Critical Thinking: An Antidote to a Divided Society

Outline

Socrates, considered as the founder of western philosophy, is also known to have created this vague yet so fundamental concept: critical thinking. Using Socrates, Hannah Arendt, and Karl Popper, I will argue in this article that his concept is evermore needed in an age where views are increasingly entrenched, and why a healthy dose of critical thinking could help reverse this worrying trend.

Socratic examination

Socrates is often perceived as the first philosopher of the western world. Through his process of “elenchus” (Socratic examination), he would critically examine and deconstruct someone’s claim to knowledge. In order to do that, he would rethink the person’s assumptions, question their foundations and reveal their weaknesses. He challenged anyone’s beliefs, demonstrating that anybody’s claim to knowledge was and should be questioned. In doing so, he also criticised the values of his own city, rejecting the idea that consensus is sufficient to elaborate an argument. As H.M. Hare states: “For what above all got philosophy started was Socrates’ and Plato’s insistence that the right opinion is not enough”. Instead, he believed any propositions should be critically examined through your own ability to reason (“logos”), enabling you to detach yourself from your surrounding environment. Through self-criticism, you could establish a more nuanced and less essentialist view of the world, hence improving your argument.

Logic and reason

For Arendt, thinking outside of the prism Nazism created, was what many Europeans lacked during the war. The Nazis had created an isolating bubble of information that shifted many’s very notion of reality and of what could be accepted. Their ideology was based on idioms that, if followed to their logical conclusion, justified such horrors. Her solution was to engage in true thinking, which she saw as being a solitary exercise, a moment where you try to detach yourself from your environment, and critically assess whether whatever your doing is right or wrong. In effect, she demonstrated two important ideas:

Conclusions

So what’s to conclude from these three great authors of critical thinking? Well, using critical thinking, I think they respond to some of the potent issues of our time: increasingly entrenched views, fake news, and moral confusion. All could be addressed by this crucial concept, critical-thinking, which I define to be: A solitary exercise in which you try to breakdown your own assumptions and challenge your own theories in order to detach yourself from your environment and the information bubble you may involuntarily find yourself in. It can be initiated by engaging with other individuals and theories, but it should ultimately be a moment of solitary thinking, a discussion between you and yourself. Critical-thinking has, as a finite objective, that of polishing your thoughts and arguments on an issue, rendering it more nuanced. Indeed, reality is never unitary and holistic, it is always multifarious and complex. Consider Socrates to examine your own arguments, contemplate its assumptions, and appreciate its limits. Consider Karl Popper to criticise your theories and any other theories you could see on the internet, by looking for counter-evidence that may prove it wrong, but recognise the existence of some sort of objective truth. Consider Hannah Arendt to critically examine the morality of your actions, to detach yourself from your information bubble, and see the “other side”.