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Critical Thinking Reflection Questions On Forgiveness

Category: Critical thinking


ERIC - Augustine and Education in Critical Thinking, Journal of Beliefs & Values, 2005-Aug

Journal of Beliefs & Values. v26 n2 p191-200 Aug 2005

Augustine's concept of the deep self provides a basis for a complex and many-faceted account of critical thinking. He uncovers the moral sources of thinking in the inner depths of the self and shows that critical thinking presupposes radical self-reflection ready to face the truth about oneself. Self-knowledge assumes transparency, consciousness of the corrupt desires and prejudices that distort one's thinking. Unresolved guilt endangers transparency and thereby makes it difficult to become aware of the vices distorting one's perspective on reality. That is why human beings need divine grace that gives them the courage to face their corruption. For Augustine, the problem of critical thinking is part of a larger problem about how the human self and identity are formed, which factors influence the process, and how a person comes to know herself. Augustine writes an open account of his life in order to clarify this problem. His intention is to make sense of the nature of his self by thinking carefully who he is and how he became who he is. Augustine seeks to find an answer to this question both philosophically and autobiographically, by analysing the factors that influenced the formation of his own identity and the development of his self-knowledge and by reflecting philosophically on the nature of these influences. Reason is one essential part of the human soul. Since God has given reason to human beings, it must have a purpose. Augustine seeks to clarify this purpose by reflecting on fundamental epistemological questions: What is knowledge and where does it come from? What is the relationship of human reason to knowledge? How can one reach ultimate knowledge? According to Augustine, human reason and perception have been formed to acquire knowledge about reality. If God had not made human reason and perception fitting for their task, knowledge would be completely unattainable. Since God has made human reason capable of acquiring reliable knowledge, reason has an important task in the spiritual development of human beings. It is especially useful when trying to make clear conceptual distinctions. Reason does not, however, function independently of the will and the emotions. For reason to acquire a reliable grasp on reality and to understand things properly, the human heart must love the truth, the good and the right sufficiently to face its own prejudices and to gain self-knowledge. Critical thinking has, therefore, certain crucial preconditions, according to Augustine. The aim of this article is to clarify the structure of these preconditions. (1) In order to think critically, one has to distinguish between how reality appears to one and how it is in fact. (2) There is a close connection between willing and thinking, between one's deepest desires and one's view on reality. (3) One cannot distinguish reality from appearances unless one realizes how corrupt desires and prejudices distort one's perspective on reality. (4) In order to be able to face one's evil desires and become conscious of their distorting influence, one needs the courage to face one's depravity. Such a courage presupposes God's grace and his promise of forgiveness, since without divine grace human beings try to cover up the truth about themselves and remain unconscious of the distorting influence of their evil desires. (5) One needs a source of light that enlightens the deep recesses of the self and shows it in the true light but is yet external to the human being and independent of him. (6) This source of inner light has to be of a personal nature to provide the learner with the possibility of inner dialogue. Augustine assumes that God is the inner teacher of every human being. A crucial factor in the development of critical thinking is that one becomes more dialogically engaged with the inner teacher.

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What is Forgiveness?

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What is Forgiveness?

1. The Place to Start

  • Letting someone off / Excusing?
  • Overlooking something to get on with people?

  • Forgetting about the past?

  • ‘Forswearing resentment’ (Butler)

    • Forgiveness is one type of moral response to wrongdoing.

    • It has to be a moralresponse
  • There has to be recognition of wrongdoing

    • Compare forgiveness with other less obvious moral responses to wrongdoing.
  • For example, see revenge / vengeance: J G Murphy ‘two cheers’ for vindictiveness (Getting Even, 2003). Revenge and vindictiveness promote ‘self-respect, self-defence and respect for the moral order’ (in Worthington, Forgiveness Handbook, 2005).

    2. The ‘origin’ of forgiveness

    • Hannah Arendt, ‘The discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth’ (The Human Condition, 1958).
  • Charles Griswold, Forgiveness (2007). Known in Greek culture. Not a ‘virtue’ in Greek ethics.

