The introductory section on the purpose of the document explains a principle of development.
ANIL MITRA © SEPTEMBER 2016—March 2017
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The document will be combine with other header documents to develop a single comprehensive document on ‘method’.
The two aims are
Many recent educational leaders, including the philosopher John Dewey, argued that a curriculum aimed at building thinking skills would benefit the individual and entire democracy.
In the 1980’s there was an on campus debate about whether undergraduates should take a course on critical thinking. I was an engineering professor. Other engineering profs argued “We already teach critical thinking in our courses.” I was perhaps the only engineering teacher that thought there would be value to critical thinking taught from a general and philosophical perspective. While every required course eats into the curriculum, critical thinking would be of such general applicability as to perhaps be justified.
One of the motives to introducing critical thinking into curricula is the specialization of university education in the modern era. It tends to focus content over ‘method’. That is not quite true—every discipline teaches its own methods (even there, there is pressure to focus on procedure over analysis, problems over theory). However, it is reasonable to say that even as the disciplines emphasize their own techniques, this does not necessarily foster an attitude of general critical thinking that is efficient and of general application. A well trained and critical thinking engineer, may completely avoid critical thinking in the affairs of democracy.
But while the name ‘critical thinking’ was new, the idea is not. It goes under a number of related names such as reason, rationality, logic, inference, argument, decision making, rational choice and action, and includes fact verification, deductive and inductive inference, propositional and predicate logic, scientific method, multi-factor analysis (accounting for all relevant factors and not mere conductive or point by point argument).
Now some contexts, naturally emphasize criticism of an analysis. However, in many situations that is not enough—the standard context or solution is inadequate and we need imagination. We might not associate creativity with criticism but in the widest contexts, critical analysis without creative or constructive thought falls flat. Therefore creative and constructive thought should be a part of critical thinking.
Further, what is reason and how do we come up with its principles? The same question can be asked of deductive and inductive inference, rationality, scientific method, argument and so. Constructive thought is essential to criticism itself and improved understanding of criticism. Similarly constructive thought is important to how to construct and these in turn benefit from criticism.
That is, criticism and construction interact at multiple levels.
Further, we find that we cannot entirely separate critical-constructive analysis from content itself (and perhaps therefore critical thinking instruction ought to be a joint endeavor among the critical-constructive endeavor of philosophy and its application areas such as the sciences, mathematics, language and linguistics, and the professions including engineering, medicine, and law.
Modern ideas on critical thinking also emphasize the attitudes and behaviors of the individual that are conducive to critical thinking. How do we foster criticism and creativity? How do we foster an ethic of dedication over an ethic of mere profit and so on.
Note that ethics is essential, not at all merely ‘after the fact’.
Because our knowledge and reason are incomplete, and because choices are many, the critical or logical side of thought is incapable of defining a ‘rational path of action’. This kind of rationality as inference devoid of feeling and value is insufficient. It must be supplemented by feeling and value.
However, it is part of the critical approach that our values and feelings on issues should not be taken as final but may themselves subject to question.
But are there no absolute values? Criticism of the criticism of values allows that there may be some values that we shall regard as absolute.
It is whatever it takes to think carefully, effectively, critically, and constructively about the range of issues that we face in our individual, professional, communal, national, international, and universal contexts.
There is a range of definitions (e.g. on the Internet). It is typical to say what critical thinking is and to list components and the listing of the components is far from uniform. This is a problem of meaning as discussed in principles of reason.html. Perhaps the most effective approach is to define the notion and discuss components but to leave the listing open. The process could of course be iterative.
Some are discussed in § Background to critical thinking
Keep in mind that thinking is not outside the world. It is part of the world (on a materialist philosophy thinking is material). Therefore it includes critical thinking about critical thinking; reasoning about reason; being rational about rationality; and so on.
We find that critical thinking involves all aspects of ‘method’ and ‘content’ (and cannot focus on method alone if it is to be effective; and note, of course, that method is content where the object is knowledge itself).
That is the base idea of reflexivity—the interaction of all aspects of thought and experience. However, it is not a blind interaction. It is a creative-critical interaction.
In many situations we are faced with choices—choices of knowledge, e.g. who is the better candidate or what is the better theory and choices of action, e.g. what career should I choose.
Critical thinking is the best constructive-critical approach to such choices.
Decision making—career, getting the groceries, economic policy, international policy, allocation of resources. Politics. Choosing a partner.
Intuition is essential.
But the truth is often counter-intuitive.
How to verify facts.
Essential role of feeling and value.
We want all the relevant facts.
Too often, e.g. in what is called ‘conductive logic’ we go from fact to fact to fact. In the simplest version we stop at the first obvious fact and its implication in isolation. More generally we proceed from fact to fact and counter-fact and our decision making is a process of vacillation.
What is necessary is (a) all the relevant facts and (b) analysis that takes simultaneous account of the relevant facts.
This is really the process of reason: problem ® probable facts ® inference (theory, logic) ® prediction ® experiment ® comparison ® revaluation of relevance, fact, and theory …
It’s essential that the process be creative-critical. In creative phases we are coming up with tentative relevant facts. In the critical phase we are critical, asking why this fact?
But that’s obviously a caricature of the real process. We also need analysis. How do we go from facts to conclusions? We must use theories and or experimental trials. But where do the theories come from?
The scientific method is a source of theories. But than method is a repetition of the critical-creative process.
Critical thinking is the reflexive process.
To think critically about the political economy is not only to make choices from known options but to also construct new ones.
It’s a tall order and one might want to begin small but this is not a text book. The subject and its facets are a main reason to consider the political economy.
Politics is important to economics as the arena of decisions. But it is important for other reasons as well—social, international, military and more.
Nations and trade blocks
Influence of politics
Redistribution of wealth (competition for resources)
Global competition for resources
Pockets of stagnation and poverty
Theory: macroeconomics and money
GDP, PPP, and national debt
Ideology: liberal, conservative; neoliberal and neoconservative
Finance and banking
Commerce and industry
Education, creativity, and entrepreneurship
Government: World through local
Consumer: markets and individuals
E.g., the religious right
Reasons for reform rather than elimination