Critical Thinking Part 1: The Myth of Objectivity

Having been a college professor since 1980, I’ve come to know a few things about the writing and thinking abilities of over 10,000 people. It’s been my experience that the vast majority of those people had not been exposed to much in the way of critical thinking skills before they met me. Incredible! One of the most important survival skills you can have is the ability to cut through the b.s., smokescreens, lies, deceptions, and nonsense in life. To function successfully as a human being, you simply have to develop and employ sound critical thinking skills. And thinking critically involves understanding and appreciating the difference between a) objectivity and subjectivity, b) absolute and relative truth, and c) facts and opinions.

So let’s talk critical thinking and analysis. Analysis is the breaking down of a system into its component parts and the evaluation of how well those parts function, both separately and together.  An efficacious analysis of anything—whether it’s a contract, a relationship, a corporation, or a short story—employs and necessitates the critical thinking skills of defining terms (or component parts), gathering and evaluating the evidence, and moving step by step from the suppositions you draw from that evidence, to a tentative thesis and, eventually, to a final thesis and conclusion. The best analysts are the most skilled critical thinkers, and vice versa.

It all begins with objectivity. Easier said than done. That means you’re detached, dispassionate, and unbiased in your perceptions and ideas. Can you or anyone be completely objective? The answer is no. We are all invariably and inevitably shaped and affected by our paradigms: our point-of view, our heredity, environment, socio-economic perspective, life experiences, strengths, weaknesses, and vested interest.

The best we can do is attempt to put our biases aside and look dispassionately at the issue, system, or text that we are analyzing. That’s called Formal Criticism—when we attempt an evaluation of written or spoken words without any of our own feelings or the world’s information to alter what we heard or read and understand. And that’s impossible, isn’t it? Formal Criticism, though it’s perhaps a noble undertaking, is, nonetheless a utopian ideal rarely achieved. Subjective bias is inevitable.

To be continued…

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