Why Be Critical? Essay

4429 words - 18 pages

I. INTRODUCTIONSince critical thinking is evidently more difficult, more troublesome, than ordinary, garden-variety thinking, the question that naturally arises is, why bother. Why not just say, "Forget it...I'll think (and do, and be) what I want?" This kind of question is not anything new -- Plato, for instance, has Socrates raise a similar question in the Republic, namely, "Why be just?"In this paper I will consider several issues that I take to be related to the justification of critical thinking. The first issue is whether or not the common conceptualization of critical thinking as a dispositional trait possessed and displayed by the critical thinker is correct. The second issue is whether there is indeed some value to the critical thinker in thinking critically, and if so, what sort of value. The third issue is whether there is a relationship between critical thinking, rationality, and morality, and if so, what that might be.I will argue, first, that while rationality is best construed as dispositional, critical thinking is not. Rather, critical thinking would be better understood as episodic. I shall argue, moreover, that this difference is an important one pedagogically, for while it is possible and desirable to teach, and to test for, an episodic critical thinking, it is neither possible nor desirable to attempt to do the same for the students' dispositional rationality.Second, I will argue that critical thinking does have a value, but that, contra Siegel, that value is an instrumental one. That is, one should think critically simply because that sort of thinking is efficacious.Third, I will argue that, although critical thinking per se is episodic and justified instrumentally, it is to be hoped that a person ultimately will develop the disposition to regularly and habitually think critically, for that disposition is directly related to rationality. Moreover, the person's disposition to think critically, that is, his or her rationality, is a necessary condition, and, for problems in the moral realm, a sufficient condition, for that person's morality. Hence, if it is true a) that (episodic) critical thinking is necessary for rationality (the dispositional tendency to think critically), and b) that rationality is in turn necessary for morality, then critical thinking, and the teaching thereof, would be justified not only instrumentally, but would also be justified on moral grounds, provided that morality itself is justified. The question, then, returns to approximately that of Socrates, namely, "Why be moral?"II. IS CRITICAL THINKING A DISPOSITIONAL TRAIT?Despite their differences, many of the interpreters of critical thinking, for example, Ennis, Siegel, and McPeck, seem to accept that a full interpretation of critical thinking must recognize in the concept a dispositional element. Siegel, for instance, in Educating Reason, argues that critical thinking is not properly conceived as merely a set of proficiencies (which he terms "the pure...

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