Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking

A Guide

by Ralph Dumain


“Condescension, and thinking oneself no better, are the same. To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to affirm in it the pre-condition of power, and to develop in oneself the coarseness, insensibility and violence needed to exert domination. . . ” — Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (London: Verso, 1987), end of section 5 (p. 26)

“The weak points in the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism that excludes history and its process, are at once evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions of its spokesmen, whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own speciality.” — Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Chapter 15.

“We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.” — Otto Neurath, Anti-Spengler (1921)

“Magritte said that one could not provide a valid explanation of something until one had explained that explanation.” — Bernard Noël

This web site as a whole could be considered essentially a guide to critical thinking (including specimens of erroneous steps along the way). Places to find tools include my study guides and bibliographies on ideology, critical theory, reflexivity, cynical reason, my critical theory syllabus, philosophy links, and general bibliography.

This guide is two-tiered: it includes resources on critical thinking itself, but it also includes theoretical and critical materials (metacritical thinking) on critical thinking as an intellectual discipline.

This is part of a larger project focusing on the nature of critical thinking, subjecting the 'critical thinking' industry to critical scrutiny, and aiming at a perspective beyond formalistic and liberal approaches to critical thinking. This is intimately linked to the question of "open-mindedness". I don't have a worked-out classification scheme (by others or by myself) of approaches to critical thinking. Labels I can think of based on various reading include formalist, liberal, postmodernist, feminist, Marxist, Frankfurt School (critical theory), anarchist, postpositivist. One prospect is to differentiate radical critique from both the old liberal but also the new left-liberal (postmodernist) approaches to critique, a task which entails a critique of critical culture due to the hyperreflexive nature of our age and the crisis we now face. Reviewing the literature on this subject is fascinating and symptomatic of the current ideological crisis. The attempt to go beyond the old formalist, liberal model of critical thinking sometimes yields insightful results, but also results in regression, as one might expect under the postmodern dispensation, i.e. the retreat from reason, science, universality, Enlightenment.

While traditional elaborations of the formal characteristics of critical thinking are always useful, they do not guarantee the ability to think critically in real-world ideological, social, practical contexts. I contend that in effect there is no such thing as critical thinking in general, and that critical thinking is not formal, but content-driven. Here I am not thinking merely of credentials or qualifications, though such are customarily necessary in our time for scientific advances. Assuming legitimate expertise, the problem is that experts in one area may be cretins in others or in matters of common concern, because they are not at heart critical thinkers, or because they don't know how to engage other areas of inquiry, for lack of knowledge, the proper analytical skills or knowledge base, familiarity, etc. Furthermore, amateurs can be critical thinkers in the areas in which they are not experts, but to do so they have to engage enough of the content so that they can formulate meaningful questions. Approaching the discipline of philosophy as a matter of context-free inference, a practice once characteristic of analytical philosophy and much philosophy of science, as if there are formal criteria outside of specific content-based considerations that can decide anything, is a dead end. I maintain that there is not critical thinking in general, but only in particular, that critical thinking is socially and historically conditioned, that not all questions can be posed at any time and place whatsoever, though dissatisfaction with current assumptions may be felt if not conceptualizable by exceptional individuals at all times.

Related projects in progress include (1) bibliography and critical survey of the literature on the dumbing down of the American people; (2) George Lakoff's liberalism and notion of framing.

See also my Reason & Society blog, esp. under the rubric “critical thinking”.


Critical Thinking Web Resources

Critical thinking - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Informal logic - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Informal Logic, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by Leo Groarke, first published Nov. 25, 1996; substantive revision March 21, 2007

Critical thinking web

Critical Thinking On The Web (Tim van Gelder)

Foundation for Critical Thinking

The Reasoning Page

Resources for Independent Thinking

CriticalThinking.net

Logical Fallacies: The Fallacy Files

PACTISS.org - Philosophers and Critical Thinkers in Senior Schools

How to Think and Evaluate Information: A Practical Guide to Critical Thinking by Greg R. Haskins

The Undercover Philosopher’s Page by Michael Philips

The CRITICAL THINKING Repository (Atheist Universe)

Courses & Software for Purchase

Critical Thinking Online Course Introduction course for purchase

Rationale by Austhink: Critical Thinking and Argument Mapping Software

Videos

Critical Thinking (QualiaSoup)

Open-mindedness (QualiaSoup)

Critical Thinking for Children - 1. Introduction

Advanced & Special Web Resources

Critical Thinking: What Is It Good for? (In Fact, What Is It?) by Howard Gabennesch, Skeptical Inquirer magazine, March/April 2006.

