Transcription

r2 0205 CCT033 EssntlQstns.q42/7/0512:35 PMPage 1The Miniature GuidetoThe Art ofAskingEssential QuestionsbyDr. Linda ElderandDr. Richard PaulBased onCritical Thinking Concepts and Socratic PrinciplesThe Foundation for Critical Thinking

r2 0205 CCT033 EssntlQstns.q42/7/0512:35 PMPage 2The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential QuestionsDear Reader:This miniature guide introduces the art of asking essential questions. Itis best used in conjunction with The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinkingand The Miniature Guide to How to Study and Learn.The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our thinking. The quality of our thinking, in turn, is determined by the quality of our questions, forquestions are the engine, the driving force behind thinking. Without questions, we have nothing to think about. Without essential questions, we oftenfail to focus our thinking on the significant and substantive.When we ask essential questions, we deal with what is necessary, relevant, and indispensable to a matter at hand. We recognize what is at theheart of the matter. Our thinking is grounded and disciplined. We areready to learn. We are intellectually able to find our way about.To be successful in life, one needs to ask essential questions: essentialquestions when reading, writing, and speaking; when shopping, working, and parenting; when forming friendships, choosing life-partners, andinteracting with the mass media and the Internet.Yet few people are masters of the art of asking essential questions. Mosthave never thought about why some questions are crucial and othersperipheral. Essential questions are rarely studied in school. They are rarelymodeled at home. Most people question according to their psychologicalassociations. Their questions are haphazard and scattered.Essential questions fall into a range of categories. Some essential questions are principally analytic, some principally evaluative. Some applypredominantly to academic subjects, others to our innermost thoughts,feelings, and desires.As you might expect, the categories and lists of essential questions inthis mini-guide are illustrative, not exhaustive. Furthermore, the ideaswe provide are useful only to the extent that they are employed daily toask essential questions. Practice in asking essential questions eventually leads to the habit of asking essential questions. But we can neverpractice asking essential questions if we have no conception of them.This mini-guide is a starting place for understanding concepts that,when applied, lead to essential questions.Sincerely,Richard PaulCenter for Critical Thinking 2005 Foundation for Critical ThinkingLinda ElderFoundation for Critical Thinkingwww.criticalthinking.org

r2 0205 CCT033 EssntlQstns.q42/7/0512:35 PMPage 3Table of ContentsIntroduction: The Power of Essential Questions . . . . . . . . .3Part One: Analytic Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5Questioning the Structure of Thinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5–8Asking One System, No System, and Conflicting System Questions . .9Questioning Dogmatic Absolutism and Subjective Relativism . . . . . . .10Questioning Concepts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11–12Conceptual Tools for Conceptual Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13–14Questioning Data, Information, and Experience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15Questioning Questions: Identifying Prior Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16Asking Complex Interdisciplinary Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17Interdisciplinary Questions: An Example . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18Questioning in Decision-Making and Problem-Solving . . . . . . . . .19–20Part Two: Evaluative Questions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21Determining Value, Merit, and Worth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21Evaluating Reasoning (Overall) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22–23Evaluating Reasoning (The Parts) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24Questioning Clarity and Precision . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25Questioning As We Read . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26Questioning As We Write . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27Asking Ethical Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28–30Questioning Bias and Propaganda . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31Part Three: Questioning Within Academic Disciplines . . .32Questioning the Fundamental Logic of Academic Disciplines . . . .32–33Questioning the Status of Disciplines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34Questioning to Understand the Foundations of Academic Disciplines .35–37 Essential Questions in Science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35–36 Essential Questions in the Social Disciplines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36 Essential Questions in the Arts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36–37Part Four: Questioning for Self-Knowledgeand Self-Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38Questioning Ourselves as Learners . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38–39Questioning Our Egocentrism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40–41Questioning Our Sociocentrism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .42Questioning to Develop Intellectual Dispositions . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43–44Conclusion: Questioning Systematicallyand Socratically . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45–47Third Edition 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinkingwww.criticalthinking.org

r2 0205 CCT033 EssntlQstns.q422/7/0512:35 PMPage 4The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential QuestionsThe Qualityof OurThinkingis Given inthe Qualityof OurQuestions 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinkingwww.criticalthinking.org

