of philosophers).

Further, academicians from fields outside philosophy and outside critical thinking increasingly claim expertise in critical thinking when these academicians have little to no knowledge of explicit critical thinking concepts and principles, nor how to broadly foster critical thinking skills, abilities, and character traits in student thinking. These academicians treat the field of critical thinking as if they themselves are (without studying critical thinking) naturally versed in critical thinking. For instance, we now commonly see such course titles in higher education as Sociology and Critical Thinking, Psychology and Critical Thinking, Literature and Critical Thinking. This attitude and behavior toward critical thinking these same academicians would never countenance from others outside their fields laying claim to expertise within it.

Because critical thinking has not managed to establish itself as a field of study distinct from other academic fields, we increasingly hear that there is no established conception of critical thinking – when there is a shared conception based in first principles in critical thinking. And to make matters worse, because the term critical thinking appeals to the public as something naturally desirable (however vague their conceptions of it may be), we increasingly see charlatans hanging out their signs, digital or otherwise, in which they claim expertise in critical thinking. Business and academic leaders are led astray by the spurious or partial conceptions now parading as critical thinking.

For more on the history, concept and problems facing the advancement of critical thinking, read these articles from Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines:

https://community.criticalthinking.org/viewDocument.php?doc=../content/library_for_everyone/135/Elder_Paul__sContributionstotheFieldofCriticalThinkingStudies.pdf&page=1

https://community.criticalthinking.org/viewDocument.php?doc=../content/library_for_everyone/145/ReflectionsontheNatureofCriticalThinking_ItsHistory_Politics_andBarriers_andonItsStatusacrosstheCollege_UniversityCurriculumPartI.pdf&page=1

https://community.criticalthinking.org/viewDocument.php?doc=../content/library_for_everyone/146/ReflectionsontheNatureofCriticalThinking_ItsHistory_Politics_andBarriers_andonItsStatusacrosstheCollege_UniversityCurriculumPartII.pdf&page=1


[Part 3] Critical Thinking, Human Development, and Rational Productivity - Richard Paul Archives

Mar 05, 2024

What is the Nature of Human Productivity?

Production is, quite simply, the creation of some utility. The first question to ask, then, in probing the roots of productivity is, whose utility? Beyond production for sheer survival, utility must be judged from a human point of view; and all of the diversity and opposition that exists between conflicting points of view is reflected in judgments of the relative utility of diverse forms and modes of production and productivity.

Production and productivity can be looked at both quantitatively and qualitatively. Of greatest significance are the standards we use to assess production qualitatively. I suggest that the most pressing problem the world faces today is the problem of irrational production, of that production which wastefully expends human labor and precious resources for ends that would not be valued by rational persons nor be given priority in a rational society.

The modes and nature of production within any given society reflect the nature, development, and values of that society. Insofar as a society is democratic, the modes and nature of production will reflect democratic decision making regarding production. This reflects not only individual decisions that one might make as an autonomous “consumer” and vocational decision-maker but also collective decisions as a citizen who supports some given social and economic philosophy or other. For example, the decision to provide many hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] View our Latest Podcasts: Going Deeper - Egocentric and Sociocentric Thinking - Linda Elder

Feb 27, 2024

Dr. Nosich and I continue to discuss and explore the more complex theory and application of critical thinking through our podcast series, Critical Thinking: Going Deeper. I invite you to view our two latest podcasts focused on the twin barriers to critical thinking – Egocentric and sociocentric thinking:

1. The Human Mind: Going Deeper - Barriers to Critical Thinking, Part 1: Sociocentricity

2. The Human Mind: Going Deeper - Barriers to Critical Thinking, Part 1: Egocentricity

 


[Part 2] Critical Thinking, Human Development, and Rational Productivity - Richard Paul Archives

Feb 13, 2024

What is the Nature of Irrational Human Learning?

All learning has social and psychological as well as epistemological roots. Whatever we learn, we learn in some social setting and in the light of the inborn constitution of the human mind. There is a natural reciprocity between the nature of the human mind as we know it and society as we know it. The human mind – and we must understand it as it is, not as we may judge it ought to be – has a profound and natural tendency toward ethnocentrism. Both egocentrism and ethnocentrism are powerful impediments to rational learning and rational production. An irrational society tends to spawn irrational learning and inevitably generates irrational productivity. Both socially and individually, irrationality is the normal state of affairs in human life. It represents our primary nature, the side of us that needs no cultivation, that emerges willy-nilly in our earliest behaviors.

