Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How To Define "Critical Thinking".

Definitions of Critical Thinking:

Robert H. Ennis, Author of The Cornell Critical Thinking Tests
"Critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe and do."

Robert H. Ennis, 6/20/02

Assuming that critical thinking is reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do, a critical thinker:

1. Is open-minded and mindful of alternatives
2. Tries to be well-informed
3. Judges well the credibility of sources
4. Identifies conclusions, reasons, and assumptions
5. Judges well the quality of an argument, including the acceptability of its reasons, assumptions, and evidence
6. Can well develop and defend a reasonable position
7. Asks appropriate clarifying questions
8. Formulates plausible hypotheses; plans experiments well
9. Defines terms in a way appropriate for the context
10. Draws conclusions when warranted, but with caution
11. Integrates all items in this list when deciding what to believe or do

Critical Thinkers are disposed to:

1. Care that their beliefs be true, and that their decisions be justified; that is, care to "get it right" to the extent possible. This includes the dispositions to

a. Seek alternative hypotheses, explanations, conclusions, plans, sources, etc., and be open to them
b. Endorse a position to the extent that, but only to the extent that, it is justified by the information that is available
c. Be well informed
d. Consider seriously other points of view than their own

2. Care to present a position honestly and clearly, theirs as well as others'. This includes the dispositions to

a. Be clear about the intended meaning of what is said, written, or otherwise communicated, seeking as much precision as the situation requires
b. Determine, and maintain focus on, the conclusion or question
c. Seek and offer reasons
d. Take into account the total situation
e. Be reflectively aware of their own basic beliefs

3. Care about the dignity and worth of every person (a correlative disposition). This includes the dispositions to

a. Discover and listen to others' view and reasons
b. Avoid intimidating or confusing others with their critical thinking prowess, taking into account others' feelings and level of understanding
c. Be concerned about others' welfare

Critical Thinking Abilities:

Ideal critical thinkers have the ability to
(The first three items involve elementary clarification.)

1. Focus on a question

a. Identify or formulate a question
b. Identify or formulate criteria for judging possible answers
c. Keep the situation in mind

2. Analyze arguments

a. Identify conclusions
b. Identify stated reasons
c. Identify unstated reasons
d. Identify and handle irrelevance
e. See the structure of an argument
f. Summarize

3. Ask and answer questions of clarification and/or challenge, such as,

a. Why?
b. What is your main point?
c. What do you mean by…?
d. What would be an example?
e. What would not be an example (though close to being one)?
f. How does that apply to this case (describe a case, which might well appear to be a counter example)?
g. What difference does it make?
h. What are the facts?
i. Is this what you are saying: ____________?
j. Would you say some more about that?

(The next two involve the basis for the decision.)

4. Judge the credibility of a source. Major criteria (but not necessary conditions):

a. Expertise
b. Lack of conflict of interest
c. Agreement among sources
d. Reputation
e. Use of established procedures
f. Known risk to reputation
g. Ability to give reasons
h. Careful habits

5. Observe, and judge observation reports. Major criteria (but not necessary conditions, except for the first):

a. Minimal inferring involved
b. Short time interval between observation and report
c. Report by the observer, rather than someone else (that is, the report is not hearsay)
d. Provision of records.
e. Corroboration
f. Possibility of corroboration
g. Good access
h. Competent employment of technology, if technology is useful
i. Satisfaction by observer (and reporter, if a different person) of the credibility criteria in Ability # 4 above.

(The next three involve inference.)

6. Deduce, and judge deduction

a. Class logic
b. Conditional logic
c. Interpretation of logical terminology in statements, including
(1) Negation and double negation
(2) Necessary and sufficient condition language
(3) Such words as "only", "if and only if", "or", "some", "unless", "not both".

