Blog Post: Theme of the 12th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking (Part 4 of 5)

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Nov 23, 2021 • 7d ago
Theme of the 12th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking (Part 4 of 5)

{"ops":[{"insert":"The following article appeared in the program for the 12"},{"attributes":{"script":"super"},"insert":"th"},{"insert":" Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking (1992) and discussed the theme of the event. It contained five sections:\n\n1. Introduction"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"2. Three Essential Insights"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"3. Knowledge Is Embedded in Thinking"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"4. The Ability to Reason: A Defining Feature of Humans"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"5. Teaching and Assessing the Dimensions of Critical Thinking"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nThe fourth of these appears below.\n\n \nOur capacity to reason is at the heart of all disciplined thinking. It explains how we alone of all the creatures of the earth have been able to develop full-fledged academic disciplines: biology, physics, botany, zoology, chemistry, geography, history, psychology, sociology, etc. We can go beyond immediate, instinctive reactions to reflective, reasoned responses precisely because we are able to develop small-scale and large-scale systems in which to intellectually operate and act. These systems enable us to mentally manipulate our possible responses to situations – to formulate them explicitly, to hold them at intellectual arm's length, to analyze and critique them, and to decide what their implications are for us. Let me explain."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"We understand the various particulars of everyday life by constructing abstract models or systems that abridge and summarize their features. In simplest form, we call these models or systems ideas. For example, our abstract concept of a bird is a model or system for thinking about actual birds in order to make sense of their behavior – in contrast to the behavior, say, of cats, dogs, turtles, beetles, and people. As we construct these abstract systems or models, we are enabled to use the reasoning power of our minds to go beyond a bare unconceptualized noticing of things to the making of inward interpretations of them, and hence derivations from them. In short, our concepts provide our minds with systems in which to experience and think; our minds operate (reason) within them to invest the world we experience with meanings rich in implications and consequences. Much of this is done, of course, quite automatically and subconsciously. I can reason to any number of conclusions as the result of my having one simple model for a thing. For example, if I recognize a creature to be a dog, I can quickly infer it will:"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"1) bark rather than meow or chirp"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"2) wag its tail when pleased"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"3) growl when irritated"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"4) be unable to fly"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"5) have no feathers"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"6) be unable to live under water"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"7) be carnivorous"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"8) need oxygen"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"9) have teeth"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"10) have paws rather than feet, etc."},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"This word ('dog') is part of a much larger logical map upon which our minds can move in virtue of our capacity to reason. As we act bodily in the world, we act intellectually in our minds. These intellectual moves guide our actions in the world. Without these maps and the capacity to locate particulars on them, we would either thrash about aimlessly or be paralyzed by the bewildering mystery of things and events before us. In every situation in our lives we \"construct\" a response that results from how we are modeling the situation in our minds. Hence, put us in any situation and we start to give it meaning, to figure it out with the logical structures we have at our disposal. So quickly and automatically do we make inferences – as the result of the way we are modeling the situation in our minds – that we do not typically notice those inferences."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"For example, we see dark clouds and infer rain. We hear the door slam and infer someone has arrived. We see a frowning face and infer the person is angry. Our friend is late and we infer she is being inconsiderate. We meet a tall boy and infer he is good at basketball, an Asian and infer he will be good at math. We read a book, and infer what the various sentences and paragraphs, indeed what the whole book, is saying. We listen to what people say, and make a continual series of inferences as to what they mean. As we write we make inferences as to what others will make of what we are writing. We make inferences as to the clarity of what we are saying, as to what needs further explanation, as to what needs exemplification or illustration. We could not do this without \"logical structures\" by means of which to draw our inferences."