No one needs to teach young children to focus on their own interests and desires (to the relative exclusion of the rights, interests, and desires of others), to experience their desires as self-evidently “justified”, and to structure experience with their own egos at the center. They do this quite naturally and spontaneously. They and we are spontaneously motivated to . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Target Major Stressors in Your Life that Lead to Anxiety, Depression or Other Negative Emotional States - Linda Elder

Feb 02, 2024

If you want to see your life change for the better, and if you find yourself frequently depressed, anxious or experiencing other pervasive negative emotional states that result from stress, you will need to change the way you think and react to ordinary, everyday events in your life that you perceive as stressful. You may need to change something about how you are living to remove this stress, or you may need to change the way you are perceiving the situation. Realize that dealing with complexities is simply part of living a human life. To eliminate them is impossible. The question is, how can you deal with the issues you face and the people around you without becoming unnecessarily stressed, worried, anxious, drained, or fatigued?

Some people more easily deflect unpleasant experiences and realities than others. They handle these circumstances as “water off a duck’s back,” which means not upsetting themselves about circumstances and people over which they have no control. Others must struggle to achieve this perspective on life; many never do. But all of us are capable of moving towards it by retraining our minds. This requires intellectual autonomy, or in other words, the willingness to stand alone in your beliefs while adhering to the principles of ethical critical thinking. It means keeping things in perspective and commanding your reactions and responses. Of course, in dire circumstances, it may or will be impossible not to be affected by life’s dark side; even then, and in every context, we want to be as little stressed over external circumstances as possible. Through this perspective, you are better able to use your energy to solve the problems that you face, both personally and in terms of contributing to a more civilized society.

Would you say you frequently feel stressed and tense? If so, write out in detail why this is so:

1. I feel stressed _____% of the time.

2. The primary conditions in my life that lead to this stress are . . .

a.

b.

c.

d.

3. The specific things I am doing to cause me to feel stressed are . . .

a.

b.

c.

d.

4. I need to change the following things in my thinking and my life to reduce my stress level . . .

a.

b.

c.

d.

5. Based on this analysis, I plan to make the following changes right away . . .

a.

b.

c.

d.

Be keenly aware of what situations lead you to high levels of stress. To help target specific causes of stress in these situations, work through the following activity each time you feel excessive stress:

1. Today the following situation happened in which I felt stressed . . .

2. I reacted as follows . . .

3. I realize now I could instead have reacted in the following way . . .

4. If I had reacted in this more reasonable way, I would have been happier because . . .

Come up with a long-term plan to keep from becoming overly stressed. Do you need new amusements or outlets for your stress? If so, detail what these might be and then act upon them in positive ways.


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

 


[Part 1] Critical Thinking, Human Development, and Rational Productivity - Richard Paul Archives

Jan 16, 2024

Abstract

In this paper, originally presented at the Annual Rupert N. Evans Symposium at the University of Illinois in 1985, Paul argues that productivity, development, and thinking are deeply interrelated. Consequently, societies concerned with their development and productivity must concern themselves with the nature of their educational systems, especially with whether or not the mass of citizens learn to think critically. Paul distinguishes rational from irrational productivity and argues that critical thinking is essential to rational productivity in a democratic world.

Irrational production, in Paul’s view, is productivity which “fails to serve the public good, insofar as it is production wasteful of non-renewable resources, destructive of public health, or at the expense of basic human needs”. As both capitalism and democracy develop as world forces, it is important that we recognize the struggle “between the ideal of democracy and protection of the public good, on the one hand, and the predictable drive on the part of vested interests to multiply their wealth and power irrespective of the public need or good, on the other . . . To the extent that it is possible for concentrations of wealth to saturate the media with images and messages that manipulate the public against its own interest, the forms of democracy become mere window dressing, mere appearance with no substantial reality.”

Paul believes that the human world we have created has been created with a minimum of critical thought, a minimum of public rationality. He is convinced, however, that we can no longer afford mass irrationality. For Paul, the tensions between democracy, unbridled capitalism, and the public good must be increasingly resolved by a genuinely educated, rational, citizenry.

Introduction

When we look upon learning in itself or productivity in itself or any other dimension of human life in itself, we look upon it with a partial view, as an abstraction from the real world in which all things exist in relationship. We then fail to see how it derives from relationship its true qualities. We view our object uncritically and narrowly. We fail to achieve the comprehensiveness genuine and deep understanding presupposes. In this paper, I emphasize the intimate reciprocal relation between learning and productivity, arguing that what we learn about the nature and problems of learning sheds light on the nature and problems of . . .

