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Each of these wi l l be described briefly, then some of the major issues and problems related to the five conceptions wi l l be discussed. The first approach involves the identification of a limited number of processes T This use of 'process' should not be confused with the same word used to label approaches to philosophy of education based on the works of A.

Whitehead and John Dewey. It is thought by those who advocate this approach that students may, through practice, become skilled at these various processes. While there is disagreement about the processes involved, some examples are the categories of Bloom's Taxonomy or such things as 'inferring,' 'classifying,' and 'hypothesizing' Beyer, , p.

This approach is widely adopted for use in elementary school programs. The problem solving approach involves the identification of some set of steps which are held to lead to the solution of problems. In either case, the steps tend to resemble a Deweyan analysis of problem solving or reflective thinking, including such steps as 'feeling perplexity,' 'defining the problem,' 'gathering appropriate facts,' 'formulating hypotheses,' and 'testing hypotheses on the basis of deductive elaboration' Dewey, , p.

The logic approach suggests that good thinking is to be understood as logical thinking. Students are typically taught to identify such logical categories as premises and conclusions, to convert arguments in ordinary language into deductive form, and to find missing premises or assumptions. Also, considerable attention is devoted to the study of fallacies, both formal and informal. Most college and undergraduate university level programs in critical thinking adopt this approach. Typically, this involves the analysis of 'thinking tasks' into component bits of information and requisite processing steps.

These steps are derived by hypothesizing about how the information must be treated in order to account for competence at various tasks e. Shepard's study described in Gardner, , p. Often, analogies to computer hardware and programs are used as explanatory models. The multi-aspect approach is called by that name here because of Robert Ennis's influential anafysis of the constituent parts of critical thinking in terms of "aspects" , He suggests that we can best understand critical thinking as the combination of a number of tendencies, abilities, and judgment.

While Ennis and others have used various different terms to describe these various aspects including inclinations, dispositions, or propensities for tendencies; and skills or proficiencies for abilities , under some set of names, this approach is shared by many philosophers of education who have written on this subject. It is important for an understanding of the field to see that these approaches are not distinguished along any single dimension. The process approach, for instance, is largely an instructional strategy with little connection to serious research or theory development.

Some writers do. Beyer, for instance, provides a table which combines problem solving steps, "key critical thinking skills" described in terms similar to Ennis's aspects, and "micro-thinking skills" which are largely drawn from Bloom's taxonomy , p. Robert Sternberg suggests that there may be benefits when developing programs of testing to drawing upon more than one approach , p.

While, in principle, there is nothing wrong with this, as the approaches are not competing answers for the same question so much as differing approaches to framing the inquiry, it should be realized that different and sometimes incompatible assumptions underly each of the general approaches. These assumptions will emerge in an account of the issues and problems in critical thinking.

While the issue may come up in different language in each of the approaches, and it is more central to some approaches than others, there is a sense in which it is crucial to the whole idea of teaching for critical thinking as understood by all of these approaches. The advocates of each approach would like to show that what they teach has wide utility - that is, that by learning some basic rules,. This is most obvious in the case of those who advocate the process approach. Their whole approach to critical thinking is based on the assumption that practice at tasks which require the use of certain mental processes will transfer or generalize to skillful performance in a wide variety of contexts.

Thus, students are given tasks such as 'classifying buttons' on the assumption that what they learn will have at least some transfer to classifying other sorts of things. Those who advocate procedures for problem solving are inclined to suggest that students can learn to approach each problem as a series of steps. If they learn to do each of these steps, they will be able to solve problems 'in general.

Those who advocate the logic approach point out that all thinking, or at least all purposive thinking, ought to conform to logical standards, thus learning to think according to logical standards will apply to all situations in which we want to think for a purpose. As with problem solving, logic is often construed very generally so as to include informal and inductive logic as well as reasoning with conditionals and counterfactuals, and practical reasoning. Those who take the information processing or multi-aspect approaches are more inclined to see the the issue of generalizability as an open question.

Paul Wagner refers to this goal of cognitive science as being "to model the language of thought" and connects this project explicitly with those of Stephen Stich and Noam Chomsky , p. Such inquiries will, it is thought, demonstrate which aspects of thinking are common and which are specific to certain operations.

Nonetheless, there is optimism that "thinking is general and cross-disciplinary" and "the process of thinking appears more and more to be discipline-blind" Wagner, , p. Sternberg suggests that although "transfer of training does not come easily" it is possible given that "explicit provisions are made in the program [of instruction] so as to increase its likelihood of occurrence" , p. Those who advocate the multi-aspect approach have been the most inclined to debate this issue, rather than to assume or project that general skills or abilities exist or can be found.

However, the debate has been characterized by disagreement not only about whether the various aspects of critical thinking apply across different domains of knowledge and kinds of inquiry, but also about what we should accept as evidence in the debate. Ennis and Norris argue that, while there appear to be general abilities which are important and useful, the issue cannot be settled without empirical research. McPeck suggests that the issue is a conceptual one, that because the ability to think well about anything is largely an epistemoiogical affair, and because disciplines have different epistemic standards, thinking critically about anything is largely a matter of having knowledge and expertise which is specific to a relevant discipline.

One question worth considering is, "What difference does it make whether critical thinking is specific to each discipline or other epistemological unit or whether it is a more generalized capacity, skill, character trait, or what-have-you? One reason for its importance is that instruction and research in critical thinking is often justified on the basis of efficiency.

It is often suggested that there is so much knowledge in so many disciplines that no one can keep up. As the Royal Commission on Education in British Columbia puts it, "we live in an era in which knowledge is said to double approximately every two years The best we can achieve is that students learn how to think well so that they will be well equipped to "process" information as they need it e.

Perkins, , p. Rather than spending time teaching students facts, it would be more efficient to teach students critical thinking skills, processes, or abilities. If these are found to be general, there is a prima facie reason for thinking that they can be learned independently of instruction in any particular content area. If they are found to be specific to content areas, hopes for radical improvement in educational efficiency would be reduced. This is most obvious in the process approach to critical thinking.

If it is not the case that students can learn to classify or analyze in general as opposed to classifying or analyzing particular sorts of things such as buttons, books, or conceptions then there is no reason for pursuing the educational practices advocated. Unfortunately for the process approach, this appears to be the case. Being able to classify one sort of thing has little if any relation with classifying things which are radically different or are being classified for other purposes. Once we account for knowledge of purposes and relevant criteria, there is nothing left over to be accounted for by a general process or skill.

