CRITICAL THINKING

ANYONE WHO CANNOT DISTINGUISH HYPOSTATIZING (ABSTRACT) LANGUAGE FROM CONCRETE LANGUAGE (THAT DOES NOT HYPOSTATIZE) AND EQUATES THE TWO EPISTEMICALLY IS NOT TRULY EDUCATED.

Most of the time clear thinking and critical thinking are a matter of degree unless analytical thinking is being exercised.
      To the degree that one is thinking analytically, i.e., defining his terms, examining assumptions, etc., he is thinking both clearly and critically.
      However, clear and critical thinking do not necessarily involve each other or analytical thinking.
Most teachers, on the pre-college level to whom I have spoken, insist that they teach their students to think critically.
      Too many of them confuse occasionally encouraging students to think critically with TEACHING them how to think critically.
      Usually their "method" is to have students compare superficial ideas acquired through rote learning or experience.
      They ask questions and have the students ask questions with little regard to whether the questions are fundamental to the process of reasoning or to whether the principles of reasoning are being examined.
Critical thinking should never be confused with critical analysis.
      The former, as in the name of our courses when "critical thinking" is being used conventionally, may sometimes include analysis, but most often does not,  in clear, critical and analytical thinking,  is extremely vague and certainly is ambiguous.
      It is usually "critical thinking" one has in mind as an osmotic by-product of other studies, and of course it cannot be denied that all of us were born with one or more critical thinking attitudes some of which are used.
      Everyone  thinks critically some time or other (even analytically) to some small degree without pursuing any subject of study.
It may be that we generally acquire better insights about a subject to which critical thinking, i.e., attributes have been applied.
      Any person with a modicum of intelligence and inquisitiveness can think critically.
      Anyone trying to solve a problem thinks critically.
      A student of grammar thinks critically when learning to parse a sentence.
      One thinks critically when trying to determine how to dry the wet inside of a plastic glove.
      A tool maker thinks critically when making tools.
Thinking critically must never be confused with LEARNING to think critically.
      The former does not necessitate an examination of basic assumptions.
      Critical thinking involves many kinds of thinking such as creative thinking, speculative thinking, abstract thinking, artistic thinking, mathematical thinking, and sometimes even analytical thinking.  However, none of these is possible unless a person already possesses certain critical attributes and attitudes such as curiosity, inquisitiveness, speculativity, creativity, reflectivity, thoughtfulness, open-mindedness to evidence, (i. e., verifiable or falsifiable claims), perceptive, persistence, observing, resistance to gullibility and accepting absolutes, interest in objectivity and rational discussion , proneness to unambiguous definitions. sometimes analytical, and more -- often not applied.
      It is done in fiction, poetry, and music.
      These must be vague in order to induce certain (though perhaps varied) kinds of emotional responses.
In the literary arts, for instance; the purpose of the artist's critical thought is to conceive and use words which not only express his own emotional and aesthetic experiences but especially to elicit various kinds of emotion in the reader.
      To some degree, he may be experiencing some clarity about how he is accomplishing his goal.
      The readers and critics, in thinking critically about his finished work and that of artists in the fine arts in general, will find much to disagree about because of their different life-time experiences.
Beauty of art is truly "in the eyes of the beholder."
      A poet may be thinking critically in making certain that he is expressing himself with an economy of words (using one word in place of 10).
      However, an equally important function of a poet is to use figures of speech that will have a depth of "meaning" which is relevant to a person's life experiences and which is not necessarily the same "meaning" the artist intended or another person may "derive."
Such is the way of art:  Good art must bring different meanings to different people.