7. Induce, and judge induction

a. To generalizations. Broad considerations:
(1) Typicality of data, including sampling where appropriate
(2) Breadth of coverage
(3) Acceptability of evidence
b. To explanatory conclusions (including hypotheses)
(1) Major types of explanatory conclusions and hypotheses:
(a) Causal claims
(b) Claims about the beliefs and attitudes of people
(c) Interpretation of authors’ intended meanings
(d) Historical claims that certain things happened (including criminal accusations)
(e) Reported definitions
(f) Claims that some proposition is an unstated reason that the person actually used
(2) Characteristic investigative activities
(a) Designing experiments, including planning to control variables
(b) Seeking evidence and counter-evidence
(c) Seeking other possible explanations
(3) Criteria, the first five being essential, the sixth being desirable
(a) The proposed conclusion would explain the evidence
(b) The proposed conclusion is consistent with all known facts
(c) Competitive alternative explanations are inconsistent with facts
(d) The evidence on which the hypothesis depends is acceptable.
(e) A legitimate effort should have been made to uncover counter-evidence
(f) The proposed conclusion seems plausible

8. Make and judge value judgments: Important factors:

a. Background facts
b. Consequences of accepting or rejecting the judgment
c. Prima facie application of acceptable principles
d. Alternatives
e. Balancing, weighing, deciding

(The next two abilities involve advanced clarification.)

9. Define terms and judge definitions. Three dimensions are form, strategy, and content.

a. Form. Some useful forms are:
(1) Synonym
(2) Classification
(3) Range
(4) Equivalent expression
(5) Operational
(6) Example and non-example
b. Definitional strategy
(1) Acts
(a) Report a meaning
(b) Stipulate a meaning
(c) Express a position on an issue (including "programmatic" and "persuasive" definitions)
(2) Identifying and handling equivocation
c. Content of the definition

10. Attribute unstated assumptions (an ability that belongs under both clarification and, in a way, inference)

(The next two abilities involve supposition and integration.)

11. Consider and reason from premises, reasons, assumptions, positions, and other propositions with which they disagree or about which they are in doubt -- without letting the disagreement or doubt interfere with their thinking ("suppositional thinking")

12. Integrate the other abilities and dispositions in making and defending a decision

(The first twelve abilities are constitutive abilities. The next three are auxiliary critical thinking abilities: Having them, though very helpful in various ways, is not constitutive of being a critical thinker.)

13. Proceed in an orderly manner appropriate to the situation. For example:

a. Follow problem solving steps
b. Monitor one's own thinking (that is, engage in metacognition)
c. Employ a reasonable critical thinking checklist

14. Be sensitive to the feelings, level of knowledge, and degree of sophistication of others

15. Employ appropriate rhetorical strategies in discussion and presentation (orally and in writing), including employing and reacting to "fallacy" labels in an appropriate manner.

Examples of fallacy labels are "circularity," "bandwagon," "post hoc," "equivocation," "non sequitur," and "straw person."

Dewey, John
Critical thinking is "active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends (Dewey 1933: 118)."

(1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one's experiences, (2) knowledge of the methods of logical inquiry and reasoning, and (3) some skill in applying those methods. Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the further conclusions to which it tends. (Glaser 1941, pp. 5-6).

Abilities include: "(a) to recognize problems, (b) to find workable means for meeting those problems, (c) to gather and marshal pertinent information, (d) to recognize unstated assumptions and values, (e) to comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity and discrimination, (f) to interpret data, (g) to appraise evidence and evaluate statements, (h) to recognize the existence of logical relationships between propositions, (i) to draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, (j) to put to test the generalizations and conclusions at which one arrives, (k) to reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience; and (l) to render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life." (p.6)

MCC General Education Initiatives
"Critical thinking includes the ability to respond to material by distinguishing between facts and opinions or personal feelings, judgments and inferences, inductive and deductive arguments, and the objective and subjective. It also includes the ability to generate questions, construct, and recognize the structure of arguments, and adequately support arguments; define, analyze, and devise solutions for problems and issues; sort, organize, classify, correlate, and analyze materials and data; integrate information and see relationships; evaluate information, materials, and data by drawing inferences, arriving at reasonable and informed conclusions, applying understanding and knowledge to new and different problems, developing rational and reasonable interpretations, suspending beliefs and remaining open to new information, methods, cultural systems, values and beliefs and by assimilating information."

Nickerson, Perkins and Smith (1985)
"The ability to judge the plausibility of specific assertions, to weigh evidence, to assess the logical soundness of inferences, to construct counter-arguments and alternative hypotheses."

