Critical Thinking

Yes, I was speaking about materialism as a philosophy popular in the west that is slowly replacing christianity. The fact that so many materialist are religious humanist shows a lack of critical thinking on 2 levels. First, there is the fact that materialism was refuted by science. Believing in it is like believing the world is flat. Second, being a religious humanist, as a materialist, is totally nonsensical. All in all, such people show a brutal lack of logic and yet, they are the ones who usually consider themselves champions of critical thinking.

Um…guys…this is @daverupa’s party.

It was reasonable for him to ask people to stick to the topic.

Please do so, thank you.


Of course not. That only way I ever used the world “materialist” throughout this topic was in the philosophical sense of the word.

There is no rationality behind a person who believes in materialism (as a philosophy) ever restraining himself from stealing when given the chance for example. Doing that shows a profound lack of logic.
And yet, many do behave like good people despite believing in materialism, showing a total lack of critical thinking.

Why not let the stupid ones take care of the enlightened self-interest part trying to prevent the tragedy of the commons from happening, while you are one of those few that profit from their stupidity ?

The fact that profiting indeeds helps an individual person is the thing that causes the tragedy of the commons to begin with.

If this would not be the case, the tragedy of the commons would not happen to begin with. :wink:

As previously requested by the OP of this topic, if your post is not related to the original topic please create a new thread in which to discuss new issues.

If this is not done, the moderators will take action and move off-topic posts from this thread shortly.

Thank you.


I would say that it is of paramount importance. Otherwise one’s mind would just slip into a dull stupor, looking at all that happens with apathetic disinterest.

To me, it’s self-honesty and a willingness to admit that one could have been wrong about almost everything since birth.

Thag 16.1

I’ve seen lives seen to be ungratifying,
Like one who has drunk poison, then vomited it out.

Thag 16.2

This body is full of pus and blood,
As well as many carcasses;
But cunning people decorate it
Like a lovely painted casket.

You don’t understand that
The gratification of sweetness turns out bitter,
And attachments to those we love are suffering,
Like a razor smeared all over with honey.

Some have argued that belief in God is intuitive, a natural (by-)product of the human mind given its cognitive structure and social context. If this is true, the extent to which one believes in God may be influenced by one’s more general tendency to rely on intuition versus reflection.

Three studies support this hypothesis, linking intuitive cognitive style to belief in God. Study 1 showed that individual differences in cognitive style predict belief in God. Participants completed the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT; Frederick, 2005), which employs math problems that, although easily solvable, have intuitively compelling incorrect answers. Participants who gave more intuitive answers on the CRT reported stronger belief in God. This effect was not mediated by education level, income, political orientation, or other demographic variables.

Study 2 showed that the correlation between CRT scores and belief in God also holds when cognitive ability (IQ) and aspects of personality were controlled. Moreover, both studies demonstrated that intuitive CRT responses predicted the degree to which individuals reported having strengthened their belief in God since childhood, but not their familial religiosity during childhood, suggesting a causal relationship between cognitive style and change in belief over time.

Study 3 revealed such a causal relationship over the short term: Experimentally inducing a mindset that favors intuition over reflection increases self-reported belief in God.

Researchers in thinking and reasoning have proposed recently that there are two distinct cognitive systems underlying reasoning. System 1 is old in evolutionary terms and shared with other animals: it comprises a set of autonomous subsystems that include both innate input modules and domain-specific knowledge acquired by a domain-general learning mechanism.

System 2 is evolutionarily recent and distinctively human: it permits abstract reasoning and hypothetical thinking, but is constrained by working memory capacity and correlated with measures of general intelligence. These theories essentially posit two minds in one brain with a range of experimental psychological evidence showing that the two systems compete for control of our inferences and actions.


Things are as expected, thus far.


So what is critical thinking in your mind?

IMO the item labeled 1. contains two distinct questions – each with it’s own question mark. So too, item 2. could also be divided into two questions. It that observation a quible or a sign of critical thinking?

I theorize that the ‘mismash’ of responses the OP received is influenced by the imprecision and looseness of critical thinking of the questions posed .