      Some art "experts," of course, will say, "Ah, but there is a basic meaning to all who understand art."
      Here is not the place to become involved in such a philosophical issue.
      Suffice it to say, even philosophers will not agree among themselves about that statement.
      The aesthetic function of art is calculated more to stimulate a variety of emotions than to communicate denotatively.
      For the artist, conveying clarity of thought takes second place to titilation and the dredging up of deep and often superficial emotions.
      Still, the artist does think critically about how to achieve his ends.
A math teacher is thinking critically to some degree when he explains various axioms of geometry.
      But what of the unexamined axioms themselves?  If in explaining them, he fails to examine the epistemic and existential nature of numbers, points, lines, planes, which do not actually exist as does a physical object, and are defined in analytic statements, and do not in fact describe the physical world, then to that degree, he and his students are not thinking critically.
      In such cases often the student's "thinking" constitutes a critical understanding only of the manipulation of little understood concepts.
      For instance, in a mathematics text after explaining the definition of twin prime numbers and giving the example of 17 and 19 because there is a difference of two between them, and because neither one can be divided by any other whole number except the number one, the text then, under the title, "CRITICAL THINKING," asks the students to offer another example of twin prime numbers.
      This is hardly in-depth thinking.
As a result of the failure to distinguish critical from analytical thinking, the content of critical thinking courses has run the gamut of subject matter ranging from vegetarianism to fictional literature.
      That is the character of critical thinking.  It is usually applied as a superficial inquiry into any subject.
      It rarely requires IN-DEPTH analysis.
IN-DEPTH thinking necessarily requires careful analysis i.e., critical analysis and often denotative use of language.
Consider the extent of aesthetic language, connotative language, esoteric language, ordinary language, colloquial language, dialectical language, cryptic language, pedantic language, ceremonial language, theological language, political language, and too many more kinds of language to cite here.
It doesn't require much effort to demonstrate that little analytic thought is happening on this earth.
IN SUMMARY:
To ask how can we teach critical thinking (loosely defined) in the various academic disciplines is tantamount to asking how can we teach critical thinking with piano lessons, with Geography, with Typing, etc.
"Critical Thinking" is an autonomous discipline, as are Mathematics, Chemistry, History, etc., each demanding specific and detailed attention to its subject matter.
Each is founded on its own history.
Clear, critical, and analytical thinking -- three terms usually mistaken to be synonymous -- are the foundation of the total history of philosophy in all its complexities.
The reason why teachers, in different disciplines, believe they are teaching their students to think critically, also (which they may be doing superficially), is that they do not do, and do not have time to do during the course of study, in-depth examinations of the assumptions upon which their disciplines are founded; hence, the different concepts of what constitutes critical thinking.
So long as teachers fail to recognize that they do not examine those assumptions, and fail to emphasize and study the complexities that permeate the issues of language, truth, and knowledge, and so long as they fail to recognize and emphasize and accept 1) that words, i.e., language, symbols, etc., have no inherent meanings, 2) that truth is totally dependent upon our uses of those symbols, and 3) that all claims to knowledge are based on assumptions and are always a matter of degrees of probability, they will not, in fact, succeed in teaching their students, appreciably, to think clearly, critically, or analytically.
Following is a sample of clear, critical, and analytical thinking as it relates to unverifiable theistic language excerpted from my book, Hey! IS That You, God? (Available at Sebastian Publishing Co., 118 Willis Avenue, Port Jefferson, N.Y. 11777), from pages 53 through 58.

THE GARDEN OF EDEN

Schievella:  Let's review that day in the Garden of Eden.  You did place a fruit tree of knowledge in the center of it?
God:  As the description goes--of good and evil.

SATAN

Whatever.  But, apparently You were not paying attention to Satan's interference.  Remember Satan?
How could I forget?
Was it You who described Satan as having horns and a long spiked tail?  Did You borrow that from the ancient myths, gods that were part man and part animal?
Pasqual, you're wandering.
Not really.  It's all related.  After all, that serpent in the garden was Satan.  Right?
You know it!
You're disturbed because Satan pulled a fast one on You.
What are you talking about?
You never intended for us to acquire knowledge.  That's why You got so damned mad when Your serpent conned Adam and Eve into eating Your forbidden fruit.  Was your immaterial back turned?  Did Your infinite knowledge and  incorporeal brain fail You?  Why didn't You stop the serpent?  Was it as powerful as You?  I don't mean to embarrass You, God, but these questions do deserve answers.  After all, You did say in Ecclesiastes III, 19, "a man hath no preeminence above a beast."
The issues are more complex than you can imagine.
The politics among you gods must be heavy stuff.  We're pretty lucky there was a serpent in the Garden.
Be careful, Pasqual.
If it hadn't been for that piece of good luck, we'd be no more than innocent, ignorant, happy bumpkins.  I've got to hand it to Satan, in the form of a serpent of course, for motivating us to raise ourselves above the level of animals.
Watch it, Schievella.  You're rubbing salt.
But, God, I was expressing the truth.
The truth yet.  By whose interpretation?
Well, it's the only logical conclusion after You admitted Your ire about our acquiring knowledge.  There are many very intelligent people who give Satan credit for what goes on.  They say he comes out looking better than You do.
Well, think what you want.  I know what the facts were.
Did You really create a serpent that talks human language?  What language was that by the way, French? Italian?  American Indian maybe?  Oh, no.  America had not yet been discovered.  How about Japanese?  Russian?  Oh, I'm forgetting, you gods had not yet toppled the Tower of Babel to confound us.  It was Persian!  They gave You that talking-serpent nonsense.  I've got it!  It was Hebrew.  Right?
Rant on, Pasqual.
Ah well, it's obvious You're hiding something from us.  I'll bet there are other gods up there with You, and Satan is one of them.
He is only a fallen angel, Schievella.
Angel or not, only a god could have pulled off giving human beings knowledge against Your will.  That's why You exploded.  Besides, if the translators of early Hebrew religious beliefs weren't grinding their ax of a one-god concept, they would have left the Hebrew "Elohim" in the plural, gods, as it is supposed to be translated.
Not everyone agrees with that interpretation, Pasqual.  But, I thought we disposed of that before.
Not to my satisfaction.  Anyway, You were so angry with Your first two offspring on Earth that You posted guards and closed off the Garden to Adam and Eve. You made them feel so guilty about their nakedness, they covered their genitals with fig leaves.  We like to think of the human body as beautiful, not as shameful.  Moreover, we don't know of any serpent that can act like a human being.  Is that because You condemned serpents thereafter to crawl on their bellies and behave like snakes?  Well, anyway, it's weird to think of a serpent that can function like a human being in intellectual and rational ways.  If You were able to change him into a crawling creature, why didn't You do it before he did his thing?  After all, with the infinite knowledge You claim to possess, You knew he was going to -- and You let him.
I can't say that I care much for your shallow interpretation, Schievella.
In the absence of a rational one from You, I'll stick with it.  Besides, it's obvious that You're not denying responsibility for using Satan.  After all, despite Your infinite power, You did not undo his dastardly work.  And since Your Christian society accepts the Adam-out-of-dust and Eve-out-of-Adam's rib version of man's creation, along with Satan tempting them, I'd like to discuss the results of Your handiwork, and Your lack of foresight.
Obviously, you're determined to make a big thing of it.
We'll see.  Possibly I can come to understand Your purpose in creating us.  Then I could carry Your message to the world.  We could become the kind of creature You first wanted us to be when You created Adam and Eve.  By the way, were Adam and Eve yellow, red, black, or white?
When I created Adam and Eve, they didn't know about evil.  But since Eve persuaded Adam that they should taste of the forbidden fruit, there's no going back.
You didn't answer my last question, God.
It's not worthy of comment, Schievella.
At least You admit that You created a Garden of Eden?
Admit?  That's a dumb choice of word!  Doesn't the Bible say so?
Yes, God.  But I don't believe everything I read, especially if it was written many hundreds of years ago by people who were quite incapable of telling the difference between fact and belief or between knowledge and unsupported convictions.  But we won't get into that again.
Thank you for small favors, Pasqual.
And certainly, if we can believe Pope John Paul II, Satan is still stalking the Earth controlling our lives a lot more than You are.  Have You decided to leave us to his mercy or are You unable to counter his evils?
Well, he may win a few battles.  But, I'll win the war.
That's not very consoling to us who are caught up in Your battles with him, God.  I don't appreciate being a pawn in anybody's wars, Yours or man's.  Perhaps you two could consider a truce?  Come to terms with each other?  Talk it out?  For my part I'd like to see you two commanders get into the fray yourselves instead of sitting it out safely and unscathed in the comfort of your separate kingdoms.
You're asking Me to talk to the devil?

