Blog Post: [Part 7] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

Richard Paul Archives
Jul 11, 2023 • 1y ago
[Part 7] Critical Thinking and the Critical Person

{"ops":[{"insert":"[Missed Part 6? "},{"attributes":{"bold":true,"color":"blue","link":""},"insert":"Read It Here"},{"insert":"]\n \n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true,"bold":true},"insert":"The Sociocentrically Critical Person and the Ideal of a Critical Society"},{"insert":"\n \nIn my view, Piaget rightly identifies uncritical thought with a tendency toward egocentrism, and critical thought with a tendency toward reciprocity. He recognizes, but does not explore, how egocentricity develops into and partially merges with sociocentricity:\n \nThe child begins with the assumption that the immediate attitudes arising out of our own special surroundings and activities are the only ones possible. This state of mind, which we shall term the unconscious egocentricity (both cognitive and affective) of the child is at first a stumbling-block both to the understanding of his own country and to the development of objective relations with other countries. Furthermore, to overcome his egocentric attitude it is necessary to train the faculty for cognitive and affective integration: this is a slow and laborious process consisting mainly in efforts at ‘reciprocity’, and at each new stage of the process, egocentricity re-emerges in new guises farther and farther removed from the child’s initial center of interest. There are the various forms of sociocentricity – a survival of the original egocentricity – and they are the cause of subsequent disturbances and tensions, any understanding of which must be based on an accurate analysis of the initial stages and of the elementary conflicts between egocentricity and understanding of others (Reciprocity)."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nOne manifestation of the irrational mind is to uncritically presuppose the truth of beliefs and doctrines embedded in social life or values. We intellectually and affectively absorb common frames of references from the social settings in which we live. Our interests and purposes find a place within a socially absorbed picture of the world. We use that picture to test the claims of contesting others. We imaginatively rehearse situations within portions of that picture. We rarely, however, describe that picture "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"as"},{"insert":" a picture, as an image constructed by one social group as against that of another. We cannot easily place that picture at arm’s length, so to speak, and for a time suspend our acquiescence to it. (For example, I cannot avoid feeling uncomfortable when an acquaintance of another culture stands “too close” to me while we talk, just as that acquaintance cannot avoid feeling somewhat offended that I continually move “too far away” for conversation. To each of us, the proper distance seems obviously and objectively proper.) That our thought is often disturbed and distorted by ethnocentric tendencies is rarely an abiding recognition. At best, it occurs to most people in fleeting glimpses, to judge by how often it is recognized explicitly in everyday thought.\n \nAlthough many talk about and research ethnocentrism or sociocentrism as a problem in education, there are no reasonable, effective means of combatting it. Institutions and beliefs tend to become “sacred” and “cherished”; the thinking that critiques them seems “dangerous”, “subversive”, or at least “disturbing” and “unsettling”. Habits, customs, and faiths become deeply embedded in how we define ourselves, and intolerance, censorship, and oppression never seem to be such by those who carry them out in the name of “true belief”.\n \nSocrates is not the only thinker to imagine a society in which independent critical thought became embodied in the day-to-day lives of individuals; others, including William Graham Sumner, North America’s distinguished conservative anthropologist, have formulated the ideal:\n \nThe critical habit of thought, if usual in a society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators and are never deceived by dithyrambic oratory. They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, uninfluenced by the emphasis or confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nUntil critical habits of thought pervade our society, however, schools, as social institutions, will tend to transmit the prevailing world view more or less uncritically, transmit it as reality "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"itself"},{"insert":", not as a "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"picture"},{"insert":" of reality. Our ability to solve social and international problems becomes constrained by the solutions credible and plausible within our prevailing ideas and assumptions. When solutions are suggested from contrary world views, they appear patently false to us because they appear to be based on false ideas, that is, ideas that don’t square with “reality” (with our ideas of reality). Of course, those who live in other societies will themselves interpret our proposed solutions as patently false because they appear to them to be based on false ideas; that is, ideas that don’t square with reality (with their ideas of reality). Hence, one society’s freedom-fighters are another society’s terrorists, and vice versa. Each is outraged at the flagrant propaganda of the other and is forced to conclude that the other must be knowingly distorting the facts, and hence is evil to the core. Citizens in any country who question the prevailing labels commonly have their patriotism questioned, or worse.\n \nIdeas, in other words, do not enter into school life in neutral but in socially biased ways. Helping students think critically entails developing their ability to recognize and so to question this process.\n \nSociocentrically critical people may use the vocabulary of critical thinking. They may develop facility in its micro-skills. But they inadvertently function as apologists for the prevailing world view, nevertheless. They may conceive of themselves as hard-headed realists, fundamentally beyond “ideology” or naïve “idealism”, but the lack of reciprocity in their thought demonstrates their closedmindedness.\n \nA critical society emerges only to the extent that it becomes socially unacceptable to routinely presuppose, rather than explicitly identify and argue for, one’s fundamental ideas and assumptions. In the schools of a critical society, both teachers and students would recognize multilogical issues as demanding dialogical rather than monological treatment. Reasoning within opposing points of view would be the rule, not the rare exception. Social studies instruction in particular would play a significant role in fostering reciprocal multilogical thinking and so would contribute in a special way to the nurturing in the citizenry of values and skills essential to the conduct of everyday life in a critical manner.\n"}]}

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