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This essay will firstly, ascertain and examine what exactly critical thinking is. Secondly, it will provide a brief outline of Plato’s ‘Apology’, and then it will outline and assess how Plato’s defence is represented and understood as critical thinking. Finally, there will be a conclusion of what exactly being a critical thinker entails and a short paragraph explaining how the module has improved and expanded my own capacity for critical thinking.
Young (1996, p. ) states that critical thinking is “the capacity people have to question beliefs and presuppositions (their own and those of others) with a view to giving reasons for them or for amending them”. Put more simply, critical thinking is the procedure for understanding and evaluating the evidence which supports a certain claim or view. Critical rationality which is “the capacity to ‘criticise’, that is, to assess goals, rules and presuppositions themselves and where appropriate change them” is a distinctively unique human trait, which gives human beings the power to engage critical thinking (Rationality Handout).
It also involves rational decision making in whether to believe or discount a point, and it also involves accepting or rejecting certain evidence. It is not simply an exchange of opinions, but a critical and vigorous attempt to find ones way through discussion and argumentation. The ‘Apology’ is Plato’s version of the speech given by Socrates as he defends himself against the charges of being a man “who corrupted the young, refused to worship the gods, and created new deities” (Schofield, 1998, p.
1). Young (1996, p. ) states that Plato sees philosophy itself as “namely a style of thinking which is distinctively different from, for instance, science or religion or indeed anything else.
So, philosophy for Plato is not a distinctive set of conclusions or of finished truths, but a distinctive style of thinking. ” For Plato, Socrates embodies this distinctive way of thinking and living that is philosophy, which Young (1996, p. 2) adds “is not just another way of theorizing about life but also a new attitude toward life, even a new way of living life. Socrates begins by stating that the accusations against him began because people confused him with intellectuals who claim to have expert knowledge either in the natural sciences (cosmogonists), or in the social sciences or humanities (sophists). Socrates says “There is a wise man called Socrates who has theories about the heavens above and has investigated everything below the earth, and can make the weaker argument defeat, the stronger (Young, 1996, p. 2).
Socrates is, in the Apology, the very embodiment of philosophy or critical thinking, so by stating the differences he is stating that philosophy does not provide expert knowledge, but instead gives a different kind of ‘human’ or ‘limited’ knowledge. Socrates “says of himself that it ‘seems’ he ‘really’ possesses this. And he hints that, “limited” though it be, the knowledge or wisdom that can be secured via philosophy is of decisive importance for human beings” (Young, 1996, p. 3).
The vital knowledge Socrates talks about is the abilities and vital skills philosophy learns people of questioning everything, being inquisitive in life and not accepting things for how they are. Socrates then goes on to tell a tall story about himself, which, as with all of the Apology, “it isn’t just the words spoken but the action and setting plus words left unspoken, which determine the text’s meaning. ” Socrates tells the story of his friend Chaerephon who went to Delphi and through the oracle there asks the god if anyone was wiser than Socrates.
The god said that there was no one. Socrates claims to have been astonished and then states that “it was reverence toward the gods which led him by his questioning activity to challenge the leaders of the State” (Young, 1996, p. 3): “I knew I was making myself disliked, but felt compelled to put my duty to the god before all else… And by the dog, Athenians! as I pursued my questioning at the god’s command, it seemed to me that those with the greatest reputations for being wise were amongst the stupidest of all; others supposed to be their inferiors were wiser, and better people too. (Young, 1996, p. 3)) An important part of critical thinking is then, according to Socrates, having the ability and open mind to listen to and question everyone’s views. Socrates differentiates between the all-seeing knowledge of the gods and normal knowledge which humans can gain, and states that the wisest people are those who know that they can never have this definitive and ultimate knowledge.
