Tag Archive: critical thinking

The merely rational

Es ist sehr interessant, daß die geschichtliche Periode, in der bei uns die Tradition des kritischen Denkens zum ersten Male einen entscheidenden Durchbruch erzielte, nämlich die Aufklärung, im deutschen Sprachbereich nur selten eine positive Würdigung erfährt. Man versieht sie gerne mit schmückenden Beiworten pejorativen Charakters wie „flach“, „unhistorisch“, „trocken“, bescheinigt ihr eine Überschätzung des bloß Vernünftigen und dokumentiert die eigene Über­legenheit damit, daß man bereit ist, dunklen, unklaren, widerspruchsvollen und vieldeutigen Ergebnissen geistiger An­strengungen wegen ihrer angeblichen Tiefe den Vorzug vor den Resultaten klaren, nüchternen und kritischen Denkens zu geben.

A necessary condition for critical distance

Even if ideas and arguments should be evaluated independently of their origins, we must still first learn about their origins, in order to ensure the evaluation is indeed independent of them. The only thing worse than accepting or reject­ing an idea because we know about its originator is doing so because we know nothing of the originator. Ignorance may appear in two positive guises. Both are due to the surface clarity of relatively contemporary texts, which effectively discourages any probing of their sources: on the one hand, we may read our own assumptions into the textual inter­stices; on the other, we may unwittingly take on board the text’s assumptions. In short, either our minds colonise theirs or theirs ours. In both cases, the distinction between the positions of interpreter and interpreting is dissolved, and hence a necessary condition for critical distance is lost. [71−2]

Educated far beyond their capacity for analytical thought

Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought. [105]

Taking great pains to deceive oneself

Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. [99]

The greatest obstacle to education

But I think that the greatest obstacles to education for an open society are our own ignorance of how little we know, and our own unwillingness to acknowledge it even to ourselves.

So, instilling scepticism and the critical attitude in ourselves and in our students will not be enough. We will also need to instill the self-critical attitude in ourselves and in our students. And we will need to reverse the contemporary wisdom that says that ignorance is bad, but admitting it is stupid. This is perhaps the greatest obstacle to education that I know. It infects all levels of society, and especially the professorial ranks of academia. [64]

A critical point on science literacy

Nicht selten wur­den … die Resultate kritischen Denkens allmählich mehr oder weniger still­schweigend übernommen und assimiliert, was aber der kritischen Einstellung an sich keineswegs immer die ent­sprechende Anerkennung ver­schafft hat … .

The supposed limits of the critical method

Erstaunlicherweise pflegt man im deutschen Sprachbereich gerade eine der ältesten und darüber hinaus eine der wirksamsten und für unsere kulturelle und soziale Entwicklung bedeutsamsten Traditionen des europäischen Denkens nicht selten zu vergessen, zu bagatellisieren oder gar zu diffamieren, oder aber sie zumindest als frag­würdig zu behan­deln: nämlich die Tradition des kritischen Denkens und der kritischen Diskussion, der unvor­eingenommenen Analyse und Prüfung von Anschauungen, Wertungen, Autoritäten und Institutionen. Die bei uns noch immer weitverbreitete Gewohnheit, kritisches Denken mit einem negativen Wertakzent zu ver­sehen, mag dazu verleiten, daß man die Rolle und die historische Bedeutung dieser Tradition falsch einschätzt, zumal sich alle möglichen Verfechter von Auffassun­gen, die durch kritische Untersuchungen gefährdet sind, große Mühe geben, eine solche Fehleinschätzung zu fördern und den Wirkungsbereich der Kritik nach Möglich­keit einzuschränken.

On the use of authority in critical thinking

But shouldn’t an expert’s authority count for something? And isn’t there some appropriate use of authority in critical thinking?

If what I have been saying is true, then courses in critical thinking should teach our students how to criticize authority instead of teaching them how to defer to it. But if this is true, then a statement by an ‘appropriate’ authority should be the first word in a critical inquiry instead of the last. It should be the word that we listen to in order to discover how things stand in a field, what its major problems are, and which of the solutions that have been proposed seem most promising. And it should be the word that we then examine and question and put to the test as we begin to think critically about the field ourselves. I have no doubt whatsoever that this use of authority is very often necessary, appropriate, and rea­sonable. But it is not an argument from authority. It does not pretend to be good evidence. And it is not presented as a justification of any claim. It would, however, be one that is fully consistent with the goals of critical thinking. [136]