SATAN CONS GOD

Come on, God.  You're not above using Satan to do Your dirty work.  Remember in Job I and II?  Satan conned You into tempting Job, as You admit in Job II, 3.  So, You sent Satan to the land of Uz to have Satan strip the very wealthy Job of all that he owned.  As Job put it in Job I, 21, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."  He didn't even get angry at You.
He knew better than that.
I'd have sued You.  I'd have taken You to court.  In our Democracy, You'd never get away with that.  After all, fair is fair. You had no just reason to do that. You, Yourself, if the Bible is Your Word, described him, in Book of Job I, 1, as "prefect and upright, and one who feared God, and eschewed evil."  Job did not realize that You used Satan to tempt him.  But Job held up under the pressure.  So, God, what did You do?
Are you asking Me, or was that rhetorical?
You let Satan con You again.  You couldn't leave well enough alone.  You sent him to Job once more.  Well, if You can play games like that with human beings, using the evil Satan to do Your bidding, then since You're such pals, You should be able to reach a compromise with him.
I threw him out of Heaven, and out he'll stay!
So, You won't admit You connived behind Job's back, eh?
I'm God.  I don't have to connive.
Well, at least that's a partial admission. You don't have to meet Satan in Heaven.  Pick a middle ground.  Like Purgatory?  That's the only just thing to do.  Meet him half way. You might find out he's not all that bad.  After all, Don Juan found Hell to be a rather pleasant place in which to spend eternity.  He found all the real action to be in Hell.  How about it, God?
You'll never find out how wrong he was, Schievella.  You won't make it to Heaven?
Heaven?  Where's that?  I've never heard of that town.
Wiseacre!  Everybody knows where Heaven is.
Everybody?  Don't You think that's an overstatement?  Among millions of other people, I don't know where it is.
It's up here.
Where's "up here"?  Is it over North America?  Colorado?  China maybe?  How about Russia or Australia or Africa or----
All of them, Schievella.  All of them.
Over the moon too?  The sun?  The Andromeda galaxy?
Those too!
Out in deep space?
Yep.
The Russian astronauts said they didn't see any evidence of You out there.
They weren't looking very hard.
What's heaven like, God?
You'll never find out, Schievella.
You said that already.
You're going in the opposite direction.
But God!  You said Heaven was in every direction.  That would leave no direction for getting to Hell.
Schievella, You'll know Hell when you get there.
Well, forget about Hell for the moment, God.  If You describe Heaven to me, You might entice me to believe in You.
You wouldn't understand the description, Pasqual.  It's over your head.
A joke, God?  I didn't know You had a sense of humor.
I've got everything.
Okay.  But about Heaven, what's it like?
It's beautiful, sublime, and peaceful.
Hey, God, Don Juan says Heaven was too boring a place in which to spend eternity.  Anyway, I've experienced that beauty down here; rarely, I'll admit.  But I suspect, according to Your logic, like Your contrast of good and evil, if You don't have any problems up there, no soul would be able to experience it without some contrast.
You'd remember the contrast from your earth life, Schievella.
That's strange.  I don't understand how anybody can remember anything after dying.
I keep telling you, Pasqual, it's over your head.
Well, I can see we'll get nowhere on this subject with that kind of response, God.  So drop it.  Let's get back to Your Camp Purgatory meeting with Satan.
Aside from your acting like a wiseacre, Schievella, you certainly take a lot upon yourself.  You should pay more attention to the ideas My spokesmen have conveyed to you.
Which ideas are those, God?  So many of them are such conceptual nonsense.
 

SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella