Blog Post: Addressing Complex Questions

Linda Elder
Apr 17, 2023 • 1y ago
Addressing Complex Questions

{"ops":[{"insert":"In my last blog I emphasized the importance of being able to appropriately reason through complex questions. I focused on our recent webinar on the complex questions facing us as we attempt to effectively deal with problems of ecological sustainability and renewal of the earth’s resources.\n\nWhen addressing complex conceptual questions, we cannot look to simple definitions or facts to determine answers, and we must consider all relevant sides to the issue in good faith. Standard definitions do not settle the question, but rather open the argument. Divergent points of view can be brought to bear on the definitions stretching them this way or that. Well-reasoned arguments can be devised from different standpoints. Consequently, there are better and worse answers to complex conceptual questions, but, at the present time, no “correct” or definitive answer.\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Consider these examples:"},{"insert":"\n1. To what extent is psychology scientific? To what extent is it not?\n2. Is democracy compatible with communism? Are there different forms of democracy? Of communism? Is democracy compatible with capitalism? What does each concept presuppose and imply? What must we consider in attempting to answer these questions?\n3. What is a true friend? Can you be a true friend to someone you dislike?\n4. What is the difference between love, friendship, and mere emotional attachment?\n5. Who is most responsible for the failure of the peace process in the Middle East?\n6. What countries in the world should be considered rogue states?\n7. Which of our laws are just and which unjust? And how does one decide?\n\nTo answer complex conceptual questions, we need first to analyze the ways educated persons use the concepts that guide the settling of the questions. We need to figure out the most basic meanings of the terms crucial to the questions.\n\n\nConsider the question: Is it possible to attain peace in the Middle East? In addressing this question, we need to know how widely or how narrowly we are using the term “Middle East.” This should be a straight-forward stipulation (“By the Middle East I have in mind…”).\n\nOnce this is done, we can move to the more difficult analysis of the concept of “peace” intended in the question. What degree or forms of “peace” does one intend? What forms of “peace” can one imagine? What are some model cases of “peace”? By “peace”, do we mean all people living in friendship, mutual respect, and mutual security? What other concepts are intimately connected with “peace”? Suppose one country, being militarily superior, in effect fully conquers its “enemies” imposing “peaceful” conditions on them (where overt resistance is absent and imposed laws are not violated by the conquered people). Would such a state be a state of “peace”? Is “peace” consistent with mutual hatred? Or suppose an agreement is reached in which those who sign for one of the groups agree to conditions that most of its members reject? Or suppose one of the groups is forced by vastly inferior military power to accept conditions that are unjust (for example, giving up much of their land and potential development) merely to gain some level of freedom and self-government?\n\nWould we consider any of these as achieving “peace?” To figure out what we mean by “peace” we need to consider, in addition to a rich set of cases, the context from which (and the history in which) this question emerges. We need to consider, for example, the current structure of power in the Middle East and the agendas of all the participant nations, what outcomes are possible and which of those, if any, warrant the term “peace?”\n\nThere are no easy answers to complex conceptual questions, but analyzing them helps us understand the nature and limits of our ideas. We are, for example, a long way from understanding the concept of world peace because its meaning is obfuscated by the machinations of power on the one hand, and human irrationality on the other. For the powerful, peace probably comes down to conditions under which their dominance is quietly accepted. Peace then means their group getting what they want, rightly or wrongly.\n\nThere appears to be two conflicting logics at work: the logic of peace (ideally speaking) and the logic of peace (in a world of vastly unequal military and economic power).\n\nWhen addressing a complex question, which entails more than one domain of thought, unpack the primary question by formulating prior questions according to domain. Does the question, for example, include an economic dimension? Does it include a biological, social, cultural, political, ethical, psychological, religious, historical, or some other dimension? For each dimension of thinking inherent in the question, formulate questions that force you to consider complexities you otherwise may miss. Make sure you include all essential questions on your lists of questions within each domain.\n\nWhen focusing on domains within questions, consider such questions as:\n\nWhat are the essential domains of thinking inherent in this complex question?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"In other words, are we considering (in good faith) all the relevant, significant domains within the question?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What important domains might we be leaving out?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nBefore articulating domains within the original question, and then the questions within each essential domain, make sure your original question is appropriately detailed for the context and exact situation.\n\nThe following example focuses on the problem of the destruction of the earth’s resources primarily through human activity, and we begin by asking this vague question: "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"How do we save the earth?"},{"insert":" Then we bring greater precision to that question until we have clear direction (through the precise question) for our thinking. This enables us to clearly see and then effectively address the complexities in the problem.\n\nNote that many more questions would need to be added to the domains in the example below- and other domains would be added. This is only a starting point for thinking about sustainability and about how to approach complex questions more generally.