Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Culture of Discussion: Critical Thinkers' Dispositions

Edison's Brilliant Idea
(Image from Wikipedia)

As Thomas Edison is posthumously reported to have stated, "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration" (Harper's Monthly, September 1932). Apparently, Edison would have agreed that critical thinking is more than a set of cognitive skills, that it is also the expression of a disposition.

On page 10 of "Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts" (2010), Peter Facione summarizes the concensus of experts on what they call the "Disposition Toward Critical Thinking," which is divided into general and specific aspects, and I offer them here below for your consideration:
A. General approaches to life and living that characterize critical thinking:
1. Inquisitiveness with regard to a wide range of issues
2. Concern to become and remain well-informed
3. Alertness to opportunities to use critical thinking
4. Trust in the processes of reasoned inquiry
5. Self-confidence in one's own abilities to reason
6. Open-mindedness regarding divergent world views
7. Flexibility in considering alternatives and opinions
8. Understanding of the opinions of other people
9. Fair-mindedness in appraising reasoning
10. Honesty in facing one's own biases, prejudices, stereotypes, or egocentric tendencies
11. Prudence in suspending, making, or altering judgments
12. Willingness to reconsider and revise views where honest reflection suggests that change is warranted
B. Approaches to specific issues, questions, or problems that characterize critical thinking:
1. Clarity in stating the question or concern
2. Orderliness in working with complexity
3. Diligence in seeking relevant information
4. Reasonableness in selecting and applying criteria
5. Care in focusing attention on the concern at hand
6. Persistence though difficulties are encountered
7. Precision to the degree permitted by the subject and the circumstances
The term "disposition" is perhaps not well chosen, for it generally implies an inherent tendency, some of its synonyms being "temperament, character, personality, nature." However, the Free Dicitionary does also allow that it can mean "a habitual inclination," which is a bit more optimistic since it suggests that individuals can adopt a habit of critical thinking and thereby develop the disposition of a critical thinker.

In a comment to a recent entry in this "Culture of Discussion" series, Hathor offers this dispositional insight:
I don't know how exactly to apply this, but somehow you would have to be dispassionate, but passionate or excited about finding a solution.
I think that Hathor is right, a dispassionate passion is a useful disposition to have as a critical thinker, for it would help provide the energy necessary toward fulfilling number 6 of the specific aspects listed above, "persistence though difficulties are encountered." Indeed, dispassionate passion could be said to be necessary in all of the aspects, both general and specific, for endurance is needed to persist in all of these habits within a world that often does not appreciate critical thinking in open discussion.

Some individuals are optimistic, such as Mr. Carter Kaplan, a scholar who has recently remarked on the Milton List:
I might observe here that the motion of all open and free discussion will invariably move thinking people to positions of ever greater compassion, transparency, honesty, acceptance and understanding. The advantages to statecraft, science and economic development made possible by this open discussion are obvious.
I responded with less optimism:
This hasn't been my experience of "open and free discussion" on the internet . . . or were you speaking ironically? Discussions constantly get hijacked by trolls, flamers, dementors, and similarly mythological-sounding creatures whose intent seems one of destroying all possibility of communicative reason.
Most people don't seem to practice critical thinking, and too many seem to prefer disruption. Granted, Mr. Kaplan qualifies his point. He is talking about "thinking people," and that qualification would likely exclude a great number of individuals.

But my overall point in this series remains that of the importance of developing a "culture of discussion," for the possibility of critical thinking presupposes the right to free expression even though the free expression presupposed includes the right to insult, as I've previously argued.

One sees just how fraught with difficulty the entire enterprise is . . .

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At 10:58 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Yes, it is a difficult enterprise, and perhaps we''ll never "get it right," but it remains a worthwhile project.

At 11:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's a worthwhile aim, part of what Habermas would call our "Enlightenment Project," and I'm all for it . . . but I expect a lot of flak, too.

Jeffery Hodges

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