Also the more tightly the OP is written the fewer responses one gets. Assuming we prefer our OPs receive more attention in the form of responses there may be a powerful motivation to avoid using too much critical thinking in the composition of the OP!

critical thinking with respect … to examining contemplative claims & practices?

In what sense do you mean by “examining contemplative claims”?

To what extent is critical thinking an essential component of contemplative practice?

A prior question might be "to what extent is critical thinking a desirable component of writing posts on suttacentral?"
Maybe the smart thing to do is leave some of the thinking to the reader.
On the other hand in the EBT’s the point of a story or analogy is often explicitly pointed to. :sunglasses:The Buddha didn’t mind “explaining the joke”.

The form of the EBT’s reflect a lot of critical thinking. So to the extent that contemplative practice involves reading , understanding and reflecting on EBT’s then some degree of critical thinking is required.

As I see it there are many forms of critical thinking. People frequently employ forms of critical thinking without thinking about it. To the point that many might deny (at least at first) that they are using critical thinking – rather it was ‘common sense’, ‘from the heart’, metta, moral reflection, etc.

A huge challenge with critical thinking is knowing when we are using it or not using it.
So it’s also important to have supports and scaffolding in place – ‘spiritual friends’., (Iti 10 - see @Mat 's posts in this thread)

What I hear from accademics and teachers is that teaching critical thinking is challenging and measurable results of such training is weak to lacking.

Often critical thinking and/or science don’t lead to a single or clear conclusion.

  • I identify with the school of the philosophy of science that says that all science requires a degree of subjective, expert opinion/judgement.

Re: “System 1” and “System 2” thinking. They interpenetrate each other in several ways.

All “system 2” thinking is first “system 1” thinking – all thought is first pre-conscious, we can only rationally think what our sub- or pre-conscious mind allows us to think.

Then, related to the necessity of judgement …

Over the course of the last decade, Cultural Cognition Project (CCP) researchers have focused on the relation between conscious, effortful “System 2” reasoning and public controversy over science.
Many commentators attribute public controversy over science to overreliance on “System 1” reasoning, which consists of experiential and heuristic assessments of information. Contrary to this surmise, we have consistently found that one or another critical reasoning proficiency—from science comprehension to numeracy to cognitive reflection to actively openminded thinking—magnifies rather than dissipates partisan polarization on issues such as climate change …

The better we are at critical thinking, the more informed we are … the better we are at justifying our position. Be it on interpretation of the EBT’s, science, compassionate action, or social justice.

[ :earth_africa: Added: One could argue, with good reason, that so-called ‘critical thinking’ used as a way to ‘rationalize’ our positions (the positions we are attached to) might be better described as somewhat _un_critical thinking.!]


See fig. 1 from this paper from this short Cultural Cognition paper.

Another way examine this question is by familiarising with the Five Faculties and Five Strengths.
Without critical thinking (wisdom) you will fall in to the blind faith.
However wisdom has to be balanced by the faith.
Without faith, the wisdom becomes a useless exercise.


A topic worthy of it’s own thread … but I propose that:
Critical thinking tends to right speech.

Thinking pragmatically IMO there are some strong connections between critical thinking, "intellectual integrity " and right speech, harmonious speech. Fix one and you tend to fix the other.

It seems to me that questionable speech is also less persuasive and not of the highest scholarly quality.

I would also entertain the notion that there are more than one type or form of critical thinking.

Not only for right speech … a possible more general connection between sila and critical thinking?

I’ve been down these roads before; I think all your basic questions can be addressed under this one:

I am not suggesting critical thinking be used as a contemplative practice, nor am I even suggesting that it necessarily be used during practice. I am suggesting that critical thinking with respect to contemplative practice(s) has its proper place in the following areas:

  1. While researching & learning about, and before commitment to, a doctrine.
  2. While researching & learning about, and before commitment to, a practice.
  3. When making comparisons between doctrines & practices.
  4. When interpreting, making inferences from, and drawing conclusions about contemplative experiences.

This is much simpler:

Hopefully, these refinements help clarify things for everyone.

So far, with some minor exceptions I see a general objection to the use of critical thinking in at least #4, above. I find this a fascinating aspect of the thought of religious adherents generally, and honestly it’s always puzzled me.