Further, as Perkins notes, available empirical evidence suggests that "skills tend to be rather context bound" , p. While the link between generalizability and usefulness of critical thinking programs is not so crucial for some of the other approaches, there is a widespread tendency to regard the two as linked. This is unfortunate when it leads to the unwarranted assumptions of the process approach or a more general failure to take seriously reasons other than efficiency by which critical thinking programs can be justified. Whether it is the case that one becomes a good thinker generally or in one area at a time, or whether the truth is somewhere -in between, critical thinking is a desirable educational aim.

Arising from the issue of generalizability is the further issue of completeness. By completeness, I refer to the to the issue of whether 'problem solving' or 'logic' is a reasonable description of all of what is important to thinking critically. What is typically missing from the problem solving approach including Dewey's formulations of the steps of reflective thinking is reference to the standards and criteria by which the adequacy of performance is judged.

Similarly, it would seem that much of modern philosophy of science calls into question the extent to which logical considerations can account for instances of good scientific thinking. The work of Nelson Goodman, for example, demonstrates limitations of syntactic considerations in accounting for our practices of inference for claims such as counterfactuals and conditionals A more direct challenge to claims of those who adopt a logic approach is made by Gilbert Harman.

He argues that "there is no clearly significant way in which logic is specially relevant to reasoning" , p. This can be contrasted to the claims of writers such as Robinson and Beyerstein who claim that "Logic is the systematic study of reasoning," and "Logic is the study of good reasoning -the sort that is likely to lead a person to the truth" , p. While part T Leaving the entire weight of success at problem solving to be determined by testing of individual hypotheses is obviously inadequate. Without adequate hypotheses and adequate conceptualization, testing alone cannot ensure the adequacy of a solution.

At present we might take note of the crucial importance of what Ennis refers to as "background purposes" in his account of the pragmatic dimension of critical thinking , pp. Logic, on its usual interpretation, is not sufficient to preclude such problems.

Further, and even more importantly, logic is of limited use in enabling people to make sense of the kinds of issues which are most often cited by educators as being the ultimate purpose for instruction in critical thinking, such as issues involved with "everyday" practical decision making or the responsibilities associated with citizenship. Such considerations call into question whether logical standards are sufficient to cover all aspects of the range of issues relevant to critical thinking.

Significantly, the pedagogical practices employed by many who adopt the logic approach emphasize' explicit instruction in logical categories such as the identification of premises, argument forms, and fallacies. Thus, the further apparent assumption that explicit instruction in logical categories and standards is a necessary condition of critical thinking, arises.

Initial consideration suggests that such instruction is not even a necessary condition of logical thinking: surely no one would want to suggest that none of Aristotle's thinking was logical, yet Aristotle. Even if we do not accept Harman's relatively radical position, we may agree with Coombs that "although practical reasoning has the structure of deductive argument, it is not primarily a matter of deducing what to do from a set of unquestioned premises" , p.

Obviously, there was no one who could give him explicit instruction in these categories. This being the case, the strongest claim which advocates of the logic approach can hope to establish is that instruction in logic is generally useful in contributing to good reasoning on the part of students. Notice this is an empirical claim.

Its significance depends on whether there are other approaches which are equally effective. Another issue which is particularly relevant to evaluating the information processing is whether or not there is a clear and broadly applicable way of distinguishing having information from being able to process information. Some who adopt this approach seem to simply assume that there is a clear and obvious distinction e. Sternberg, or Nickerson That we should not accept an unproblematic separation between having the ability to process and having information simpliciter is made evident in the debate over 'knowing that' and 'knowing how'.

Given sufficient contextual information, claims about what someone knows what information they have warrant inferences about what they can do including what they can figure out or otherwise 'process' Ryle, ; Martin, ; Selman, a, p. As is commonly accepted in educational testing, what someone can do may be perfectly acceptable evidence for what she or he knows, given certain knowledge of contextual factors.

The example analogy is "Washington is to one as Lincoln is to a five, b 15, c 20, d Further, it is dependent on familiarity with the context, i. Sternberg says that we must, in order to solve the analogy, "decide what processes to use," "how to sequences these processes," then "use the performance components and strategy we have selected to Rather, possibilities suggest themselves and solutions occur to us, on the basis of what we know.

In section 2. Proponents of the information processing approach often speak as if knowing, or having information, is being in possession of something inert which must be "processed" in order to be useful. Sternberg and others appear to assume that it is the use of particular processes, as distinguished from what is known, which makes thinking critical. I will argue, especially in sections 3.

Another important issue in the field of critical thinking is the extent to which our conceptions of critical thinking as well as related programs of instruction and evaluation can be objective in the sense of being free from bias with regard to any particular cultural, ideological, or moral perspective. Sternberg suggests that there is empirical evidence that cultural groups differ extensively in how they approach certain sorts of tasks which are commonly taken as measures of mental ability, and in their judgments about how such tasks ought to be done , p.

On this basis, he argues that programs aimed at improving people's thinking are appropriate only for certain cultures. Ennis argues as a tentative conclusion that we should "expect no correlation between critical thinking and political, social, and moral values" once we "partial out" factors such as mental ability as measured by I. While Ennis does not refer specifically to cultural differences, it seems reasonable to accept that these are closely related to such things as "social values" and that Ennis and Sternberg are expressing opposing viewpoints.

Leaving aside the problematic suggestion that we could detach "political, social, and moral values" from factors such as mental ability as measured by I. When put this way, the obvious response seems to be that no conception can avoid representing the interests and values of a particular time and place. Ennis recognized, in his conception, that his decision to exclude the assessment of a certain category of statements from his conception was based on certain values. It was so "that prediction and control over students' behavior [could] be facilitated" , p.

This choice, to emphasize the value of a conception as a means for prediction and control of students' behaviour over, for instance, a less easily applied but more complete conception, clearly reflects the interests of a particular culture at a particular point in history. Considerably less attention is given to issues in political, aesthetic, religious, metaphysical, and moral domains. Even if prediction and control are universal values, common to all cultures in one form or another, as Taylor argues, their pursuit has not always been taken as more important than the pursuit of other values, such as completeness in the sense used above.

While this emphasis may in part be due to Ehnis's explicit exclusion at that time of value claims from consideration, it is not the case that we can examine scientific statements without reference to values whereas statements of a political nature are value laden. If, for instance, Habermas were to develop a conception of critical thinking based on his notion of "communicative rationality" , one would expect to see somewhat different emphases.

As an example, sensitivities to the range of speech acts found acceptable for use by different people in any given context might be a part of such a conception. The differences between Ennis's conception and the hypothetical Habermasian conception would be at least in part a result of differences in social and cultural values.

Programs of instruction and evaluation which were based on such different conceptions would reflect such differences. Just as Ennis and Habermas are inclined to find certain sorts of problems and issues interesting and important, so would students engaged in such programs. Surely someone who thinks that the interesting and important problems of our time will be most productively addressed by scientific advances is going to react differently from someone who is primarily concerned with issues of political power and social inequity.

While it is recognized that such differences are possible between individuals as well as cultures, they are certainly affected by cultural differences and it seems reasonable to suppose that they would be reflected in performance at at least some of the different tasks implied by each conception of critical thinking. It seems more reasonable to defend choices about conceptions and programs of critical thinking on the basis that they reflect political, moral, or metaphysical views that we accept and for which we are willing to argue, rather than to suggest that they are neutral with regard to such views.

Naturally, the question of how and on what grounds, we can argue for such positions is a crucial one. It will be discussed in sections 4. Most writers in the field of critical thinking have seemed unwilling to take such a stance. Typically, thej' have tried to establish an approach which avoids expressing commitment to any particular worldview or set of background purposes.

In our society, we have two ideals of knowledge which is disengaged from any particular cultural or political perspective. One is exemplified by the fields of logic and mathematics, the other by the physical sciences. It is no coincidence, I suggest, that many proponents of each of the conceptions attempt to derive an objective foundation for their approach through its relation to logic or science. I ignore here the process approach for which I know of no serious attempt to provide a theoretic or philosophical underpinning.

Thus, at least some of those who advocate a logic approach make exaggerated claims for the importance of logic to good thinking generally, perhaps partly to avoid dealing with more obviously value laden areas. Similarly, the problem solving approach emphasizes the importance of a scientific or quasi-scientific procedure, with little attention to the standards and purposes which are required to make sense of critical thinking. Advocates of the information processing approach are explicit about their faith in science, sometimes obscuring the normative and intentional aspects of their objects of study by using the language of processes and representations e.

Sternberg and Baron, , p. While I have raised objections to Ennis's suggestion that critical thinking tests based on his conception will be neutral or will avoid correlating with "political, social and moral values," Ennis is certainly not after an account which avoids the use of explicitly normative and intentional terms. His references to "background purposes" and to the importance of judgment, all make this clear. The same cannot be said about Stephen Norris who shares Ennis's general approach. Norris suggests that only scientific research can enable us to "say what we mean by" mental abilities or processes, by showing "how these processes arise from mental structures" , p.

I will argue that the meaning of common mental concepts ought to be explained in terms of what we do and how we act not simply in terms of what goes on inside our heads. T Bynormative terms Iam referring to terms which express judgment according to standards including standards of rationality and epistemic standards. By mental terms I am referring to such terms as beliefs, desires, intentions, and purposes.

The Possibility of Practical Reason, First Edition

A preliminary exploration of these issues has pointed out problems which, in some cases, have seriously undermined one or more of the approaches. This is most obvious in the case of the process approach which can be seen to rest on the unwarranted assumption that there are a few general processes which can be learned by practice and applied generally across different contexts and areas of knowledge. The logic approach has been seen to be more limited than is indicated by the claims of some of its proponents as has the problem solving approach. While nothing here has been said to impugn the utility of instruction in the rules of logic or in some general heuristics for clarifying arguments or addressing problematic situations, neither of these approaches appears adequate as a conception of critical thinking.

It has been suggested that a desire for an objective foundation for claims about thinking has led most researchers who have adopted an information processing approach, and some who adopt a multi-aspect approach, to postulate a set of internal processes that not only explain good thinking but which can be inculcated though training in order to improve thinking.

As will be explored in more detail, there is considerable vagueness and ambiguity in the terms 'processes' and 'abilities' as they are used in discussions of critical thinking. The project of this dissertation is to develop a responsible position with regard to these problematic issues, a position which takes cognizance of relevant philosophical work and the most basic purposes which motivate the widespread interest in critical thinking.

Thus, the dissertation will not be directed primarily at the many and important practical problems facing those implementing critical thinking programs, but rather at issues involving basic assumptions and conceptualization. The aim of the next chapter will be to examine the concept of thinking and to clarify the purposes which motivate such inquiry. Such moves will be useful in avoiding premature commitment to a particular conception, and the risk of failure to engage with fundamental issues and assumptions. The chapter's conclusion is that thinking ought to be studied, for our purposes, as a normative activity and a social practice.

The third chapter explores the consequences of studying thinking from this point of view. This approach is compared to that taken by those who employ the language of internal mechanisms, processes, and representations to explain critical thinking. The fourth chapter is used to cast light on the relationships between different kinds of standards which are used in making judgments about reasoning. The first relationship explored is that between creative and critical thinking. In each case, some examples of waj'S in which misconstrual of these relationships has contributed to misunderstandings about the nature of critical thinking are examined.

Emerging from discussion of the second relationship is an argument about the limits to which new theories and critiques of our existing understanding of rationality can be disengaged from our ordinary, practical understanding of what good reasoning is. The fifth chapter explicates a conception of rules and normative activities. Having such a developed conception is crucial to being able to understand what is implied by the claim that those concerned with critical thinking ought to be concerned with thinking as a normative activity. It is argued that the conception offered has implications for distinguishing causal from normative explanation, for understanding the role of background purposes to borrow Ennis's phrase in critical thinking, and for understanding what judgment is and how it can be taught.

The final chapter revisits the approaches and issues raised in this chapter, concluding with some remarks about the implications for teachers and educational theorists and philosophers. Having begun with a rehearsal of some of the major approaches to critical thinking research and instruction and related issues and problems, it will now be useful to grant explicit attention to a question which has often been overlooked or treated as as one of minor consequence.

The question is, "What is thinking? This chapter will proceed by clarifying possible ambiguities in the question itself and describing some aspects of 'thinking' which make it difficult to characterize. This will be followed by an examination of the purposes which underly inquiry into thinking, purposes which must be taken into account if we are to arrive at a perspicuous answer to the question about thinking. Once we have some understanding of the most promising way s to provide an initial characterization of thinking, we ought to be better equipped to answer questions about what kind of thinking is, or can be, critical.

This ambiguity can be expressed- by analogy: if we ask, "What is science? Science is a profession or group of professions, a school subject, a form of inquiry, a body of knowledge, an explanation of natural phenomena, "any activity that appears to require' study and method"1 and so 1. Each could be said to answer the question from a particular point of view. Which point of view should be taken is determined by the context in which the question is asked. In order to answer the question usefully, it will be important to keep in mind the purposes which gave rise to the question in the first place.

If there is no single correct answer to the question about science, the question about thinking is clearly even more open to a multiplicity of interpretations. Not only do we use the word 'think' in many different ways, but we face the further problem that thinking seems to be peculiarly obscure. This apparent obscurity is often cited by writers about thinking as by Diane F. Many times we seem only to infer that thinking is going on on the basis of overt and visible signs. Even when we consider our own thinking it seems singularly difficult to convey to others the true quality of our thoughts.

Thoughts seem ephemeral and only sometimes subject to our conscious control. These and other problems have led many writers to despair of providing an adequate definition of thinking. Too often, this abandonment of the problem has been accompanied by an uncritical acceptance of an inadequate or misleading characterization. Thinking has been discussed as a skill, a process, a phenomenon, or an innate capacity. Critical thinking has been discussed as problem solving, information processing, facility with interpreting and evaluating What is thinking?

Surprisingly, considering that many of these writers are quick to point out the need to be aware of unstated assumptions, very little consideration is given to the assumptions embodied in each of these purported answers to the question about the nature of thinking. If we are to proceed with addressing this question in any useful and non-arbitrary way, it will be necessary to make some of the same moves we would have to make in answering the similar question about science.

We will need to establish the purposes and context which will determine the most appropriate and useful answers. We must also be careful about exactly what question we are trying to answer. It is clear that the question, "What is thinking? Beyond a question about the meaning, of the word, which seems to be simply a matter of agreement about a convention and is often dismissed as being "arbitrary" by those interested in 'getting behind' the question of meaning, there is a question about the nature of the phenomenon itself.

Before considering the purposes which determine how we can most appropriately answer the question, "What is thinking? I take it that such an argument is required, if only because many philosophers and psychologists have taken for What is thinking? The first is a very general epistemological point. Knowledge of the world is mediated b3r conceptual schemes. If thinking is a phenomenon, the only way we could identify instances of the phenomenon is by appeal to the meaning of 'thinking'.

It is not the case, as has sometimes been assumed, that all words, including thinking, serve as labels for natural categories of things. Thus, it must not simply be assumed that there are features or aspects of the purported phenomenon which could be discovered and used to identify them as being instances of thinking apart from the fact that they are identified bj' our use of the word. To think that it can be so assumed is to believe that the world is, by its nature, divided up into certain categories to which human conceptual systems may correspond.

Some of the most influential examples are: Plato's notion that thinking consists of inner dialogue or the inspection of the Forms; the Kantian notion that thinking involves bringing concepts before the mind; and, Hume's idea that thinking is experiencing a sequence of images some of which are connected by habit. Almost all prominent psychologists writing about thinking and critical thinking refer to thinking as a process. The fact that "the process of thinking" has been construed in many different ways ought to serve as a warning that there is something odd about the notion that thinking is "a process.

There are some philosophers who believe that some classes of concepts, especially those which refer to 'natural kinds' such as 'gold,' have a meaning What is thinking? Since Quine, it has been recognized that conceptual schemes are underdetermined by any combination of characteristics of the observer and the world. Conceptual systems are at least partly conventional and simply cannot be determined by facts about the world. The meaning of individual concepts and even the truth value of individual sentences can always be 'saved' or changed by adjusting other parts of the conceptual scheme.

The conclusion is obvious: empirical research cannot determine the reference of 'thinking' apart from its place in our linguistic practices. It should be added that our concepts are not immutable, nor is contemporary English usage the only possible or the best determiner of the categories into which inquiry can take place. In developing theories it may be useful to stipulate definitions and create new terms which do not correspond to those in current use.

It should be remembered, however, that our purposes and the questions with which we initiate our inquiries often rely on ordinary language concepts. If our problem is to understand how thinking can be improved, for instance, our solution will not really be a solution to that problem unless it employs 'thinking' in the same sense as the question does.

Since the questions being discussed in this thesis are of general interest, rather than being of interest only within one 0 cont'd which is discovered as we discover empirically their essential nature.


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I know of no one who has argued, rather than assumed or implied, that 'thinking' is such a natural kind concept. Many have assumed it however. Stephen Norris is one example: according to Norris, claims about critical thinking ability are "categorical claims about people's either genetically or environmentally determined natures.

Because this point has been widely ignored, it will be useful to consider an example. Consider the notion of intelligence. Psychologists require a means of quantifying intelligence if they are to use differences in intelligence as an explanatory factor in success or lack of it at various tasks.

They need something 'more scientific' than the rather vague and context dependent judgments which English language speakers ordinarily use. But all attempts to produce more reliable criteria have produced results of questionable validity. The intransigence of these problems led E. Boring to the somewhat desperate suggestion that intelligence is whatever it is that intelligence tests measure.

Without an independent notion of intelligence we have no way of deciding whether something is or is not an intelligence test. The result of. As Michael Chapman has argued, Wittgenstein's distinction between "symptoms" and "criteria" is useful in being clear about these matters, and has often been ignored , pp. A criterion of a concept is a phenomenon which exists in a rule-governed relation to the concept. Typically, criteria are the 1. For example, having trouble keeping your eyes open is a criterion of 'being sleepy. There are, however, other phenomena which typically 'go along with' the state of being tired or the ability to understand a language.

The phenomenon of parsing sentences according to semantic units rather than according to levels of acoustic energy, which Fodor claims is true only of competent language users, is a good example , p. Such a phenomenon is a symptom. Unless our linguistic practices regarding the grammar of the concept 'understanding a language' were to change on the basis of Fodor's discoveries, "parsing according to semantic units" would not be part of what the concept expresses.

