Critical Thinking, Creativity, Ethical Reasoning: A Unity of Opposites

  • Richard Paul
  • Linda Elder


In this chapter, we argue for an intimate interrelationship between critical thinking, creative thinking and ethical reasoning. Indeed we argue for an underlying unity between them. We begin by establishing the interdependence of criticality and creativity in the life of the mind. That life is manifest in three basic forms: uncriticality, sophistic criticality, and Socratic criticality. Each of these forms of thought implies an ethically significant pattern, which we illuminate. This leads to the challenge of living an ethical life when humans so routinely confuse ethics with other modes of thinking. Thus, the most common “counterfeits” of ethics are analyzed at length. The chapter concludes with some important implications of the absence of any one of the triad in human thought, given their innate dependence on one another.

Ever since the nineteenth century, and increasingly thereafter, knowledge, reasoning, and insight have become more and more specialized and compartmentalized. The threads that unify them have become obscured. The threads that diversify them are now highlighted. Yet life itself is not compartmentalized. Reality does not offer itself up to us in sealed compartments. The various dimensions of who we are interact and interrelate. So it is with modes of thinking. The critical and creative dimensions of thought interpenetrate and interface with our capacity to reflect ethically. Each of the three is better understood in relation to the other two. Each deepens and develops one another.

If we would understand the creative mind, then we must study the manner in which it is dependent on criticality. If we would understand the critical mind, then we must study the way it is dependent on creativity. If we would understand the highest levels of criticality and creativity, we must study their dependence on ethical reflection. Intellectual work is a common denominator of all three: creativity, criticality, and ethical reflection. Intellectual constructs are their shared products (constructs such as novels, editorials, critiques). Intellectual traits are what take them to higher levels of functioning. Let us consider first how to overcome the dichotomy between thought that is fundamentally creative and thought that is fundamentally critical.


Religious Belief Vested Interest Social Convention Intellectual Virtue Ethical Reflection 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Foundation for Critical ThinkingDillon BeachUSA
  2. 2.Foundation for Critical ThinkingDillon Beach

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