Recently I’ve been enjoying Hayes, Richard, Dignāga on the Interpretation of Signs (Dordrecht: Reidel Publishing Company, 1982) very much, and I will quote something that the author quotes in his introduction which I feel makes a lot of sense:

As Ernst Steinkellner has already pointed out, the place of logic and epistemology within Buddhism was a question that T. Vetter treated at some length in 1964 in his masterful Erkenntnisprobleme bei Dharmakirti. Steinkellner summarizes Vetter’saccount as follows:

Valid cognitions (pramana. samyagjnana) are a necessary presupposition of meaningful human action. The Buddhist’s actions are oriented towards the goal of emancipation. This goal and the path towards it have been shown by the Buddha. The Buddha thus offers a goal and guidance for human activity that cannot be derived from ordinary means of cognition, i.e. perception and inference. inference However, that he is an authority for this has to be proven, for faith alone is an insufficient motive to be a Buddhist. The words of the Buddha can be accepted as an authority only when it has been demonstrated that they are words of somebody who shows through his conduct that he
does not lie, and who because of the development of his experience has
something to tell us that cannot be mediated to us in another way. For
the last goal of human actions, which also is the only point of orientation for everyday human practice, has to be indicated by such an authority, since it is never immediately present–or it would not be a “last goal”.

Sometimes puzzlement can be an indication of a lack of critical thinking skills?

Sometimes we need to to abandon our underlying assumptions and start afresh!

Your comment is relevant to religious adherents who have dogmatic religious views. Fundamentalism is a good example of this and most of us on this site would avoid it like the plague! Your claim that this dogmatic and uncritical attitude is a characteristic of religious adherents ‘in general’ is an article of faith within the Secular-Buddhist belief system. We need to think critically and avoid stereotyping religious practitioners. Fortunately, not all Secular-Buddhists would ascribe to this uncritical view - they have a capacity for self-doubt. They are the secularists with open-minds and are better prepared for the rigours of critical inquiry. In the secular-fold there are critical and non-critical thinkers. Likewise, in traditional Buddhism - IMO.

In this context, we have secular and traditional Buddhists engaging in inquiry. In order to think critically we need to enter the arena of ‘contested’ meanings. Buddhism is defined in some dictionaries as a non-theistic religion. Therefore, in order to think critically about religion we would need to come up with a definition of Buddhism as a religion from a traditional early Buddhist perspective. We would then need to come up with a secular Buddhist perspective on Buddhism as a religion. We may then look at these contrasting perspectives that could lead into further inquiry in order to gain greater clarity.

Where the ‘wheels come off’ is when we use critical thinking as a tool in - or for - inductive reasoning. If, we start with a conclusion with regard to the nature of religion and religious experience and try to use critical thinking to establish our preset conclusions we are treating critical thinking as a means that is used to serve an ideological end.

If we start our inquiry with the ideological commitment: ‘religion is false’ or, ‘deeply misleading’ then where is our thinking going to take us? This would be like getting on a bus and always arriving back where you started.

You are not going to get anywhere - make any new discoveries if you already know the destination you wish to arrive at! This outcome is appropriate for the dogmatist but it is completely useless for those with inquiring minds who are in the process of learning something new. Liberating insight overturns our preexisting rationale for existence - that gives rise to dukkha - and shows us how to live in the light of truth. A ‘lived’ truth that is completely transformative.

If we start with the premise that we could be wrong about everything - that we are in need of understanding that we do not presently possess - this frees us from an ideological fixation and allows us to be more open and responsive to new and unexpected findings. In this way only, is critical thinking compatible with Buddhist open-mindedness - IMO.

We have many traditional - what you call religious - Buddhists on this site who question their tradition vigorously. If we have a fixed-position that traditionalists are not good at critical thinking and only modernists are, then that would be an uncritical perspective to adopt.

A competent critical thinker would be able to question their underlying assumptions? This should be encouraged, especially if we ‘believe’ that it is only secularists, atheists, agnostics or, alternatively, traditional Buddhists that make good use of it.

