We’ll start our exploration of what is meant by critical thinking by watching a movie! The 1957 film “Twelve Angry Men” is used by many professors in this context. The movie begins at the end of trial in which an 18-year old man is accused of killing his father. We quickly move into the Juror’s Room, where jurors go to deliberate cases. One juror stands out as an example of a critical thinker, Juror Number Eight (the man in the white suit…you should have no trouble identifying him once the movie gets going!). As you watch it, take note on how his mind works, the way he questions and reasons with the others, the influence he begins to exert on them. In contrast to Juror number Eight is Juror number Three (the one who yells half the time). He is controlled too much by his emotions. He says he has no personal stake in voting guilty against the young man on trial, but something happened in this juror’s life which has biased him against young people-what is it? When studying critical thinking, we need to look at our own biases and see how they affect our decision making (note about biases: keep in mind that not all biases are bad; we too often use the word “bias” only in negative ways, how it occurs in racism and sexism, for instance. Essentially it just means what we are drawn to, what we favor over something else. Anyone who has studied electronics would know that we bias equipment, adjust how and to where the electricity flows. With me, I have a bias toward sweet snacks over salty ones. I have a bias for bourbon rather than Scotch. Do these biases make me a “bad/flawed” person? No. But if I had a bias where I favor one person over another because of skin color, then yes, that bias is wrong.)
Be sure to read the link “10 Characteristics of a Critical Thinker” on the Menu either before or after watching the movie; it will greatly help you in writing a one-paragraph response on why you think that we consider that character as a critical thinker. Try to identify specific characteristics he displays in doing so and cite specific examples from the film. I provide a link to the movie on the Menu; it also is available on Amazon Prime:
Here is a rather general reading on Critical Thinking that you might find helpful:
Profile of the Critical Thinker
From Teaching Critical Thinking in the Arts and Humanities, edited by Lucy Cromwell
The critical thinker:
Asks significant and pertinent questions and states problems with specificity. Arrives at solutions through hypothesis, inquiry, analysis, and interpretation.
Assesses statements,insights, and arguments according to the knowledge and skills provided by formal and informal logic.
Formulates propositions or judgments in terms of clearly defined sets of criteria.
Strives to acquire knowledge of the various disciplines, knowing that such knowledge is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for critical thinking.
Understands the different modes of thought appropriate to the various disciplines. Can apply these modes of thought to other disciplines and life.
Is aware of the context or setting in which judgments are made, and of the practical consequences and values involved.
Thinks about the world theories, assessing these theories and their contexts to determine the validity of their claims.
Seeks and expects to find different meanings simultaneously present in a work or event.
Recognizes and accepts contradiction and ambiguity, understanding that they are an integral part of thought and creativity.
Constructs and interprets reality with a holistic and dialectical perspective. Sees the interconnectedness within a system and between systems.
Tolerates ambiguity, yet can assume a committed position.
Is aware of the limitations of knowledge and exhibits epistemological humility.
Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service to one’s own, or one’s groups’, vested interest. As such, it is typically intellectually flawed however pragmatically successful it might be. When grounded in fair-mindedness and intellectual integrity, it is typically of a higher order intellectually, though subject to the charge of “idealism” by those habituated to its selfish use.
Critical thinking of any kind is never universal in any individual; everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thought. Its quality is therefore usually a matter of degree and dependent on, among other things, the quality and depth of experience in a given domain of thinking or with respect to a particular class of questions. No one is a critical thinker through-and-through, but only to such-and-such a degree, with such-and-such insights and blind spots, subject to such-and-such tendencies towards self-delusion. For this reason, the development of critical thinking skills and dispositiocixns is a life-long endeavor.
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