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30th Conference Presuppositions


The following presuppositions underlie the conference theme and sessions, as well as all of the work of the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is not a concept to be devoured in a single sitting nor at a single conference. It is one to be savored and reflected upon. It is something to live and grow with. It shows us that part of our minds that enables us to think things through, to learn from experience, and to acquire and retain knowledge. It is like a mirror to the mind, enabling us to visit that part of our minds that is home to the instruments that drive our learning. It enables us to visit and revisit our purposes (and how we define them), our questions (and how we have framed them), our information (and where we have found it), our concepts (and how we have formed them), our inferences (and where they are taking us), our assumptions (and what they are based on) and our point of view (and how they may blind us). To think, but never to think of how we think, is a tragic waste of our potential as learners and knowers.
The intellect is that part of the mind with “the power of thought.” It is the basis of intelligence and cognitive ability. It contrasts with processes guided by irrational feelings rather than truth-seeking thoughts. Critical thinking is the process that develops and grooms the intellect, enabling it to do what it exists to do – serve the mind making sense of the world through construction of substantive knowledge. Students cannot develop intellectual interests if they have no sense of the nature and significance of their intellect. We cannot be skilled at thinking
unless we are skilled at acquiring knowledge. We cannot be skilled at acquiring knowledge unless we are skilled at thinking.

If we want students to think critically, we must help them discover their intellect. They cannot discover it if it remains unnamed. It must be explicitly used, explicitly trained, explicitly grounded and cultivated. When students use their intellect to respond successfully to new experiences; to read and write closely and substantively; to think biologically, geographically, mathematically,
sociologically, and historically; to “open” subjects they study; to see those subjects as systems and take command of them—then and only then are they using their intellect in keeping with its potential as the ultimate driving force of the life of the mind.

When we target the intellect as the instrument of learning, students can begin to construct substantive knowledge,
  • Knowledge that is foundational.
  • Knowledge that is significant.
  • Knowledge that is useful.
  • Knowledge that leads to further knowledge and vital questions (that, in turn, leads to further
  • Knowledge and further vital questions, and on and on)