Blog Post: Critical Action and the Intellectual Virtues

Gerald Nosich
Sep 01, 2019 • 3y ago
Critical Action and the Intellectual Virtues

{"ops":[{"insert":"I recently heard a talk on critical thinking in which the speaker talked about the importance of "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"critical action"},{"insert":".  By that term the speaker meant political, social, or economic action based on critical thinking and a strong belief in the value of freedom from repression.  Critical action recognizes the central importance of bringing critical thinking into the wider world.  That is an ideal in which I myself believe deeply.\n \nThe example the speaker held up of critical action was the man in the famous photograph from Tiananmen Square, the man who stood there opposing the tanks as they rolled forward.  The man stood there, the speaker said, in defense of democracy, in opposition to repression, an exemplar of critical thinking in action. \n \nThat man is someone I identify with strongly.  In fact, there is a sense in which he has been a hero to me.  I often wonder if I would be as willing to stand up for my deeply held beliefs as courageously as he did.\n \nThere are two questions I want to ask you to consider. The first is about "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"critical action"},{"insert":"and its relation to the intellectual virtues. (Read about the intellectual virtues in our Academy section on the “Virtuous Virtues” or in the "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Concepts and Tools Thinker’s Guide"},{"insert":"in our library) The second question is about "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"critical thinking"},{"insert":".\n \nFirst, in your best judgment, what are some important examples of critical action?  Describe them in sufficient detail so the reader can see why you judge them to be examples of critical thinking in action.  In what way were the individuals involved in those actions displaying the intellectual virtues?\n \nThe second is about critical thinking itself and about the example of the man in Tiananmen Square.  As I said, I deeply admire his courage.  But, as I consider him more deeply, I don’t believe that he should be held up as an example of critical action, that is, of putting one’s "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"critical thinking"},{"insert":"into action.\n \nWe actually know nothing at all about the man.  We don’t know even who he was, much less what he stood for.  We don’t know that he favored democracy.  It is clear to me that he showed incredible courage, but what is not so clear to me is whether he showed the virtue of "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"intellectual"},{"insert":"courage—courage based on well-reasoned thinking and sound conclusions. There are many examples in history of people or groups who, with great "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"physical"},{"insert":"courage, stood up to repression, but did so in order to bring in a different system of repression. I think of the Bolsheviks who opposed the repression of Tsarist Russia only to bring in massive repression by Lenin and Stalin.\n \nI compare the man in Tiananmen Square to Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi.  In the latter two cases, we "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"know"},{"insert":"much about why they did what they did, we know about their thinking, about their reasoning, about their conclusions, about what they stood for. \n \nSo the second question is: What are some examples of when people (you or others) hold up some person or group as exemplifying critical thinking in action not because of how well that person or group thought things through, but because we read our own thinking into them, we attribute our own ideals to them?\n"}]}


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