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Critical Thinking

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Growing up in Arkansas there were many things we were certain we knew and understood such as automotive body and engine work, fast cars, and small town politics to name a few. Just as the earliest philosophers found their intellectual foundations in the works of the pre-Socratics collective, we too, found our ways of thinking influenced by the work of older men in our families, other folk in the neighborhood, and those no longer with us. Their labor-intensive road map provided us the basic knowledge from which to begin developing our own methods and skill sets to answer new types of questions related to daily life in Arkansas. However different the scope of questions we began to ask ourselves are from the questions early philosophers asked, we share in learning from and building on the methods and teachings of men before us. Some of the earliest philosophers, such as Plato incorporated similar questions about reality and truth as the pre-Socratics collective, however, based their inquiries within the natural world and used reason as the methodological vehicle. Because this type of thinking was contextualized outside of supernatural forces and myth and magic, the pre-Socratics collective are often times considered the first scientists of Western culture who laid the earliest foundations shaping the study of metaphysics and epistemology (Chaffee 230). This way of thinking sought to answer similar questions as those based in religion and myth, but sought answers through observations and analytical reasoning within the natural world. Generally, this way of thinking embodied the nature and scope of knowledge, theories of knowledge, and the extent to which knowledge about any subject and physical entity can be known. The pre-Socratic collective formed a bridge between a cultural consciousness based in beliefs of gods and goddesses and mythical spirits to a cultural consciousness founded on reason and scientific investigation into the natural world (Chaffee 238). Although the pre-Socratic collective is sometimes referred to as the nature thinkers, this reference is not entirely accurate until Leucippus and Democritus began to ask questions based in the physical world (Chaffee 236). Prior to Leucippus and Democritus many within the collective assumed the existence of a deeper reality that was not evident on the level of a lived sense of experience (Chaffee 236). Leucippus and Democritus concerned themselves more with drawing a distinction between appearance and reality, focusing mainly on developing methods to identify the “real” world and gaining knowledge of it, believing reality to be more deeply hidden than a mere sensory experience (Chaffee 236). They believed reality to be entirely physical, however, too small for humans to measure with their senses. Rather than consider knowledge of the real world to be passed down from an intelligent governing principle, knowledge of the human experience and reality were based in the physical world and thus the truth about reality was deduced to exist as atoms and the voids atoms move around in. By nature of moving away from answers based in the supernatural and focusing on appearance and physical material observed in the real world, Leucippus and Democritus mark an important paradigm shift in ways of thinking and methodological reasoning to arrive at knowing and acquiring knowledge. With this shift came a new set of diverse interests, including the nature of human knowing and understanding. The pre-Socratic collective led the transition from one type of consciousness to another embraced by Fifth-Century philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. Plato, deeply invested in the teachings of his mentors, contributed immensely to the principles of metaphysics and epistemology. Conflicted with the concept of reality as both changing and eternal, Plato imagined the existence of two worlds – the physical world of changing sensations (Becoming) and the timeless world of reality (Being). Plato described the world as continually changing, evolving and disappearing, and reality is only taken in through our senses. Plato professed that it is impossible to develop any genuine knowledge about reality because humans can only describe the changing nature of reality as it appears to us. However, Plato also believed the other word of reality, an eternal, unchanging realm is populated with ideal forms, or archetypes of everything that exists in the physical world (Chaffee 239). In other words, these forms are the perfect ideals of every meaningful object and idea as experienced in the physical world (Chaffee 239). According to Plato these forms include aesthetic qualities such as physical beauty, functional qualities such as strength and endurance, and other physical attributes that constitute the perfect idea of a physical object (Chaffee 239). According to Plato, these forms do not exist in a material sense; rather they exist independent from the minds of people. In addition, Plato believed that we, as humans can discover these forms with disciplined study to develop our ability to reason (Chaffee 240). With this disciplined practice we familiarize ourselves with the forms and in so doing we develop knowledge of the ideal pattern used to understand and evaluate all similar forms that exist in the world (Chaffee 240). Conceptually, according to Plato’s way of thinking, the ideal form is the ultimate concept of an object, idea, or entity and such a concept is defined by its boundaries and evaluated by the nature of its qualities. It is within day-to-day living that we see imperfect examples of ideal forms and concepts of those forms, yet according to Plato, the world of our senses will never yield any authentic knowledge related to ideal forms and concepts of those forms (Chaffee 240). However, provided that we have developed knowledge of these forms and its related concepts, we can evaluate them based on the qualities of the form that are known to exist in the real world and disqualify forms that appear to be related. Plato’s doctrine of forms