A synthesis of ideas from a webinar held on August 4, 2022, led by Dr. Gerald Nosich, an international authority on critical thinking with The Foundation for Critical Thinking. The synthesis includes ideas about critical thinking that is found on The Foundation for Critical Thinking website.

4 minute read.

What are intellectual traits of mind and how do they relate to critical thinking?

The Foundation for Critical Thinking describes Critical Thinking as a way of orienting oneself in the world, a mode of thinking which entails self-improvement. To think critically, one must apply criteria. The critical thinker thus continually monitors their thinking by using the intellectual standards of 1) clarity 2) accuracy 3) relevance 4) consistency 5) depth 6) breadth 7) fairness 8) logicalness 9) significance and 10) adequacy. Critical thinkers scan their thinking to see if their thinking is clear, accurate, relevant, consistent, logical, or fair.

Critical thinking is not simply a list of cognitive skills to be practiced; it cannot be reduced to an inventory of abilities or skills. It can be thought of as an integrated and comprehensive framework for better learning, teaching, and living. It is the interrelated intellectual traits, as well as the interconnected of dispositions of the thinker (i.e. being skeptical, open-minded, respect for clarity), the proficient use of higher thinking skills and questioning skills, creative thinking, and collaboration with fellow thinkers. The skills involved in critical thinking are worked into how one thinks about something clearly, accurately, and in a way that is relevant. Questioning is key to asking for critical thought.

How are intellectual traits used in defining critical thinking?

Intellectual traits define a person's intellectual character. A critical thinker desires to be a better thinker and develops, practices and uses the intellectual traits. These traits of mind are essential in learning and in excelling in learning.

What are those intellectual traits?

Intellectual Humility versus Intellectual Arrogance ... realizing what you do not know and owning up to what you do not know.

Intellectual humility implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of our beliefs.

Intellectual Courage versus Intellectual Cowardice ... the courage to be true to our own thinking.

This courage connects to the recognition that ideas considered dangerous or absurd are sometimes rationally justified and that conclusions and beliefs inculcated in us are sometimes false or

misleading. To determine for ourselves which is which, we must not passively and uncritically “accept” what we have “learned.”

Intellectual Empathy versus Intellectual Callousness ...being conscious of the need to imaginatively put ourselves in the place of others in order to genuinely

understand them.

This trait correlates with the ability to reconstruct accurately the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions and ideas other than our own.

Intellectual Autonomy versus Intellectual Conformity ...having a rational control of our beliefs, values and inferences.

The ideal of critical thinking is to learn to think for ourselves, to gain command over our thought processes. It entails a commitment to analyzing and evaluating beliefs on the basis of reason and evidence.

Intellectual Integrity versus Intellectual Hypocrisy ...recognition of the need to be true to our own thinking

This trait correlates to the practice what we advocate for others and where we honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in our own thoughts and actions

Intellectual Perseverance versus Intellectual Laziness ...having a firm commitment to the need to use intellectual insights and truths in spite of difficulties,

obstacles and frustrations

Using this trait, we may struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended period of time to achieve deeper understanding or insight.

Intellectual Confidence versus Intellectual Cynicism ...having confidence that in the long run, our own higher interests and those of humankind at large will

be best served by giving the freest play to reason.

Intellectual Objectivity versus Intellectual Bias ...being conscious of the need to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to our own feelings or

vested interests, or the feelings or vested interests of our friends, community or nation.

Are there teaching strategies for teaching the intellectual traits?

Intellectual Empathy, as an illustration

To work on Intellectual Empathy, for instance, the teacher may ask the students to analyze a point of view that the students are against. When listening to the analysis, the teacher should not be aware that the student presenting is against that point of view. **

In a class about ethics, for instance, you might like to emphasize intellectual fairmindedness. Openly address that intellectual trait as a goal. Your talk may sound like this: Our goal is to address intellectual trait. This requires you to be fair-minded towards points of view you have never dealt with before or points of view with which you do not agree. Together we are going to cultivate the trait of fairmindedness in yourself and to notice it in your fellow classmates as we go through this. But I am only going to do this if you are willing. If the students agree to emphasize intellectual fairmindedness it then becomes a conscious goal of the students. They start practicing on their own and they are encouraged by others. **

What is the difference between being empathetic and the application of Intellectual Empathy?

Intellectual Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the mind of the other person. It is different from empathy as such.

  • Empathy is typically attempting to put yourself into the other person’s emotional reaction.

  • Intellectual empathy is putting yourself into their thinking, seeing where other people are thinking about the issue. It is about thinking through as someone with different viewpoints as yours, and trying to do it as reasonably as possible. It does not mean you are going to agree with them. You can completely disagree with the other person but you can begin to appreciate how they have come to the conclusions they have come to, even if those conclusions are false.

  • Applying Intellectual Empathy is trying to see how the other party can come to a given conclusion using their best reasoning.

    What is the difference between Critical Thinking in the strong sense and Critical Thinking in the weak sense?

    Critical thinking in the weak sense:

    Critical thinking in the weak sense is for the benefit of an individual or for an organization. It can be used to gain narrow and self-serving ends. Critical thinking is not about deception, but one can use the skills of critical thinking to deceive another.

    For example, if a person or a company has been selling, for a number of years, a jar of peanut butter for a certain price and then someone comes up with the idea of redesigning the bottom of the jar so that it curves inward. The new jar of peanut butter is sold at the same price as the previous jar, even if the new jar contains less peanut butter. Yet, the new jar looks like it has every bit as much peanut butter as the past jar. This is applying critical thinking in the weak sense. In this situation, the use of critical thinking aims to deceive us; it is done to benefit the one while taking advantage of another.**

    Good reasoning is often not the most effective way of persuading people. The most effective way of persuading people is to deceive them.

Critical thinking in the strong sense

Strong sense critical thinkers can notice flaws in their own thinking; they strive to be ethical and empathize with the viewpoints of others. For instance, they can be engaged in an argument and shift the aim from winning the argument to finding the best way into truth. If the other person offers more truth, they will openly embrace the ideas offered by the other side. In this case, it is not about winning the argument and it is not necessarily about persuading the others to a given point of view. The focus is on learning the truth or what is fair and just.

Critical thinking is inherently complex and a challenge to internalize.

Yet, when we cultivate and actively develop within ourselves the integrated, comprehensive framework of critical thinking, these dispositions allow us for better learning, teaching, working and living.

As critical thinking resides in doing, rather than in reading what someone else has done, as a reader of this article, why not share an example of your own on how you or your students have used the intellectual traits?

** Examples Dr. Gerald Nosich gave in the webinar.

Written by Marcia Banks
Former Teacher & Retired Vice Principal

Permission to share, from Dr. Gerald Nosich.

Source: Webinar Q&A with Dr. Gerald Nosich

The Foundation for Critical Thinking

Paul, Richard W. (1995) Critical Thinking, how to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Foundation for Critical Thinking Press

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