How Should We Think: The 6 Stages Of Critical Thinking

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How Should We Think: The 6 Stages Of Critical Thinking

Photo:Graph: Paul Ratner. Credit: Elder / Paul

Most of us over the last year have had our strongest will tested and our endurance pushed to its limit. But it hasn't only been our emotions that have been getting pulled through ordeals, our minds have also been pulled like never-before, and sadly many of us have fallen for elaborate conspiracy theories without any evidence, and for other fake-news regarding the pandemic.

The key to searching for truth, even in the most extreme dilemma, is to engage in 'critical thinking'. This means that we can evaluate evidence and what people tell us objectively and reach a more accurate conclusion about a situation.

Two psychologists, Linda Elder and Richard Paul, have now devised a 6-stage-pyramid of critical thinking that lets individuals assess just how good a critical thinker they are, and therefore how they can improve their critical thinking going forward. It starts from the bottom rung 'the unreflective thinker' and moves all the way up to 'master thinker'.

Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker

In this stage, people are pretty much automatons. They act on instinct and take what is told to them at face-value. The have high levels of prejudice and jumbled thinking or thinking that is based on very faulty logic.

It shouldn't be thought though that these people are all uneducated, as Elder and Paul state:

"It is perfectly possible for students to graduate from high school, or even college, and still be largely unreflective thinkers."

Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker

At this stage, people do actually think about issues and scenarios in some depth, they also know that logical flaws in thinking can result in very negative consequences for themselves and others. However, like the unreflective thinker, they are also affected by personal biases, though they may be able to recognise that they do possess these biases in the first-place.

In that stage, it is very hard for the individual, even if they understand that an argument is poor, to be able to specify where the flaw lies in the logic behind it. They know something isn't right, but they can't quite work out why.

Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker

People in that stage have begun to apply critical thinking across their daily lives. They can see that many people use faulty logic and can even point-out in some cases what these faults actually are. They are also more self-aware than the 'challenged thinker'. They can understand that they can be wrong about things and are able to question the truth behind information being fed to them from different sources.

These individuals have started to put reason before emotion and sometimes won't believe in something just because they want to believe it to be true. Critical thinking is still a challenge though for the 'beginner thinker'.

Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker

This is now the level where reasoning skills begin to play a significant role in the day-to-day lives of the individual. They can evaluate not only the validity of an argument but can also understand the 'soundness' of the logical system being put into practice.

These people are also often being self-challenged. Instead of hoping for something to be true, they attempt to use logic and rationality as their guide.

Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker

The psychologists believe that this stage is found mostly as a result of higher college or university education. These individuals fully submit themselves to the law of reason and actively fight their own prejudices, putting rational thought above other considerations.

They also have intellectual empathy, which means that they are able to begin to understand why other people think the way they do but at the same time can easily identify flaws in the structure of the arguments made by those with whom they disagree. Importantly, they are able to identify why arguments are wrong, which is often far more difficult than identifying why arguments are correct.

Stage Six: The Master Thinker

This individual is very rare. These people have put logic above all else and are able to deal with every argument and problem critically. They consistently push themselves to reach new levels of critical thinking and are able to do that even in cases where it is deeply uncomfortable.

They have passed aside their ego in the search for validity and truth. They search for weaknesses and biases even in their own thinking and may question the very nature and axioms of knowledge and logic itself.

The question is though, how do we elevate ourselves and others to the next level? It is most certainly a difficult task precisely because we have to identify and put aside our own prejudices, hopes and fundamental beliefs. The authors of the study emphasise that:

"We must teach in such a way that students come to understand the power in knowing that whenever humans reason, they have no choice but to use certain predictable structures of thought: that thinking is inevitably driven by the questions, that we seek answers to questions for some purpose, that to answer questions, we need information, that to use information we must interpret it (i.e., by making inferences), and that our inferences, in turn, are based on assumptions, and have implications, all of which involves ideas or concepts within some point of view."

It is crucial then that we learn how to evaluate fundamental assumptions before reaching a conclusion if we want to have our will to be governed by logic rather than ignorance.

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Thinking Humanity: How Should We Think: The 6 Stages Of Critical Thinking
How Should We Think: The 6 Stages Of Critical Thinking
Most of us over the last year have had our strongest will tested and our endurance pushed to its limit. But it hasn't only been our emotions that have
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