Obstacles summary

Obstacles to Critical Thinking
As every
instructor knows, it’s tough to teach the basics of critical thinking to
students who have never before been exposed to the subject. But their lack of
previous experience with the subject is only part of the challenge of getting
them to understand and appreciate critical thinking. Students are often not
merely clueless about critical thinking; they might have the deck stacked
against them at the outset because they harbor assumptions, prejudices, and
habits of mind that impede clear thinking. (The impediments thrown up by
logical fallacies are mostly a separate matter, taken up in Chapter 5.) The
purpose of this chapter, then, is to address some of these hindrances—to help
students become aware of common ways in which their thinking can run off the
tracks. The premise here is that awareness is half the battle.
So almost all of the exercises are meant to raise awareness.
The Field Problems—and your own similar projects or group discussions—should be
extremely useful in encouraging student introspection. They suggest some ways
that students can critique their own thinking or that of others without feeling
self-conscious or making others uncomfortable. Writing assignments can also be
put to work for the same reasons.
  • Critical thinking takes place in a mental environment consisting
    of our experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Some elements in this inner
    environment can sabotage our efforts to think critically or at least make
    critical thinking more difficult. Fortunately, we can exert some control
    over these elements. With practice, we can detect errors in our thinking,
    restrain attitudes and feelings that can disrupt our reasoning, and
    achieve enough objectivity to make critical thinking possible.
  • The most common of these hindrances to critical thinking fall into
    two main categories: (1) Those obstacles that crop up because of how we think and (2)
    those that occur because of what we think. The
    first category is composed of psychological factors such as our fears,
    attitudes, motivations, and desires. The second category is made up of
    certain philosophical beliefs.
Psychological Obstacles
  • None of us is immune to the psychological obstacles. Among them
    are the products of egocentric thinking. We may accept a claim solely
    because it advances our interests or just because it helps us save face.
    To overcome these pressures, we must (1) be aware of strong emotions that
    can warp our thinking, (2) be alert to ways that critical thinking can be
    undermined, and (3) ensure that we take into account all relevant factors
    when we evaluate a claim.
  • The first category of hindrances also includes those that arise
    because of group pressure. These obstacles include conformist pressures
    from groups that we belong to and ethnocentric urges to think that our
    group is superior to others. The best defense against group pressure is to
    proportion our beliefs according to the strength of reasons.
Philosophical Obstacles

  • We may also have certain core beliefs that can undermine critical
    thinking (the second category of hindrances). Subjective relativism is the
    view that truth depends solely on what someone believes¾a notion that may
    make critical thinking look superfluous. But subjective relativism leads
    to some strange consequences. For example, if the doctrine were true, each
    of us would be infallible. Also, subjective relativism has a logical
    self-defeating. Its truth implies its falsity. There are no good reasons
    to accept this form of relativism.
  • Social relativism is the view that truth is relative to societies¾a claim that would
    also seem to make critical thinking unnecessary. But this notion is
    undermined by the same kinds of problems that plague subjective
  • Philosophical skepticism is the doctrine that we know much less
    than we think we do. One form of philosophical skepticism says that we
    cannot know anything unless the belief is beyond all possible doubt. But
    this is not a plausible criterion for knowledge. To be knowledge, claims
    need not be beyond all possible doubt, but beyond all reasonable doubt