Critical thinking as reflecting on understanding others

J.G.H. Torringa

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


This dissertation about critical thinking processes three questions. The first regards the question what critical thinking means when conceptualizing the phrase away from the dominant account in which it refers to the ability to reason well and the disposition to do so (Bailin & Siegel, 2003). A critical response in this account, it is argued, comes from reason assessment. The critical thinker within this paradigm wonders: What is the probative strength of reasons given to support a statement? However, a critical response can also come from “distinguishing between the illocutionary act and the propositional content of the illocutionary act” (Searle, 1969). The critical thinker in this dissertation wonders: What is meant by what is said or written and what are the grounds of the intended meaning I have attached to this utterance? This form of judging is described as intention assessment. To clarify the association by the present writer of Searle’s distinction with critical thinking, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s notion of “a hermeneutical consciousness” (Gadamer, 1972), also denoted as “critical self-consciousness”, is applied. Hannah Arendt’s (1971) distinction between thinking and judging is applied to clarify the form of judgment which is addressed in critical thinking, as reinterpreted here. Arendt’s belief in the political importance of “judging particulars” (Arendt, 1971) and “to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself, which is not technical, does not concern theoretical problems and does not call for a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters” (Arendt, 1964), resembles the present writer’s concern with assessing the “illocutionary act”, always performed in particular contexts. The second question which is processed in this dissertation regards an empirical question. What would be the cognitive requirements of critical thinking, as conceptualized by the present writer, for individuals? This question is answered in the form of an empirically testable hypothesis on the correlates of critical thinking performance. Critical thinking performance, as conceptualized by the present writer, is hypothesized to correlate with tasks assessing competence with the say-mean distinction, metarepresentational terms, concept of interpretation and “evaluative epistemological understanding” according to Kuhn’s (1999) levels of epistemological understanding. The third question addresses the matter of scaffolding the learning of critical thinking at school. Based on processed empirical data on cognitive development, it is argued why one part of critical thinking can appropriately be taught to children, adolescents and (young) adults and the other (evaluating) part from the age of adolescence. Ideas on both instruction methods offered by teachers and on providing a supportive school culture are proposed. One of the distinctive characteristics of ideas on a supportive school culture in which pupils are encouraged to develop motivation for critical thinking, is the attribution of an intrinsic rather than merely instrumental value to reason by teachers. This holds well with Hannah Arendt’s deemed political importance of “judging particulars without subsuming them under general rules which can be taught and learned until they grow into habits that can be replaced by other habits and rules” (Arendt, 1971).
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • de Winter, Micha, Primary supervisor
  • Koops, Willem, Supervisor
Award date6 Jul 2011
Print ISBNs978-90-393-5578-7
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2011


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