Notice that if "parsing by semantic units" did become a criterion of "understanding a language" we could not ask sensibly whether, in general, people who parsed, understood - except as a question of meaning. This causes no problem if all involved remember that any conclusions apply only to the 'new' concept and not the concept in public use, but usually the questions which initiate the inquiry employ, and are interesting because of, the ordinary use. Sometimes, however, the 'new' use is taken to reveal what the concept 'really meant' all along.

If our concept of understanding a language were reduced to "parsing according to semantic units" much of our motivation for What is thinking? The second confusion involved in construing "What is thinking? No particular emotion, sensation, behaviour, mood, series of mental events under any description, or anything else, seems to identify all instances of thinking.

Notice that this is not merely a matter of polymorphy in the sense that Ryle identifies 'obeying' as ' As an additional point which, though not relevant specifically to the debates in critical thinking, is important to the broader debate about how mental concepts are to be understood, it should be noted that many attempts to operationalize mental concepts are characterized by a failure to escape reliance on concepts involving meaning, norms, or intentionality.

In this hypothetical example, an explication of "parsing according to semantic units" would, of course, require reference to meaning and standards of intelligibility. Curiously, Alan White, who is aware of the large range of uses of the words 'thought' and 'thinking,' suggests that the question "What is thought? It must rather help to integrate economic aspects into a broader view on practical reason.

JavaScript is currently disabled, this site works much better if you enable JavaScript in your browser. Economics Economic Theory. Buy eBook. Buy Hardcover. Buy Softcover. FAQ Policy. About this book The theory of practical rationality does not belong to one academic discipline alone. But some instances of characteristic desire-belief causation yield no more than mere activity, because the resulting behavior is not based on the desire and belief as reasons. Hence the standard model is sufficient for moti- vated activity but not for autonomous action.

I shall now consider a proposal for improving the standard model by adding to it. This proposal will bring us closer to an account of agency, but still not close enough. My critique of this proposal will suggest a third—and, in my view, correct—account of agency. But I do not claim that their being motives for acting somehow excludes their also being reasons; nor do I claim that their operating as motives somehow excludes their also operating as reasons.

In acting on that desire as a reason, let us suppose, he is aware of the desire and regards it as justifying a movement of his hand; and he makes the movement partly because of seeing it as justified. Yet even in the alternative version of the story, where the desire influences the agent via his perception of it as justifying action, it can continue to operate as a motive, as it did when it was hidden from view. The new influence that it now exerts in its capacity as a reason can be to enlist some reinforcement for, or remove some inhibition of, its own motivational force.

Even when the subject is persuaded by rational reflection on his desire—a process different from simply being moved by its inherent force—his response to being persuaded can be to acquiesce in being so moved. On the grounds of his desire conceived as warrant, he may accede to its impetus as a motive. The interaction of these causal mechanisms is not as mysterious as it may sound. Suppose that you were charged with the task of designing an autonomous agent, given the design for a mere subject of motivation. In either case, you face a world already populated with lower animals, which are capable of moti- vated activity, and your task is to introduce autonomous agents.

In neither case would you start from scratch. A creature endowed with such a mechanism would reflect on forces within him that were already capable of producing behavior by themselves, as they do in nonautonomous creatures or in his own nonautonomous behavior.

His prac- tical reasoning would be a process of assessing these springs of action and intervening in their operations—which intervention would require an addi- tional, rational spring of action capable of modifying or redirecting the force exerted by the other springs. Actually, you would already have come close to equipping motivated creatures with such a mechanism as soon as you had endowed them with self-awareness. For if creatures already have the capacity to desire—that is, to represent things as to be brought about —and if they subsequently gain the capacity to represent their own desires, then they will be able to desire states of affairs involving their own desires.

They will be capable of wanting to have some desires but not others, and to be actuated by some desires but not by others. And then the latter, lower-order desires, upon coming to their notice, will be either reinforced or opposed by the force of the higher-order desires directed at them. The result would be the hierarchical model of agency, as it is often called.

TABLE OF CONTENTS.

Autonomous action, according to this model, is behavior motivated by the desires and beliefs by which the subjects wants, or is at least content, to be motivated. I regard the hierarchical model of agency as an improvement on the stan- dard model, because it requires the subject to be reflectively aware of his motives in order to act autonomously.

A Freudian slip takes its agent by sur- prise, thereby casting him in the passive role of observer. This behavior takes its agent by surprise because its motive is unconscious: he is not aware of wanting to do what he does. Such a lack of self-awareness would not have dis- qualified the resulting behavior from being an autonomous action according to the standard model, but it is indeed disqualifying according to the hierarchi- cal model.

For an agent cannot want or be content to be motivated by a desire that he is unaware of having. Even so, the hierarchical model of autonomous action still seems inadequate. His desires might have been due to an overwhelming sense of depression or ennui at the prospect of the new session.

According to the hierarchical model, his indifferent mood would have enhanced his autonomy, by forestalling any higher orders of dis- satisfaction with his first-order motives. He would have been motivated by a first-order desire with which he was satisfied, and satisfied to be satisfied, and so on. The hierarchical model would therefore have classified his behavior as autonomous.

If anything, it would have expressed a lack of will on his part, under the weight of a psychic force that is usually regarded as pathological or alien. A favorable disposition toward his first-order motives automatically implicates the subject in causing their behav- ioral results, according to this model, irrespective of why or how he is favor- ably disposed toward those motives. But this distinction ought to matter in the constitution of autonomous action. We thus arrive at a third model of action, avoiding the faults of the other two.

Unlike the hierarchical model, it would also exclude movements produced by those motives which the agent endorses without regarding them as reasons. This model would define action as behav- ior whose first-order motives are perceived as reasons and are consequently reinforced by higher-order motives of rationality. What sort of higher-order motives can we imagine for this role? One pos- sibility would be to posit a higher-order desire, on the part of every agent, to be actuated by those of his lower-order motives which constitute the best reasons for him to act.

This desire would move a person to survey and evalu- ate his motives as reasons for acting, and it would then add its motivational force to whichever combination of motives impressed him as rationally superior. I am going to argue in favor of positing something like a desire to be actu- ated by the best reasons—something that might imprecisely be described as such. But first I am going to argue against positing the desire that would fit the description precisely. In order to fit this description precisely, a desire would need to have a de dicto content that included the concept of motives that constitute reasons for acting.