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"Many of our inferences are justified and reasonable. But, of course, many are not. One of the most important critical thinking skills is the skill of noticing and reconstructing the inferences we make, so that the various ways in which we inferentially shape our experiences become more and more apparent to us. This skill, this sensitivity or ability, enables us to separate our experiences into analyzed parts. We learn to distinguish the raw data of our experience from our interpretations of those data (in other words, from the inferences we are making about them). Eventually we realize that the inferences we make are heavily influenced by our point of view and the assumptions we have made. This puts us in the position of being able to broaden the scope of our outlook, to see situations from more than one point of view, to become more open-minded. This requires that we recognize our point of view as a \"logical system\" that guides our inferences, a system that we can exchange for another (an alternative point of view), depending on our assumptions."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"Often, then, different people make different inferences because they bring to situations a different point of view. They see the data differently. Or, to put it another way, they have different assumptions about what they see. For example, if two people see a man lying in a gutter, one might infer, \"There's a drunken bum.\" The other might infer, \"There's a man in need of help.\" These inferences are based on different assumptions about the conditions under which people end up in gutters and these assumptions are connected to the point of view about people that each has formed. The first person assumes: \"Only drunks are to be found in gutters.\" The second person assumes: \"People lying in the gutter are in need of help.\" The first person may have developed the point of view that people are fundamentally responsible for what happens to them and ought to be able to take care of themselves. The second may have developed the point of view that the problems people have are often caused by forces and events beyond their control. The two are modeling the situation differently. They are using a different system for experiencing it."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"In any case, if we want our students to become good reasoners, we must become concerned to help them begin to notice the inferences they are making, the assumptions they are basing those inferences on, and the point of view about the world they are taking – hence the systems in which they are thinking. To help our students do this, we need to give them clear examples of simple cases, and lots and lots of practice analyzing and reconstructing them. For example, we could display the above inferences in the following way:"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Person One:"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" Situation: \"A man is lying in the gutter.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" Assumption: \"Only bums lie in gutters.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" Inference: ''That man's a bum.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"Person Two:"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" Situation: \"A man is lying in the gutter.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" Assumption: \"Anyone lying in the gutter is in need of help.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" Inference: \"That man is in need of help.\""},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Our goal of sensitizing students to the inferences they make and to the assumptions that underlie their thinking enables them to begin to gain command over their thinking (the way they are using logical structures to model the world). Of course, it may seem odd to put any effort into making explicit such obvious examples. In the harder instances, however, the value of the explication becomes more evident. In any case, because all human thinking is inferential in nature, and all inferences are embedded in a system, we cannot gain command of our thinking unless we can recognize, one way or another, the inferences embedded in it and the assumptions that underlie it."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"Consider the way in which we plan and think our way through everyday events. We think of ourselves as washing up, eating our breakfast, getting ready for work, arriving on time, sitting down at our desks, making plans for lunch, paying bills, engaging in small talk, etc. Another way, to put this is to say that we are continually interpreting our actions, giving them meanings – making inferences within a system we have created – about what is going on in our lives."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n\n"},{"insert":"And this is to say that we must choose among a variety of possible systems for thinking about things. Again, consider some simple cases. As I am sitting in my easy chair, am I \"relaxing\" or \"wasting time\"? Am I being \"determined\" or \"stubborn\", or worse, \"pig-headed\"? Did I \"join\" the conversation or \"butt in\"? Is Jack \"laughing with me\" or \"laughing at me\"? Am I \"helping him\" or \"being taken advantage of\"? Every time I interpret my actions within one of these systems that each word in the language represents, every time I give them a meaning, I make one or more inferences on the basis of one or more assumptions within some point of view."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Imagine a ballet dancer improving her ballet without knowing that she is a dancer or how and when she is dancing. Imagine a chess player who does not know she is playing chess. Or a tennis player who does not know she is playing tennis. We can hardly imagine people developing these physical and intellectual abilities without high consciousness of how and what they are doing in the doing of it. Yet we expect students to develop the ability to reason well without any mindfulness of the nature of reasoning, the elements of reasoning, or the criteria for assessing reasoning. We expect students to become good reasoners, in other words, without any knowledge of the logic of reasoning. Not surprisingly, our approach doesn't work. Most students are very poor reasoners."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"}]}


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