This would be a complete misunderstanding of the nature of critical thinking?

The meaning of the word ‘religion’ is something that needs to be unpacked in order to make sure we are talking about the same thing when we use the word. Those who subscribe to secular ideologies have there own definitions of what it is to be religious. These definitions are often incommensurate with the definitions of religion that are of importance to religious people.

Many of us find the religious/secular distinction informative in one way and naive - or just plain ignorant - in another. This rather odd preoccupation tells us something important about secularism but provides us with a fairly superficial understanding of religion. This is understandable, why? It is often a stated goal within secular ideologies to curtail, play down or, openly subvert the significance of religion - and religious life - within society. Therefore, what would be the logic in finding things of deep significance in it? If the stated intention is to curtail religious influence and power then there would be no point in mounting a positive argument for its existence as a source of deep learning and understanding - that may serve to justify its position in society.

I believe this issue is sufficiently important that secularists should be encouraged to deal with it. Those who encourage open inquiry should dissociate from other secularists that clearly have an ideological agenda that is incommensurate with the open-inquiry encouraged by the Buddha. I am a traditional Buddhist who celebrates the secular world and the freedoms and protections it provides. There is no logical reason why a secularist cannot appreciate forms of inquiry that may not fit into a secular frame of reference - this includes the Buddha’s form of inquiry - in total.

We all need to think critically about the diverse nature of religious experience that the Buddha points to and helps us to understand through lucid description and practical instruction - in order to understand and fully appreciate this incredibly rich dimension of human life. I would invite all secularists to move beyond their secular ideological proclivities and explore the Buddha-Dhamma unreservedly - in all its aspects and particulars.

For me, personally, it is indispensable.

Have. Or try to.

Perhaps, but, perhaps puzzlement is also the blurred boundary between one’s fixed assumptions and the loosening of them. Puzzlement can be the beginnings of openness to a previously alien paradigm.

This reasoning as quoted by @Javier doesn’t make sense to me.
In particular the authors idea of “ordinary means of cognition” especially in the context of ideas of human freedom, emancipation or happiness.

The upshot of the quote above seems to be:
The judgement that a sensation or emotion is pleasant, unpleasant or neither pleasant nor unpleasant cannot be derived from ordinary means of perception and inference.

Yet the very next sentence:

The author declares a concept that “has to be proven” and declares what is and isn’t a “sufficient motive”. But can those claims “be derived from ordinary means of cognition, i.e. perception and inference?”

Absolutely, but that would require an open-minded attitude in order to continue to question and grow in understanding. That kind of puzzlement is productive and useful. However, if there are to many preset conclusions that limits the range of possibilities then we are faced with an ideological dilemma. Anything which falls outside of the proscribed boundaries of the acceptable or the possible is treated with disdain. An openness to surprise is a prerequisite for liberating insight. Until this penny-drops we are faced with a major impediment when it comes to the evolution of our practice.

I would go so far as to say liberating insight is nothing but an openness to ‘what is’ - unfiltered. When there is a complete cessation of self-grasping there is a complete letting-go into the unknown - the unknowable. Ideology will never do if we hear the lions-roar - his awakening was not an ‘I told you so’ kind of happening! There are many who ‘claim’ that an unmediated awakening is impossible. They say, that everyone of us is coming from somewhere - or other - when it comes to our understanding of life and living. They say, there can be no absolute silencing of the past - we are products of our backgrounds and there is nothing that can be done about it. They have not met the Dhamma which liberates - may all beings be liberated!

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Oh sure, I can see what you’re saying about having an open mind. But whatever reliance people (particularly those who set much store on mental verbalisations - which, let’s face it, to different degrees, is most of us) place upon the structures and manipulations of thought, in the end, if they’ve never experienced the absence of it for prolonged, pleasurable periods of time, that is, until they’ve actually had some personal experience that is earth shaking - positively traumatic and paradigm shifting - they’ll always just be thinking (critically or otherwise) about their own and others’ thoughts…anaylsing and dissecting the menu, instead of the food. There’s not a lot others can do about this, in the end, as @Ataraxia_Now said, we are all islands unto ourselves, and only personal experiences will sway such people. Unless of course, some external stimuli/information that they find very hard to refute is presented to them. They’ll probably never believe someone else, probably never think that it’s possible for someone else’s experiences to be deeper than theirs and may even take offense at the very idea! At the end of the day Laurence, those of us who view peace/faith/investigation as mental constructs/strategies/tools, on a par with, or even more useful than critical thinking, all we can do is share when we feel moved to do so, and leave others to their own devices. :slight_smile:

Indeed, I think on a forum like this it’s extremely important to value sharing over debate - I’ve said this before. If we were in each other’s physical presence, and certainly if we knew each other extremely well, debate might be fruitful. But on a forum like this, I think it’s better to frame things as a sharing of ideas/experiences, rather than a refutation of someone’s comments.

I have made the mistake of wanting to debate, heck I’ll probably do it again; but it is a mistake here and hopefully I remember that! Primarily, I think it’s a mistake because when we debate, there’s a danger of “taking a side”. Sometimes, especially when we aren’t open about the side we’ve taken, we lose people/readers/an audience; sometimes such debates degenerate into, at best, coldness, at worst, insults, with a vast spectrum of unpleasantness inbetween! Laurence, please don’t think I am singling you out or even referring to you at all. I 'am not. I mean me and a bunch of us really! :slight_smile:

When people are put off, because the debate becomes unpleasant, we’re not doing ourselves or them any service. Further, some people are on the fence, are puzzled in an open way. But crucially, the words they write here might not give us, as readers, an indication of this; we might feel antagonistic towards what they write because we are misperceiving their intentions and also because we have, whether we realise it or not, “taken a side”; thus unintentionally, we might deny them the open space to just take up or reject what we’ve shared. We might stop them from moving towards a deeply opening paradigm shift; one that’s deeply personal and is right for them. Whatever people’s assumptions are or however they are different to ours, I think we should all take some responsibility for creating D & D as a space that allows people the chance to do this. Well, that’s the standard I’m trying to set for myself anyway, but I know I’ll fall flat sometimes or fail in others’ eyes - but that’s okay.

I’ve appreciated some of your perspectives Laurence. :slight_smile:

Wishing you all the best, with much metta :anjal:

With regard to the above, I just want to add that I very much appreciate the way @daverupa framed his OP and hope this thread continues in a generally pleasant way. I am almost certain Dave and I have quite different ideas about Right View and what contemplation is, but I’m also certain that neither of us will hold that against the other. :slight_smile:

I realised after posting, that my comments above, in replying to @laurence might have caused offence. I do apologise if that’s the case. It is tricky - or I find it so - to share without bringing oneself and one’s views into such sharing and of course, just doing that in itself can be offensive to others! My apologies for any offense caused to anyone.

With metta

There are guidelines in place and when those guidelines are breached we soon hear about it. I feel those guidelines are very wise and inline with the Buddha’s teachings. I have no personal interest in convincing anyone of anything. I just tell it as I see it and, whether people see what is important to me - or not - is entirely up to them. I also don’t believe that what I am saying is necessarily true - I could be wrong about everything. What I find most puzzling is how anyone could arrive at a position of certainty regarding views and opinions that are clearly ‘just that’ - how is that possible? What might be driving a fanatical need to be certain about uncertainties? Is it the fear of the unknown? Is it the fear of a complete openness to ‘what is’?

I don’t feel we need to be concerned about winning friends and influencing people but we do need to look carefully at the content of what we share - and others - and see if it reflects an understanding of the Dhamma that helps us to wake up. We do need to question deeply and critically - the Buddha encouraged this - which is the reason why David started the thread in the first place.

When you said: “until they’ve actually had some personal experience that is earth shaking - positively traumatic and paradigm shifting - they’ll always just be thinking (critically or otherwise) about their own and others’ thoughts.” I had something else in mind! I know that traumas can jolt us into deep questioning so I will not disagree with that. However, when there is growing clarity in our practice we are able to relinquish excess baggage. Things that we have been carting around that serve no useful purpose. This is the putting down of a burden! Seeing the Dhamma is like this - beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle and, beautiful in the end.

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