Saturday, May 3, 2014

Teaching Critical Thinking through Aristotle's Conception of Friendship

The difference between critical thinking and creative thinking can be profound but they often merge together to create something new and practical. In the process of finding solutions creativity can build new ideas while critical thinking can test the viability of those options. Creativity builds something unique while critical thinking seeks to analyze information into something that can be understood, interpreted and evaluated. Dr. David White discusses how to use Aristotle to foster critical thinking among students (2010). 

Critical thinking of a story narrative requires recognition, analysis, evaluation, and alternatives. It is important for students to recognize the main issues, the main points, and be able to summarize. Analysis requires understanding the steps the author took, prioritization, and knowing the difference between premises and conclusion.   Evaluation includes understanding how the main points are derived, whether premises justify the conclusion, and the separation of personal bias from the situation. Finally, it is important to understand the potential other interpretations and conclusions. 

All critical thinking requires the establishment of arguments and then the breaking down of those arguments for analysis until premises and conclusions can be created. Complex ideas are broken down into its individual components while keeping the larger conception in mind. These individual components are reviewed and analysis to create conclusions about how they explain the broader phenomenon. 

 To highlight his point the author uses a section from Book VII of the Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle:

1. . . . the next subject which we shall have to discuss is friendship. For it is some sort of excellence or virtue, or involves virtue, and it is, moreover, most indispensable for life. No one would choose to live without friends, even if he had all other goods.

2. Friendship also seems to hold states together, and lawgivers apparently devote more attention to it than to justice. For concord seems to be something similar to friendship, and concord is what they most strive to attain, while they do their best to expel faction, the enemy of concord.

When people are friends, they have no need of justice, but when they are just, they need friendship in addition.

3. For, it seems, we do not feel affection for everything, but only for the lovable, and that means what is good, pleasant, or useful.

4. But it is said that we ought to wish for the good of our friend for the friend’s sake. When people wish for our good in this way, we attribute good will to them, if the same wish is not reciprocated by us. If the good will is on a reciprocal basis, it is friendship. Perhaps we should add, “provided that we are aware of the good will.” For many people have good will toward persons they have never seen, but whom they assume to be decent and useful, and one of these persons may well reciprocate this feeling.

5. We conclude, therefore, that to be friends we must have good will for one another, must each wish for the good of the other on the basis of one of the three motives mentioned, andmust each be aware of one another’s good will.

When dealing with such a complex text the student will summarize the meaning of the text, analyze the individual forms, evaluate the text without bias, try and understand alternative explanations. This creates a depth of understanding when seeking to comprehend complex works and make sense out of them. The book talks about friendship and the various meanings to that friendship from usefulness, pleasure and virtuous friendships.  It requires understanding a complex scenario with many different parts and vantage points. The meanings are subjective but often rooted deeply into our cultures and personal experiences. Moving through this ambiguous analysis helps students formulate better problem solving models. 

White, D. (2010). Gifted Education: Thinking (With Help From Aristotle) About Critical Thinking. Gifted child Today, 33 (3).

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