    • Forgiveness as a cultural universal
    • Chinese culture (ChristophHarbsmeier in The Ethics of Forgiveness, ed. C. Fricke (2011).
  • Some higher primates engage in ‘forgiving’ behaviour (Frans de Waal).

    • The most obvious starting place to understand forgiveness in the western tradition is from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).

    • Godis forgiving – sweeping away, burying, removing, washing away human sin.
  • Human repentance always precedes God’s forgiveness.

  • Forgiveness is seen as being about restoring humanity’s relationship with God.

  • Next to nothingabout person-to-person forgiveness in the Hebrew Scriptures – perhaps one example in Genesis 50:17.

    • The achievement of the New Testament is to establish forgiveness as (i) a pattern of person-to-person behaviour; and (ii) as a moral virtue.

  • Forgiveness is a pattern of person-to-person (not corporate) behaviour.

  • He applied (Jewish) divine forgiveness as a model for person-to-person forgiveness.

  • As with divine forgiveness, person-to-person forgiveness is about restoringrelationships.

    • “Jesus’ achievement is to distil out of a range of behaviours a new, discrete category of human behaviour (person-to-person forgiveness) that people had not hitherto separately identified. It is also to give that category of behaviour its own characteristic features and identity markers. So, for example, those who seek forgiveness should be repentant and those whose forgiveness is sought should be unstinting in their efforts to forgive. Forgiveness seen this way is new in Jewish [and Greek] thought.”

  • Forgiveness is a moral virtue.

  • Forgiveness is grace in action.

  • Forgiveness is a dispositional quality, referring to a spectrum of virtues all driven and inspired by grace, e.g. kindness, patience, long-suffering.

  • (Paul seems to have been influenced by Greek patterns of philosophical thought. If Jesus’s forgiveness is ‘Jewish-style forgiveness’, Paul’s is ‘Greek-style forgiveness’.)

    • “What matters to Paul is that forgiveness is an expression of grace, and one of many different expressions of grace. We can put it this way: Paul is not so much concerned with identifying forgiving behaviour as a genus of person-to-person relations as interested in exploring all kinds of virtuous behaviour that are the outworking of the grace of God among human beings in their social and personal relations. Forgiveness is an important aspect of what it means to be gracious – but the primary emphasis in Paul is on grace, not forgiveness.”

    3. A Critical Reflection
  • Critical Thinking 1

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    24 Questions to Enhance Students Reflective and Critical Thinking Skills ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning

    August 31, 2014
    Reflection is a fundamental skill from which is branched out all other thinking skills. Reflection is a form of meta-thinking, a process of deep contemplation and pondering. It is also the basis of critical thinking for we can not raise critical thinkers if we do not have good 'reflectors'. When students are taught the art of reflecting, they become independent learners who are engaged in a constant process of assessment and re-assessment of their learning needs and strategies.

    Reflection is all about questioning. To cultivate a reflective culture within your class, students need to be encouraged to pose challenging questions as to the way they learn and think. They need to be able to track the inner thinking process that lead them to the answers they come up with. There are a variety of questions to use with students in this regard. Some of these questions are captured in this beautiful visual below. Teachheath. who created this visual, divided these questions into 4 main headings: accuracy questions, understanding questions, clarity questions, and giving clarity questions. Go through the visual and explore the different questions featured there. This is indeed a great back-to-school resource to add to your teaching toolkit. Enjoy

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    Educational Technology and Mobile Learning is operated by a team of dedicated teachers located in Canada. For any questions regarding our website or the content we publish, please contact EdTech admin, Med Kharbach, at:

    Forgiveness at Work

    Forgiveness at Work

    We are so often tougher on ourselves than on anyone else. This truth became part of a conversation I recently had with my friends Marilyn Suttle and Shawne Duperon. They both asked the question "how long before you forgive yourself?"

