UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Critical thinking, rationality, and social practices Selman, Mark R.


Critical thinking is a widely shared educational goal which has been granted more explicit attention than ever in recent years. Five major approaches to this area of educational concern have been influential to the development of educational practices, research programs, and conceptualization in the field. Three of these approaches (the 'process' or basic skills approach, the problem solving approach, and the logic approach) are found to be based on unfounded assumptions about the nature of reasoning and thinking, and inadequate attention to the purposes which make critical thinking such a widely accepted educational goal. A fourth (the information processing approach) is found to involve instances of reductionism which render incoherent many of the terms with which we understand and assess our own reasoning, and that of others. The fifth approach (the multi-aspect approach associated with Robert Ennis) is not so essentially flawed, but is found to contain some significant problems. Most notably there is a problem with fixing the reference of 'mental abilities' (which is essential for the issue of generalizability of critical thinking abilities) and with understanding the relationship between judgment and the other aspects of critical thinking. It is argued that writers in the field of critical thinking generally have tried to purchase objectivity for their conceptions by connecting them with the ideal of disengaged knowledge, either as exemplified by the study of formal logic or the natural sciences. It is argued that, in contrast with this approach, we ought to recognize that values and value judgments are at the heart of critical thinking. The ideal of disengagement tends to interfere with our understanding of thinking as a normative (rule-governed) activity grounded in our social practices. This thesis argues for the adoption of a realist position with regard to values, an expressivist understanding of language, an interpretive stance toward the study of rationality, and a social constructivist conception of rules. Some consequences of these positions for instruction, teacher preparation, and future research are suggested.

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