Moore and Parker, Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking is "the careful, deliberate determination of whether we should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim, and the degree of confidence with which we accept or reject it."

Delphi Report
"We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. CT is essential as a tool of inquiry. As such, CT is a liberating force in education and a powerful resource in one's personal and civic life. While not synonymous with good thinking, CT is a pervasive and self-rectifying human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeking results which are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit. Thus, educating good critical thinkers means working toward this ideal. It combines developing CT skills with nurturing those dispositions which consistently yield useful insights and which are the basis of a rational and democratic society."

A little reformatting helps make this definition more comprehensible:

We understand critical thinking to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in

as well as explanation of the

considerations upon which that judgment is based.

Francis Bacon (1605)
"For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of Truth; as having a mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the resemblances of things … and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their subtler differences; as being gifted by nature with desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of imposture."

A shorter version is "the art of being right."

Or, more prosaically: critical thinking is "the skillful application of a repertoire of validated general techniques for deciding the level of confidence you should have in a proposition in the light of the available evidence."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. Race and Rage.

It is a sign of our weird political moment that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama will probably hurt him among some of his fellow citizens.

His opponents are describing the award as premature. The deeper problem is that the Nobel will underscore the extent to which Obama is a cosmopolitan figure, much loved in European capitals because he is the change they have been looking for.

Most Americans will probably be happy to have a leader who wins acclaim around the globe. But, paradoxically, a decision made in Oslo to honor Obama's peaceable intentions may make it more difficult for him to reconcile a body politic roiled by years of cultural warfare, partisan animosity and ideological extremism.

The effort to understand where Obama hatred comes from has been one of the few growth areas in the American economy.

There is no doubt that some of the anger is fueled by racial feeling, which is not the same as saying that all opposition to Obama is explained by racism. Most Obama opponents are simply conservative Republicans who disagree with him. But there are too many racist signs at rallies and too many overtly racial pronouncements in the fever swamps of the right-wing media to deny that racism is part of the anti-Obama mix.

Obama can't do much about those who are against him because of his race. Even a 1 percent unemployment rate wouldn't change the minds most scarred by prejudice. But there is a second level of angry opposition to which Obama needs to pay more attention. It involves the genuine rage of those who felt displaced in our economy even before the great recession and who are now hurting even more.

These Americans are sometimes written off as "angry white men." In analyzing anti-Obama feeling, commentators have taken to rummaging around the work of historian Richard Hofstadter during the 1950s and '60s, focusing on his theory that "status anxiety" helps explain the rise of movements on the far right. The idea is that extremism takes hold in groups that feel their "status" is threatened by new groups on the rise in society.

The problem with status-anxiety theory is that it focuses on feelings and psychology, thus easily crossing into condescension. It implies that the victims of status anxiety should be doing a better job accepting their new situations and plays down the idea that they might have something real to be angry about.

In fact, many who now feel rage have legitimate reasons for it, even if neither Obama nor big government is the real culprit. The September 2009 unemployment numbers told the story in broad terms: Among men 20 and over, unemployment was 10.3 percent; among women, the rate was 7.8 percent.

Middle-income men, especially those who are not college graduates, have borne the brunt of economic change bred by globalization and technological transformation. Even before the recession, the decline in the number of well-paid jobs in manufacturing hit the incomes of this group of Americans hard. The trouble in the construction industry since the downturn began has compounded the problem.

This is not a uniquely American problem. Last week I caught up with Australia's deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, who was visiting Washington for a conference on education. Though Gillard diplomatically avoided direct comment on American politics, she said what's happening here reminded her of the rise of Pauline Hanson, a politician who caused a sensation in Australian politics in the 1990s by creating One Nation, a xenophobic and protectionist political party tinged with racism.

Gillard, a leader of Australia's center-left Labor Party, argues that high unemployment, particularly the displacement of men from previously well-paid jobs, helped unleash Hansonism and "the politics of the ordinary guy versus these elites, the opera-watching, latte-sipping elites." Hansonism collapsed, partly because the Australian economy boomed. Gillard argued that the key to battling the politics of rage is to acknowledge that it is driven by "real problems" and not simply raw feelings.

No doubt some who despise Obama will see the judges in Norway as part of that latte-sipping crowd and will hold their esteem for the president against him. He can't do much about this. What he can do -- and perhaps then deserve the domestic equivalent of a peace prize -- is reach out to the angry white men with policies that address their grievances, and do so with an understanding that what matters to them is not status but simply a chance to make a decent living again.
(E J Dionne Jr)

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has taken it in the neck for awarding this year's Peace Prize to a nine-month old American presidency. There's been much mockery of pencil-necked Norwegian academics in faraway Oslo. This is unfair.

The committee said it chose Barack Obama for his "vision of . . . a world without nuclear weapons" and for "meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting." I'd say that completes the argument over old and new Europe. This is a Nobel of decadence.

Let's be clear. This decadence isn't primarily about Roman Polanski or Silvio Berlusconi's playboy club or French culture minister Frederic Mitterrand's adventures in Thailand. Though these are not irrelevant.

This Nobel is about political decadence.

"Decadence," an enduring word, emerged from the Latin "de-cadere," which means "to fall down." Decadence stripped bare means decay.

When it was a vibrant garden of ideas, Europe gave the world more good things than one can count. Then it discovered the pleasures of the welfare state.

Old Europe now lives in a world of unpayable public pension obligations, weak job creation for its youngest workers, below-replacement birth rates, fat agricultural subsidies for farms dating to the Middle Ages, high taxes to pay for the public high-life, and history's most crucial proof of decay—the inability to finance one's armies. Only five of the 28 nations in NATO (the U.K., France, Turkey, Greece and Spain) achieve the minimum defense-spending benchmark of 2% of GDP.

The effect of arriving at a state of political decadence, of no longer being able to rise in the world, is that many people increasingly discover that soft moralism is a more congenial pastime than producing answers for the hard questions. As when David Cameron, the Tory leader and likely next British prime minister wonders: "The insatiable consumption and materialism of the past decade; has it made us happier or more fulfilled?"

This isn't to say that soft moralism is about nothing. But when matters such as climate change become life's primary concerns, it means one is going to spend more time preaching, which is easy, than doing, which is hard. One thinks of Nobelist Al Gore's unstoppable sermons.

Among the hardest questions Europe faced after World War II was the placement of anti-Soviet Pershing missiles on Europe's soil in 1983. Led by Helmut Kohl and Maggie Thatcher, Europe did something hard: It overcame its pacifists. A decade later, with the siege of Sarajevo, old Europe came to understand that making the hardest decisions was now beyond its reach.

Current hard questions include Pakistan and Afghanistan. Darfur is a hard question. Where to hold captured terrorists is a hard question.

Americans heard often the past four years how much Europe "hated" us because of that most complex of hard questions, the Iraq war. Unpopular wars cause bad feelings to be sure, but past some point Europe's antipathy toward the U.S. over Iraq began to sound a lot like moralistic decadence. It is a neurotic resentment of a superpower merely because it possesses the resources to do something Europe can no longer do, for good or ill.

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland
.What we are in the process of discovering is just how much President Obama's worldview coincides with that of the continent that claims to have seen itself reflected in him and its Peace Prize.

Mr. Obama is at a crossroads in his presidency. As George W. Bush departed the White House, he said his successor would one day arrive at the need to make a decision that made clear the reality of being the American president. That moment has arrived. It is the pending troop-deployment for Afghanistan, a very hard decision.

After that, Mr. Obama will go to Oslo Dec. 10 to receive the Prize itself. That will occur in the middle of the Dec. 7-18 United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen, whose goal is among the explicit reasons why Mr. Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

Between Afghanistan and Oslo, we're going to get some clarity about the Obama presidency.

Perhaps the most intriguing onlooker to this education is European Nicolas Sarkozy. On his good days, France's president seems aware of the political and economic decay he has inherited. So it was striking at the United Nations last month when Mr. Sarkozy said that Mr. Obama "dreams of a world without nuclear arms." Then, describing Iran's nuclear threat, he said, "At a certain moment hard facts will force us to make decisions."

By "us" he means that the U.S. must lead. In the West, only the U.S. president can still make decisions based on hard facts rather than recede into soft moralism. The day that is no longer true, the U.S. will finally deserve a decadent Nobel.