Why This Page?

As human beings we put all knowledge and experience through a process of interpretation. Sometimes this process is conscious, as when we discount the rantings of a political extremist on television. And sometimes this process is unconscious, as when our mind fills in the blank spot caused by the blind spot we all have in each eye.

One of the primary tasks of being a critical thinker is to become conscious that the process of interpretation is occurring and to determine whether that process and its conclusions are warranted.

We have many terms for the process of interpretation. Most of these terms indicate our opinion about whether they are warranted:

Common sense
Lying (to lie)
Irresponsible talk

A problem occurs when we are not conscious that what we consider facts have been interpreted for us and the results are harmful. A popular example is the used car salesman. Everything about the car will be wonderful according to the salesman. This is the interpretations he places on the facts because he wants to sell the car. Critical thinking should warn you to check his interpretation against whatever reality to which you have access... In other words, you should have a good mechanic go over the car and give you HIS interpretation of the car's condition.

A car salesman's agenda is easy to guess. The situation is a huge clue to how he is apt to interpret things. Other situations are not as easily discerned, particularly if most people in our society have bought into a version (interpretation) of reality and are critical of anyone who questions that version. We are social animals and it is difficult indeed to go against the group.

"Critical thinking.. involves overcoming not only intellectual barriers.. but psychological barriers as well" (Paul, ii)... "Given.. our inherent tendencies toward self-deception, and our tenacious grip on unconsciously absorbed beliefs.. [we must] prepare ourselves for a lifetime of diligent and rigorous intellectual work."
from Critical Thinking,
by Richard Paul

Going against group, seeing through commonly accepted versions of reality, speaking up despite the resulting unpopularity and hardships, is what dissent is all about. There are those rare individuals among us who have both the insight to see past the lies we tell ourselves and the courage to challenge the rest of us to eschew our comfort in order to face the real truth. THIS is why a study of dissent is so important to those learning to think critically.

"If a man's actions are not guided by thoughtful conclusions, then they are guided by inconsiderate impulse, unbalanced appetite, caprice, or the circumstances of the moment. To cultivate unhindered, unreflective external activity is to foster enslavement for it leaves the person at the mercy of appetite, sense, and circumstance."
---John Dewey

by Colby Glass, MLIS.

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