demonstrates how questions based in the principles of metaphysics can be used to achieve epistemological goals. Through discussing and writing about forms and ideal archetypes, Plato was able to distinguish between genuine knowledge and ill informed opinions. Opinions are formed through the everyday experience of living and observing the world, however, these opinions reflect the constantly changing nature of the human experience and can never produce any universal knowledge (Chaffee 240). Such universal knowledge is only produced when one achieves knowledge of eternal archetypes and demonstrates a heightened ability to reason and contribute to scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge in every facet of human experiences demands that we seek the necessary and shared truths related to a particular discipline of study. For example, gaining knowledge of a specific culture requires developing competencies in the fundamental concepts of a discipline such as Anthropology and the principles and theories that characterize it as well as the political, economic, and social practices of the particular culture. Knowledge related to culture and within the context of Anthropological methods must include a review of relevant literature in order to develop the competency necessary to understand any shared knowledge and produce genuine knowledge related to the discipline. In other words, humans must develop reasoning capacities to look beyond the world of physical appearance, sense, and opinion to grasp the essential forms of knowledge that define the particular discipline. Plato as well as Leucippus and Democritus developed rational criteria to distinguish between opinions based in the mere sensory experience of living and the eternal realm of knowledge (Chaffee 240). Even if our opinions prove to be accurate, this does not mean that we have achieved knowledge (Chaffee 241). Plato states
… the highest form of knowing that we can achieve in this world of sense experience is opinion … Haven’t you noticed that opinion without knowledge is bind – isn’t anyone with a true, but unthinking opinion like a blind man on the right road (241)? Plato was a rationalist who believed that genuine knowledge is only achieved through reasoning abilities. From this perspective, knowledge is based on reason, not the senses, and humans possess knowledge that is not derived solely from one person’s single experience, but generated though shared experiences and methodological reasoning across scientific disciplines ranging from the physical world of being biologically similar human beings to more abstract ideals such as truth and justice. Arriving at knowing and acquiring knowledge is a fundamentally shared experience and complex set of theoretical and practical relationships that began with humans’ curiosities into the universe and continues to transform with recent scientific inquiries into the sociocultural practices of diverse groups of people around the world. It is within the social and cultural practices of various groups of people where universal processes and genuine knowledge can be achieved. For example, Socrates’s guidance to help a captive boy solve the geometrical problem of doubling the size of a square outlined in the ground did not come from a line of questioning that “tapped” into a set of knowledge the boy was unaware of, rather it was the boys ability to identify culturally relevant information stimulated through a line of questioning to solve the problem. The boys experiences in both the high class political culture of Socrates and that of a lower, unequal, captive status within larger society provided the foundations for him to reason and translate knowledge of the object and problem from one culture to the next. John Locke captures this idea with the following passage.
Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, a blank tablet (tabula rasa) of white paper; void of all characters; without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Where comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer in one word, from experience: in that all our knowledge in founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself (Chaffee 287). For Locke, human knowledge is traced back to our experiences and thus transmitted through our senses (Chaffee 281). This way of thinking is similar, yet different from the rationalist thought of Plato. John Locke’s work laid the groundwork for the empiricist approach to philosophical questions related to knowing and acquiring knowledge. He believed that we, as humans focus on the direct data ad information gained from lived experience to discover and generate knowledge. Thus, as the captive boy did, avoid the pitfalls of speculating, consider the knowledge others generate, and pull from our lived experiences to make sense of that which appears to be unfamiliar. As humans, we are continually selecting, interpreting, and organizing various pieces of information and sensory experiences that we filter through a particular set of cultural characteristics (Chaffee 344). We are expected to make intelligent decisions, navigate through a complex set of relationships, and express our beliefs from an informed point of view. Generating knowledge from an informed position is often times difficult to achieve (Chaffee 345). Some beliefs are better than others just like some types of knowledge are more informed and real than others, however, not because some authority has stated them to be, rather because they can be evaluated and analyzed according to various sets of criteria described above. To express an informed belief means that all data and information has been marshaled, different points of view have been examined and synthesized, supporting evidence and reason has been subject to critical analysis, and any conclusions drawn are put into an intelligible format and subject to review by various types of scientists and other peers related to the particular discipline.

References Cited
Chaffee, John 2012. The Philosophers Way: Thinking Critically About Profound Ideas. 4th Edition. Pearson. London, England.…...

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