Critical reasoning/Readings/Reading 1/F1

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We think Milgram’s experiment illustrates how readily we are prepared to relinquish reason for the comfort of obedience. It is an example of how easily we take things for granted and assume that the claims of authority figures are true.

The lesson to be learnt from the experiment is that we should be suspicious of the claims of authorities, rather than following their instructions blindly. As critical reasoners we should learn how to think independently, and critically question information and knowledge claims.

Once you're done with the feedback you can proceed to the next section.

Thinking for yourself

If you think for yourself, you question the world and offer alternative viewpoints about the way the world is perceived by other people.

When we say think for yourself, we don’t mean ‘think selfishly for yourself’. We mean ‘think independently’. A person who thinks for herself or himself has to have a sense of humility, and of modesty, and of relativity because you have to realise that other people are also thinking for themselves and you’re bound to come out with something a little different from what they are thinking. In order to become a critical thinker, you have to have the ability to listen and the modesty to adjust your point of view as you gather more insights.

By doing the following activity, you can determine if you have the ability to think for yourself. For this activity you will need a newspaper and a pair of scissors. The date of the newspaper is not important, therefore you are welcome to use either an old or a new newspaper.

Activity 3

Task 1

Cut out at least seven pictures of your choice of men and group these pictures together on your desk.

Task 2

From the same newspaper cut out at least seven pictures of your own choice of women and group them together next to those of the men.

Task 3

Compare the pictures of the men and women and ask yourself the following questions:

Why did you choose the particular pictures of the men?
Why did you choose the particular pictures of the women?
What does it tell you about yourself?
Who is portrayed as being more professional, the men or women? Why do you say so?
Who is portrayed as being more powerful? Why do you say so?
What is the message conveyed by the difference in dress between the men and women?
What are the men in the pictures doing?
What are the women in the pictures doing?
What is the message conveyed by what the gender groups are doing?
Where do you get your ideas about the difference between men and women from?
What have you learnt from this exercise?

Activity 4

If I asked you for tips on how to learn to think for myself, which of the following tips would you give me? What would you add?

(1)If in doubt, ask a question.

Don’t be afraid to question things. Don’t be afraid to offer a question even though other people in your peer group have not questioned before.

(1)Place experience over authority.
If one reflects upon what the authority figure is conveying to you, does it fit in with your real-life experience? For example, if someone with authority tells you that taxis drive very safely, ask yourself if this fact is confirmed by your experience.

(1)Understand people.
Does the person communicating with you have an agenda that might be influencing what they are telling you? What is motivating this person? Why do you think they think this way?

(2)Don’t feel you have to follow the crowd.
Remember the old saying, “If Johnny puts his hand in the fire, it does not mean that you have to do that too.”

(3)Trust your feelings.
Trusting your “gut instinct” about something is often an overlooked trait. If something does not feel right to you there is probably something wrong (or at least something seriously flawed) with what you are being told.

(4)Remain calm.
Remaining calm and collected will help you remain objective and help you to think clearly. If you get caught up in a heated debate and lose your cool, your capacity for rational thinking is diminished.

(5)Gather the facts.
Like any good thinker would do, gather all the facts before making a judgment. Ask yourself whether you have all the facts? Are there gaps in your knowledge that are keeping you from the truth or from the solution to a problem?

(6)Look at things from different perspectives.
If you are trying to solve a problem, try approaching it in different ways. If one way hasn’t worked for you, try a different one! Try and see ideas or concepts from different perspectives. For example, would someone growing up in Japan think the same way about a subject as someone from South Africa? To think for yourself also means being creative in the sense that you often have to be very imaginative and creative about other possibilities, imagine alternative scenarios and consider different options.

(7)Cultivate empathy.
It is easier to understand why people think the way they do if you understand their situation. Empathising with people helps you understand that you may have a different opinion about something but that’s OK!

(8)Be brave.
It takes courage to stand up and say, “I don’t agree with you.” Be kind to yourself, be patient and don’t give up.

