I keep the subject constantly before me and wait till the first dawnings open little by little into the full light.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Critical Thinking

When people begin to self-consciously reflect on what they are thinking about, deliberately examine the issues involved, ask why and discuss reasons with each other, philosophy enters the critical realm. In critical reasoning, we intentionally search for explanation and policy principles and make an effort to apply our principles to what we do. When we consciously relate what we do to a goal, we reason critically. When we ponder, speculate, study, examine, experiment, ask pointed questions, seek answers, defend a position, and/or find fault, we reason critically.

Critical thinking, by definition, always involves reasons. In critical awareness we reason with studied deliberation. We concentrate and/or reflect on our own reasoning. We intentionally focus our mind on a subject. Critical reasoning is more deliberate than liminal reasoning but it is not different in logical kind.

Critical reasoning, as defined in plus definition set, is always rational because it uses reasons one way or another. However, although rational, it is not necessarily sound. Critical reasoning can be sound or unsound. Just because people are being critical does mean that they are necessarily right.

Sound critical reasoning is affirmative and in tune with impartial truth. It harmonizes with logical intuition, cultivates commonsense, uses unbiased logic, and avoids totalitarian thinking. People using sound critical reasoning can usually make improvements that help everyone involved to some degree.

In contrast, unsound critical reasoning introduces root errors in our thought systems, stirs up contentious feelings, sanctions totalitarian thinking, indulges in elemental double standards, permits fallacies, and endorses prejudice. In this manner, unsound critical reasoning usually makes situations worse rather than better.

In practice, critical thinking is almost always a mixture of plus and minus. The quality of a critical piece will depend on the proportions of sound to unsound in the overall process.

In critical reasoning we are in the questioning mode. We ask questions, look for answers, and stay on the alert for mistakes. We ask "why" and we wonder.

We think with critical awareness when we deliberately investigate, plan, and explain. We ruminate about matters of epistemology, logic, and ontology. When we do mathematics we use our critical abilities. Science is based on ordered critical thought. When we measure, calculate, and record data we are reasoning critically. When we pay our bills, we use critical reasoning.

We think critically when we concentrate on our thoughts or on our thinking process. Reflective thinking is a type of critical awareness. When we are acutely conscious of our self as a 'self' and when we think about ourselves as thinking, we are in a critical frame of mind. We are critically attentive when we are careful and cautious and watchful. We are critically discriminating when we praise and or when we find fault.

Definition

All of the above goes into the definition of critical thinking. Critical thinking is reasoning we do with a noticeable degree of concentration and/or deliberation. It differs from commonsense and intuition in levels of awareness but follows the same logical forms.

Logical Type

Plus root theory holds that: critical reasoning is different in intensity and concentration from sub-liminal and liminal reasoning but is not different in logical kind. This point of view disagrees with philosophical schools that proceed under the assumption that intuition, common sense and critical reasoning are different in logical form and follow different logical requirements.

From a plus point of view, authentic philosophy does not posit one set of logical requirements for intuition, another set for commonsense and a third set for critical reasoning. To be sound, all levels of thinking must meet the same logical requirements. The difference is in the level of awareness, not in the logical form. Intuitional thinking is subliminal. Commonsense thinking is familiar, spontaneous, unreflective liminal awareness. Critical thinking is deliberate concentration. In all states of awareness, for thinking to be rationally sound, we must follow the same rules of right reason.

In plus root theory, positing different logics for intuition, common sense and science is a serious root error. Presuming different rational standards for different occasions justifies elemental double standards which is exactly what sound rational thinking aims to avoid. Critical reasoning—to be sound—should not contradict logical intuition or commonsense or affirmative logic. To advance our abilities to progress in peace, we expect critical reasoning in philosophy to be as honest as science and as candid as commonsense. [See Essay on Logical Types]

Mistakes

In critical reasoning, we can make mistakes and often do. Just because we are critically aware of a particular reasoning process, does not mean that our reasoning is, therefore, sound.

In critical reasoning, our judgments are frequently correct and critical deductions are often valid, but this is not always the case. Critical reasoning can be pock marked with equivocation, judgmental error and invalid reasoning.

If we do the work required to promote sound rational thinking, we frequently discover mistakes. Once we discover a mistake, the response of affirmative thinkers is to begin the process of correcting the mistake. Correcting mistakes is an important function of affirmative critical analysis.

On the other hand, totalitarian prone thinkers, when they discover what appears to be a mistake, start a project to change the requirements of logic so they can keep their cherished illusion and pretend to themselves they are justified in hanging on to their prejudice. Sometimes they call their rationalizations a "new" logic, but rationalization is not new. Saying something is new, does not make it new.

Some theorists maintain that they have the power and the right to adjust the rules of logic to suit their own wants. From an affirmative point of view this is a serious root error. How can people of cultivated commonsense carry on a conversation with persons who feel free to change the requirements of logic whenever their favorite rationalizations come into question? How can one party negotiate with another party if the rules of logic are up for grabs?

Business of Philosophers

From an affirmative point of view, it is the business of philosophers to clarify the requirements of sound rational thinking. When philosophers do the opposite, society has a very serious problem.

