Two major goals we seek in life are to not get what we do not want and to get what we do want. Critical thinking is essential for making both happen. The seed ideas of critical thinking were born in ancient Black Africa and were later borrowed by and elaborated on in ancient Greece. Greek scholars believed the common people did not have the intellect to understand or the interest to appreciate the finer technical points of logical thinking. They considered average peoples thinking to be like that of self-centered children -- full of imagination, fantasizing, dreams, hallucinations; full of all-or-none and either/or assessments; full of over-generalization opinions not based on all the facts; and full of impulsive, wishful thinking. To avoid such immaturity, elite Greek and Roman youth were taught history, literature, philosophy, fine arts, classical Greek and Latin, expressions, and reasoning. Oral and written expressions concerning ideas, values, and opinions were incorporated into a logical and consecutive presentation of thought called Discourse. Its purpose was to express, to inform, to persuade, or to entertain by creating a form or by imitating life. When done in a moving and forceful and elegant way the term Rhetoric was used.
Sprouting out of discourse were arguments, debates, and discussions. In classical times, Discuss meant to shake apart; Debate a beating of beaks (as if two birds were fencing). At first, Arguments were simply the presenting of evidence in support of a conclusion -- not to determine the truth, but to beat down the opponent.
Subsequently, Discussions referred to exchanging ideas; Debate, to taking sides on an issue; and Argument, to making plain and clear by means of proof (complete, irresistible, and irrefutable). Proof required the gathering of facts, as through deduction and induction, so as to overcome challenges by opposing debaters. No longer accepted as adequate evidence were Anecdotes (short accounts of some interesting experience) or Testimonials (individuals statements concerning what they believed to be true) because neither had been reviewed, tested, and accepted by authorities. The Content of proof considered absolutely necessary to build a rational structure included: (1) Accuracy (reality without error); (2) Meaning (clear definitions of key concepts such as intent, purpose, and explanations); (3) Completeness (no essentials are missing); (4) Consistency (all supporting reasons and evidence working together without contradicting each other); and (5) Usefulness (valuable in proving or disproving a point).
In Critical Thinking, judgements are made about the source of the message, the message, the messenger, and the fairness of how those three are evaluated. Where did the information come from? Is the message true? Are we biased or prejudiced in our assessment of the source, the message, the messenger, or in the assumptions we make for thinking and acting? Critical Thinking researches the answers to these questions; opens our minds to receiving reasonable but distasteful information; fashions alternate ways of thinking, feeling, and living; and is a tool for trouble-shooting our own and others errors, mistakes, weaknesses, limitations, and absent facts. Of course, this means reaching conclusions, decisions, choices, or judgments on our own because that is the only way trouble-shooting can be effective. The bottom line questions are always: Am I satisfied with the truth of the source, the message, the messenger, and my evaluation?:
Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D
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