One problem with this notion is that it would require a person to have the concept of a reason for acting in order to have the desire whose reinforcement of his other motives would turn their behavioral output into full-blooded actions.

The notion would thus require a person to have the concept of a reason in order to be capable of acting at all. Indeed, it would require him to have, not only the generic concept of a reason, but a specific conception of what counts as a reason, and what makes some reasons better than others. Without such a conception, a person would never draw any conclusions about which motives were rationally superior, and his desire to be actuated by rationally superior motives would never be engaged. Agency itself would therefore require a fairly advanced level of intellectual sophistication. A further problem emerges from consideration of how a person might form his conception of what counts as a reason for acting.

What does count as a reason for acting, and how can a person tell that it does? In order to answer this question, we shall have to suspend our inquiry into the causal structure of practical reason, so that we can consider its logic. I should pause, at this point, to beg for patience with the arguments that follow. When the dust settles, these arguments will have yielded a new account of agency.

Thus, a belief can be justified only because it can be correct or incorrect by virtue of being true or false. Reasons for a belief are considerations that show the belief to be correct by this standard, insofar as they show it to be true. The question, then, is what serves as the standard of correctness for action, in the same way as truth serves as the standard of correctness for belief.

There is a temptation to think that the norm of correctness for actions is that they should be supported by the strongest reasons. But this thought leads in a vicious circle. Action must have an inde- pendent norm of correctness—a standard not dependent on the concept of reasons—before it can provide the sort of normative context in which reasons exist. Ideally, the norm of correctness for action should be exempt from deliberative criticism.

That is, the norm should not leave open any question about whether to act in accordance with it. If such a question could be raised, it would have to be answered by appeal to reasons for acting in accordance with the norm; whereas the norm is supposed to determine what counts as a reason for acting, in the first place. If there had to be reasons for acting in accordance with the norm that determines what counts as a reason for acting, then practical rea- soning would again be circular.

Here the analogy with theoretical reasoning suggests a solution. The norm of correctness for belief is not open to question because it is internal to the nature of belief itself. The concept of belief just is the concept of an attitude for which there is such a thing as correctness or incorrectness, consisting in truth or falsity. For a propositional attitude to be a belief just is, in part, for it to be capable of going right or wrong by being true or false. Philosophers have traditionally accounted for this feature of belief by saying that belief consti- tutively aims at the truth.

If there were something at which action constitutively aimed, then there would be a norm of correctness internal to the nature of action. There would be something about behavior that constituted its correctness as an action, in the same way as the truth of a propositional attitude constitutes its correctness as a belief. This standard would not be open to question: actions meeting the standard would be correct on their own terms, so to speak, by virtue of their nature as actions, just as true beliefs are correct by virtue of their nature as beliefs.

And this norm of correctness for action would in turn determine what counts as a reason for acting. Let me be clearer about the relation between the constitutive aim of belief and the norm that applies to belief in light of that aim. Belief aims at the truth in the normative sense only because it aims at the truth descriptively, in the sense that it is constitutively regulated by mecha- nisms designed to ensure that it is true.

Belief also bears a more fundamental relation to the truth, in that it is an attitude of regarding a proposition as true; but in this respect it is no different from other cognitive states, such as assum- ing or imagining, which share the same direction of fit, in that they take their objects as true. What distinguishes a belief from other states that take their propositional objects as true is that, unlike assumption or fantasy, belief tends to track what is true, when its regulatory mechanisms are functioning as designed.

Belief thus aims at the truth in the same sense that the circulation aims to supply body tissues with nutrients and oxygen. Not just any movement of fluids within the body counts as the circulation, but only those movements which are under the control of mechanisms designed to direct them at sup- plying the tissues. Hence the aim of supplying the tissues is constitutive of the circulation, just as the aim of being true is constitutive of belief.

If action were to have a constitutive aim in the same sense, that aim would have to be a function of mechanisms that produce and control action, and consti- tutively so. What could those mechanisms be? Well, we have already envisioned such mechanisms, in our third model of action, outlined above. That model characterizes action as behavior that is motivated by lower-order desires and beliefs as regulated by a particular higher- order motive. The model thus implies that it is constitutive of action to be regulated by a particular motive. Our inquiry into the logic of practical reason has thus led us back to the causal mechanisms involved.

Economic Rationality and Practical Reason

Action would be logically subject to justification, we find, if it had a constitutive aim, in relation to which it could be correct or incorrect merely by virtue of its nature as action. But the constitutive aim of action would have to be something at which it was in fact aimed; and its being aimed, in some direction or other, would be a fact about the mechanisms causing and controlling it—in particular, the mechanisms whose causing and controlling it were constitutive of its being action. And we previously posited such a mechanism, in the form of a higher-order, rational motive.

We were wondering whether this higher-order, rational motive could consist in a desire to be actuated by whichever motives provide the best reasons for acting. That question prompted our digression into the logic of reasons; and the digression has now put the answer within reach. We have now seen that this higher-order motive, in constitutively regulating action, would lend it a constitutive aim in relation to which it would be subject to jus- tification and reasons. But if this motive consisted in a desire to be actuated by reasons, then being actuated by reasons would be the constitutive aim of action—which is impossible, as we have also seen.

For if the constitutive aim of action were that it be actuated by reasons, then the aim of action and the nature of reasons for acting would be caught in a vicious circle. What counted as a reason for acting would depend on what counted as correctness for actions as such; but what counted as correctness for actions would depend on what counted as a reason for acting.

We are hoping to find that action is constituted by a substantive aim, just as belief is constituted by the substantive aim of being true. The aim of belief is substantive in the sense that it is conceptually independent of reasons for believing; our hope for action must be, similarly, that it turn out to be consti- tuted by an aim conceptually independent of reasons for acting. What turns out to lend action its constitutive aim, we must hope, is a higher-order motive whose content does not include the concept of a reason.

Let me resort again to the analogy with belief. Ultimately, then, indicators of truth count as reasons for belief because they are the con- siderations in response to which belief is designed to be regulated. The aim of belief and reasons for belief are fixed simultaneously, the one being determined by the way in which belief is constitutively regulated in response to the other. Thus, we must hope for considerations of a kind that count as reasons for acting because they are the kind in response to which action is designed to be regulated. The aim of action and reasons for action must be fixed simultaneously, the one being determined by the way in which action is regulated in response to the other.

