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Mind-benders—Critical Thinking about Critical Thinking

[I have recently been made aware of both the subtlety and depth of the perversion of language which post-modernist anti-intellectual relativism has foisted on the world, and the extent to which it has pervaded every aspect of society and been swallowed by even some of our best minds. When I hear intelligent people complaining that the problem with the schools is that no one is capable of "critical thinking" anymore, I know that society is well-nigh lost.

The expression, "critical thinking" is right out of post-modernist hell. It was invented to corrupt and distort everything the words "reason" and "knowledge" mean.

I am republishing this article, written in 2005, because it explains exactly what this perversion really is, and what people are allowing educators to do to their children's minds, and the depth of the deception that has been perpetrated.]

Education As Mind Bending One of the changes in education that has been most disastrous is the change in emphasis from principles and concepts to an emphasis on content and results. The former emphasis was based on the essential nature of humans as volitional beings who are required by their natures to live by conscious choice. The purpose of that education was to provide students with the tools needed to make proper choices in life. It was based on the belief that the most important social values are individual integrity, competence, and responsibility.

The newer emphases is based on certain non-essential aspects of human nature—that fact we have memories, feelings, and form habits. The purpose of education now is to produce individuals who will be, "valuable to society." It is based on the belief an individual's value is determined by that individual's usefulness to that society.

As profound and morally important as these diametrically different views of education are, it is only one aspect I am interested in here. The most important tool the older form of education attempted to provide was the ability to think. The content and results oriented form of education today not only fails to teach students how to think, it actually destroys that ability, denying the very principles required for it.

Even from a pragmatic point of view, modern education is a failure. It does not provide the tools required for individual's to make their own choices and achieve individual success, neither does it provide the kind of "useful citizens" it is supposed to produce. These results are obvious to everyone, especially to those in the world of business, where no matter how much "knowledge" the educational system is capable of cramming into someone's head, unless they know how to use that knowledge, how to think and apply it in situations and to problems they have not "memorized," they are useless. The complaints from the business world that the schools are not providing people who can think has been very loud—and someone has been listening.

A Cure Worse Than the Malady

Unfortunately, the one's who have been listening and have arrived at a "solution" are the very same one's who ruined education in the first place—the academics. The solutions the academics have arrived at is called critical thinking, and it is worse than the problem it is supposed to solve.

Critical thinking is now being promoted at all levels of education and within industry itself, and it is very dangerous. It sounds very good, and the question is how could anyone be opposed to thinking critically. No one could, if critical thinking really meant that, and I would be the first to celebrate it. It is in fact a subtle perversion of what true thinking is. There is a reason it is called "critical thinking" and not "correct thinking." Thinking critically is only part of correct thinking, and by taking the part and making it the whole, it totally distorts the true nature of thinking. It is a bad concept, and just as bad money drives out good, bad thinking drives out good thinking.

What exactly is, "critical thinking?"

A Critical Definition

Michael Scriven & Richard Paul for the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking Instruction have provided a brief description of critical thinking in their online article, "Defining Critical Thinking." This amazing brief document not only describes everything that is wrong with the idea of critical thinking but is a wonderful example of exactly what the process produces. We assume it is the kind of reasoning that went into this description.

Before examining the description itself, I must make this interesting observation. The most amazing thing to me about this description of thinking is the language. How it is possible to describe what thinking is without using any of the following words—logic, (although "logical" is now used twice since my last criticism), identity, identification, truth, true, false, incorrect, real, reality, mind, (though 'openmindedly' and 'fairmindedness' are used) consciousness, fact, facts, factual, contradict, contradiction, non-contradiction, order, objective, or subjective, —is a feat that surpasses writing an article on chemistry without using the names of any elements or compounds.

Words Have Meaning—Usually

The piece begins with a "summary" from which I quote the following paragraph.

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

I had to read this phrase several times to be certain I had not misread it, "... universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions." I have not had a course in, "critical thinking," but suspect anyone who has would have no problem with this phrase—I do not mean they would understand it, I mean it would not bother them that they didn't.

I also had difficulty understanding why correct thinking needs to be, "deep," or "broad," or what "fairness," has to do with it; but then remembered, it is not, "correct," thinking that is the issue here, but, "critical," thinking, which is obviously not the same thing as correct thinking.

Other Kinds of Thinking—None of it Correct

Until now, you have probably believed, as I have, that there is only thinking, not different kinds of thinking. Of course we sometimes use the word thinking in a loose sort of way for anything that goes on in our heads, such as day-dreaming. We do not, however, suppose that thinking about music, or thinking about planting a garden, are different kinds or "modes" of thinking but the same kind of thinking about different things. But in critical thinking it's all different, as explained by this sentence:

"Critical thinking ... is incorporated 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."

Exactly how anthropological thinking differs from scientific thinking, or even exactly what anthropological thinking might be is not explained. And exactly what one is suppose to make of "moral thinking," being a unique "mode" of thinking is not explained either and leaves me, at least, with the idea the other modes must be immoral, or at least amoral.

Critical Thinking "Method"

You can learn a lot about what "critical thinking" really is by examining how its proponents describe it: "Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives ... it is typically intellectually flawed .... When grounded in fair mindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually."

Logically, there is absolutely no connection between one's motive for thinking and the quality of that thinking, but that observation pertains only to correct thinking which has knowledge as the goal, logic as the method, and truth as the objective. In critical thinking, logic and truth don't even get mentioned.

If we didn't know better, we might have the impression that "critical thinking" is nothing more than another way to put over post-modernist anti-reason, relativism, and altruism—there must be a mistake here, because the implication that "selfish motives" are contrary to "intellectual integrity" could not be intended—could it?

Collectivism vs. Individualism

The contrasting language, "grounded in selfish motives," vs. "grounded in fair mindedness," identifies the true intention of, "critical thinking." In the minds of these post-modernist relativists, phrases like "intellectual integrity," and "universal intellectual values," refer to the unstated principle that all purposes and values depend on and are for the sake of some amorphous, undefined concept called "society" or "humanity," or worse, "nature," (as in environmentalism). In that view, the interests and welfare of all individuals is subordinated to that, "ideal." The correct word for that view is "collectivism," which implicitly regards "mankind" as a kind of collective whole, with its own values and purposes, which transcend the values and purposes of all individuals—it thus regards the values and purposes of individuals as "selfish," and regards the sacrifice of those "selfish" individual's personal welfare an "ideal" of "a higher order intellectually."

In, "critical thinking," your life, your values, your purposes, your welfare are irrelevant, it is only the life, values, purposes, and welfare of those others that matter—any and all others but you, the individual.

The Real Purpose

It is obvious the critical thinking movement has nothing to do with teaching people to think or reason correctly. It is, in fact, a movement to corrupt correct thinking, a movement meant to put over an agenda.

To get a hint of what that agenda is, consider Mr. Scriven's & Mr. Paul's estimation of their fellow human beings:

"... everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought ... blind spots ... tendencies towards self-delusion."

"The Autonomist's Notebook," under "Admissions of Guilt"says:

Beware the man who makes broad moral judgments.
  1. The man who says, "everyone lies sometimes," is a liar.
  2. The man who says, "everyone steals sometimes," is a thief.
  3. The man who says, "everyone cheats sometimes," is a cheat.
I guess a "critical thinker" who says, "... everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought ... blind spots ... tendencies towards self-delusion," is evidence a critical thinker, is intellectually undisciplined, irrational, blind, and self-delusional."

This attitude that people are generally unable to think, filled with blind spots, prejudices, and self-delusion is typical of leftists and collectivists. The view is necessary to their world view, that "mankind" is generally depraved and helpless and requires a kind of intellectual elite to guide (and control) it. And, of course, it is they who comprise that intellectual elite.