Young (1996, p. ) adds “Socrates’ wisdom or knowledge consists in part in the fact that he (unlike his powerful interlocutors) knows the limits of his own knowledge (or the extent of his own ignorance), whereas they do not: a person who is ignorant of x but knows herself to be ignorant of it, is to that extent wiser than someone who does not know it either but mistakenly thinks she does. ” Socrates’ gets his accusers to admit that they are ignorant and proud; ‘to use Plato’s language, they are lovers of status, power and wealth, as opposed to lovers of knowledge and truth’ (Young, 1996, p. ) and states they will only ever become wise and less ignorant if they change their will and desire.
Translating Socrates’ words, Young (1996, p. 4) comments “Philosophical knowledge or wisdom, then, depends upon on the will at least as much as the intellect; upon desire and upon the direction of desire at least as much as abstract intellectual ratiocination; upon practice at least as, much as theorizing”. Critical thinking then is an “intellectual effort aiming at acquiring human self-knowledge or self- understanding. (Young, 1996, p. 4). In order to strive to achieve this, a person must have courage, be prepared to question and challenge oneself, and to continue on even though it may be upsetting some people, just as Socrates upset those in power through his philosophy of questioning and debating. Critical thinking is a way of living which one embodies in their attitudes and practices, it is also about taking others views and beliefs into consideration, and then challenging the very presuppositions that these beliefs rest on.
To be a critical thinker is to be tolerant, not take things at face value and to realise that as humans our knowledge will always be limited. This should spur one on to be open-minded and to question ones’ thoughts and views. However, Socrates recognises that some people may be unwilling to do this out of fear of losing their credibility and reputation. One should not automatically assume what a person says is true just because they are in power, in the same way Socrates tells the youth to think for themselves and not believe everything politicians say.
Young (1996, p. ) sees philosophy as a ‘second-order’ study; first-order studies being those, such as sciences that deal with facts, where as second-order study focuses on the “concepts using which ‘first-order studies study the real world and its facts with a view to clarifying the structure and role of these concepts; or again instead of engaging in ‘first-order’ evaluation of the world we focus on the evaluations and judgements whereby ‘first-order’ evaluating is done; and so forth. ” Socrates was willing to die for philosophy and the distinctive way of thinking and living it entails; the statement he made “… he unquestioned life is not worth living” (Plato’s Apology, p. 12) sums up his life and beliefs perfectly.
He believes that critical thinking is good for both individuals and society, and that the freedom to think in this way should be defended. “In asking what the good life was and how we could attain it, Socrates made critical thinking the patrimony of potentially every person who was willing to follow his leadership. His simple call to critically examine oneself and the world would both empower and challenge his followers throughout the ages.
To be fully human after the example set by the life of Socrates would require any serious person to engage in the examined life” (Polelle, 2008, p. 91). Socrates was the very embodiment of what it is to be a critical thinker, and he saw it as being such a crucial part of being a human being that he was willing to die for it. The very idea of critical thinking needs defending because there will always be people who are annoyed by it and who will try to take away others freedom to practice it, just as happened to Socrates in the Apology.
I must admit that I have never had time for either religion or god. When I was younger I could not understand why people spent so much time out of their lives worshipping something that has never even been proved exists. It seemed very unusual to me that people would pray to a god when things got bad because how do they even know someone’s listening? It seemed obvious to me at the time that surely there is no higher being because if there really was, would this almighty god allow all of the suffering that goes on in the world to continue? Can there really be a god that created our earth?
After studying the critical thinking module I no longer think this way. I’m open to everything, even something that can’t be proved, like god. I still question the ideas on which ideas and beliefs are based, but I am now more open to all ideas, no matter how strange they seem to me at the time. Instead of just ignoring the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, I now say hi, collect some brochures from them and have a chat, although I can’t see myself ever becoming a follower of Jehovah. I am open to ideas, such as god creating the world, however I do feel this is very unlikely.
I have thought there must be something out there listening to gods worshippers, and surely he must exist otherwise he would not have so many followers. But then again, perhaps the bible is a hoax. I feel more inclined to believe that a big bang created the earth, mainly because there seems proof to support the fact. To be a critical thinker means to consider and debate all ideas and beliefs and I feel I am developing my ability to think critically. However, this does not mean I have to agree with everything or everyone’s points of view.