    What a great question. In workplaces as a consultant and trainer I see it all the time. Someone hasn't forgiven themselves for a mistake they made, it affects relationships and stops the person from moving forward. Lack of forgiveness of self and others can also stop the team from fast tracking to success. Another common example, someone made a mistake ten years ago. yet it still comes up frequently at staff meetings, when new ideas are posed or when something goes wrong. The struggle to Let It Go can impact the ability to forgive, self and others.

    Recently, there has been a virtual campaign that went viral on social media called Project Forgive.I find this statement by the campaign's founder, and the question it raises, very intriguing, "Life happens. We lose our jobs, we face bankruptcy and foreclosure. Some of us are dealing with a divorce, others of us are facing life threatening illnesses such as cancer. Culturally, we see deep political fighting, immigration issues, war, despair and violence. In the face of all this, how can we find the courage to forgive and cause a new realm of possibility, a new conversation?"

    What an excellent reflective question. How can employees in teams find the courage to forgive their colleagues so the team can move towards their goals, better relationships, and success? What do you need to forgive yourself for to move forward?

    Here are three tips to forgiveness that I learned a long time ago when I worked as a Correctional Officer (seems like half a life time ago but, these tips still help).

    1. Accept that we all make mistakes. Treat mistakes like a learning opportunity.

    2. Review and Learn. Ask yourself: What went well? What was a challenge? What did I learn? And, what will I do differently? This will help you move from blame to change.

    3. Start the conversation. If you make a mistake, own it, accept it with grace and dignity, and move forward. As you move forward, so can others.

    4. And remember. Forgiveness is For Giving!

    There is no better way to keep Bouncing Forward than to first forgive yourself and then forgive others!

    Do you often find yourself in situations where you would love to move forward but just can't for some reason? Maybe it is because there is a part of your past that you need to forgive. Be sure to set aside some time each day to reflect on your past, even the things that happened that day. If it has already happened, it is in the past. You can't change it but, you can forgive it. Forgiveness is a choice. Ask yourself who it hurts more, hinders more, or presents obstacles for. You or the person or situation you haven't forgiven. Sometimes the person we need to forgive is ourselves. This is so important. Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes. Forgive yourself, don't let your past rob you of your future. Forgive and Bounce Forward!

    Was this Helpful ?

    C06 The Cognitive Reflection Test

    [C06] The Cognitive Reflection Test

    If you have knowledge, let others light their candle by it.

    Help us promote
    critical thinking!

    In the last tutorial we discussed the importance of metacognition for critical thinking. There is an interesting test associated with metacognition and reflection that has been proposed by management professor Shane Frederick. It is known as the Cognitive Reflection Test. There are only three short questions in the test. You can try it out here.

    Get a pen and pencil ready and then click the button below to reveal the questions. There is no time limit but it should not take more than a few minutes.

    1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

    2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?

    3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

    When you are done, here are the answers:

    The answers are: $0.05, 5 mins, 47 days.

    What is interesting about this test is that each of the question has an "intuitive" answer which is actually wrong. To get all questions right, most people would need to suppress their immediate reactions and reflect carefully to come to the correct answers. This is supposed to reflect the capacity for deliberate and reflective reasoning and to avoid jumping to conclusions. Researchers claim that the short test actually provides a rather good measurement of rational thinking and cognitive ability.

    In case you are wondering about how well other people do, here are the average scores for students at various US universities:

    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 2.18
    • Princeton: 1.63
    • Harvard: 1.43
    • Michigan State: 0.79

    Don't worry if you did not get all the answers right. What is important is to realize that in some situations, spending more time thinking about the question is better than coming up with an answer very quickly!

