A recent post on Tomorrow’s Professor itemizes and describes seven intellectual habits of critical thinkers.
Critical thinking is one of those qualities that are prized in teaching and learning but is often evoked as a good thing without being nailed down. Like “art” or “emotional intelligence,” we believe in it, we know it when we see it, but we haven’t always formulated for ourselves what we understand it to be. The list below, by Edmund J. Hansen, primarily situates the use and cultivation of critical thinking in school, with some references also to its importance in society.
I must admit I read this list with myself more as thinker and not teacher in mind. Do I consistently practice these seven intellectual habits? Do you?
- Intellectual Humility: Be aware of one’s biases and prejudices, the limitations of one’s viewpoint, and the extent of one’s ignorance.
- Intellectual Courage: Face and fairly address ideas, beliefs, or viewpoints toward which one has strong negative emotions and to which one has not given a serious hearing. Recognize that ideas that society considers dangerous or absurd are sometimes rationally justified.
- Intellectual Empathy: Imaginatively (and, I would add, regularly) put oneself in the place of others so as to genuinely understand them.
- Intellectual Integrity: Be true to one’s own thinking and hold oneself to the same standards one expects others to meet. Honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one’s own thought and action.
- Intellectual Perseverance: Be disposed to work one’s way through intellectual complexities despite the frustration inherent in the task.
- Confidence in Reason: Believe that one’s own higher interests and those of humankind at large will be best served by giving the freest play to reason, by encouraging people to come to their own conclusions by developing their own rational faculties. Also have faith that, with proper encouragement and cultivation, people can learn to think for themselves.
- Intellectual Autonomy: Maintain an internal motivation based on the ideal of thinking for oneself; having rational self-authorship of one’s beliefs, values, and way of thinking. Depend not on others for the direction and control of one’s thinking.
I reflected on Hansen’s Habits of Critical Thinkers and noticed that he emphasizes the individual’s responsibility to the self as thinker, reasoner, judger, and perseverer and the benefits one might gain from these habits. Not that he ignores responsibility to others — after all, Hansen is a teacher and promotes these habits in education — but the actions he describes are largely mental, interior, and personal.
This list needs an eighth habit, and it’s one I discern among the ones he has articulated. While the seven above are lifted and paraphrased directly from Hansen, the one below has been crafted, albeit from his principles, by me:
8. Intellectual Advocacy: Be responsible for preparing and communicating — whether in text, speech, graphics, or other publicly available media — reasoned arguments that consider and advance ideas, proposals, and analysis that represent one’s deep thinking, careful study, and sincere concern.
I add this here as much as a reminder for myself as it is for any readers. Often, I pride myself on my skill at weighing information and others’ views. However, I often keep my thoughts to myself, wondering if this battle or that one is worth fighting. I have historically given too much credence to an axiom I learned as a child: “Silence speaks volumes.” Silence, in fact, does not speak at all. Critical thinking gets society nowhere without the thoughtful, well-reasoned, and even impassioned — if passion suits — communication of thinking’s results.
A person must use her critical thinking to question and investigate her own convictions, but she must have the courage to argue for the ones she has examined and can support with evidence (including examples), analysis, and reflection. Do this according to Hansen’s Habits: with honesty, humility, empathy, integrity, persistence, and autonomy.
Image by Jimmy Guterman, on the jetty/walking path to Boston’s Castle Island, April 29, 2012.