Merigian Studios


Critical Thinking

Michael Scriven & Richard Paul presented a statement at the 8th Annual at the International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987. I have changed some of his sentence structure, trying to keep their thoughts related to their presentation.

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief action. In its most appropriate form, universal intellectual values transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

It entails examining those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. In being responsive to the different subject matters, issues, and purposes, critical thinking is embedded in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking.

Society sees critical thinking as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating and processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. We contrast it with 1) the mere acquisition and retention of information alone, because it involves a particular way in which information is sought and treated; 2) the mere possession of a set of skills because it involves the continual use of them; 3) the mere use of those skills ("as an exercise") without acceptance of their results.

Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it manifests in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one's own or groups' vested interest. As such, it is typically intellectually flawed, however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fairmindedness and intellectual integrity, it generally is of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of "idealism" by those habituated to its selfish use.

Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any individual; everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought. Its quality is, therefore, typically a matter of degree and dependent on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or concerning a particular class of questions. No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, the development of critical thinking skills and dispositions is a life-long endeavor.

What happened to critical thinking in our citizenry? It was common to have an interesting conversation with people who would indulge in looking at issues from all sides in the past. People lead into almost every discussion with their closed viewpoint or truth and defend it to death, regardless of its validity or effects on them personally or their community collectively. The individual's prosperity at all costs displaces the idea of us being more critical. The idea that all boats will rise in the throes of economic recovery is painfully absent; current collective political thinking espouses that one wealthy ship will rise and the other less fortunate boats will sink.

The pandemic has spread like wildfire across the nation in the same vane, claiming disenfranchised lives much more than those of privilege. We have forgotten the proper understanding of what it means to be a Republic, the republican government's essential purpose in furthering the common welfare. In addition to the spread of disease, our electorate has widened and fractured as our nation struggles to define its future. The wearing of a simple mask to reduce the disease's spread has become the linchpin of divide and symbol of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of our citizens. 

Critical thinking, which was the absolute basis for the American Revolution, giving rise to the United States of America, has almost entirely left our country's shores. Our educational system has failed our citizens, making them susceptible to conspiracy theories and fictional narratives used to manipulate the masses.  The propaganda surrounding the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter and Me-Too movements, China, Russia, Brexit, Women's Reproductive Rights, Immigration, and many other topics is widespread, pushed by monetization schemes by social media and perpetuating the thought of another civil war amongst our non-critical thinking Americans, an estimated thirty-five million people or more.

Critical thinking is paramount in releasing a safe and effective vaccine. Critical thinking is necessary for opening schools and universities, as well as the economy. Critical thinking is needed when assessing our collective response to the pandemic as a city, county, state, and country. Critical thinking is necessary when diagnosing and treating an illness. Critical thinking is a requirement for figuring out trade imbalances, farming and urban subsides, prime interest rates, business expansions, movement from fossil fuels, cleansing the air, addressing climate change, stopping foreign interference in our elections, and guaranteeing individual natural rights simultaneously, making our society as a whole better for everyone. Pareto Optimality is only achievable if we use critical thinking to answer every problem or challenge, great or small.

When people critically think about each challenge they face individually or collectively, the solutions are more balanced and effective. I hope that most of my audience and the patients who come to the Stone Institute think critically every day.

Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise.

                                                                                    Thomas Gray.



Posted by Caitlin Chittom at 12:34 PM
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