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    How We Think: John Dewey on the Art of Reflection and Fruitful Curiosity in an Age of Instant Opinions and Information Overload - Brain Pickings

    newsletter Archives Favorite Reads Related Reads Labors of Love How We Think: John Dewey on the Art of Reflection and Fruitful Curiosity in an Age of Instant Opinions and Information Overload “To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry — these are the essentials of thinking.” By Maria Popova

    Decades before Carl Sagan published his now-legendary Baloney Detection Kit for critical thinking, the great philosopher, psychologist, and education reformer John Dewey penned the definitive treatise on the subject — a subject all the more urgently relevant today, in our age of snap judgments and instant opinions. In his 1910 masterwork How We Think (free download ; public library ), Dewey examines what separates thinking, a basic human faculty we take for granted, from thinking well. what it takes to train ourselves into mastering the art of thinking, and how we can channel our natural curiosity in a productive way when confronted with an overflow of information.

    Dewey begins with the foundation of reflective thought, the defining quality of the fruitful, creative mind:

    More of our waking life than we should care to admit, even to ourselves, is likely to be whiled away in this inconsequential trifling with idle fancy and unsubstantial hope…

    Reflection involves not simply a sequence of ideas, but a con sequence — a consecutive ordering in such a way that each determines the next as its proper outcome, while each in turn leans back on its predecessors. The successive portions of the reflective thought grow out of one another and support one another; they do not come and go in a medley. Each phase is a step from something to something — technically speaking, it is a term of thought. Each term leaves a deposit which is utilized in the next term. The stream or flow becomes a train, chain, or thread.

    Thought, Dewey notes, also denotes belief. which he defines as “real or supposed knowledge going beyond what is directly present,” which is “marked by acceptance or rejection of something as reasonably probable or improbable.” But that process of acceptance or rejection is also where we brush up against one of the most quintessential human flaws, the same one responsible for the “backfire effect” — our tendency to construct our beliefs based on insufficient knowledge and understanding, then to cling to them blindly, rejecting all evidence to the opposite. Stereotypes and prejudice are among the products of such thinking. In that sense, our “thoughts” are not based on true reflection but on crippling cognitive shortcuts, often borrowed from society rather than arrived at by our own cerebration. Dewey writes:

    Such thoughts grow up unconsciously and without reference to the attainment of correct belief. They are picked up — we know not how. From obscure sources and by unnoticed channels they insinuate themselves into acceptance and become unconsciously a part of our mental furniture. Tradition, instruction, imitation — all of which depend upon authority in some form, or appeal to our own advantage, or fall in with a strong passion — are responsible for them. Such thoughts are prejudices, that is, prejudgments, not judgments proper that rest upon a survey of evidence.

    To truly think, Dewey argues, we ought to consider not only the origin of our beliefs but also how they affect our actions, which they inevitably do:

    Thinking in its best sense is that which considers the basis and consequences of beliefs…

    To think of the world as flat is to ascribe a quality to a real thing as its real property. This conclusion denotes a connection among things and hence is not, like imaginative thought, plastic to our mood. Belief in the world’s flatness commits him who holds it to thinking in certain specific ways of other objects, such as the heavenly bodies, antipodes, the possibility of navigation. It prescribes to him actions in accordance with his conception of these objects.

    Dewey defines reflective thought, our single most potent antidote to erroneous beliefs:

    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, constitutes reflective thought… It is a conscious and voluntary effort to establish belief upon a firm basis of reasons.

    This basis of reasons, Dewey argues, is a relational framework for how different bits of knowledge connect to and validate one another. To think well is to construct fruitful linkages:

    [The] function by which one thing signifies or indicates another, and thereby leads us to consider how far one may be regarded as warrant for belief in the other, [is] the central factor in all reflective or distinctively intellectual thinking… Reflection thus implies that something is believed in (or disbelieved in), not on its own direct account, but through something else which stands as witness, evidence, proof, voucher, warrant; that is, as ground of belief .

