Culture Magazine

Critical and Reflective Thinking (2)

By Praymont
In my previous post, I noted that the phrases 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking' are often used interchangeably and that both terms have Kantian connotations that suggest a focus on thinking about one's thoughts.
In his 1910 book, How We Think, John Dewey's terminological preference was for 'reflective thought' rather than 'critical thought'. However, as is evident from the quotations in an earlier post, many of those whom Dewey influenced soon adopted 'critical thinking' as the moniker for their topic. In places, Dewey, himself, seems to use the phrases as being roughly equivalent. For instance, in one book, he writes of a pre-scientific stage, in which 'no reflective or critical thinking' is present. (Essays in Experimental Logic [The University of Chicago Press, 1916], p. 89) (In an interesting paper, H. Reed Geertsen says that Dewey did assign distinct meanings to 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking'. The meanings are closely interrelated. I'll look at them in a later post.)
In the previous post, I noted that in addition to Dewey, another anglophone philosopher in the early 20th Century, George Ladd, used 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking' as meaning largely the same thing. A third philosopher to exhibit this pattern is Rupert Clendon Lodge. (Marshall McLuhan was one of Lodge's students at the University of Manitoba.)
In a 1920 paper, Lodge clarifies what he means by 'critical' and 'reflective'. First, says Lodge, we must recognize that judgment is produced by
... reflection upon sensory experience. The primitive sensuous consciousness is split up, certain elements are cut off and fixed by the mind, and by the application of such intellectual standards as identity, difference, and organization, select elements from the original material are so worked over and reconstructed that they can be taken up into the intellectual self-consciousness in the form of concepts or mental counters which can be referred to, or judged of. ('The Logical Status of Elementary and Reflective Judgements'  The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 17 [1920]: 215)
So, a first level of judgment, or cognition, arises from mental operations upon sensory material. So far, so Kantian (broadly). Lodge then adds a second level of judgment:
There is a further level of "reflection", at which we consider, not the data of sensory experience, but our own judgment about these data, and reflect upon the method of this judgment, its validity or invalidity, its success or its failure to bring us in touch with reality. These two levels of reflection are distinguished as the Urteil or elementary judgment, and the Beurteilung or critical, reflective judgment, respectively. (Ibid.; last emphasis added)
As interpreted by Lodge, the elementary kind of judgment (Urteil) seems to be more spontaneous and, given its connection to sensation, is likely to feel automatic (in the sense of not requiring much conscious thought or deliberation). The second type of judgment (Beurteilung) has an inner focus and involves assessing or evaluating other judgments. By way of summarizing his distinction, Lodge has this to say:
In judging, we synthesize ideas in such a way as to produce in the mind a relational structure which corresponds to some relational structure in the objective world. ... For traditional logic, all thought is of this general kind. For modern logic, only a small part of our thinking falls within this field, which is treated as the field of "elementary" judgment. The modern viewpoint in logic, as in other sciences, is fundamentally skeptical, critical, and reflective; and for the modern logician, the vast majority of our judgments belong to the field of thought about thought, reflection upon method, critical or reflective judgment, which only mediately, if at all, is concerned with a reality beyond that of the mind itself. Expressed technically, traditional logic recognizes only the Urteil, while modern logic recognizes the Beurteilung as well as the Urteil. (Ibid., 214; first and second emphases added)
Here, Lodge isn't concerned to follow Kant. Instead, he indicates (in a footnote) that he is following F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, Wilhelm Wundt, Benno Erdmann, and Christoph Sigwart. (Ibid., n. 2)
Beurteilung is a philosophically intriguing German word. Lodge treats it as implying (in some contexts) critical and reflective judgment about thought and method. In a subsequent post, I'll give reasons for thinking that the use of this German term by late 19th-Century German psychologists (such as Wundt, Erdmann, and Sigwart) influenced Dewey.

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