Whatever regulates action in response to these considerations may turn out to be describable, imprecisely, as a desire to be actuated by reasons. But there will have to be something else about them to which this regulatory mechanism responds, since its respon- siveness to them will be what constitutes them as reasons, and hence cannot depend on their already being reasons. Indeed, the analogy between action and belief suggests that this mechanism need not literally be a desire.

The problem with the hierarchical model, we found, is that it can be satisfied by any higher-order motive at all, whereas the mechanism that constitutively regulates action must somehow connect it to reasons for acting. Yet consider the case of belief. Truth must be the aim of belief, but it need not be an aim on the part of the believer; it may instead be an aim implicit in some parts of his cognitive architecture.

When his beliefs change in the face of evidence or argument, he might be described as trying to arrive at the truth, as if he were motivated by a desire. But this description might be a personification of aims that are in fact sub-personal. Whenever someone acts, he might then be described as trying to arrive at that aim, as if motivated by a desire for it. As in the case of belief, however, this description might some- times be a personification of aims that are in fact sub-personal.

I shall there- fore stop speaking of a higher-order, rational motive and speak instead of a higher-order, rational aim, which may or may not be imparted to action by a motive on the part of the agent. I have now arrived at a highly abstract schema for a theory of agency—so abstract, I fear, as to lack any intuitive appeal.

So let me return to a more con- crete level of thought. Let me return, in particular, to the examples with which I initially illustrated the difference between action and mere activity. I want to see whether a theory of agency can be developed directly from reflection on those examples. The dust should finally begin to settle. What we mean, I think, is that it slipped past something—that it gave the slip to some- thing that should have held it back.

To what restraint did this utterance give the slip? He came to know what he had said only by having his attention drawn to what he had heard himself say. Even when a speaker immediately catches his own mistake, the fact remains that he catches it: he receives it passively, in the manner of a surprised audience. And he is obliged to catch his faulty remark precisely because he let it fly without knowing what it was.

Unwitting speech of this sort is often inhibited. The words that slip out are the ones that escape regulation by this aim—which explains why we learn of them only by hearing ourselves say them. It is what might be called a sub-agential aim, [29] which is not represented in our practical reasoning. Our behavior is regulated by many sub-agential aims. For example, our movements through the world are gener- ally regulated by the aim of avoiding pain, even though pain-avoidance becomes our end-in-view only on rare occasions, when we are deliber- ately being careful.

We are usually inhibited from bumping into furniture or stepping on sharp objects, without thinking about the pain to be avoided. Our precise wording is then something that we learn only by listen- ing to ourselves. But the reason why we have to listen for our words on such occasions, I suggest, is merely that the cognitive aim regulating our speech has been scaled back, not that it has disappeared.

This observation suggests that there may be a connection between choosing our words and uttering them under the regulation of this sub-agential aim. In fact, it suggests that there may be a connection between choosing our behav- ior in general and producing it under the regulation of the corresponding, general aim. I suggest that you go back to the drawing-board and add this aim to your design for autonomous creatures. Now what sort of creatures have you designed? Of course, your creatures still have first-order motives for doing various things on particular occasions.

Your creatures now seem to share our capacity for choice or decision-making.

When we choose or decide what we are going to do, we settle that question in our minds and we thereby settle the same question in fact. Similarly for your redesigned creatures: settling in their minds what they are going to do is a way of settling that question in fact. For they will be inhibited from doing anything until they think they are going to do it, and then they will be prompted to do what they think. Your creatures should also share our sense of having an open future or a meta- physically free will.

I assume that your creatures will be governed by deterministic laws of nature, under which their futures are fixed by facts about the past. I therefore assume that their futures are not in fact open, and their wills are not in fact free in the meta- physical sense. There are many different things that they would be correct in expecting themselves to do, because they would do whichever one they expected.

There is of course only one of these things that they are actually going to do; but they are going to do it only because they are going to expect so. When they imagine various alternative futures for themselves, they would be correct to believe in any one of them, since the future that they end up believing in will be the future that they end up having.

And being in a position to believe correctly in any one of several different imaginable futures feels like being in a position to have any one of several different imaginable futures. Thus, an epistemically open future is easily misperceived as metaphysically open. But the confusion is understandable. The fact that your creatures would now perceive themselves as free, or their futures as open, is indirect evidence for the hypothesis that they have in fact been endowed with a capacity for choice or decision-making. What makes us feel free, after all, is our own capacity to make choices.

If you have given your creatures the same feeling by endowing them with a particular higher-order aim—which, as it happens, also enables them to settle what they are going to do—then you must have endowed them with something very like our own capacity for choice. My examination of a Freudian slip has now led me to an hypothesis about the nature of choices or decisions. In the mechanism thus envisioned, we would have a kind of expectation that functioned in a peculiar way: it would settle in our minds the question what we were going to do, and it would thereby settle the same question in fact.

Because this is exactly the function of a choice, I have arrived at the hypothesis that a choice consists in just such a self-fulfilling expectation. There would seem to be, antecedently, nothing to expect. Our expectation of doing something embodies an invention rather than a dis- covery. We are thus in a position to make up our forthcoming behavior. Making up what we will do is, in fact, our way of making up our minds to do it.

An expectation, after all, is a belief; and knowledge is true and reliably justified belief. How can we simply make up true and reliably jus- tified beliefs? In order to answer this question, I shall need to examine the sim- ilarities and differences between the mental states of belief and choice. The desire to act, on the one hand, and the belief that one will act, on the other, are attitudes toward the same proposition—i.

Their dif- ferent directions of fit are what distinguish belief as cognitive from desire as conative. If it were still to be arranged that I was going to act, then it would not yet be settled that I was going to act; and insofar as I regarded it as to be arranged, I would not yet regard it as settled. It therefore has the same direction of fit as a belief. Where choice differs from ordinary beliefs is in a feature that might be called its direction of guidance.

Now, there is a temptation to assume that if a mental state is cognitive, rep- resenting how things are, then it must be caused by how they are; whereas if it causes what it represents, then the state must be conative, representing how things are to be. This assumption implies that a cognitive direction of fit entails a passive direction of guidance; and, conversely, that only states with a cona- tive direction of fit can be active or practical. But when I make a choice, a question is resolved in the world by being resolved in my mind. That I am going to do something is made true by my representing it as true.

