Blog Post: [Part 4] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

Richard Paul Archives
May 17, 2023 • 1y ago
[Part 4] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

{"ops":[{"insert":" \n[Missed Part 3? "},{"attributes":{"bold":true,"color":"blue","link":""},"insert":"Read It Here"},{"insert":"]\n \nMichael Scriven represents (strong sense) critical thinking skills as not only requiring “a whole shift of values for most of us” but also as essential for survival in a world in which “the wrong decision can mean injury or long-term commitment to a disastrous form of life such as addiction or criminality or resented parenthood.” For students to “transfer” their critical thinking skills to such situations, they need to practice fairminded thought on controversial (multilogical) issues:\n \nThe real case, in dealing with controversial issues is the case as put by real people who believe in what they are saying. But the schools – and to a varying but often equal extent the colleges – are not willing to let there be that kind of serious discussion of the argument on both sides of controversial issues. Of course, they don’t mind having the bad guys’ position represented by someone who doesn’t agree with it, in the course of dismissing it. But only the completely naïve would suppose that such a presentation is likely to make the best case for the position. The notions of a fair hearing, or of confronting your accuser which are so deeply entrenched in our system of justice obviously transfer immediately to the intellectual sphere. If you want to hear the arguments for a political position other than those of the majority parties, for example the political position that the largest countries on earth espouse, you cannot possibly assume that it will be fully and fairly represented by someone to whom it is anathema.”"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nUnfortunately, many teachers will naturally fear highlighting controversial issues in the classroom. It is fair to say, I believe, few teachers have had much experience working with such issues. Many know only processes for laying out and testing for “right” answers, not assessing contradictory arguments in terms of their relative strength in dialogical or dialectical settings. There are, in other words, both affective and cognitive obstacles to the genuine fostering of fairmindedness. Some of the affective obstacles are in educators themselves.\n \nR.S. Peters has developed the significance of the affective side of reason and critical thought in his defense of the necessity of “rational passions”:\n \nThere is, for instance, the hatred of contradictions and inconsistencies together with the love of clarity and hatred of confusion without which words could not be held to relatively constant meanings and testable rules and generalizations stated. A reasonable man cannot, without some special explanation, slap his sides with delight or express indifference if he is told that what he says is confused, incoherent and perhaps riddled with contradictions."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nReason is the antithesis of arbitrariness. In its operation it is supported by the appropriate passions which are mainly negative in character – the hatred of irrelevance, special pleading and arbitrary fiat. The more developed emotion of indignation is aroused when some excess of arbitrariness is perpetuated in a situation where people’s interests and claims are at stake. The positive side of this is the passion for fairness and impartial consideration of claims."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"A man who is prepared to reason must feel strongly that he must follow the arguments and decide things in terms of where they lead. He must have a sense of the givenness of the impersonality of such considerations. In so far as thoughts about persons enter his head they should be tinged with the respect which is due to another who, like himself, may have a point of view which is worth considering, who may have a glimmering of the truth which has so far eluded himself. A person who proceeds in this way, who is influenced by such passions, is what we call a reasonable man."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nWhat implications does this have for students and teachers? It entails that the affective life of the student must be brought into the heart of classroom instruction and dealt with in the context of the problems of thinking fairmindedly. Students must come to terms not only with how they feel about issues both inside and outside the curriculum, but also with the rationality or irrationality of those feelings. The teacher, on the other hand, must model rational passions and set the example of showing no favoritism to particular positions. The student must become convinced that the teacher is a fair and reasonable referee, an expert in nurturing the process by which truth and understanding is sought, not an authoritative judge of what is actually true or false. Questions rather than assertions should characterize the teacher’s speech. The classroom environment should be structured so that students feel encouraged to decide for themselves what is and is not so. Teachers should treat no idea or point of view as in itself absurd, stupid, or “dangerous”, whatever their personal views or those of the community. They should shield their students from the pressure to conform to peers or the community. Free and open discussion should be the sacred right in all classrooms.\n \nIt should be clear that strong sense critical thinking is embedded in a personal, social, and educational ideal. It is not simply a complex of atomistic cognitive skills. To think critically in this sense requires, as Passmore points out, “initiative, independence, courage, (and) imagination”. Let us now look briefly at the historical foundation for his concept.\n"}]}

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