Education, culture and critical thinking
The recent movement to enhance critical thinking through education is not entirely new. However, it differs from an earlier tradition which was concerned broadly with the historical origins and social ramifications of critical thought. The terms of reference of the current 'thinking skills debate' are more narrowly restricted to the objectives and methods of contemporary education systems and there is a characteristic tendency to adopt features of individual psychology and 'cognitive science'. Even where such conceptual perspectives are not made explicit, there is widespread commitment to the idea that it is possible to identify general skills of thought and teach them successfully. Various programmes maintain this commitment, despite a paucity of evidence that the 'skills' thus identified transfer readily between 'cognitive domains'. A powerful and controversial counter-argument has been advanced against this conception of critical thinking skills. The main thrust of 'domain-theory' is that the 'generalist' position is incoherent; thinking skills are specific to subject-matters of 'domains' of thought, and cannot be abstracted from them, a conclusion said to be preordained by the logic of language and thought. The present thesis is that this counter-argument is substantially correct as a refutation of the theoretical basis of many current aspirations for the introduction of 'thinking skills' programmes into education. Formal representations and generalised accounts of thinking fail to address the open-endedness and creativity of genuinely critical thought. Domain-theory falters, however, in its attempt to interpret logically self-authenticating modes of thought. They are not distinguished by seamless, internal logics or methodologies, nor are they radically distinct from common modes of discourse. Indeed, specialised disciplines derive their intelligibility from this common ground of evolving linguistic meaning and imagery. It is from this, rather than from within the constraints of 'logical domains' that some of the most innovatory developments occur; the perception of analogy; the 'thought-experiment' with revolutionary implications for established theory. Paradigms of this kind have universal significance for the elucidation of critical thought.