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[FULL ENTRY] Don't Be Brainwashed by the News Media - Linda Elder

Jan 10, 2024

We are bombarded on every side by news. Some of it makes sense. Some of it is nonsense. To be a critical reviewer of news it is important to begin with some basic understandings.

First, every society and culture holds a unique worldview. This worldview shapes what people see and how they see it. It shapes perceptions and beliefs. In general terms, news media across the world reflect the worldview of their own cultures. This is true both because those who work in national news media share the same views as their readers and because they need to sell what people within the culture want to buy. They need to present the news in ways palatable and interesting to their audience (to increase their profits). In addition, there are cultures within cultures that create their own biased media within narrow, partial belief systems, and then feed on that media while validating one another in their biased beliefs.

Mainstream news coverage in any culture operates on the following (often unconscious) maxims:

• “This is how it appears to us from our point of view; therefore, this is the way it is.”

• “These are the facts that support our way of looking at this; therefore, these are the most important facts.”

• “These countries are friendly to us; therefore, these countries deserve praise.”

• “These countries are unfriendly to us; therefore, these countries deserve criticism.”

• “These are the stories most interesting or sensational to our readers; therefore, these are the most important stories in the news.”

Add to the general problem of national news bias the problem of advocacy journalism that advances narrow ideological interests on different points of the political spectrum, and you should perceive the negative implications of media bias, not only nationally, but politically as well.

The truth of what is happening in the world is far more complicated than what appears true to people in any culture - or within any culture within the culture. If you do not recognize bias in the news you expose yourself to; if you cannot detect ideology, slant, and spin; if you cannot recognize propaganda with news, you cannot reasonably determine what media messages must be supplemented, counterbalanced, or thrown out entirely. These insights are crucial to becoming a critical consumer of the news media and developing skills of media analysis.

Be on the lookout for…

…products of the news media throughout the day. Study the news carefully, noting how “friends” of one’s country are presented positively, whereas its “enemies” are presented negatively. Notice the not-so-important articles at the top of the page versus the important articles buried down lower. Notice significant world problems that are ignored or played down while the sensational is highlighted. Imagine how you would rewrite news stories to broaden their perspectives or to present issues more fairly. Make critical reading of the news a habit, not a rare event. Notice how news programs oversimplify the complex. Note how they target whatever they can sensationalize, and how they tend to dwell on stories that will be considered sensational by their viewers (rather than focusing on what is significant or deep). Note how they create and feed social hysteria (often around sexuality and what is considered criminal behavior). Note how news articles frequently feed into such trivialities as the superficial ways in which people like to adorn themselves and alter their appearance in order to be validated by others. Note the degree to which your chosen news outlets distort and mislead news consumers by feeding into their irrational fears and hysterias. Notice the important news that is not being covered or is only slightly mentioned.

Strategies for seeing through the news media:

Study alternative perspectives and worldviews, learning how to interpret events from multiple perspectives.

Seek understanding and insight through multiple sources of thought and information, not simply those of the mass media or of your chosen news outlets.

Do not get your news from social media.

Avoid political advocacy journalism news outlets.

Learn how to identify the viewpoints embedded in news stories.

Mentally rewrite (reconstruct) news stories through awareness of how they would be told from multiple perspectives.

See news stories as one way of representing reality (as some blend of fact and interpretation).

Assess news stories for their clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and significance.

Notice contradictions and inconsistencies in the news (often in the same story).

Notice the fallacies that people in the news engage in, such as politicians (like falsely accusing other people of doing what they themselves are doing).

Notice the agenda and interests a story serves.

Notice the facts covered, the facts ignored, and the fact distorted.

Notice what is represented as fact that should be presented as debatable.

Notice assumptions implicit in stories.

Notice what is implied but not openly stated.

Notice what implications are ignored and what are highlighted.

Notice which points of view are systematically presented favorably and which unfavorably.

• Mentally correct stories that reflect bias toward the unusual, the dramatic, and the sensational by putting them into perspective or discounting them.

Notice when social conventions and taboos are used, inappropriately, to define issues and problems as unethical.

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This blog piece slightly modified from 30 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living by Linda Elder and Richard Paul, 2013, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, pp. 127-129.