"To listen and choose between opinions is the first step of knowledge; to see and reflect on what one has seen is the second step of knowledge."
Confucius - Philosopher (551 - 479)
As an individual, in a world where information is swarming onto screens at the speed of light, it becomes difficult to know who to believe. But how do we know who to give our trust to in these oceans of information?
Critical thinking is a methodological doubt that allows us to accept as true or real an assertion or information only after having researched it and examined it carefully in a rational manner and submitted to the test of demonstration.
This way of thinking allows practitioners to build, consolidate, and update their own knowledge by distinguishing both in their reasoning and in their environments between beliefs and knowledge. By increasing the degree of confidence of the subject with his own knowledge, this form of intellectual self-defense allows him to reduce his credulity in the face of entities seeking to subtil, through various games of rhetoric or manipulation, his confidence, his consciousness or his agreement to abuse him.
Critical thinking then becomes an important tool for the emancipation of the individual, which is gradually being integrated into school programs. However, the transmission of critical thinking in the school setting requires that the teacher himself approve and understand this method. Yet, as a subject in his own right, the teacher himself carries certain values and beliefs.
How do teachers learn and master critical thinking? Does it affect their knowledge and beliefs? What is a critical person? What is critical thinking? This is what Denis Caroti proposes to find out in his dissertation "Effect of Critical Thinking Trainings on Teachers' Epistemic Beliefs and Dispositions".
Trust or Why Read This Dissertation
Denis Caroti's experience as a public speaker and popularizer is felt throughout this text in which he successfully unites both the theoretical and practical sides of the topic of critical thinking.
In the manner of a finely constructed course, the author develops his thought and research in a logical manner which allows the reader to never lose track and to move forward with him.
The choice of arrangement of the parts, the general tone of the text as well as the effort of referencing the sources allow the author to put in perspective or in confrontation a significant number of thinkers, theories and concepts in a clear and accessible way for the novices.
The author himself resorts to critical thinking in his manuscript by often coming back to certain methodological weaknesses while always proposing solutions in the form of perspective so as not to leave his work and his readers in the lurch. In this way, the reader is himself challenged and can internally validate or not the choice of direction taken by the author.
What is critical thinking?
"The history of philosophy and its theses alone could constitute a history of critical thinking: questioning, problematization, examination, doubt, attempts to describe reality, ideas, doctrines, the implementation of reasoning, arguments, the discovery of principles, methods, questions, paradoxes, etc. Critical thinking is consubstantial to the exercise of philosophy.
Across the ages, we therefore find various currents of thought which have as their object themes as varied as ethics, knowledge and beliefs, language, metaphysics, the mind, logic or even criticism itself (such as philology). Critical thinking as such can be assigned to different thinkers, from Socrates to Montaigne, through Hume or Kant, of course. Yet, we argue here that interest in teaching critical thinking as such has emerged only very recently, and especially in the philosophy of education. John Dewey and Bertrand Russell were the precursors.
It seems more than reasonable to us, knowing that our investigation concerns the training of teachers in critical thinking, to reduce the scope of our research from now on to those authors who have explicitly devoted their work to the teaching of critical thinking while highlighting certain writings that shed relevant light on the notion of critical thinking, and in particular those based on the formation of correct beliefs and the articulation between knowledge, abilities and critical dispositions or virtues.
A prerequisite to this work is the lexical analysis of the phrase "critical mind": it consists of the two words mind and critical. The term "mind" covers a vast set of definitions, but in its most common meaning, it means the whole of the intellectual faculties of a thinking being, or the conscience. As for "critique" (from the Greek kritikos "capable of discerning, of judging"), the definition proposed in The Encyclopedia, in the article "Critique" by Marmontel, highlights another aspect, namely the fact that one must consider the individual (critic):
The second point of view of criticism, is to consider it as an enlightened examination & a fair judgment of human productions [...]. To take the tradition in its source, to present it in all its force; to exclude finally from the number of the proofs of the truth any vague, weak or not conclusive argument, species of weapons common to all the religions, which the false zealot employs & of which the impiety enjoys: such would be the employment of the critic in this part [...]. In secular history, to give more or less authority to the facts, according to their degree of possibility, verisimilitude, fame, & according to the weight of the testimonies which confirm them: to examine the character & situation of the historians; if they were free to tell the truth, within reach of it, in a state to deepen it, without interest to disguise it: to penetrate after them in the source of the events, to appreciate their conjectures, to compare them between them & to judge them one by the other [...].
These examples should make a critic quite circumspect in his decisions. Credulity is the share of the ignorant; decided incredulity, that of the half-savvy; methodical doubt, that of the wise. In human knowledge, a philosopher demonstrates what he can; believes what is demonstrated to him; rejects what is repugnant to it, & suspends his judgment on all the rest. (Marmontel, 1751).
The critical spirit would then be a syntagm forged to describe the set of intellectual faculties having in common a methodical attitude of questioning and doubt, an ability to sift through reason an assertion submitted to examination.
Note that Marmontel also refers to the critical person, the critic, who is able to evaluate evidence, its plausibility, and apply methodical doubt to believe correctly and suspend judgment where necessary.
As our work has focused on critical thinking training for teachers conducted within the National Education, we will begin by examining the way in which this critical thinking is considered in the educational field. [...]"
Do as I say, don't do as I do?
After unfolding all the concepts, theories and works related to his subject of study in a logical way, Denis Caroti comes back to his initial questioning and presents us with the field studies of his PhD work.
One of the main results is the confirmation of the effect of rationality on the unfounded beliefs of French teachers. Indeed, in accordance with his literature review and his initial hypotheses, the author shows that training content dealing specifically with paranormal, pseudoscientific or conspiratorial beliefs allows a reduction of these beliefs in the target audience. Without being able to put forward a direct causal link, the author manages to identify a correlation between the reduction in adherence to unfounded beliefs and the increase in critical dispositions such as humility and epistemic rationality of the subjects.
Taking it at face value?
Denis Caroti invites us to better understand what critical thinking is. The proposed work allows us to consider teacher training as an important lever for teaching this mental hygiene to students.
We also discover the fractal of tensions between the desires for intellectual emancipation and normalization of citizens both at the level of societies, institutions, and teachers and learners themselves.
By agreeing to relinquish their narcissism as an authority referent, teachers will be able to fully impart a critical method to their students and enable them to trust knowledge and information autonomously and rationally.
What about you? Do you use your critical thinking skills to give your confidence?
This work was defended on January 31, 2022 in Aix-en-Provence at the doctoral school Cognition, Langage, Education : ED 356 of the University of Aix-Marseille within the Centre Gilles-Gaston Granger (CRNS - UMR7304) (Aix-en-Provence - France)
Denis Caroti. Effects of critical thinking trainings on teachers' epistemic beliefs and dispositions. Philosophy. Aix-Marseille University, 2022. French. ⟨NNT: 2022AIXM0014⟩. ⟨tel-03637551⟩
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