Up dated: August 14, 2005

THE STUDY OF CRITICAL THINKING

The failure to consider language explicitly has been a cause of much that is bad in philosophy.

Bertrand Russell  

      It is a natural characteristic of man not only to use language but more often to abuse it causing us to have false beliefs and beliefs that CANNOT BE VERIFIED to be true or false.
      We are a world of diverse believers: Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Conservatives, Liberals, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Sunnis, Kurds, Shiites, Hindus, Indians, mathematicians, scientists, theists, atheists, agnostics, whatever, such that beliefs we hold are contradicted by someone else's beliefs.
      Unfortunately, our schooling institutions do little to educate our students about this gross failure to understand the significance and the causes of this fact.
      I suspect, however, that most of us do not consciously  want to continue to believe false beliefs or be victims of beliefs that can't be verified to be true or false..
      If we don't have an understanding of the weaknesses, as well as the strengths of language, if we remain unable to recognize when the language is not falsifiable, i.e., is incapable of being shown to be true or false, we will be severely limited in our ability to become clear, critical, and analytical thinkers.
      Few people realize that language is only a tool which we use to gain some control over our lives and environment -- discursive or physical..
      Just as we can cause damage misusing a hammer as a tool, we can, even more so, disabusing language.
      It is imperative that we learn how to examine clearly, critically, and analytically the language of beliefs whether that language is about best friends, world affairs, our experiences of the world, or the professions we so laboriously studied or pursued.  To do so is to develop our intellectual abilities to the point whereupon we will be able better to judge and evaluate the epistemic and truth values of language.
       In the process of studying what we incorrectly, i.e., colloquially, call "Critical Thinking," it is imperative that we recognize when language unintentionally, deliberately, or practically, or for selfish purposes, is being abused.  
      When I speak of the term, 'Critical Thinking,' as colloquial,  I mean to say that we neglect to clarify that the term, 'critical,' refers to many different characteristics of mental activity.
      The term, 'critical' more accurately refers to qualities or attitudes of the mind, many of which though present are not activated.       

      A critical thinker, at one time or another, but not always  is curious, questioning, speculative, creative, inquisitive, reflective, thoughtful, open-minded to evidence (i.e., verifiable or falsifiable claims), perceptive, persistent, observing, resistant to gullibility and accepting absolutes, interested in objective and rational discussion, prone to unambiguous definitions, sometimes analytical, and more.
     
Not all these attributes are applied to our uses of language simultaneously.  This accounts, partly,  for the many different concepts of "critical thinking.  Moreover when one is thinking logically, i.e., validly, and soundly, one  is thinking clearly,  critically, and analytically.
        It is not the case, however, that when a person  is thinking "critically" in one aspect of the term that he is necessarily capable of thinking "critically" in all other aspects of the term.
      Some minds are so accepting they cannot be considered to possess all the attributes listed above.  For instance, often a person is prone to pose a question to which he believes he already knows the answer.  Or, he may be curious without possessing the initiative or mental ability to satisfy his curiosity.
      Most often a novice in such a study, has difficulty understanding the subject because he is unable to distinguish between language and the subject matter that the language is about.
      He concentrates on defending his beliefs instead of concentrating on the LANGUAGE of his beliefs that are founded on so many unexamined assumptions.
      We must apply to them critical attitudes and clear and analytical techniques to disabuse ourselves of careless or improper uses of language in expressing our beliefs.
      No matter what we may THINK we are discussing in a study of clear, critical, and analytical thinking, as we use lifetime experiences, beliefs, facts, theories, concepts, opinions, deeply-felt convictions, etc., as examples, we must always be STUDIOUSLY aware that fundamentally we are talking about OUR USES AND ABUSES OF LANGUAGE -- not deeply-held convictions, not opinions, etc.
      We must first come to understand how we acquired our beliefs and then learn to distinguish between underlying, improper and proper uses of unexamined assumptions.
      Crucial for success is a knowledge of certain concepts, principles, and verifiable facts, of which most of us are unaware, a few of which are listed below.
      They must be clearly understood and agreed upon before we can hope to determine the truth values of our beliefs and the language through which we express them.
           1. Meanings occur only in the minds of intelligent and physical beings.  However,
                    the meanings we attribute to the term, 'meaning,' are countless
.

           2. No word, object, or symbol has an inherent, i.e., innate, meaning.
           3. Every declarative statement is preceded by an unspoken "If" or see #5.
           4. Truth and knowledge are based on assumptions; i.e., truth and knowledge are
                    probable, not absolute -- according to available evidence.
           5. An UNSPOKEN, "According to available evidence" (sometimes spoken) either
                    precedes or ends every legitimate claim to truth and knowledge.
           6. Recognizing the "level" of language is crucial to understanding the meanings
                   we attribute to the symbols we use.

SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella