Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Philosophy

First Advisor

Dr. Theodore Schatzki

Abstract

This dissertation formulates and describes a type of thinking called critical-reflective thinking. Examples of critical-reflective thinking appear in the works of many major Western philosophical figures, including the main thinkers considered here, Plato, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Henry David Thoreau. Although this list of thinkers is eclectic, these philosophers come together in describing a common phenomenon, although they do not thematically designate or explain it. Their works illustrate a type of thinking in which people are invited by prompting events to consider their presuppositions—notions they have taken as true without prior consideration. I have deemed this phenomenon “critical-reflective thinking” to emphasize its dimensions of self-reflection and critical consideration. By exploring examples from the works of the authors listed above (among others, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Elaine Scarry), I formulate critical-reflective thinking as a specific phenomenon.

In Chapter One, I formulate this important type of human thought by describing its occurrence, especially the invitation of the prompt and the disclosure and examination of presuppositions. In Chapter Two, this dissertation explicates the value of taking part in this type of thinking. Since critical-reflective thinking allows people to consider previously unreflective aspects of their understanding (i.e. presuppositions), by taking part in critical-reflective thinking, people stand to grow in self-awareness and become liberated to new possible ways of seeing the world and going about life. Given the value of such growth and liberation, it is important to explore how humans can develop the practice critical-reflective thinking. Chapter Three explores strategies for cultivating critical-reflective thinking. Plato, Heidegger, Arendt, and Thoreau suggest five such strategies: spending time in solitude, taking leisure, developing an open attitude, practicing wakeful attentiveness, and acquire virtues such as humility, courage, and fortitude.

Formulating and exploring the phenomenon of critical-reflective thinking not only provides a theory of a type of thinking, but also describes an important aspect of human experience. This dissertation encourages readers to consider their own experiences of thinking. It also poses the challenge of leading a more examined life by critically-reflecting on notions we often take as given.

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