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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Radically Critical Self Consciousness

I read a wonderful post titled "CT (Critical Thinking)" yesterday by a user on the forums at His name is Chuck Oberst (his home page can be seen by clicking here). I liked it so much I asked Chuck if I could feature his post on my blog and he said ok, so here it is!


“The noblest exercise of the mind within doors, and most befitting a person of quality, is study.”
William Ramsey, Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry, 1904

“Understanding is a kind of ecstasy.”
Carl Sagan, Celebrated Scientist

I once asked a philosophy professor “What is philosophy about?” He said philosophy is “radically critical self-consciousness”. This was 35 years ago. Only in the last five years have I begun to understand that statement

I took a number of courses in philosophy three decades ago but it was not until I began to study and understand Critical Thinking that I began to understand what “radically critical self-consciousness” meant.

I consider CT to be ‘philosophy light’. CT differs from other subject matter such as mathematics and geography in that it requires, for success, that the student develop a significant change in attitude.

Anyone who has been in military service recognizes the significant attitude adjustment introduced into all recruits in the eight weeks of boot camp. During the first eight weeks of military service each recruit is introduced to the proper military attitude. During the eight weeks of basic training there is certain knowledge and skills that the recruit learns but primarily s/he undergoes a significant attitude adjustment.

I would identify the CT attitude adjustment to be a movement from na├»ve common sense realism to critical self-consciousness. It is necessary to free many words and concepts from the limited meaning attached by normal usage—such a separation requires that the learner hold in abeyance the normal sort of concept associations.

The individual who has made the attitude adjustment recognizes that reality is multilayered and that one can only penetrate those layers through a critical attitude toward both the self and the world. To be critical does not mean to be negative, as is a common misunderstanding.

If we were to follow the cat and the turtle as they make their way through the forest we would observe two fundamentally different ways that a creature might make its way through life.

The turtle withdraws into its shell when it bumps into something new, and remains such until that something new disappears or remains long enough to become familiar to the turtle. The cat is conscious of almost everything within the range of its senses, and studies all it perceives until its curiosity is satisfied.

Formal education teaches by telling so that the graduate is prepared with a sufficient database to get a job. Such an education efficiently prepares one to make a living, but this efficiency is at the cost of curiosity and imagination. Such an education does not prepare an individual to become critically self-conscious.

If we wish to emulate the cat rather than the turtle we must revitalize our curiosity and imagination after formal education. That revitalized curiosity and imagination, together with self directed study prepares each of us for a fulfilling life that includes the ecstasy of understanding.

I think that radically critical self-consciousness combines the attitude adjustment of CT and combines it with the curiosity of the cat and then takes that combination to a radical level.


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