Blog Post: Distinguishing Weak From Strong Sense Critical Thinking - Still a Problem in Human Societies

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Oct 06, 2020 • 13d ago
Distinguishing Weak From Strong Sense Critical Thinking - Still a Problem in Human Societies

{"ops":[{"insert":"The following, written by Richard Paul, was adapted from the conference theme from the 4"},{"attributes":{"script":"super"},"insert":"th"},{"insert":" Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, held in 1986. We are still a very long way from the realization of strong sense critical thinking across human societies. "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"(see footnote)"},{"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"CONFERENCE THEME: WEAK & STRONG SENSE CRITICAL THINKING "},{"insert":"\nThe conference theme has been selected to give participants a central concept by means of which they can understand the basic relationships between all of the various presentations. The field of critical thinking research and instructional approaches is rich and diverse, but there are common core concepts and insights which can be used to organize that diversity and render it coherent. \n\nThere is no question, for example, that there are a body of intellectual skills presupposed in critical thinking, skills which have broad application across the full range of human thought and action. Whenever humans act or think they conceptualize or give meanings to their action and thought. These meanings or conceptualizations may be more or less clear (hence the importance of skills of clarification). These meanings organize and give expression to \"information\", which may be more or less accurate well­justified, and complete (hence the importance of skills for the gathering, processing and assessing of information). They are based upon beliefs some of which we take for granted (hence the importance of skills for locating and assessing assumptions). They build toward or entail consequences and implications (hence the importance of skills for pinning down and assessing consequences and implications). Finally, human action and thought is based upon and creates meanings within some perspective, point of view, or world view (hence the importance of skills which locate the perspective or point of view within which a given action or line of thought is developed). \n\nBut critical thinking is not just about intellectual skills, for intellectual skills can be used in a variety of ways, some of which are inconsistent with the foundational values of critical thinking: open- or fair-mindedness and a concern to apply the same rigorous standards of evidence and proof to our own thinking---especially that which serves our vested interest---as we do to \nothers. It is easy, of course, to be critical when we are hostile to persons or belief systems, very difficult when we are strongly predisposed to favor persons or belief systems. Our egocentric or sociocentric biases may act as blinders to narrow our critical thinking to what are fundamentally self-serving uses of it. This problem was identified in ancient Greece by Socrates and Plato as the problem of sophistry. We know it in the modern world as the problem of demagoguery, propaganda, closed-mindedness and self-deception. This, of course, is not simply a matter of stupidity or of conscious evil. \n\nWhat it does mean is that critical thinking skills can be used to defeat the ends of critical thinking. Or, less extreme, a person may not yet have learned how to organize and use his or her critical thinking skills with the same degree of consistency within domains where there is emotional blockage. In these cases we can call the person a \"weak sense\" critical thinker, highlighting the incomplete development of those skills. In these cases, there are degrees or levels of proficiency in critical thinking and the distinction between ”weak” or “strong” sense helps highlight some of the salient considerations to keep in mind in conceiving the developmental process from uncritical to critical thought. It also helps highlight the values implicit in critical thought (fairmindedness e.g.).\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Here are brief definitions of both strong sense and weak sense critical thinking. "},{"insert":"\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"strong-sense critical thinkers"},{"insert":":  fairminded critical thinkers; skilled thinkers characterized predominantly by the following traits: (1) the ability and tendency to question deeply one’s own views; (2) the ability and tendency to reconstruct sympathetically and imaginatively the strongest versions of viewpoints and perspectives opposed to one’s own; and (3) the ability and tendency to reason dialectically (multilogically) in such a way as to determine when one’s own point of view is at its weakest and when an opposing point of view is at its strongest; (4) the ability and propensity to change one’s thinking when the evidence would require it, without regard to one’s own selfish or vested interests.\n \nStrong-sense critical thinkers are fundamentally concerned with reasoning at the highest level of skill, considering all the important available evidence, and respecting all relevant viewpoints.  Their thought and behavior is characterized primarily by intellectual virtues or habits of mind.  They avoid being blinded by their own viewpoints. They recognize the framework of assumptions and ideas upon which their own viewpoints are based. They realize the necessity of putting their assumptions and ideas to the test of the strongest objections that can be leveled against them. Most importantly, they can be moved by reason; in other words, they are willing to abandon their own ideas when other ideas prove more reasonable or valid.\n \nTeaching for strong-sense critical thinkers entails routinely encouraging students to explicate, understand, and critique their deepest prejudices, biases, and misconceptions, thereby discovering and contesting their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies (for only when we do so can we hope to develop as fairminded persons).\n \nRegularly thinking dialogically about important and personal issues is necessary for developing strong-sense critical thinkers. If critical thinking is taught simply as atomic skills separate from the empathic practice of entering into points of view that students are fearful of or hostile toward, they will simply find additional means of rationalizing prejudices and preconceptions, or convincing people that their point of view is the correct one. They will be transformed from vulgar or naïve thinkers to sophisticated (but not strong-sense) critical thinkers.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"weak-sense critical thinkers"},{"insert":": those who use the skills, abilities, and to some extent, the traits of critical thinking to serve their selfish interests; unfair or unethical critical thinkers. Weak-sense, or unethical critical\nthinkers, have the following pronounced tendencies: \n1.     They do not hold themselves or those with whom they ego-identify to the same intellectual standards to which they hold opponents.\n2.     They do not reason empathically within points of view or frames of reference with which they disagree;\n3.     They tend to think monologically (within one narrow perspective). \n4.     They do not genuinely accept, though they may verbally espouse, the values of fairminded critical thinking. \n5.     They use intellectual skills selectively and self-deceptively to foster and serve their selfish interests at the expense of truth.\n6.     They use critical thinking skills to identify flaws in the reasoning of others and sophisticated arguments to refute others’ arguments before giving those arguments due consideration.\n7.     They routinely justify their irrational thinking through highly sophisticated rationalizations. \n8.     They are highly skilled at manipulation. \n\n"},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"footnote: The notes and slight adaptations in this article were made by Linda Elder"},{"insert":"\n\n"}]}

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Posted by: Joseph Halter

{"ops":[{"insert":"What was relevant in 1986 is very much today and more so. We need leaders in all professions and institutions to fully engage in understanding strong-sense critical thinking. The task is monumental. Is the Community for Critical Thinking up to the task? \n"}]}