    What follows naturally from this is the idea that to think is also to embrace uncertainty and harness the power of not-knowing :

    Thinking … is defined accordingly as that operation in which present facts suggest other facts (or truths) in such a way as to induce belief in the latter upon the ground or warrant of the former. We do not put beliefs that rest simply on inference on the surest level of assurance. To say “I think so” implies that I do not as yet know so. The inferential belief may later be confirmed and come to stand as sure, but in itself it always has a certain element of supposition…

    [There are] certain subprocesses which are involved in every reflective operation. These are: (a) a state of perplexity, hesitation, doubt; and (b) an act of search or investigation directed toward bringing to light further facts which serve to corroborate or to nullify the suggested belief.

    Much like getting lost helps us find ourselves. being uncertain drives us to reflect, to seek knowledge. The spark of thinking, Dewey argues, is a kind of psychological restlessness rooted in ambiguity — what John Keats memorably termed “negative capability” — which precipitates our effort to resolve the unease by coming to, by way of reflection and deliberation, a conclusion:

    Thinking begins in what may fairly enough be called a forked-road situation. a situation which is ambiguous, which presents a dilemma, which proposes alternatives. As long as our activity glides smoothly along from one thing to another, or as long as we permit our imagination to entertain fancies at pleasure, there is no call for reflection. Difficulty or obstruction in the way of reaching a belief brings us, however, to a pause. In the suspense of uncertainty, we metaphorically climb a tree; we try to find some standpoint from which we may survey additional facts and, getting a more commanding view of the situation, may decide how the facts stand related to one another…

    Demand for the solution of a perplexity is the steadying and guiding factor in the entire process of reflection… This need of straightening out a perplexity also controls the kind of inquiry undertaken. A traveler whose end is the most beautiful path will look for other considerations and will test suggestions occurring to him on another principle than if he wishes to discover the way to a given city. The problem fixes the end of thought and the end controls the process of thinking.

    This is where the art of critical thinking becomes crucial. Like the scientist, whose chief responsibility is always to remain uncertain. so the thinker must cultivate a capacity for not only welcoming but seeking out doubt:

    If the suggestion that occurs is at once accepted, we have uncritical thinking, the minimum of reflection. To turn the thing over in mind, to reflect, means to hunt for additional evidence, for new data, that will develop the suggestion, and will either, as we say, bear it out or else make obvious its absurdity and irrelevance… The easiest way is to accept any suggestion that seems plausible and thereby bring to an end the condition of mental uneasiness. Reflective thinking is always more or less troublesome because it involves overcoming the inertia that inclines one to accept suggestions at their face value; it involves willingness to endure a condition of mental unrest and disturbance. Reflective thinking, in short, means judgment suspended during further inquiry; and suspense is likely to be somewhat painful… To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry — these are the essentials of thinking.

    Just as importantly, Dewey argues, reflective thought acts as an antidote to autopilot — it “affords the sole method of escape from purely impulsive or purely routine action.” But like the use of any tool, thinking “may go wrong as well as right, and hence … needs safeguarding and training.” Dewey admonishes against the assumption that one’s intelligence prevents the operation from going wrong — if anything, the relationship between creativity and dishonesty suggests that the most intelligent people are often those most deft at rationalizing their erroneous beliefs and the resulting behaviors. Dewey writes:

    Natural intelligence is no barrier to the propagation of error, nor large but untrained experience to the accumulation of fixed false beliefs. Errors may support one another mutually and weave an ever larger and firmer fabric of misconception.

    Perhaps the greatest gift of thought, Dewey notes, is that it allows us to imagine things not yet experienced, based on what we know in and about the present — it grants us the power of “systematized foresight,” which enables us to “act on the basis of the absent and the future.” And yet therein lies one of the most perilous potential pitfalls, as well as the greatest potentiality of learning the art of reflective thought:

    The process of reaching the absent from the present is peculiarly exposed to error; it is liable to be influenced by almost any number of unseen and unconsidered causes — past experience, received dogmas, the stirring of self-interest, the arousing of passion, sheer mental laziness, a social environment steeped in biased traditions or animated by false expectations, and so on. The exercise of thought is, in the literal sense of that word, inference ; by it one thing carries us over to the idea of, and belief in, another thing. It involves a jump, a leap, a going beyond what is surely known to something else accepted on its warrant. Unless one is an idiot, one simply cannot help having all things and events suggest other things not actually present, nor can one help a tendency to believe in the latter on the basis of the former. The very inevitableness of the jump, the leap, to something unknown, only emphasizes the necessity of attention to the conditions under which it occurs so that the danger of a false step may be lessened and the probability of a right landing increased.

