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Critical Thinking: What is True and What to Do

Many researchers suggest that a key characteristic of critical thinking is the ability to recognize one’s own fallibility when evaluating and generating evidence — recognizing the danger of weighing evidence according to one’s own beliefs.  The expanding literature on informal reasoning emphasizes the importance of detaching one’s own beliefs from the process of argument evaluation (Kuhn, 2007; Stanovich & Stanovich, 2010).

The emphasis placed on unbiased reasoning processes has led researchers to highlight the importance of decontextualized reasoning.  For example (Stanovich & Stanovich, 2010, p. 196):

Kelley (1990) argues that “the ability to step back from our train of thought . . . . is a virtue because it is the only way to check the results of our thinking, the only way to avoid jumping to conclusions, the only way to stay in touch with the facts” (p. 6). Neimark (1987) lumps the concepts of decentering and decontextualizing under the umbrella term detachment. She terms one component of detachment depersonalizing: being able to adopt perspectives other than one’s own. This aspect of detachment is closely analogous to Piaget’s (1926) concept of decentration.”

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Critical Thinking: What is True and What to Do

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  1. Excellent post, Jamie.

    I will find it very useful in my teaching. Thank you. I will link to it when I can next.

    Interesting too, in light of psychosis/mania. I know I’ve had to struggle with anosognosia ~ thinking that there’s nothing wrong with my mind, when I’m in full-blown manic state ~ and that everyone else is crazy. Lack of insight to the ultimate degree. A curious term, not used very often, but I’ve experienced it.

    The question is ~ and your pose it I think ~ is how do you trust your own reasoning and ability to perceive truths, which is at the root of critical thinking. It’s not entirely strict science, as emotion does influence perception of truth and does affect rationality.

    Don’t you think?

    If you’re psychotic/manic ~ ration goes right out the window, as does reality. My truths, when I’m manic, are not your truths or anyone’s truths. There not truths of any kind. They are fantasies, unrealities… am I completely off the wall here.

    What is true? What to do? What is true for you at a specific point in time and how do you deal with that truism at that time?

    All fascinating questions. In my course in “Leadership in Society” the questions we ponder are as follows:

    What did I do, see, experience?
    So what? What does it mean?
    Now what do I do?
    Now what do I think?

    Experiential learning and Reflective writing are both ways in which I try to help my students learn, in a very untraditional way, compared to classic academic learning at a post secondary level.

    These question are very similar, I would think. I teach essentially a Life Skills course in Community Service.

    Anyway, I think this is a remarkable post. Enjoyed reading it. Found it thought-provoking. Fascinating.

    Thank you. Lots to think about and puzzle over and I love puzzles.


  2. “The question is ~ and your pose it I think ~ is how do you trust your own reasoning and ability to perceive truths, which is at the root of critical thinking. It’s not entirely strict science, as emotion does influence perception of truth and does affect rationality.” I refer to the scientific data. I think I am fairly good at reading and evaluating scientific research. I, like many other scientific thinking individuals refer to the Bead Model of Truth concerning the absolute nature of my belief. Which says- there is no absolute certainty or uncertainty. The bead slides more towards the 1 when evidence for a claim is strong, and it slides more towards O when there is lack of or evidence refuting. The bead never reaches O or 1. Remember it is up to the claimant to provide evidence for their claim. Another important point regarding critical thinking- it is important to equip individuals with the necessary mindware to allow them to accurately evaluate evidence (scientific thinking, probabilistic thinking, logic). It is also important to remove mindware that thwarts this ability.

    Of course, there are some things that have not been investigated by science which means I have to rely on a different method of belief attainment. Under these conditions I generally chalk up my belief to undecided, or if I have knowledge in another area that may affect what I believe is the truth value of this particular un-investigated claim my belief will be swayed.

    It is a myth that humans are rational, and it is a myth that emotion and rationality or dissociated.

  3. “Truth” has never been defined, in reality. The philosophers have debated the term, and its meaning for thousands of years, to no avail. Personally, I admire Plato’s idea. Truth, he said, was only gained as a result of a meeting of both the mind and the heart. But, simply because *I* prefer this definition, it doesn’t make it the best one, now, does it?

    Consequently, without knowing what “truth” is, we cannot possibly know what is “true.” We can assume subjective truths. But, it begs the question, a question that has been asked repeatedly through the years, “Are my truths the same as yours?”

    Note how there is no definition of “truth” or even “true” in your very worthy essay. Therein, I suggest, is an area in need of improvement. Because every scientist, including social scientists such as myself, knows that we cannot claim to teach the “truth.” We do not know what it is. We only know and teach what the evidence seems to explain, giving the evidence that is extant. And that evidence can change at any moment, given new discoveries in any core subject. (Which, btw, is the reason why “revisionism” is *not* the dirty word some people make it out to be! LOL!)

    But, I digress. If we cannot say objectively what is “true,” how then, can we possibly, then, know what to do?

    The fact is, we do not. We make judgments and we hope for the best. Sometimes, it works out and sometimes, it doesn’t. Life is a gamble. There are too many variables to be sure.

    Should we teach rational/critical thought anyway?
    Of course we should!
    But, we should also teach our students the limits of such thought. And those limits begin with the lack of the ability to know “truth.”

    Another limit is the fact that there is no such thing as absolute “objectivity.” Objectivity is something we strive for, with as much knowledge of our own bias as is possible. But, we will never understand all of the dark recesses of our minds, and our hearts — as much as we may try.

    I do, however, appreciate very much this article. I will be sharing it with some other teacher friends whom I believe will enjoy reading it. I’m certain it will lead to very good discussion and perhaps even better lesson plans for our students! That will be a win for all.
    Thank you!




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