Thinking in an informed way

As you would have seen from your review of the recommended resources, informed reasoning is based on claims that can be substantiated. In other words, your opinion is based on fact and not on personal opinion. In today’s world where we become ever more involved in using technology as a resource for information, it is crucial that we have the ability to think in an informed way in order to be able to decipher the barrage of information available to us.

The ability to form and articulate opinions is extremely important in all facets of life. As citizens, people need to form opinions about political issues and leaders in order to vote responsibly. We must form opinions about social issues, and we form opinions about the people we work and interact with on a daily basis. However, simply having an opinion about a given topic is not enough. In this age of information, if we want to effectively share our opinions with others, we must be educated about the topics we are discussing. Whether writing a letter to the editor about a local issue or trying to convince your boss that you’ve developed a great business strategy or convincing your parents that you should have a specific privilege, presenting an informed, educated opinion is much more effective than sharing one based on emotion or personal experience alone.

To develop the necessary competence to make informed decisions, do the following activity.

Activity 5

(1)Select a topic that is of interest to you. The topic should inspire at least two points of view. For example: “Prostitution should be legalised.”

(a)Learn as much as you can about your topic through research.
(b)Utilise a wide variety of resources and make sure that you read information that expresses a number of different points of view relating to your topic.
(c)Ask pertinent questions as you learn about the topic and look for the answers in your research.
(d)Assess the content: Are statements and arguments supported with facts, specific examples and clearly defined reasons?
(e)Form your opinion based on the facts you have learnt. Combine those facts with your own emotions and personal experiences. Be able to utilise these facts as your key arguments when you try to convince others to see your point of view.

(2)Ask yourself the following questions: When you first selected your topic for the project, did you have a preconceived opinion about the subject? If so, how was your opinion altered by doing research and looking for facts about the subject?

(3)Do you believe your opinion would have been different if it had not been based on facts? If so, why and how?

(4)Based on your experience with researching, do you think most people base their opinions about important issues on facts or do they use emotions, personal experience, preconceived ideas and media to shape their ideas?

(5)In the future, do you think you will be more inclined to support your opinions with facts? Why?

(6)In future conversations with people of differing opinions, do you think you will press them to substantiate their opinions with facts and clearly defined reasons as a means of convincing you to change your thoughts? Why?

Critical self-reflection

Please consult your suggested resources for ideas about critical self-reflection.

Activity 6

Based on what you have read, please indicate whether the following questions are TRUE or FALSE (tick one):
1) Critical self-reflection is a purposive process relying on thinking.
2) Critical self-reflection is an act of examining one’s own thoughts.
3) Critical self-reflection is the capacity of humans to exercise introspection
4) Critical self-reflection is related to self-knowledge and self-awareness.

Self-reflection activity

As a starting point for developing your competence at critical self-reflection, it would be useful to express your views on the following issues. Use your journal to write down a paragraph or two on each of the following controversial topics. In each case, ask yourself why you hold this particular view. Keep a record of your responses because you will revisit them when you do the critical self-reflection activity in Topic 2, paragraph 2.1, Preconceived ideas.
(1) Marriage
(2) Single parenting
(3) Racial differences
(4) Gender differences
(5) Homosexuality
(6) Heterosexuality
(7) HIV Aids
(8) What am I?
(9) Who am I?
(10) How do other people see me?

In summary

Do you agree that many of the problems we face in our lives result from a lack of clarity in our thinking about what is real, true and essential? In our opinion, it is rare to find a person who takes the time to think clearly about things. In our fast-paced, overstimulated, I-want-it-quickly society, our response to something is often based on preconceived ideas.
What is most important in this course is that you learn how to think for yourself, as opposed to replicating some preconceived ideas. As we have seen, issues in the Human and Social Sciences rarely yield single clear right/wrong answers: usually only less or more convincing arguments. One of the main benefits of critical thinking is that it allows you to reach independent conclusions about the world and about yourself. The next topic we will be exploring in this course, deals with obstacles that prevent us from thinking clearly.