Doceo: Frames of Reference by James S. Atherton. Last major update 10 February 2010.

Informal Logic (Journal)
Reasoning and Argumentation in Theory and Practice

Autodidactic Press

Thinking (Lust for Life web guide). Unusual sources of varying subject matter & quality.

Butterflies and Wheels: Fighting Fashionable Nonsense

kenanmalik.com

Alan Sokal Archive of the "Social Text Affair"

Harold I. Brown

Other Guides

Critical Thinking as an Anarchist Weapon. Portland, OR: Venomous Butterfly Publications.

My opinion of anarchism notwithstanding, I find this anarchist document distinctive in certain ways with much to recommend itself. The sections of the pamphlet, following the introductory admonition against anti-intellectualism, are:

Stirner on critical thought (from The Ego and Its Own) [Max Stirner was among the last of the Young Hegelians and a favorite of anarchists]
Some basic steps in critically analyzing arguments...
Logical Fallacies Index [with several subsections]
Critical Thinking as Anarchist Methodology
AN INTRODUCTION TO CRITICAL THEORY by Lev Chernyi
      This includes but is limited to Frankfurt School critical theory. The concept of ideology presented is interesting, with an anarchist twist ("positive theory").
WHAT IS IDEOLOGY? (Excerpts) by Jason McQuinn [with homage to Stirner & the Frankfurt School]

The Revolutionary Pleasure of Thinking for Yourself. (Alternative site.) Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1992. Also published by No Longer Silent.

Delusion and Mass-Delusion by A. M. Meerloo (1949). Eccentric but with usable range of ideas.

What Do You Think? by Saye Taryor. 1up Entertainment, 2010. An unconventional approach.

Specialized Studies: Articles

Battersby, Mark; Bailin, Sharon. “Critical Inquiry: Considering the Context,” Argumentation, vol. 25, no. 2, 2011, pp. 243-253.

Chrucky, Andrew. Trying to Understand the Program of Educational Reform through Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines.

Endres, Ben. Habermas and Critical Thinking, Philosophy of Education, 1996.

Mulnix, Jennifer Wilson. “Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking,” Educational Philosophy and Theory; published online 4 Oct. 2010.

Weinstein, Mark. Decentering and Reasoning, Philosophy of Education, 1996.


On This Site

My Bibliographies & Study Guides

Doubt & Skepticism: A Directed Minimal Bibliography & Web Guide

Reflexivity & Situatedness Study Guide (with side orders of slumming & liberal guilt)

The Paranoia Papers: Theory of the (Un)Natural History of Social Paranoia: Selected Bibliography

Philosophy for Children (Bibliography)

Ideology Study Guide

Cynical Reason Today: A Selected Bibliography

Historical Surveys of Atheism, Freethought, Rationalism, Skepticism, and Materialism: Selected Works

Atheism / Freethought / Humanism / Ethical Culture / Rationalism / Agnosticism / Skepticism / Unbelief / Secularism / Church-State Separation Web Links

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide

The Frankfurt School: Philosophy in Relation to Social Theory, Cultural Theory, Science, and Interdisciplinary Research. Phase 1: Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse in the 1930s. Study Group Syllabus

Secular Humanism—Ideology, Philosophy, Politics, History: Bibliography in Progress

Intellectual Life in Society, Conventional and Unconventional: A Bibliography in Progress

Washington Philosophy Circle: Links to Other Sites

External Links page

Marxist Guides to Study & Thinking

These are not particularly recommended; they are historical attempts to promote critical thinking from their perspectives.

D'Angelo, Edward. "Education and Revolutionary Change," in: Dialectical Perspectives in Philosophy and Social Science, edited by Pasquale N. Russo et al (Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner, 1983), pp. 135-145.

D'Angelo, Edward. "The Ideological Nature of Teaching Philosophy to Children," Revolutionary World, vol. 26, 1978, pp. 58-59.

