Blog Post: Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I (Part 3 of 8)

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Aug 20, 2021 • 28d ago
Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I (Part 3 of 8)

{"ops":[{"insert":"This article was published in the Fall 2011 issue of "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Sonoma State University’s Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines"},{"insert":" (vol. 26, no. 3) and was titled, “Reflections on the Nature of Critical Thinking, Its History, Politics, and Barriers, and on Its Status across the College/University Curriculum Part I.” (Part II was published in the Spring 2012 issue.)\n \nThe piece was divided into eight sections:\n\n·        Abstract\n·        Introduction\n·        I. My Intellectual Journey\n·        II. Barriers to the Cultivation of Critical Thinking\n·        III. Forms and Manifestations of Critical Thinking, Mapping the Field\n·        IV. The Establishment of the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking\n·        V. Academic Departments, Faculty and Administrators Generally Fail to Foster Critical Thinking\n·        VI Conclusion\n\nThe third of these appears below.\n\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"I. My Intellectual Journey"},{"insert":"\n \nMy journey with critical thinking started some fifty"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" or so years ago when I first began to question my own education or, more accurately, the lack thereof. But it started to crystallize a few years later in graduate school (University of California, Santa Barbara [1962], St. Louis University [1963], UCLA [1964], and the University of Cambridge [1965-66].)"},{"insert":"\n \nAt this time I was reading in such thinkers as Wittgenstein, Ryle, Berlin, J.L. Austin, and John Wisdom."},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" These readings pushed me in the direction of the critique of contemporary analysis of the logic of language, the logic of concepts, and the logic of questions. I began to ask questions like:"},{"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":"What does it take to develop the mind, deeply and truly? Are there inherent flaws and traps in human thought and if so how can we address them? What role does thought play in human life and how can we intervene and correct it when it is going wrong? How can we most effectively assess the role of thought in everyday life? What criteria do we habitually use to assess thinking, and which should we use? How can humans develop intellectual virtues (such as intellectual humility, intellectual empathy, intellectual integrity, intellectual autonomy, intellectual perseverance and fair-mindedness)? How can we overcome those who use critical thinking skills sophistically to serve vested interests at the expense of justice and the public interest?"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nMy year of study under John Wisdom at Cambridge"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" (1965), followed by two years of correspondence with him (principally on the logic of questions) played a significant role in my development. I became convinced that there were, and are, fatal flaws in the present theory of logic focused, as it is, on validity and formal deductive inference. As it is, logic, both formal and informal are inadequate as instrumentalities appropriate to the analysis and assessment of reasoning (and other forms of human thought). The “substance” of reasoning is not focused upon in either. I argued that if we want to use logic to analyze and assess human thinking, our logic should be question-centered. I wrote a monograph entitled The Logic of Questions (1968), followed by a dissertation on Logic as Theory of Validation (a critique of classical and formal logic as a tool for assessing human reasoning) (1969). (Available from the library of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Foundation for Critical Thinking web site at"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nThroughout the subsequent years to date, it became"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" increasingly clear to me that critical thinking has an affective, and an ethical, side, without which much skilled thinking simply serves narrow vested interests and, more often than not, is used to suppress intellectual freedom. For example, much human intelligence is routinely used in everyday life to rationalize unjustifiable force, to justify coercion, intimidation and oppression. A crucial question becomes, “How can we design education so that the routine misuse of intelligence is routinely exposed?” “How can we make self, and social critique a routine part of our thinking?” “How can we construct personal narratives that highlight the history of our lives as thinkers struggling to"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":"make sense of our world?” I have tried to keep challenging problems such as these central to my reflection and my life."},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":"In the 1970’s I wrote extensive notes on the potential contribution to self and social critique of such important thinkers such as: Marx, Freud, Wittgenstein, Piaget, Max Weber, John Henry Newman, Bertrand Russell, Erich Fromm, Thoreau, William Graham Sumner, C. Wright Mills, Erving Goffman, Gilbert Ryle, J. L. Austin, Machiavelli, Edmund Burke, E. H. Carr, Stephen Toulmin, William Appleman Williams, Thorstein Veblen, Sartre, and many others. I became convinced that many of the great thinkers — such as these — deeply internalized many of the concepts and principles inherent in critical thinking theory. Of course great thinkers are typically "},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021","bold":true},"insert":"great critical thinkers "},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":"as well. However, they are not necessarily great critical thinking "},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021","bold":true},"insert":"theorists"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":". Much research would be needed to spell out the implications of this important point."},{"insert":"\n \n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":"My work has been based neither on the development of theory for theory’s sake, nor on the pursuit of metaphysical puzzles (with the fruitless argumentation they predictably engender). Nor have I been interested in the maintenance, or forwarding, of existing theories of critical thinking. Rather I am interested in intellectual constructs adequate to real world problems, and thus adequate to the development of processes by which humans can progressively create critical communities and societies. For these reasons, the abstract theory of critical thinking is of importance to me only insofar as it is integrated into a theory of application, and the theory of application is important only insofar as it is integrated into a theory of human emancipation. Such large-scale constructions require the work of thinkers from an array of disciplines working in loose collaboration over generations of self-critical intellectual work. Much research is needed on these constructs over an extended period of time."},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":"My focused involvement in the critical thinking movement began explicitly in the later 1970’s and the 1980’s. Beginning in the 1970’s, as I read and reflected, I gradually came to form the view that many people live egocentric and sociocentric lives grounded in self-validating illusions, and, as a result, systematically confuse their own selfish uncritical thinking with fair-minded critical thought. Whatever critical thinking most people engage in is rarely self-disclosing at a deep level. Most humans are in need of critical thinking not only to protect themselves from those who will otherwise exploit them, but also to protect others from them, since the exploited often exploit and abuse others. This is exemplified in the fact that powerful nations (typically governed by skilled selfish thinkers) exploit weak nations; rich nations take advantage of poor ones. So common is this pattern of self-aggrandizement and sociocentrism that many consider it to be inevitable (see "},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021","italic":true},"insert":"The Prince "},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":"by Machiavelli and other writers in the Machiavellian tradition and beyond). These are themes I find in explicit form in my personal notes (from the 1970’s to this day)."},{"insert":"\n \nMost importantly, my focus on uncritical and sophistically critical human thought has convinced me of the need"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" for self-critique, as well as social, political, and economic critique on the level of politics, culture, and economics. I became convinced of the need to explore and construct practical ways of thinking in everyday life that advance emancipatory critical thinking as a slowly emerging worldwide need. (This work I began seriously, and in a highly focused manner in 1980’s through to the present)."},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" "},{"insert":"\nIt seems to me that accelerating change, intensifying"},{"attributes":{"color":"#242021"},"insert":" complexity, and increasing danger are now everyday realities. The only way humans can create a just world is to educate just thinkers to live and act in that world. We need to strive for this higher end in every subject we teach (in other words, we need Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines). We need to foster it across nations and cultures, and in all dimensions of life. We must document, with appropriate research, the many obstacles to its development."},{"insert":"\n"}]}

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