In terms of the critical thinking principles proposed by Richard Paul and Linda Elder in their books and guides, what are the best qualities of the best thinkers? How can these qualities be put into practice in order to improve the quality of thinking?
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Critical thinking allows a person to find the best solution to a problem. By assessing a problem in a systematic manner, through reasoning and logic, relevance and appropriateness, and the elimination of potential difficulties, the best resolution can be reached. Skills can be taught or acquired but the strongest contenders for reaching the best decisions are people who are well-rounded, flexible, open-minded and well-informed.
Richard Paul and Linda Elder have various guides and books and are respected authorities in critical thinking. They recognize the value of an intellectual approach which provides a foundation for acquiring the necessary skills because, to create the best critical thinkers, they propose specific stages of development. It is the intellectual methodology which can be taught most effectively and which has six essential stages.
There must be a deliberate attempt rather than a subconscious desire to develop as a critical thinker. It is also important that critical thinking is applied in all areas of a person's life and it should therefore not be restricted to only a specific field of expertise. The intellectual qualities that characterize the best thinkers, according to Linda Elder and Richard Paul, are:
1) Intellectual integrity: This means that a person holds him or herself to the same standard as he (or she) expect of others. A person with intellectual integrity has sufficient confidence to remain steadfast in his own beliefs.
2) Intellectual humility: Self-awareness is crucial to the best critical thinkers as it ensures that they understand their own limitations and the potential to be overconfident.
3) Confidence in reason: This requires a belief in others that they will be able to reach sound conclusions from rational arguments despite the tendency, in human-nature, to internalize problems and create solutions which favor individual interests.
4) Intellectual perseverance: In coming to the best solution, intellectual perseverance allows a person to consider all possibilities and opinions of others and to overcome the confusion that may arise from too many choices. A deeper understanding can only be reached by applying rational argument in order to disregard those less feasible arguments which at first may seem appealing and rational.
5) Fairmindedness: The ability to reason objectively regardless of any influences or personal agenda.
6) Intellectual courage: The best critical thinkers can overcome their own personal emotional response to certain problems by applying intellectual courage - having the confidence to believe in their own ideals but recognizing the intellectual merit of other conclusions or even the compromised one-sided views within their own circles.
7) Intellectual empathy: Accepting that they may have been wrong and adjusting their thinking is fundamental to the best critical thinkers. They have the ability to identify truth, even when it exists outside their preferred beliefs.
8) Intellectual autonomy: Being sufficiently in control to reach the best conclusion is dependent upon the ability to ask questions appropriately, accept rational beliefs as appropriate and even to comply when that is the rational choice.
Slowing down the process and recognizing that rational conclusions can only be reached through purposeful deliberation and an awareness that these steps in the process do exist, will ensure that the qualities of the best critical thinkers can be used by anyone searching for the best solutions.
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