Thoughts about critical thinkers

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Critical thinking is not short-term thinking. Short-term thinking is not unlike the short-term thinking of a basketball coach during a timeout toward the end of the game. Such thinking leads to quick-fix solutions.

However, in this country we are not in a timeout toward the end of the game even though verbal con-artists might use such a rhetorical theme to get you to buy snake oil. Nevertheless, short-term thinking is largely the rule of the day. We see this in the fact that great power seems to be wielded by little minds. The hard fact is that critical thinking does not seem to be a social value in the majority of minds in our society.

Changing the way we think in a fundamental way requires intellectual work. In my experience, having mentioned the word “intellectual” has possibly caused a significant portion of those reading this article to tune out.

Why is that?

Why do so many folks tend to feel like they should flee from the notion of being “intellectual” regarding the things about which we should in actuality exercise the intellect to its fullest possible capacity?

The answer is quite simple.

The majority of us do not think or appreciate the positive aspect of being seen as one who thinks before speaking. It seems as if a large number of us has been acculturated with a false notion of social disapproval for being or associating with so-called intellectuals. In truth, however,  the effectual intent of an intellectual mind has nothing to do with being or acting like a so-called “elite” or being the kind of someone who risks being ridiculed for trying to be smart. Imagine, if you will, someone who thinks before speaking, only to be criticized as hesitant, tentative or wishy-washy simply because the desire to speak accurately and truthfully outweighs the temptation to fire from the hip.
Changing one’s way of thinking requires intellectual work. It requires honest work to cope with understanding the extent of our personal ignorance. Smarties know this. Dummies pretend they know this but keep firing blindly from the hip. Changing one’s way of thinking is not a simple matter of deciding to change one’s perception of reality and of the apparent thoughts of other people.  One does not consider one’s own habitual self-perception and then suddenly and successfully pretend to think in a different way.

Critical thinking involves basic (not college-educated or well-read) intellectual skills; basic skills that many once thought was pure common sense. The thing about common sense is that it should originate from out of your own personal thinking, not from the opinions of other folks who of course live outside your own mind and appeal to you to accept their personal “common sense”.

Warning, these skills can be used to serve two incompatible ends: self-centeredness or fair-mindedness.

In thinking we use our skills in a selfish or in a fair-minded way. In other words, we can develop in such a way that we learn to ignore (self-centeredness) mistakes in our own thinking or appreciate them (fair-mindedness.)

Depending on our sense of fair-mindedness or self-centeredness, we may develop proficiency in making our opponent’s thinking look bad. When we do this from self-centeredness we might see mistakes in other’s thinking without being able to credit the strengths in those opposing views.

Liberals see flaws in the arguments of conservatives – but not their own; conservatives see mistakes in the arguments of liberals – but not their own.
Believers see mistakes in the thinking of nonbelievers – but not their own; nonbelievers see mistakes in the thinking of believers – but not their own.

Such kinds of thinkers are weak-sense critical thinkers; “weak” because, though it is working well in some respects, it fails to consider – in good faith – viewpoints that contradict its own viewpoint. It lacks fair-mindedness.

Another traditional name for the weak-sense thinker is found in the word sophist. Sophistry is the art of winning arguments regardless of problems in the thinking involved. Rhetoric and argumentation are lower-level skills, not higher, by which Sophists make bad thinking look good and good thinking look bad.

Some of the more effective tools are the use of emotions and trickery in an intellectually skilled way. The kryptonite that sophistic thinker need to avoid is strong-sense critical thinking.

Such thinkers are hard to stampede,
slow to believe,
able to hold things that are possible or probable so long as they remain factually intact and do so without certainty or the pain of emotional appeal,
can wait for evidence and weigh evidence,
can resist appeals to their dearest prejudice

Strong-sense critical thinkers strive to be fair-minded and to think in an ethically responsible manner.
They are not reluctant to work to understand and appreciate the viewpoints of others. They are willing to listen to arguments they do not necessarily hold.
They change their views when faced with better reasoning.
Rather than using their thinking to manipulate others and to hide from the truth (in a weak-sense way), they use thinking in an ethical, reasonable manner.

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criticalthinkers.com

Having written that, I then am comfortable to write the following caveat about opinions with which I might find myself in disagreement:

If you want me to hear them and respond, please understand that I have been learning not-so-nice things about the nature of my own opinions as I have expressed them in the past. Furthermore, understanding has caused me to reconsider the worthiness of the thoughts of others in terms of whether or not I might respond.

If discussion looks possible, I will respond. Otherwise, your writing will be evaluated by these guidelines and possibly ignored:

“Unhealthy judgment is when you make generalizations. An unhealthy judgment makes no real inquiry. It only expresses a preconceived bias. Rather than inviting deeper understanding, the unhealthy judgment only expresses displeasure and narrow preconceptions about a person or situation.

The ego seeks to make quick critical judgments, without inquiring more deeply. This is because the ego is a lower function of the self. It is disconnected from the higher intuitive levels of the divine self, and disconnected from intelligence and common sense. The ego functions with a narrow, reactive response to everything.” – Joel Bruce Wallach

intellectual-flaws

 

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