r2 0205 CCT033 EssntlQstns.q42/7/0512:35 PMPage 53The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential QuestionsIntroduction:The Power of Essential QuestionsIt is not possible to be a good thinker and a poor questioner.Questions define tasks, express problems, and delineate issues. Theydrive thinking forward. Answers, on the other hand, often signal a fullstop in thought. Only when an answer generates further questions doesthought continue as inquiry. A mind with no questions is a mind that isnot intellectually alive. No questions (asked) equals no understanding(achieved). Superficial questions equal superficial understanding,unclear questions equal unclear understanding. If your mind is notactively generating questions, you are not engaged in substantive learning.Thinking within disciplines is driven, not by answers, but by essentialquestions. Had no basic questions been asked by those who laid thefoundation for a field — for example, physics or biology — the fieldwould not have been developed in the first place. Every intellectual fieldis born out of a cluster of essential questions that drive the mind to pursue particular facts and understandings. Biology was born when somehumans pursued answers to the questions: “What are the characteristicsof living systems? What structures exist in them? What functions dothese structures serve?” Biochemistry was born when biologists beganto ask questions such as: “What chemical processes underlie livingthings? How and why do chemical processes within living things interactand change?”Every field stays alive only to the extent that fresh questions are generated and taken seriously as the driving force in thinking. When a field ofstudy is no longer pursuing significant answers to essential questions, itdies as a field. To think through or rethink anything, one must ask thequestions necessary to thinking through the logic of that thing, clearlyand precisely.In this miniature guide, we introduce essential questions as indispensable intellectual tools. We focus on principles essential to formulating,analyzing, assessing, and settling primary questions. You will notice thatour categories of question types are not exclusive. There is a great dealof overlap between them. Deciding what category of question to ask atany point in thinking is a matter of judgment. Having a range of powerfulquestions to choose from is a matter of knowledge.Because we cannot be skilled at thinking unless we are skilled at questioning, we strive for a state of mind in which essential questionsbecome second nature. They are the keys to productive thinking, deeplearning, and effective living. 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinkingwww.criticalthinking.org

r2 0205 CCT033 EssntlQstns.q442/7/0512:35 PMPage 6The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential QuestionsQuestioning in a live and“learning” mind never endsQuestions become transformedQuestions generatemore questionsStimulate new ways to think,new paths to followas weAnalyzethinkingEvaluatethinkingImprove our thinking 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinkingwww.criticalthinking.org

r2 0205 CCT033 EssntlQstns.q42/7/0512:35 PMPage 97The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential QuestionsAnalytic Questions Implied bythe Elements of Thought 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinkingwww.criticalthinking.org

r2 0205 CCT033 EssntlQstns.q42/7/0512:35 PMPage 1917The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential QuestionsAsking Complex Interdisciplinary QuestionsWhen addressing a complex question covering more than one domain of thought,target prior questions by formulating questions according to domain. Does the question, for example, include an economic dimension? Does it include a biological, sociological, cultural, political, ethical, psychological, religious, historical, or some otherdimension? For each dimension of thinking inherent in the question, formulate questions that force you to consider complexities you otherwise may miss.When focusing on domains within questions, consider such questions as: What are the domains of thinking inherent in this complex question? Am I dealing with all the relevant domains within the question? Are we leaving out some important domains?This figure shows some of the domains that might be embedded in a complex question:Mathematics andQuantative DisciplinesPhysical and sLiteratureArts lDisciplinesDomains of Questions(by discipline)This diagram was adapted from a diagram created by John Trapasso. 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinkingwww.criticalthinking.org

r2 0205 CCT033 EssntlQstns.q4342/7/0512:35 PMPage 36The Miniature Guide to the Art of Asking Essential QuestionsQuestioning the Status of DisciplinesWhen studying any discipline, it is important to determine the strengths andweaknesses in it. To do this you must question the status of knowledge and“expert” information in the field, rather than blindly accepting what you read andare told about the discipline. Of course, you must do this through disciplined andresponsible thinking, being alert to both strengths and weaknesses. Some critical questions to ask about a field of study are: To what extent do competing schools of thought exist within this field? To what extent do experts in this field disagree about the answers they give toimportant questions? What other fields deal with this same subject, from a different standpoint perhaps? To what extent do conflicting views exist about this subject in light ofthese different standpoints? To what extent, if at all, is this field properly called a science? To what extent can questions asked in the field be answered definitively? Towhat extent are questions in this field matters of (arguable) judgment? To what extent does public pressure influence professionals in the field tocompromise their professional practice in light of public prejudice or vestedinterest? To what extent is it likely that professionals within the discipline will act inaccordance with their vested or selfish interest, rather than in a fair-mindedway? What types of “opportunities” exist for professionals within the field toserve their own interest in lieu of serving those they purport to serve? What does the history of the discipline tell us about the status of knowledge inthe field? How old is the field? How common is controversy over fundamentalterms, theories, and orientation? How wide is the likely gap between the promised ideal of instruction in thediscipline and the actual results?Some Critical Questions to Ask About a Textbook Are: If there are competing schools of thought within this field, what is the orientation of the textbook writers? Do they highlight these competing schools anddetail the implications of that debate?Are other textbooks available that approach this field from a significantlydifferent standpoint? If so, how should we understand the orientation or biasof this textbook?Would other experts in this field disagree with any of the answers to importantquestions given in this textbook? How would they disagree?Are there textbooks in other fields dealing with this same subject, from a different standpoint perhaps? To what extent do conflicting views exist about thissubject in the light of these different standpoints?To what extent does this textbook represent this field as a science? If so, dosome experts in the field disagree with this representation? In what sense isit not a science?To what extent do the questions asked in this textbook lead to definitiveanswers? Conversely, to what extent are questions in this textbook matters of(arguable) judgment? And does the textbook help you distinguish betweenthese very different types of questions? 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinkingwww.criticalthinking.org

is best used in conjunction with The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking . tions are principally analytic, some principally evaluative. Some apply predominantly to academic subjects, others to our innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires. As you might expect, the categories and lists of essential questions in this mini-guide are illustrative, not exhaustive. Furthermore, the ideas we .