In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Critical Thinking in a Post-Postmodern Age:Noble Endeavor … or Hopeless Cause?
  • Peter V. Paul

In a previous editorial, I provided a few brief remarks about a complicated concept—critical thinking (Paul, 2018). In the present article, I attempt to unpack this construct a little further to explore the challenges of understanding and developing critical thinking skills. Here are a few questions for reflection: What does it mean to be a critical thinker? Can one be a "good" or "bad" critical thinker? Or, is it more appropriate to inquire whether an individual can be a "broad" or "narrow" critical thinker? Is it possible to teach critical thinking skills? Is it possible to "evaluate" a person's critical thinking abilities in an objective manner? In this so- called post- postmodern age (i.e., the era after postmodernism), is critical thinking a noble endeavor (e.g., necessary for a participatory democracy or advancing knowledge) or a hopeless cause (i.e., impossible due to relativistic worldviews or subjective approaches to knowledge)?

The construct of critical thinking has captured the imaginations of numerous educators, philosophers, and scholars (e.g., Browne & Keeley, 2007; Flage, 2004; Kuhn, 2005; Moore & Parker, 2009; Norris, 1992). There is no shortage of websites devoted to this slippery concept. For example, on the website of the Foundation for Critical Thinking there is a passage with this description:

Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. People who think critically attempt, with consistent and conscious effort, to live rationally, reasonably, and empathically. They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers—concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. … They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.

(Elder, 2007)

In my view, it is almost an insurmountable task to minimize the power of one's "egocentric and sociocentric tendencies"—and to acknowledge the possible influences of one's biases, prejudices, and so on. Post-modern proponents who favor multiple epistemologies argue that one is always influenced by and can only present ideas from one's egocentric and sociocentric frameworks (see related discussions in Norris, 1992; Paul & Moores, 2012). The above passage by Elder leads to the examination of the following questions, which will guide the rest of this editorial: Are there forms of critical thinking? Can critical [End Page 417] thinking be taught and/or evaluated? And, this contentious one: Is empathy a necessary component of a critical thinker?

Forms of Critical Thinking

To obtain an understanding of the possible forms of critical thinking—or even if there are forms—there needs to be some agreement on the existence of a few attributes or characteristics of this concept. It has been argued that critical thinkers engage in tasks such as comparing and contrasting, conceptualizing, paraphrasing, summarizing/synthesizing, and—of course—evaluating (Browne & Keeley, 2007; Kuhn, 2005; Moore & Parker, 2009). These tasks are similar to those recommended by the National Reading Panel (2000) for developing adequate text comprehension skills and for becoming a critical reader. Additional tasks include the various attempts to analyze and justify one's own beliefs and values, based on an in-depth analysis, in part, of other competing beliefs and values. The nature of these attempts determines, in part, the form of critical thinking (e.g., see Norris, 1992; Paul & Wang, 2012, ch. 5).

At the risk of oversimplification, it is possible to argue—not without controversy—that there are two broad forms of critical thinking: weak (or narrow) and strong (or broad) (e.g., see discussion in Paul & Wang, 2012, ch. 5). Labeling a particular type of critical thinking "weak/narrow" or "strong/broad" is a metaphysical position—heavily influenced by one's epistemology (i.e., standard or multiple; see Paul...