Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Critically engaging “The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking”

Written by: on September 7, 2013

Paul and Elder’s The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools is a concise work that packs a considerable amount of material between its covers. The insights are solid and accompanied by an engaging and helpful set of diagrams that further elucidate the authors’ perspectives.

Overall, the authors’ goal in this text is rather straightforward and simple – they want people to think well; as they offer it, they want people to think critically. They are not proposing that you should think about particular ideas, they are just offering that whatever particular ideas you do happen to be thinking about there are better and worse ways to do it. Considering the understanding that humans are definitionally thinking creatures (à la Descartes), it seems odd that a primer is needed for something engaged in so ubiquitously and that is inherent to our very essence. Yet, socio-politico-historical experience suggests there is great need for a short, substantive, persuasive read such as this book offers.  To twist a metaphor, possession may be nine tenths of the law (we’ve all got minds), but that last one-tenth when thought of as usage/methodology makes an entire world of difference. Focus on that last one-tenth is the crux of Paul and Elder’s text.

What then exactly is critical thinking according to Paul and Elder? “Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.” (p.2)  Throughout the whole of the text the authors generally suggest that critical thinking involves an open-minded approach to engaging topics that is willing to seek substantive material for its understanding and weigh such material reasonably/fairly/justly in light of alternative materials/ideas.

As well as proposing numerous positive practices for moving forward, the authors also warn against dangers such as egocentrism, sociocentrism, and eight forms of intellectual bearing that are harmful to self and others (intellectual cowardice, narrow-mindedness, arrogance, laziness, conformity, hypocrisy, unfairness, and intellectual distrust of reason & evidence).

In the end, the authors call for the creation of “critical societies” that are based on the principles of their relation of critical thinking. (p. 23) I hear in the authors’ call an echo that reaches back to the idea of the Good City and its need for philosopher-kings as related in Plato’s Republic. In suggesting such a connection, I see both merit and some concern in their call. I appreciate their delineation of “The Good” (Agathon, ἀγαθὸν) as they see it and find myself in overall agreement with their ideas.  However, I would like to utilize one of their own ideas and employ their method of critical engagement to think a moment about their own text. That is, I would like to with “intellectual humility” (one of their positive traits) (pp. 13-14) recognize the limitation of our thoughts and voice hesitation at points whenever there are calls for entire societies to live in certain ways, no matter how good such a siren call might seem. This is one of the ironies of the philosopher-kings in Plato’s Republic; the philosopher-kings (ie. critical thinkers [or somewhat more concerningly, “master thinker(s)” (p. 20)]) have reached a place where they are supposed to embody intellectual humility and yet, “in all humility” they decide that they should rule…for everyone’s good of course.

One other piece that is over-emphasized in the text for my liking is that, “Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking.” While believing that I generally understand the authors’ intention on this point and appreciate the call for responsibility on the part of persons, I still understand this to suggest an unfortunate and dangerous lack of encouragement for community collaboration.  There seems to be an ideological individualism peering through in this statement that I thankfully don’t find fully supported in other portions of the text, but that does seem to leave a lingering mark on the text as a whole.  There is a fine line between healthy personal responsibility and integrity and the unhealthy old aphorism of thinking that we can “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.”

Finally, while I again overall appreciate the approach and effort offered in Paul and Elder’s The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, it is soundly (and somewhat painfully) one-dimensionally cognitive in positioning. A most helpful and more holistic orientation would be to also couple these ideas with emotive/affective components of our being. The place of the heart and soul in our living is sorely lacking in the read.

The Biblical scriptures call us to love God and others with all of our heart, soul and mind. I’m more comfortable with needing to grapple with all of these aspects of our being as we move forward into deep, authentic and faithful engagement with society.

Of course, at this point I’m asking more of a 23 page text than is really quite just – and I offer that critically with all intellectual humility.

About the Author

Clint Baldwin

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