Why Be Critical?

Essay by zerohourcrunchUniversity, Bachelor's July 2006

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Since critical thinking is evidently more difficult, more troublesome, than ordinary, garden-variety thinking, the question that naturally arises is, why bother. Why not just say, "Forget it...I'll think (and do, and be) what I want?" This kind of question is not anything new -- Plato, for instance, has Socrates raise a similar question in the Republic, namely, "Why be just?"

In this paper I will consider several issues that I take to be related to the justification of critical thinking. The first issue is whether or not the common conceptualization of critical thinking as a dispositional trait possessed and displayed by the critical thinker is correct. The second issue is whether there is indeed some value to the critical thinker in thinking critically, and if so, what sort of value. The third issue is whether there is a relationship between critical thinking, rationality, and morality, and if so, what that might be.

I will argue, first, that while rationality is best construed as dispositional, critical thinking is not. Rather, critical thinking would be better understood as episodic. I shall argue, moreover, that this difference is an important one pedagogically, for while it is possible and desirable to teach, and to test for, an episodic critical thinking, it is neither possible nor desirable to attempt to do the same for the students' dispositional rationality.

Second, I will argue that critical thinking does have a value, but that, contra Siegel, that value is an instrumental one. That is, one should think critically simply because that sort of thinking is efficacious.

Third, I will argue that, although critical thinking per se is episodic and justified instrumentally, it is to be hoped that a person ultimately will develop the disposition to regularly and habitually think critically, for that disposition is directly related...