Also, it is the business of philosophers to make rational improvement attractive to the multitude. Shouldn't we expect our academic elite to use their talents and power to explain why all classes of society should upgrade rational skills? Shouldn't they show us how by their example?

Unfortunately, those in academic positions often do the opposite and use their skill to berate rationalism and to divide society into angry faction who sling insults at one another. Instead of uniting us in a common search for truth, antithetically inclined intellectuals teach that opposition is the ultimate driving force in human affairs.

Analytical Insight

Analytical Insight, as plus defined, is our ability to critically focus on our experience and to probe into our logical intuitions. Using analytical insight, we explore our thoughts and bring them into critical awareness. A person using analytical insight intentionally employs his or her inner "feel" for the correct use of syllogistic reasoning. [See Part C]

Analytical insight is a rational talent that we activate and develop through use. Plato provides a famous example in Meno, when Socrates interviewed a young slave [B133/44f]. Socrates asked carefully selected questions and elicited answers showing, in the young man, a growing understanding of several geometric principles. Socrates, according to Plato, believed he was reviving the young man's memory from a previous life. But it is not necessary to stretch so far for an explanation. Socrates was activating the youth's logical intuition and bringing his commonsense reason into play as he learned to understand new ideas. Socrates did not teach the young man through lecture. Instead, Socrates drew out implications by suggestive questions and, then, solicited answers that tested the boys understanding. When his student learned to appreciate one point, Socrates would go on to the next. He could do this because they spoke the same language and were tuned into many of the same elemental presuppositions.

Sound Critical Theory

Sound critical theory augments logical intuition and enhances commonsense. People practicing sound critical reasoning show respect for impartial truth and work hard to use affirmative logic.

Sound criticism states in words the reasoning connections the rest of us intuitively recognize as valid. Sound rational theory in every way optimizes logical intuition and cultivates commonsense.

When critical reasoning is sound, it augments commonsense in a energized manner much as a compound bow lends extra force to an arrow. A little well formed critical reasoning goes a long way.

Through the auspices of civilized society and thanks to many hard working philosophers, much sound philosophy proliferates in the rational style of our day. For example, Lionel Ruby in The Art of Making Sense [B144/1954] really does make sense in most of what he says. Richard Hodnet in The Art of Problem Solving has done excellent work in helping to making rhetorical ethics palatable.

Unsound Critical Theory

However—and this is one of the basic problems under discussion in this book—not all critical reasoning is sound. Sometimes we make epistemological and other elemental mistakes that affect our critical deliberation. When this happens, root errors become entangled in our belief system.

Root Binds

Mistakes in elemental thinking create a strange dichotomy. For example, an individual who critically accepts a root error as a part of his/her philosophy will, at the same time, intuitively fathom that there is something wrong. The person, without realizing it, adopts a root bind (elemental contradiction) in his/her overall thought system. A hidden elemental double standard is implanted in his/her mind and exerts unintended consequences.

We all, in varying degrees, acquire some root binds in our thought systems. For instance, this occurs when we accept an elemental proposition as true in critical theory that we intuitively apprehend as false. Deep elemental contradictions (root binds) set up elemental double standards in our problem solving methods.

Elemental double standards are the inevitable result of root errors accepted as if they were true. Elemental double standards can be benign or calamitous or degrees in between.

Root errors often originate in critical reasoning but they don't necessarily stay there. When we accept an elemental mistake as true, we easily incorporate it in our subconscious and it becomes an illusion that we accept as if it were a true assumption. Usually we forget it is there. These forgotten malformed assumptions mask as intuition and contradict genuine logical intuition and commonsense. For example, a person who has been taught to suppress curiosity will have conflicting inclinations that feel like intuitions. "Wanting to know why" is a natural rational intuition that cannot be totally eradicated. "Not wanting to know why" can be an acquired inclination that opposes natural curiosity. Some traditions and cultures deliberately discourage questioning "why". "Curiosity killed the cat," some parents teach their children. But, even though indoctrinated not to ask "why", a secret inclination still exists in normal people to want to know the reason for things. The ensuing conflict creates anxiety. This is an example of an elemental double standard in subliminal state of awareness. Deep elemental double standards bring on feelings of discomfort.

Root errors always contradict our natural logical intuition and candid commonsense. These hidden contradictions are disconcerting and create floating anxiety.

Strange happenings occur when critical thinkers adopt and advocate root errors. First of all, critical thinkers do not deliberately adopt elemental mistakes as guiding principles. Quite the contrary, when a critical thinker adopts a root error as a mental guideline, he/she does so because he/she believes it is true. Next, the critical thinker, trying to consciously promote his/her idea will bend his commonsense out of joint to bring the rest of his philosophy "in line" with his/her "out of line" root errors and will, in the process, create a consciously adopted philosophy that, in various ways, contradicts commonsense. In step three, as a bonus side effect with positive implications, the reasoning he/she does is good exercise and as exercise, can help cultivate genuine commonsense and the skills of persuasive discourse. In step four, the philosopher and the philosopher's followers begin to think the persuasive aspect of the argument is due to guidelines that intrinsically are false. Lax dialecticians adopt the error as if it were true and teach it to the unwary and, in so doing, elemental illusions become deeply ingrained. In step five, the same philosopher, deep in his or her intuition, fathoms that the bogus elemental assumption in question really is an error. As a consequence, the philosopher avoids, most of the time, his own mistake in his own speaking and writing. Step six, insofar as his reasoning is contaminated by elemental errors, this misguided philosopher becomes narrow minded, totalitarian, dictatorial, prejudiced and relies on ridicule, emotion and intimidation, rather than civil discourse, to address opponents. He throws a monkey wrench into negotiation machinery. He then vociferously blames the ensuing conflict on the hapless opponents, who perhaps at first were sincerely trying to discuss the problem.