    Paying attention, essentially, means understanding the context in which an idea occurs and the conditions under which it is given credence — in other words, knowing why we believe what we believe. That, Dewey argues, is a function of critical thinking, the result of which is proof — something without which we can’t be certain that what we believe is true:

    To prove a thing means primarily to try, to test it… Not until a thing has been tried — “tried out,” in colloquial language — do we know its true worth. Till then it may be pretense, a bluff. But the thing that has come out victorious in a test or trial of strength carries its credentials with it; it is approved, because it has been proved.

    (How brilliantly this applies not only to the pursuit of capital-T truth, but also to the basic fabric of our wants and desires — so often we dismiss something as unworthy without having tried it out. To dismiss experiences and ideas in that way is, then, a profound failure of reflective thinking and of our highest human potentiality.)

    In testing our inferences, Dewey argues, it’s crucial to discriminate between “beliefs that rest upon tested evidence and those that do not” and to be mindful of “the kind and degree of assent yielded,” both of which require a rich library of knowledge and experience against which to test our beliefs.

    This notion strikes with particular resonance: I founded Brain Pickings around the concept of combinatorial creativity. the idea that our capacity to create — which is, essentially, a function of fruitful thinking — is predicated on a vast and diverse pool of insights, impressions, influences, and other mental resources.

    Dewey captures this elegantly in considering “the factors essential to thought”:

    Thinking involves … the suggestion of a conclusion for acceptance, and also search or inquiry to test the value of the suggestion before finally accepting it. This implies (a) a certain fund or store of experiences and facts from which suggestions proceed; (b) promptness, flexibility, and fertility of suggestions; and (c) orderliness, consecutiveness, appropriateness in what is suggested. Clearly, a person may be hampered in any of these three regards: His thinking may be irrelevant, narrow, or crude because he has not enough actual material upon which to base conclusions; or because concrete facts and raw material, even if extensive and bulky, fail to evoke suggestions easily and richly; or finally, because, even when these two conditions are fulfilled, the ideas suggested are incoherent and fantastic, rather than pertinent and consistent.

    We stock our “store of experiences and facts” via one of the greatest human faculties — our inherent curiosity, a “desire for the fullness of experience”:

    The most vital and significant factor in supplying the primary material whence suggestion may issue is, without doubt, curiosity… The curious mind is constantly alert and exploring, seeking material for thought, as a vigorous and healthy body is on the qui vive for nutriment. Eagerness for experience, for new and varied contacts, is found where wonder is found. Such curiosity is the only sure guarantee of the acquisition of the primary facts upon which inference must base itself.

    Dewey explores curiosity at its most natural and uncontaminated — in the child’s mind. Children not only offer a model for fruitful risk-taking and overcoming the fear of failure. but their boundless curiosity, he argues, is precisely what we need to reawaken in ourselves in seeking to cultivate fertile thought:

    In its first manifestations, curiosity is a vital overflow, an expression of an abundant organic energy. A physiological uneasiness leads a child to be “into everything” — to be reaching, poking, pounding, prying… The most casual notice of the activities of a young child reveals a ceaseless display of exploring and testing activity. Objects are sucked, fingered, and thumped; drawn and pushed, handled and thrown; in short, experimented with, till they cease to yield new qualities. Such activities are hardly intellectual, and yet without them intellectual activity would be feeble and intermittent through lack of stuff for its operations.

