The intellectual roots of critical thinking date back to the Greek philosophers.
Socrates discovered, by means of probing questions, that in the exchange of competing ideas, people sometimes make confident claims based on unreliable assumptions or failed logic.
Such arguments, he discovered, were either erroneous in fact, absent sufficient foundation, or failing in logic. Instead, most arguments were based on confused meanings, inadequate evidence, or contradictory beliefs.
Socrates' contributions to critical thinking were many -- for he established new ways to think about contentious issues in terms of the quality of assumptions, facts and logic.
Thus Socrates demonstrated that persons may have passion, or power or high position but yet be deeply confused and irrational.
Good journalism, like compelling debate, is based on a clear understanding of facts and the logical construction of one's argument. And that is what the Socratic Method and The Sophist Tradition is all about.
The Socratic Method is the preferred way to examine issues.
In the Socratic mode of questioning, postulations, ideas or arguments are examined for their clarity and logical consistency by systematic analysis of facts, assumptions and logical methodology to support a conclusion.
Socratic analysis is accomplished by means of a series of probing questions that systematically examine the quality of an argument or conclusion.
Understanding the quality of information, argument or one's conclusions, is fundamental to critical thinking -- and the goal of critical editing.
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.
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.
Means Of Analysis
The common denominators of Critical Thinking requires, for example, the systematic monitoring of thought; that thinking, to be critical, must not be accepted at face value, but must be analyzed and assessed for its clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and logical validity. All reasoning occurs within points of view and frames of reference.
All reasoning proceeds from some goals, objectives, and has an informational base. All data, when used in reasoning, must be interpreted. That interpretation involves concepts, that concepts entail assumptions, and that all basic inferences in thought have implications, and each of these dimensions of thinking need to be monitored where problems of thinking can occur.
The result of the collective contribution of the history of critical thought is that the basic questions of Socrates can now be much more powerfully and focally framed.
In every domain of human thought, and within every use of reasoning within any domain, it is now possible to question:
• ends and objectives
• the status and wording of questions
• the sources of information and fact
• the method and quality of information collection
• the mode of judgment and reasoning used
• the concepts that make that reasoning possible
• the assumptions that underlie concepts in use
• the implications that follow from their use
• the point of view or frame of reference within which reasoning takes place
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Published: Wednesday February 8, 2012 1:00 pm EDT
Updated: Sunday May 20, 2012 5:25 pm EDT
Conversations With America Section
Article Length: 1237 Words
Reading Time: 5 Minutes
Since the Elephant on the National Mall appears likely to become a permanent fixture, given the inattention given to its purpose, or its message, we asked some ordinary Americans what they thought about its existence – and whether or not Washington was likely to ever notice its presence.
Elephant On The National Mall
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Clearly no one has seen an imaginary elephant milling about the National Mall. It’s also clear, from what I hear from people online and at gatherings, that if such an elephant doesn’t exist, it clearly ought to. For like unwanted elephants in the room we’ve all had to deal with in our own lives, a symbolic pachyderm wandering about the National Mall represents an issue no one in charge in government wants to deal with.
The issue is not complicated. Nor is it obtuse, or unfounded. For millions of Americans who have to suffer consequences for their actions and decisions, the issue is one of Investigatory Zeal, Prosecutorial Energy, and Dispositive Judgment.
While the Occupy Wall Street groups have not made clear their demands, what I hear from ordinary Americans are ideas the Occupy folks might wish to consider.
For Main Street America
The issue is not political, nor economic.
The foundations are in part belief in trustworthy governance, faith in American tradition, and reliance upon constitutional certainty.
The central theme is equal treatment under the law.
The issue is, as one chap succinctly assured me recently, “Why the hell aren’t the bastards who fucked up our country being held accountable for what they did to the rest of us?”
Not everyone says it so clearly.
Beyond the Beltway there is seething anger driven by disbelief at the failure of government in general and Washington in specific to do what’s right.
To treat the rich and powerful with the same zeal, determination and certainty of outcome as those who fight for and whose labor generates the wealth that empowers the nation we share.
Symbolic Elephant On The National Mall
Were there an invisible elephant wandering about the National Mall he’d be seeking redress for millions of Americans whose lives were disrupted, damaged, or ended by the criminal behavior of bankers, dealers, traders and deal-makers.
What he’d be looking for would be a responsible adult in whom he might trust and believe.
Someone who might restore his faith in the America he learned about in school.
The America where truth matters.
Where justice is blind to the rich, powerful, and shrill.
Where right and wrong matter more than political ideology or powers of persuasion.
Equal Justice Under The Law
Earlier this week, a news item from the FBI reported on the sentencing and restitution order against a 76 year old man with a consuming desire for child pornography.
America knows what to do with people who violate our laws, sense of decency, or seek to abrogate our rights or property.
Every week we see many stories about criminal sentences for people who possess images we find distasteful on their computers.
What we don’t see is the same level of investigatory zeal, prosecutorial energy, and judicial outrage against those who cheated, lied and stole until their collective actions brought down international credit markets — at immense cost, pain and suffering for millions of ordinary Americans.
In Search Of A Responsible Adult
As a nation we need to talk about the imaginary elephant on the National Mall.
For we have a deaf ear here inside the beltway when ordinary Americans seek justice for crimes committed against them.