The truth is, most individuals are perfectly capable of thinking clearly for themselves, of making their own choices, and would be, in a free society, both decent and productive. The last thing a collectivist wants people to discover is that they are competent to live their lives without the politicians control or their social engineering.

Correct Reasoning vs. Critical Thinking

Because we are human beings, everything we humanly do, we must do by choosing to do it. As we grow and learn, many of our actions are more-or-less automatic—that is, habitualized; but even those actions require us to consciously allow them, and at any time we can choose to change or stop such actions.

In most things, we are very conscious of our choosing, from what to wear each day to what we'll have for breakfast, we are constantly making choices, and in everything we consider important in life, like our careers, our marriages, how we manage our finances, and how we use our time, we know what we choose is critical to our success or failure.

The faculty that enables (and requires) us to choose what we do consciously is called "volition." The faculty that enables is to determine what to choose is called "reason."

To reason and choose requires "knowledge." Three kinds of knowledge are required: knowledge of what choices are available; knowledge of what the consequences of potential choices will be; and knowledge of what is good or bad for us.

If we are going to live successfully as human beings, knowledge is an essential requirement of life, because our lives require us to live by choice, and choice is impossible without knowledge. But knowledge is not automatic, and requires effort to gain, just as every other valuable thing does. In other words, before one can acquire knowledge one must choose to make the effort to acquire it.

I could have said, "reason is the process of non-contradictory identification," and "every contradiction is an indication of a mistake in one's process of reasoning." That is true, but does not explain how it works. The little discussion above not only explains the relationship between "volition" and "reason," but is an example of how correct thinking works.

If one asks the question, "why should I study, why should I try to learn?" the above discussion is how one would arrive at the correct answer to the question.

The available choices are, "to study," or "not to study (or do something else, like "watch television.") The consequences of the choices are, "to study will give me knowledge," and "not to study will not give me knowledge." What is good for me is having knowledge, in fact it is absolutely necessary for my life as a human being. What is bad for me is lack of knowledge, because I cannot live without it.

Presuming one wants to live, one will choose to study, and that choice is determined by the reasoning we have just done. If this seems simplistic, in one sense it is, because it is only an example. In most of life, reasoning is much more complex involving many steps, and checks to ensure we've not allowed contradictions on the way; but in principle it is always the same.

In this day and age, few people can even do the simple kind of reasoning used in our example. Ten minutes with almost anyone on the street will convince you, the ability to reason, even about such fundamental things, is barely existent.

That situation is exactly what those promoting so-called "critical thinking" want. It is not possible to enslave those who are capable of thinking clearly for themselves, who will see through the false claims of those who ensnare the ignorant and unreasoning with their threats (think environmentalism) and promises (think hope and change). It is "critical thinking" that has destroyed the minds of our children, and many adults as well; it is, in fact the tool of the left by which all the post-modernist, politically-correct, multi-cultural, anti-reason hedonistic culture-destroying anti-concepts dominating our society today have been put over.

"Keep an open mind," is a mantra of the "critical thinking" crowd. This is what Ayn Rand, in "Philosophy, Who Needs It?" had to say about that:

[The "Open Mind"] ...is a very ambiguous term ... an anti-concept: it is usually taken to mean an objective, unbiased approach to ideas, but it is used as a call for perpetual skepticism, for holding no firm convictions and granting plausibility to anything. ... What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an 'open mind,' but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically. An active mind does not grant equal status to truth and falsehood; it does not remain floating forever in a stagnant vacuum of neutrality and uncertainty; by assuming the responsibility of judgment, it reaches firm convictions and holds to them. Since it is able to prove its convictions, an active mind achieves an unassailable certainty in confrontations with assailants——certainty untainted by spots of blind faith, approximation, evasion, and fear."

It is people with that kind of certainty the left is terrified of, and it is people with the kinds of minds capable of such certainty "critical thinking" is intended to prevent or destroy.

—(04/01/05)