Russell Unpopular Essays Summary

Such critical skills, grounded in knowledge, include: (i) the ability to form an opinion for oneself, which involves, for example, being able to recognize what is intended to mislead, being capable of listening to eloquence without being carried away, and becoming adept at asking and determining if there is any reason to think that our beliefs are true; (ii) the ability to find an impartial solution, which involves learning to recognize and control our own biases, coming to view our own beliefs with the same detachment with which we view the beliefs of others, judging issues on their merits, trying to ascertain the relevant facts, and the power of weighing arguments; (iii) the ability to identify and question assumptions, which involves learning not to be credulous, applying what Russell calls constructive doubt in order to test unexamined beliefs, and resisting the notion that some authority, a great philosopher perhaps, has captured the whole truth.

This emphasis on reasons, however, does not lead Russell to presuppose the existence of an infallible faculty of rationality.

Complete rationality, he observes, is an unattainable ideal; rationality is a matter of degree.

There are useful distinctions to be drawn among these, but it is often clear from the context that, despite terminological differences, the issue concerns what is now called critical thinking.

Russell uses a wide variety of terms including, occasionally, references to a critical habit of mind, the critical attitude, critical judgment, solvent criticism, critical scrutiny, critical examination, and critical undogmatic receptiveness.

Second, critical thinking requires being critical about our own attempts at criticism.

Russell observes, for example, that refutations are rarely final; they are usually a prelude to further refinements.

The ideal of critical thinking is, for Russell, embedded in the fabric of philosophy, science, rationality, liberalism and education, and his views emerge as he discusses these and other themes.

Russell's conception of critical thinking involves reference to a wide range of skills, dispositions and attitudes which together characterize a virtue which has both intellectual and moral aspects, and which serves to prevent the emergence of numerous vices, including dogmatism and prejudice.

Believing that one central purpose of education is to prepare students to be able to form "a reasonable judgment on controversial questions in regard to which they are likely to have to act", Russell maintains that in addition to having "access to impartial supplies of knowledge," education needs to offer "training in judicial habits of thought." Beyond access to such knowledge, students need to develop certain skills if the knowledge acquired is not to produce individuals who passively accept the teacher's wisdom or the creed which is dominant in their own society.

Sometimes, Russell simply uses the notion of intelligence, by contrast with information alone, to indicate the whole set of critical abilities he has in mind.


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