How to Study: A Guide for Students (Jefferson School of Social Science), attributed to Harry K. Wells and dated by internal evidence. New York: Jefferson School of Social Science, 1954.

“How to Think” (Sojourner Truth Organization), Urgent Tasks, no 7, winter 1980, pp. 18-19, 19-29.

Other Writings

Popkin, Richard H. The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes, revised edition (New York: Harper & Row, 1968 [based on 1964 ed.; orig. pub. 1960]), pp. XIII-XVI [extract from preface on scepticism & fideism].

Rodi, Frithjof. “Historical Philosophy in Search of 'Frames of Articulation',” in: Doing Philosophy Historically, edited by Peter H. Hare (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988), pp. 329-340.

My Writings

Critique of Critical Thinking 1-5 (“Studies in a Dying Culture” blog, 26-28 July 2006)

Critique of Critical Thinking (1)
Critique of Critical Thinking (2): Critical Thinking vs. 'Skepticism'
Critique of Critical Thinking (3): The Critical Thinking Industry
Critique of Critical Thinking (4): The Critical Thinking Industry Continued
Critique of Critical Thinking (5): Butterflies and Wheels

May 9 book talk: is pop culture making us smarter? (9-10 May 2005, in reverse chronological order)

Wisdom and Abstract Thought

Professional and Popular Philosophy: Online Debates. See esp. 4 paragraphs on critical thinking.

Explicit & Tacit Positions of Science & Philosophy on Reason & Religion: Ralph Dumain Responds to a Questionnaire

Cultural Criticism and the Social Division of Labor

The Autodidact as Subversive

Metacritique, Philosophy, & the Logic of the Intellectual Marketplace

The Philosophy of Originality: Vignettes


Additional Bibliography: Books

Allen, Steve. Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking: With 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind. Rev. ed. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998. (Originally published: 1989.)

Bowell, Tracy; Kemp, Gary. Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide. 3rd ed. London; New York: Routledge, 2010.

Chaffee, John. Thinking Critically. 10th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2010. (Formerly published by Houghton Mifflin.) Leading college textbook.

Critical Reasoning in Contemporary Culture, edited by Richard Talaska. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. (SUNY Series in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences)

D’Angelo, Edward. The Teaching of Critical Thinking. Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner, 1971. (Philosophical Currents; vol. 1)

Halpern, Diane F. Thought and Knowledge: An Introduction to Critical Thinking. 3rd ed. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1996. Publisher description.

Lau, Joe Y. F. An Introduction to Critical Thinking and Creativity: Think More, Think Better . Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011.

Philips, Michael. The Undercover Philosopher: A Guide to Detecting Shams, Lies, and Delusions. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2008.

A recommended recent book. See the author's web site and video (links above) & my blog: The Undercover Philosopher & critical thinking.

Paul, Richard. Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World; edited by A.J.A. Binker. Rohnert Park, CA: Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, Sonoma State University, 1990.

Siegel, Harvey. Educating Reason: Rationality, Critical Thinking, and Education. New York: Routledge (in association with Metheun), 1988. (Philosophy of Education Research Library)

Special Studies: Books

Authority, Culture, and Communication: The Sociology of Ernest Manheim, edited by Frank Baron, David Norman Smith, and Charles Reitz. Heidelberg: Publishers, 2005. ("Book packaged with audio CD “Compositions by Ernest Manheim” is available from Oread Books.")

Brown, Harold I. Rationality. London; New York: Routledge, 1988.

Gray, William D. Thinking Critically About New Age Ideas. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1991.

Harris, Leonard, ed. Children in Chaos: A "Philosophy for Children" Experience; with contributions by Thomas Harper & Matthew Lipman. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1991.

The Oxford Handbook of Rationality, edited by Alfred R. Mele & Piers Rawling. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Schön, Donald A. The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books, 1983.

Webster, Yehudi O. Against the Multicultural Agenda: A Critical Thinking Alternative. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.

Special Studies: Articles

Educational Objective: Critical Thinking Skills, Ruthless Criticism (blog). See also 3 takes on critical thinking (Reason & Society blog).

Reitz, Charles, “The Call to Concrete Thinking: Rediscovery of Ernest Manheim,” Nature, Society, and Thought, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 433–53.


Postmodernist & Feminist Philosophies of Critical Thinking

These are examples of newer approaches to critical thinking I find reprehensible. For commentary, see my blog posts:

Re-thinking reason in the service of postmodern irrationalism

Feminist 'logic'.

For refutation of the academic sanctification of marginalized subject positions see:

Popes, Kings & Cultural Studies: Placing the commitment to non-disciplinarity in historical context” by Karl Maton

Historical Amnesia” by Karl Maton & Rob Moore

Feminism & Logic

Nye, Andrea. Words of Power: A Feminist Reading of the History of Logic. New York: Routledge, 1990. (Thinking Gender Series)

Representing Reason: Feminist Theory and Formal Logic, edited by Rachel Joffe Falmagne and Marjorie Hass. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002.

Postmodernist & Feminist Re-thinking

Re-thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking, edited by Kerry S. Walters. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. xviii, 265 pp. (SUNY series, Teacher Empowerment and School Reform)

Table of Contents:
Introduction : beyond logicism in critical thinking / Kerry S. Walters
Teaching two kinds of thinking by teaching writing / Peter Elbow
On critical thinking and connected knowing / Blythe McVicker Clinchy
Educating for empathy, reason, and imagination / Delores Gallo
Critical thinking, rationality, and the vulcanization of students / Kerry S. Walters
Toward a gender-sensitive ideal of critical thinking : a feminist poetic / Anne M. Phelan and James W. Garrison
Critical thinking and the "trivial pursuit" theory of knowledge / John E. McPeck
Why two heads are better than one : philosophical and pedagogical implications of a social view of critical thinking / Connie Missimer
Community and neutrality in critical thought : a nonobjective view on the conduct and teaching of critical thinking / Karl Hostetler
Critical thinking and feminism / Karen J. Warren
Teaching critical thinking in the strong sense : a focus on self-deception, world views, and a dialectical mode of analysis / Richard W. Paul
Toward a pedagogy of critical thinking / Henry A. Giroux
Teaching intellectual autonomy : the failure of the critical thinking movement / Laura Duhan Kaplan
Critical thinking beyond reasoning : restoring virtue to thought / Thomas H. Warren
Is critical thinking a technique, or a means of enlightenment? / Lenore Langsdorf.

Is Critique Secular?

Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech, Critical Horizons by Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler and Saba Mahmood. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. (The Townsend Papers in the Humanities; no. 2)

Edis, Taner. Is Critique Secular?, The Secular Outpost (blog), December 6, 2010.

Trashes this book as it deserves.

Gourgouris, Stathis. “De-transcendentalizing the secular,” The Immanent Frame (blog).

Unequivocal defense of secularism and rejection of identity politics, coupled with an interesting analysis of the relation between transcendentalism and theism (Descartes, Kant), but decoupling a necessary relation between secularism and the Christian West.

Mahmood, Saba. “Is critique secular?”, The Immanent Frame (blog).

“This line of thought urges you to choose: either one is against secular values or one is for them.” This is actually the case, though Mahmood denies it. A noxious example of the dishonest Counter-Enlightenment collusion between postmodernism & religion.

Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. “What the Danish Cartoon Controversy Tells Us About Religion, the Secular, and the Limits of the Law,” Religion Dispatches, January 7, 2010.

Rotten to the core.

Thomassen, Lasse. Review: Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler and Saba Mahmood, Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech, Critical Horizons, Vol 12, No 1, 2010, pp. 103-107.

On the Danish cartoons; the book under review is apparently another horrid example of the meeting of postmodernism and religion.

Yager, Colin. “Is Critique Secular? Thoughts on Enchantment and Reflexivity.”

A completely confused mess. Thoughts on Habermas, Taylor, Romanticism, with too much dallying on Byron. Bankrupt.


Some content was written on 28 July 2006 & 14 July 2007.
Critiques of postmodernist & feminist approaches were originally written on 28 Jan. 2005, 4 Feb. 2005, & 29 Aug. 2006.
This guide/bibliography was initiated 24 June 2008, with last prior revision 16 July 2008.
This web page was finalized on 17 July 2011.

See date of latest revision at bottom of page.
©2011 Ralph Dumain. All rights reserved.


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