Blog Post: [Part 5] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

Richard Paul Archives
Jun 06, 2023 • 1y ago
[Part 5] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

{"ops":[{"insert":"[Missed Part 4? "},{"attributes":{"bold":true,"color":"blue","link":""},"insert":"Read It Here"},{"insert":"]\n \n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true,"bold":true},"insert":"Critical Thinking and the Socratic Ideal"},{"insert":"\n \nThe concept of strong sense critical thinking, of critical thought integrated into the personal and social life of the individual, is not new. It was introduced into Western intellectual tradition in the chronicles of the life and death of Socrates (470-399 BC), one of the most important and influential teachers of ancient Greece. As a teacher, he was committed to the importance of ideas and their critique in the conduct of everyday human life. It is to him that the precept “the unexamined life is not worth living” is attributed. It is in him that the ideal of conscientious civil disobedience and critical autonomy of thought is first to be found. He illustrated the possibility and the value of sharpness of mind, clarity of thought, and commitment to practical insight based on autonomous reason. He championed reason, the rational life, and a rationally structured ethic, the intimate fusion of reason the passion. He disclaimed authority on his own part but claimed the right to independently criticize all authoritative beliefs and established institutions. He made it clear that teachers cannot be educators in the fullest sense unless they can criticize the received assumptions of their social groups and are willing to nurture a climate of questioning and doubt among their students. He demonstrated the intimate connection between a passionate love of truth and knowledge, the ability to learn through the art of skilled questioning, and the willingness to face personally and socially embarrassing truths. He spoke often with those who had a sophistic (weak sense) command of critical thinking skills, who could, through their skills of persuasion and knowledge of the vulnerabilities of people, make the false appear true and the true false.\n \nSocrates taught by joining in discussions with others who thought they knew or understood a basic or important truth, for example, what justice is, or knowledge or virtue. When questioned by Socrates – who probed the justification and foundation for the belief, examining its consistency or inconsistency with other beliefs – it became clear that his discussants did not know or understand what they at first thought they did. As a result of Socrates’ mode of questioning, his “students” realized that they lacked fundamental knowledge. Of course not all of Socrates’ discussants appreciated the discovery. But those who did developed a new drive to seek out knowledge. This included an appreciation of dialectical thinking, a recognition of the need to subject putative knowledge to probing questioning, especially from the vantage point of opposing points of view. Socrates’ students became comfortable with and adept in the art of dialectical questioning. All beliefs had first to pass the test of critical scrutiny through dialectical challenges before they were to be accepted.\n \nThe social reaction to Socrates’ mode of teaching through probing questions illustrated the inevitable antagonism between schooling as socialization into accepted beliefs and practices and schooling as education in the art of autonomous thought. Although he did not foster any doctrines of his own (other than the values of intellectual integrity and critical autonomy), he was executed for “not believing in the gods the state believes in . . . and also for corrupting the young” (See Plato’s "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Apology"},{"insert":").\n \nSocrates’ practice laid the cornerstone for the history of critical thought. He provided us with our first historic glimpse into how the organizing concepts by which humans live rarely reflect the organizing concepts through which they express their thoughts publicly. We must keep this example in mind when we conceptualize and elaborate the problem of learning to think critically. If we do, we certainly will not conceive of critical thinking in narrow intradisciplinary terms, nor will we ignore the significance of the affective dimensions of thought. It is intriguing to imagine classrooms in which the example of Socrates is highlighted and encouraged as a model of education.\n"}]}

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