So choice has the same direction of fit as belief but the same direction of guidance as desire: it is a case of practical cognition. Choice has a third essential feature, which it shares with belief. Like belief, choice aims at the truth. Note that accepting a proposition as true and aiming at the truth are two distinct features of belief. Mental states such as imagining and assuming also regard their propositional objects as true—that is, as representing how things are arranged rather than how they are to be arranged. But belief is regulated by the aim of regarding something as true only if it really is true; whereas imag- ining and assuming entail accepting a proposition fancifully or hypothetically, with some aim other than getting at the truth.

When I form a choice or decision, however, I aim to settle a question in my mind only insofar as I can thereby settle it in fact; I aim, that is, to avoid rep- resenting an arrangement that I am not thereby managing to make. It thus rep- resents things as having been arranged in some way, with the aim of repre- senting how they really have been arranged, albeit by this very representation. It has the cognitive direction of fit and the associated aim of being true, despite having a practical direction of guidance.

A state that represents something as true, with the aim of so representing what is true, ought to count as knowledge if it attains its aim in the right way. And it ought to count as belief whether or not it attains its aim. By the same token, I can expect to be allowed the provisional use of these terms, given that I have explained how they can be replaced by descrip- tions of the mental state in question. The full description of this state is that it represents as true that we are going to do something; that it aims therein to represent something that really is true; and that it causes the truth of what it represents.


  • Nietzsche on epistemology and metaphysics : the world in view.
  • Sage definition.
  • Dermatological Signs of Internal Disease.

This design specification implies that self-knowledge is the constitutive aim of action. And in my schema for a theory of agency, the constitutive aim of action determines an internal criterion of success for action, in relation to which considerations qualify as reasons for acting. The question therefore arises what sort of reasons apply to action as constituted by this aim. The answer is this: the considerations that qualify as reasons for doing some- thing are considerations in light of which, in doing it, the subject would know what he was doing. They are, more colloquially, considerations in light of which the action would make sense to the agent.

What makes sense for someone to do, by this definition, is whatever he has reason for doing.

The statement that reasons for an action are the considerations in light of which the action would make sense can therefore sound like a tautology. But I do not mean to speak tautologically. What makes sense to someone, theoretically speaking, is what he can explain. This is what I mean when I say that reasons for doing something are considerations in light of which it would make sense.

I mean that they are considerations that would provide the subject with an explanatory grasp of the behavior for which they are reasons. Here I may seem to have changed my mind about the cognitive aim under dis- cussion. I initially said that the aim constitutive of action is to know what we are doing; I have now suggested that considerations qualify as reasons insofar as they provide an explanatory grasp of what we are doing. But the difference is more apparent than real. Considerations of these motives and circumstances are what qualify, in my view, as reasons for acting.

They are the considerations out of which we can fashion a description that would embody a knowledge of what we were doing, if we applied that description to ourselves in the way that would prompt us to behave accordingly. Reasons provide us with an account of what we could be doing and, indeed, would be doing if we adopted an expectation to that effect. In this sense, reasons provide us with a rationale under which we can choose to act. Another way of putting the point is this: reasons for acting are the elements of a possible storyline along which to make up what we are going to do.

Of course, this particular story is borrowed from an historical incident in which it notably failed to the play the role of rationale. The story itself occurred to him only after the fact. In order to have acted autonomously, the agent would need to have been actuated not only by the desire and belief mentioned in the story but also by the story itself, serving as his grasp of what he was doing—or, in other words, as his rationale.

He would need, first, to have been inhibited from acting on his desire and belief until he knew what he was up to; and then guided to act on them once he had adopted this story. He would then have acted autonomously because he would have acted for a reason, having been actuated in part by a rationale.

This conception of reasons as rationale requires considerable elaboration. What makes one reason better or stronger than another? How do we deliber- ate with the reasons so characterized? Answers to these questions will have to come from the philosophy of action, if my schema for a theory of agency is correct. Reasons will have to qualify as better or stronger in relation to the constitutive aim of action, which lends reasons their normative force. Roughly speaking, the better reason will be the one that provides the better rationale—the better potential grasp of what we are doing.

This lack of self-knowledge would have indicated to the agent that he would have had a better idea of what he was doing if he had chosen to do something else instead. That is, he could have adopted, and consequently enacted, a more intelligible story. And insofar as there was a more intelligible story for him to enact, by choosing to do something else, there was a better rationale for doing that thing instead. I have now brought my discussion back to its point of departure: the differ- ence between autonomous action and mere purposeful activity. The arguments by which I have reached this conclusion are developed further in the essays reprinted here.

They expand on ideas originally contained in my book Practical Reflection. One of the following papers departs from the present line of argument in an important respect. Unfortunately, I think that the resulting version of my view is unworkable, as becomes evident, I think, in the final, tortured sections of that paper. Perhaps this result is not so unfortunate, after all. The intuition with which I began, in writing about the philosophy of action, is that autonomy is an expression of the drive to wrap your mind around things—an expression, in particular, of that drive as directed at yourself.

You govern yourself, it seems to me, when you seek to grasp yourself as part of an intelligible world and consequently gravitate toward being intelligible. The appeal of this view, for me, is that it locates autonomy in a part of the personality from which you truly cannot dissociate yourself. You must take your under- standing along because you must continue to exercise it in adopting a per- spective, where it remains identified with you as the subject of that perspective, no matter how far off it appears to you as an object.

Your understanding is therefore like that point between your eyes which constitutes the visual standpoint from which you see whatever you see, even when you view that point itself in the mirror, at a distance. But we are intellectual creatures, and our autonomy may well be a function of our intellect.

Epistemic freedom is the freedom to affirm any one of several incompatible propositions without risk of being wrong. I think that there are two equally important reasons why we seek an alter- native to determinism as an account of how our actions come about. One reason is phenomenological: we just feel free. Our other reason for seeking an alternative to determinism is conceptual. We fear that if determinism is true, then we shall have no grounds for applying concepts such as responsi- bility and desert to ourselves and our fellows.

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The conceptual reason for worrying about determinism has tended to take precedence in the writings of philosophers, but I think that the phenomeno- logical reason deserves equal attention. And even those who disagree with me on this score should consider that the experience of freedom serves, in some philosophical theories, as a datum from which conceptual consequences are derived. This paper sketches a potential explanation for our feeling of freedom. It identifies a kind of freedom that we might have and that might cause us to feel free.

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