\n\nOut of concern for the health of the earth, we might begin with a vague question like:\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"What can we do to save the earth?"},{"attributes":{"align":"center"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\nWe can detail this vague question, making it more "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"precise"},{"insert":" as follows:\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"How can we best address the enormous challenge of sustaining and enhancing the earth, its resources, and its atmosphere in order to prevent mass extinction, and so the earth can be restored to the highest levels of health for all its creatures and living entities?  "},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"align":"center"},"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"#3366ff"},"insert":"The following are "},{"attributes":{"underline":true,"color":"#3366ff","bold":true},"insert":"some "},{"attributes":{"color":"#3366ff"},"insert":"domains of the questions inherent within this question, and "},{"attributes":{"underline":true,"color":"#3366ff","bold":true},"insert":"some "},{"attributes":{"color":"#3366ff"},"insert":"sample questions within each domain. Note that these domains do not exist in isolation, but instead overlap with each other, sometimes extensively."},{"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Scientific/Ecological"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat scientific information is relevant to effectively answering the question at issue? (This will entail a very broad list of questions)"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are some of the "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"documented"},{"insert":" human activities currently affecting other species and their abilities to live and thrive within their specific ecosystems? What species' populations have disappeared or are endangered; what species have so overpopulated that they create harmful ecological imbalances (e.g., humans)?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are some "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"documented"},{"insert":" human activities that are most negatively affecting the health of humans and other sentient creatures?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are the "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"documented"},{"insert":" human activities most negatively affecting the earth’s atmosphere?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are the "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"documented"},{"insert":" human activities most negatively affecting the earth’s waterways and oceans?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are the "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"documented"},{"insert":" human activities most negatively affecting the earth’s air quality?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are the "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"documented"},{"insert":" human activities most negatively affecting the earth’s core and surface?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are some "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"proven"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"viable"},{"insert":" solutions humans can use now to limit and reverse the degradation of the earth, and to restore healthy ecological balances across the planet?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are some "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"proven"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"viable"},{"insert":" solutions humans can use now to restore native habitats and rewild the earth’s surface everywhere possible?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are some "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"proven"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"viable"},{"insert":" solutions humans can use now to restore water habitats and rewild the earth’s waterways and oceans everywhere possible?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are some "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"proven"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"viable"},{"insert":" solutions humans can use now to improve air quality and atmospheric quality?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What are the most "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"effective"},{"insert":" regenerative farming practices?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Given current research, what appear to be the most promising scientific developments for ecological health as we move into the future?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Chemical"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat chemicals are responsible for ongoing damage to the environment, and in what ways?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What benefits do these chemicals have? To what extent does corporate messaging exaggerate these benefits? To what extent do other types of messaging over-represent these benefits? To what degree do the environmental implications outweigh any benefits these chemicals may have?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How can potentially harmful chemicals be produced, stored, transported, used, and disposed of more safely and efficiently, such that they will do less environmental damage while still providing needed benefits?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What chemicals cannot feasibly be produced and used such that their benefits outweigh their environmental harms? What such chemicals have been identified in the past, and how can these past cases inform our current assessments?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Ethical"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat ethical principles should guide the way we think about the question at issue?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What ethical principles have been violated through human treatment of the planet earth?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"In terms of the health of the earth, what are our ethical obligations to each other, to other species, and to future life on earth?