    From this springs the next developmental stage, the what/why phase that often exasperates parents and teachers but provides the foundation for critical thinking:

    A higher stage of curiosity develops under the influence of social stimuli. When the child learns that he can appeal to others to eke out his store of experiences, so that, if objects fail to respond interestingly to his experiments, he may call upon persons to provide interesting material, a new epoch sets in. “What is that?” “Why?” become the unfailing signs of a child’s presence… Yet there is more than a desire to accumulate just information or heap up disconnected items, although sometimes the interrogating habit threatens to degenerate into a mere disease of language. In the feeling, however dim, that the facts which directly meet the senses are not the whole story, that there is more behind them and more to come from them, lies the germ of intellectual curiosity.

    Curiosity rises above the organic and the social planes and becomes intellectual in the degree in which it is transformed into interest in problems provoked by the observation of things and the accumulation of material. When the question is not discharged by being asked of another, when the child continues to entertain it in his own mind and to be alert for whatever will help answer it, curiosity has become a positive intellectual force. To the open mind, nature and social experience are full of varied and subtle challenges to look further.

    Once again, Dewey reminds us that this unique human gift is predicated on our fragile willingness to befriend uncertainty and welcome the unknown — something most of us relinquish by mid-life. Lamenting the ease with which “the open-minded and flexible wonder of childhood” is lost, Dewey writes:

    If germinating powers are not used and cultivated at the right moment, they tend to be transitory, to die out, or to wane in intensity. This general law is peculiarly true of sensitiveness to what is uncertain and questionable; in a few people, intellectual curiosity is so insatiable that nothing will discourage it, but in most its edge is easily dulled and blunted.

    In a sidebar comment on the notion of dullness, he considers the very metaphors we use for the quality of the mind in a rather lyrical passage:

    The common classification of persons into the dull and the bright is made primarily on the basis of the readiness or facility with which suggestions follow upon the presentation of objects and upon the happening of events. As the metaphor of dull and bright implies, some minds are impervious, or else they absorb passively. Everything presented is lost in a drab monotony that gives nothing back. But others reflect, or give back in varied lights, all that strikes upon them. The dull make no response; the bright flash back the fact with a changed quality.

    But Dewey’s most prescient point has to do with how information overload — a malady undoubtedly far worse today than it was in 1910, yet one each era bemoans by its own terms — muddles the clarity of our view, hindering our ability to think critically and reflectively:

    So many suggestions may rise that the person is at a loss to select among them. He finds it difficult to reach any definite conclusion and wanders more or less helplessly among them… There is such a thing as too much thinking, as when action is paralyzed by the multiplicity of views suggested by a situation… The very number of suggestions may be hostile to tracing logical sequences among them, for it may tempt the mind away from the necessary but trying task of search for real connections, into the more congenial occupation of embroidering upon the given facts a tissue of agreeable fancies. The best mental habit involves a balance between paucity and redundancy of suggestions.

    In today’s culture of exponentially growing “multiplicity of views,” Dewey’s admonition exposes with great urgency both meanings of critical in “critical thinking.” (Thirty-five years later, in 1945, Vannevar Bush would propose a complementary solution to the predicament by predicting the emergence of “a new profession of trail blazers” — essentially, knowledge sherpas who “find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.”)

    For Dewey, the solution was in large part a matter of depth — how deep we are willing to penetrate the bottomless pit of information. It is our capacity for depth that determines the richness and fruitfulness of our thought — something of equally urgent importance today, when the information web is dominated by bite-sized opinion riffs and “How Cat Are You?” quizzes. Deep-diving, according to Dewey, is something that can and should be taught:

    One man’s thought is profound while another’s is superficial; one goes to the roots of the matter, and another touches lightly its most external aspects. This phase of thinking is perhaps the most untaught of all, and the least amenable to external influence whether for improvement or harm. Nevertheless, the conditions of the [person’s] contact with subject-matter may be such that he is compelled to come to quarters with its more significant features, or such that he is encouraged to deal with it upon the basis of what is trivial. The common assumptions that, if the [person] only thinks, one thought is just as good for his mental discipline as another, and that the end of study is the amassing of information, both tend to foster superficial, at the expense of significant, thought.