These steps display some of the tangled mixups that develop from elemental double standards. A philosopher advocates a false elemental assumption in his critical philosophy, while at the same time in his normal logical intuition and in his commonsense reasoning and in using his analytical insight, he knows perfectly well the assumption is false. The resulting contradiction interferes with the development of sound problem solving methods and seriously hinders our ability to progress in peace.

Root binds are not always deadly. On many occasions, negative prone philosophers, pocket their elemental mistakes and proceed to cultivate their commonsense in a candid manner. This strange set of affairs makes refutation of root errors extraordinarily difficult. It is the hope of plus root theory to show what is happening and to help readers understand why root errors are difficult to spot, why they go uncorrected, and why they sometimes cause trouble and other times don't.

Exercise

Although critical reasoning is liable to error, the very process of reasoning critically, if done with some care, helps strengthen the reasoners logical intuition, develops analytical insight, and helps cultivate commonsense (sound rational liminal reasoning) to some extent. Unless despoiled by deep ingrained root errors, critical reasoning is normally a healthy, self-correcting process.

Commonsense Power

It's important to notice that root errors devised and perpetuated by critical thinkers do not eradicate commonsense. It is a tenet of plus root theory that: humans often can relate to each other in a commonsense mode of discourse, even though they hold negative, malformed elemental assumptions in their metaphysical ideologies.

Elemental double standards are not always disasters. It is possible to keep root errors at bay while we proceed to cultivate and use plain commonsense.

While not always disastrous, elemental double standards remain harmful because they have a way of submerging commonsense at climactic moments. This is the tragedy of our time and of many times in the past. The fruit is there, but we miss the enjoyment of our abundance, because we fail to bring in the harvest.

To understand how to make rational improvements, it is important to remember that elemental double standards create problems but they do not necessarily bring sound rational thinking to a halt. It so happens that people can adopt a number of outrageous root errors in their critical philosophy and proceed, simultaneously, to develop their own personal commonsense in an astute manner. Vast amounts of human living can proceed holding these two ways of reasoning in separate compartments and little apparent harm is done. For example, its common in popular literature for writers to heap scathing ridicule on the basic requirements of traditional logic, and then, for the same writer, to proceed to follow in the better part of his writing, the very rules the writer vehemently disparage.

Still, root errors are not benign. At crucial points of collision with reality, root errors—and the double standards they create—can be the source of violent disasters and dreadful sorrow. We compound the tragedy of such calamities when we fail to see the origin of the problem and, consequently, rather than learning from our mistakes, we repeat the same debacles over and over.

Plus root theory holds that: there is a cause-and-effect connection between seemingly trivial root errors and our inabilities to make better progress in achieving a safe and sane society. Sometimes the cause is so far removed from the effect that we fail to see the linkage. However, even though the problem is unseen, it is there in force. The more we can appreciate the connection between root errors and peace problems, the more willing we will be to do the work it takes to adequately fix the mistakes that cause the damage.

Reverberations

Root errors resonate. For example, if we confuse either-or reasoning with all-or-none thinking, and then conclude that: either-or thinking alienates our behavior from our true self, we set ourselves up for one mistake after another.

In the same manner, if we accept David Hume's postulation that a concept is nothing more than a fuzzy image, we are on our way to sympathizing with dogmas that present abstraction as inferior to image, and that opt for creeds that grant sensation a higher priority than sound principle, honest fact and valid deduction. This mistake can resound through all our thoughts.

Friedrich Nietzsche plaintively called for society to go beyond good and evil. In truth, what he helped create was a society that plowed good under and sprouted evil.

Conclusion

Critical thinkers can clarify, augment, and magnify liminal acumen or they can obscure, ridicule, and diminish sound rational thinking in the common sector. Usually critical thinkers are a mixture. They promote root verities and insightful observations on one hand and, then, turn around, and advocate root errors that undo the good they are trying to promote.

Since most philosophers have something genuinely worth while to say, it behooves us to learn how the sort their offerings so we can take advantage of brilliant insights worth keeping without getting damaged by their blunders. The biggest blunders are mistaken understandings of abstraction, truth, and reason. Unfortunately these mistakes are common in modern critical writing.

This chapter has established a distinction between sound and unsound critical reasoning, explored the difference between commonsense and critical reasoning, defined analytical insight, opened the windows to expose the dangers of hidden elemental mistakes, and pointed out the insidious effect elemental double standards exert on our quality of living. This is only the beginning. Later chapters elaborate these ideas.