When it comes to wisdom, critical thinking is paramount. This blog explores more about the connection, and references Jason’s latest book Wisdom, in which critical thinking plays a starring role. The large type font is a sampling of quotes from other individuals who are referencing critical thinking vis-a-vis wisdom…
Indeed, those who want to live more wisely, make better decisions and avoid some of life’s inevitable problems and pitfalls, critical thinking is critical (pun intended!).
“We are overwhelmingly emotional creatures. We have the capacity for logic and critical thinking, but they are skills; we’re not born as master critical thinkers. As an example, we’re also not born with the ability to play the violin like a concert violinist…. You should no more expect to automatically be a highly-developed critical thinker than you should expect to be a virtuoso violinist.” — Steven Novella
A rough definition of critical thinking would be: “Purposeful, reflective judgment which manifests itself in reasoned consideration of evidence, context, methods, standards, and conceptualizations in deciding what to believe or what to do.” (Peter A. Facione)
I will quote Facione further because it is a beautiful and compelling claim he is making here:
- “After years of viewing higher education as more of a private good which benefits only the student, we are again beginning to appreciate higher education as being also a public good which benefits society.”
I think that is spot-on. But it gets even sharper and more high-minded:
- “Is it not a wiser social policy to invest in the education of the future workforce, rather than to suffer the financial costs and endure the fiscal and social burdens associated with economic weakness, public health problems, crime, and avoidable poverty?”
I couldn’t agree more.
“To be rational, we must know when to override our default thinking, then we must do it. Knowing when to override involves intelligence and knowledge, but the will or motivation to do so is another thing altogether. That requires more than critical thinking, more than problem-solving ability. It requires us to hold our current world view in a kind of escrow while we consider an alternative view in an open-minded fashion.” —Barbara Drescher
And now that (as of this writing) we are in a place, politically, where Roe v. Wade is about to be overturned by a very actively conservative Supreme Court, I want to bring in an example of the lack of critical thinking.
Some Republicans are hell-bent on deifying Trump (are they now about to suggest that Roosevelt’s face be replaced by their savior—a cross between a mafia boss, Benito Mussolini, and any common sociopath—on Mount Rushmore??). While that wing of the Republican Party is completely out to lunch with their Q-Anon, vaccine and public health conspiracies, and making stupid laws in Florida, millions across America are praising Jesus as I type that abortion is destined to become illegal in at least half of U.S. states.
How this relates to critical thinking is the following: If one bases their view of abortion largely on Biblical approaches to wisdom, and does not adequately value the right to privacy or choice when it comes to dealing with unwanted pregnancies, very significant unintended consequences will soon follow.
“In layperson’s terms, critical thinking consists of seeing both sides of an issue, being open to new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning dispassionately, demanding that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available facts, solving problems, and so forth.” —Daniel T. Willingham
The ability to foresee and avoid unintended consequences is a major part of thinking critically. This is perhaps also akin to vision, what I call one of the values of the wise—that is, those values, virtues & goals that wise people (hypothetically speaking, mostly) cherish and seek to cultivate within.
Now, I do get that it is a tall order to imagine that most Americans can learn to think critically. As business professor Michael Roberto points out:
“Economists depict individuals as “rational decision-makers.” By that they mean that individuals collect a lot of information, examine a wide variety of alternatives, and then make decisions that maximize our personal satisfaction…. However, we don’t actually make decisions in a manner consistent with those models of economic decision-making.”
Indeed, in the series of lectures I quite like called The Art of Critical Decision-Making, Roberto states that “…we satisfice, which is the search for alternatives until we find the first one that works, rather than to continue on exhaustively and perfectly.” He adds: “In many situations, we take shortcuts. We employ heuristics and rules of thumb to make decisions. Most of the time, these shortcuts save us a great deal of time and we still arrive at a good decision.”
This isn’t simple stuff. Even experts in a field of study or area of knowledge are not immune to subconscious subterfuge. Indeed, mere prejudice and whim can masquerade as intuition, insight, and wisdom. This is elusive stuff because one can semi-subconsciously create reasons in support of one’s preferred opinion/behavior! This is tantamount to error, foolishness, and unwisdom.
But I do believe that if one can monitor one’s thinking style, rethink, think both “slow” and “fast” (a distinction made by the famed economist Daniel Kahneman), watch for cognitive biases, and expose one’s thinking to the scrutiny of respected others, critical thinking is not beyond their grasp.
“People may overlook even obvious harm if subjected to the blandishments of self interest—given an excuse for doing so. This is illustrated by ordinary hypocrisy – we accumulate possessions while lamenting environmental destruction, or disable animals in the laboratory while caring for pets at home. We gain by harming and contradicting our values. Self-interested delusional thinking is probably the greatest threat to ourselves and the natural world.” —Rod O’Connor
Here is another look at those all-important tricks of evolution, cognitive biases.
Certainly, in a society almost torn asunder by tribalism, emotionality, a lack of decorum on social media, and many actors in society such as Rush Limbaugh stirring up deep-seated and unseemly prejudices, we need more critical thinking!
Wisdom is the goal, and the result of wisdom is a better, more moral, and happier life.
Read more about this aspect of wisdom, along with others such as compassion, emotional intelligence, delaying gratification, etc. in the following excerpt of Jason’s 2022 book on the subject, and at this page here on Values of the Wise: