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What’s Really Needed today are ‘CRITICAL THINKERS’!!!

April 13, 2013

Let’s start with some history of ‘critical thinking’. The best MINDS on our planet (past and present) tend to seek out the deeper meanings to current events. Probably the ‘best’ critical thinker from history was the Philosopher, Socrates (my opinion). Unfortunately, he was ‘killed’ (via taking a poison hemlock) for his moral position on the issue of ‘truth’ (justice). His practice of asking ‘hard’ and ‘difficult’ questions to get to ‘truth’ created hate and animosity from the establishment ‘Authorities’. His society at the time (Athenian Greece) could not allow views and opinions which differed from those that the establishment desired to promote (the politically correct mindset of those in control). This led to his sentence of ‘corrupting’ the youth’ and his eventual death (at around the age of 70). Socrates did not write down his philosophy for posterity but Plato (his pupil) did expand on his thinking and ideas. The following history of critical thinking seems relevant when we talk about Socrates and those who followed his style (such as Thomas Aquinas).

A Brief History of Critical Thinking based on the questioning philosophy of Socrates:

The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. Confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or self-contradictory beliefs often lurked beneath smooth but largely empty rhetoric. Socrates established the fact that one cannot depend upon those in “authority” to have sound knowledge and insight. He demonstrated that persons may have power and high position and yet be deeply confused and irrational. He established the importance of asking deep questions that probe profoundly into thinking before we accept ideas as worthy of belief.He established the importance of seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts, and tracing out implications not only of what is said but of what is done as well. His method of questioning is now known as “Socratic Questioning” and is the best known critical thinking teaching strategy. In his mode of questioning, Socrates highlighted the need in thinking for clarity and logical consistency.Socrates set the agenda for the tradition of critical thinking, namely, to reflectively question common beliefs and explanations, carefully distinguishing those beliefs that are reasonable and logical from those which — however appealing they may be to our native egocentrism, however much they serve our vested interests, however comfortable or comforting they may be — lack adequate evidence or rational foundation to warrant our belief.

Socrates’ practice was followed by the critical thinking of Plato (who recorded Socrates’ thought), Aristotle, and the Greek skeptics, all of whom emphasized that things are often very different from what they appear to be and that only the trained mind is prepared to see through the way things look to us on the surface (delusive appearances) to the way they really are beneath the surface (the deeper realities of life).

From this ancient Greek tradition emerged the need, for anyone who aspired to understand the deeper realities, to think systematically, to trace implications broadly and deeply, for only thinking that is comprehensive, well-reasoned, and responsive to objections can take us beyond the surface.

In the Middle Ages, the tradition of systematic critical thinking was embodied in the writings and teachings of such thinkers as Thomas Aquinas (Sumna Theologica) who to ensure his thinking met the test of critical thought, always systematically stated, considered, and answered all criticisms of his ideas as a necessary stage in developing them. Aquinas heightened our awareness not only of the potential power of reasoning but also of the need for reasoning to be systematically cultivated and “cross-examined.” Of course, Aquinas’ thinking also illustrates that those who think critically do not always reject established beliefs, only those beliefs that lack reasonable foundations.

My study of philosophy and economics has led me to the view that human beings have no ‘final’ answers to anything. What we do as human beings is create basic ‘assumptions’…which we believe are reflections of reality, and we then try to get ‘agreement’ from some establishment ‘group’ to promote these ‘assumptions’. If the establishment ‘group’ (say a University Science Department or some Theological Society) agrees with these ‘assumptions’ we then proceed to promote these ‘assumptions’ as THE TRUTH! We educate the weak and the young about our TRUTH and this becomes the politically correct TRUTH for a society.

What emerges from this type of ‘non-critical thinking’ is what I call GROUP THINK. Those in power and authority positions (politicians, economists, scientists, theologians, pundits, and media) then promulgate this ‘group think’ to the masses via the gullible media and via establishment educational programs. The masses then regurgitate this ‘group think’ to their peer groups as FINAL TRUTH! A good example of this ‘group think’ in practice could be the regimes of Adolph Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin. These policymakers/dictators created their own reality from prior ‘group think’ assumptions. They then promulgated their TRUTH upon the masses.

Today, we need to learn from these prior experiments. Those in Authority Positions need to accept that their personal ‘group think’ assumptions may be flawed. What we need today (in my opinion) are many who do their OWN ‘critical thinking’ and those who derive their OWN assumptions about reality and who then allow questioning of ALL ‘assumptions’ and ‘perceived truth’. This methodology might lead to a much better view of reality and truth which would then lead to a better overall society for this planet. Give this logic some thought and reflection at your leisure. I am:

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