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How can w"},{"attributes":{"color":"black","link":"#_ftn1"},"insert":"[1]"},{"insert":"e better meet our ethical obligations in the context of ecological sustainability?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Economic"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat economic benefits have been and are achieved through ecological destruction? Are these benefits justifiable, given the ecological destruction they cause?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What economic forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What long-term economic harm has been caused by ecological destruction?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"To what degree has economic productivity been negatively impacted due to harming the environment? (For example, by introducing more neurotoxins to our drinking water, air, and food, people become sick and are then unable to work.)"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"In what ways can we provide for the material needs of humans while limiting and reversing damage to the environment and our bodies? In what ways do vested economic interests make these changes difficult to implement, and how can the influence of these interests be diminished?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What appear to be the most promising economic practices for improving ecological health across the planet?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Political"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat political forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world? What roles does power play in answering the question at issue?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"To what extent, and in what "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"significant"},{"insert":" ways, does politics influence the way people perceive the health of the planet and their relationships with the earth's ecosystems?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What and whose interests do each of these relationships and influences serve?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What and whose interests do each of these relationships and influences harm?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How can politics be used as a tool to facilitate greater sustainability? What educational, legal, and other changes would this require?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Psychological:"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat psychological forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What role does selfishness play in ecological destruction?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How does human intellectual arrogance stand in the way of facing and addressing the problem of ecological destruction?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Sociological:"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat sociological forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What role does groupishness (group selfishness) play in ecological destruction?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How does group conformity stand in the way of facing and addressing the problem of ecological destruction?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Historical:"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat historical forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How have humans tended to view the earth’s resources historically?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What can we learn from the way humans have treated the earth in the past to develop best practices for the earth in the future?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Religious:"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat religious forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"What can religious institutions better do to contribute to the health of the earth?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Educational:"},{"insert":"\n\nWhat educational forces stand in the way of developing and establishing reasonable ecological practices across the world?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How do schools typically treat the issue of sustainability?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"To what degree is the health of the earth considered an important issue within schools, colleges, and universities anywhere in the world?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"How and where are people learning about the problems embedded in achieving ecological health across the planet?"},{"attributes":{"list":"bullet"},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"--\nPart of this blog was modified from "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"The Art of Asking Essential Questions"},{"insert":", by Linda Elder and Richard Paul. See excerpts (pp. 11-18) at this link: "},{"attributes":{"color":"blue","link":"https://community.criticalthinking.org/viewDocument.php?doc=../content/library_for_everyone/52/Thinker__sGuidetotheArtofAskingEssentialQuestions.pdf&page=1"},"insert":"https://community.criticalthinking.org/viewDocument.php?doc=../content/library_for_everyone/52/Thinker__sGuidetotheArtofAskingEssentialQuestions.pdf&page=1"},{"insert":"\n\nA full copy of this guide can be obtained here: "},{"attributes":{"color":"blue","link":"https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538133804/The-Art-of-Asking-Essential-Questions-Based-on-Critical-Thinking-Concepts-and-Socratic-Principles-Fifth-Edition"},"insert":"https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538133804/The-Art-of-Asking-Essential-Questions-Based-on-Critical-Thinking-Concepts-and-Socratic-Principles-Fifth-Edition"},{"insert":"\n\nFor a link to the sustainability questions detailed above, see:\n"},{"attributes":{"color":"blue","link":"https://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/complex-interdisciplinary-questions-exemplified/1578"},"insert":"https://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/complex-interdisciplinary-questions-exemplified/1578"},{"insert":"\n\n\n"}]}


494 Views     0 Comments


Submit a comment


Comments

Be the first to comment!