    Even more important, in our era of snap-judgments and instant opinions, is Dewey’s point about the slowness and deliberative contemplation inherent to such deep thought:

    Sometimes slowness and depth of response are intimately connected. Time is required in order to digest impressions, and translate them into substantial ideas. “Brightness” may be but a flash in the pan. The “slow but sure” person … is one in whom impressions sink and accumulate, so that thinking is done at a deeper level of value than with a slighter load… The depth to which a sense of the problem, of the difficulty, sinks, determines the quality of the thinking that follows.

    Ultimately, Dewey argues that thinking is predicated on mapping out the interaction of information and on an intentional organization of knowledge — something that requires a comfort with uncertainty, a systematic curiosity that stocks the mental store of ideas, and a willingness for depth and slowness:

    Thinking [is] not a machine-like, ready-made apparatus to be turned indifferently and at will upon all subjects, as a lantern may throw its light as it happens upon horses, streets, gardens, trees, or river. Thinking is specific, in that different things suggest their own appropriate meanings, tell their own unique stories, and in that they do this in very different ways with different persons. As the growth of the body is through the assimilation of food, so the growth of mind is through the logical organization of subject-matter. Thinking is not like a sausage machine which reduces all materials indifferently to one marketable commodity, but is a power of following up and linking together the specific suggestions that specific things arouse.

    Facts, whether narrow or extensive, and conclusions suggested by them, whether many or few, do not constitute, even when combined, reflective thought. The suggestions must be organized; they must be arranged with reference to one another and with reference to the facts on which they depend for proof. When the factors of facility, of fertility, and of depth are properly balanced or proportioned, we get as the outcome continuity of thought. We desire neither the slow mind nor yet the hasty. We wish neither random diffuseness nor fixed rigidity. Consecutiveness means flexibility and variety of materials, conjoined with singleness and definiteness of direction.

    And yet, he is careful to point out, it is not a black-and-white matter of tuning out distraction and pursuing absolute concentration — that, in fact, is the very mechanism by which we confine ourselves to our existing beliefs. never leaving our comfort zone of knowledge and opinion. Good thinking, he argues, embraces contradiction rather than shunning it:

    Concentration does not mean fixity, nor a cramped arrest or paralysis of the flow of suggestion. It means variety and change of ideas combined into a single steady trend moving toward a unified conclusion. Thoughts are concentrated not by being kept still and quiescent, but by being kept moving toward an object, as a general concentrates his troops for attack or defense. Holding the mind to a subject is like holding a ship to its course; it implies constant change of place combined with unity of direction. Consistent and orderly thinking is precisely such a change of subject-matter. Consistency is no more the mere absence of contradiction than concentration is the mere absence of diversion — which exists in dull routine or in a person “fast asleep.” All kinds of varied and incompatible suggestions may sprout and be followed in their growth, and yet thinking be consistent and orderly, provided each one of the suggestions is viewed in relation to the main topic.

    So why would we ever go through all that trouble in the first place, rather than sinking into our comfortable routine? Dewey argues that thinking arises from the need to action — something undoubtedly evidenced by the history of successful entrepreneurship, wherein many great inventions came from the inventor’s own need for something that didn’t yet exist in the world, be it the Polaroid camera. which Edwin Land dreamed up after his little daughter asked why she couldn’t see a photograph right after it was taken, or Instapaper. which Marco Arment built out of frustration with how hard it was to read web articles on the iPhone offline. Dewey writes:

    Intellectual organization originates and for a time grows as an accompaniment of the organization of the acts required to realize an end, not as the result of a direct appeal to thinking power. The need of thinking to accomplish something beyond thinking is more potent than thinking for its own sake. All people at the outset, and the majority of people probably all their lives, attain ordering of thought through ordering of action.

    How We Think is a magnificent read in its entirety, exploring everything from the defects and potential reform of the education system to how we can train ourselves to interpret facts and create meaning out of them. It is available as a free ebook .

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