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Critical Thinking and Language

Kaitlyn Longstaff
April 11, 2014
Shaun Morse

Critical Thinking and Language
Language is defined as the landscape of our mind; it is the mountains and forests
as well as the cities and roads. It both carries the content and structures the form. We
think with it. Language works intimately with all aspects of our thinking (Kirby &
Goodpaster, 2007, chpt. 5). Language both influences and is influenced by the critical
thinking process and has the power to inspire or inhibit the expression of thoughts.
Language is tied to critical thinking in every way, it is the interpretive medium for the
inputthe remembering, sorting, creating, judging, and decidingand language also
dramatically shapes those processes (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, chpt. 5). Without
language, critical thinking would not be possible. Language and language diversity
influence critical thinking, which in turn creates persuasion and the ability for language to
benefit or inhibit the expression of thoughts.
Language and language diversity play a huge role in in the critical thinking
process through the universalizing process of language and the structuring power of
language. The universalizing process of language is the minds ability to critically think
about one word and associate it with all things like it. Kirby and Goodpaster use a tree as
an example of the universalizing process of language and a panther to show its diversity
among different cultures. Kirby and Goodpaster (2007) state that when we have the
word tree in our headwe, in a general way, know what all trees are like (chpt. 5). The
universalizing process is like a generalization; when the word tree is spoken a person
generalizes through the critical thinking process what all trees look like based on his or
her perceptions of a tree. However, there can be diversity in language and its role in the
critical thinking process. Kirby and Goodpaster (2007) mention the Omagua tribe, a tribe

of natives who almost always speak in limiting specifics (chpt. 5). Rather than hearing
the word jaguar and seeing all jaguars in their minds, the Omagua refer to one single
jaguar as every jaguar. This shows that the Omagua do not conceptualize the universe the
way Westerners do. This diversity in language shows that there is a difference in the
critical thinking processes of different cultures.
The structuring power of language theory also shows the difference between the
critical thinking processes of different cultures. This theory states that different cultures
preserve words and phrases differently based on their perceptions. An example of the
different viewpoints of cultures can be seen in a study done by Richard Nisbett. He
believed that Asians see context and connection while Westerners see object and
category (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, chpt. 5). The way people perceive words and
phrases is based on their critical thinking process and this process varies amongst
different cultures. Language influences thought processes differently and this can be seen
through how Asians and Westerners perceive differently. The link between the critical
thinking process and language is a give and take relationship. Kirby and Goodpaster
(2007) state, If language is the software of our mind, we can expect it to channel our
thinking but surprisingly language can even channel our perceptions. This means that we
see things differently because of our language (chpt. 5). Language allows for the
channeling of the critical thinking process but the critical thinking process is needed to
translate what is learned through language.
Language is a powerful tool when it comes to the expression of thoughts and it
has the power to empower or limit it. Kirby and Goodpaster (2007) state, Our thinking is
confined within the language that is running in our brain (chpt. 5). This statement

proves that thoughts are largely based upon language. When thinking is controlled by
language it can be beneficial or consequential. One benefit that arises from language is
metaphors. A metaphor is basically a comparison between two things; it carries another
meaning with the original or carries the original meanings beyond into a new meaning
(Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, chpt. 5). Thoughts are limited by what is known. However,
metaphors allow for the expression of new thoughts that in turn allow for growth in the
critical thinking process. The structuring, universalizing, and metaphorical power of
languageenriches our perceptions and understanding (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007,
chpt. 5). When metaphors change and grow so does the perception and understanding of
the universe.
Although language can inspire the expression of thoughts, it can also inhibit it as
well. One example of an inhibitor to the expression of thoughts due to language is lying.
Kirby and Goodpaster (2007) state, When language is used to lie, it rips the fabric of
trust and becomes a weapon of war (chpt. 5). Lying is a strong empowerment to the
expression of thoughts but it causes information to become misconstrued. When language
is used in a negative manner, the expression of thoughts is negatively affected. The
second limitation language has on the expression of thoughts is its universal terms. The
universal terms of language binds us from seeing the individual characteristics of [each
object] (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, chpt. 5). Failing to see each characteristic of an
object greatly hinders the thought process because it creates bias. Kirby & Goodpaster
(2007) also state that the patterns of language may even cause us to remember
inaccurately (chpt. 5). The correct usage of language is extremely importance to the
expression of thought. Inaccurate or incorrect usage of language can lead to a failure to

understand information and even the ability to misuse information. So the paradoxical
nature of language both sets our mind free and imprisons it. Language lights up our
cortex with universal concepts, metaphors, and structure. It also partially imprisons our
mind within the boundaries of language, blinding us to the subtleties or the world around
us (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, chpt. 5).
Another aspect that comes from language is persuasion, which is greatly
influenced by critical thinking. One example of persuasion comes from metaphors, which
are the way we think about ourselves and the world (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007, chpt.
5). The way of thinking about the universe changes as new metaphors are created (Kirby
& Goodpaster, chpt.5, 2007). Metaphors lead to the power of persuasion that is in turn
linked to critical thinking by the thought process it takes to create a new metaphor. Two
examples of metaphors being used for persuasion is Einsteins theory E = mc2 and the
DNA model (Kirby & Goodpaster, chpt. 5, 2007). Members of society who were in
power presented both theories and because of their educational superiority they were
accepted by society. Einsteins theory and the DNA model are both examples of the
benefits persuasion has to offer and they also show how critical thinking is necessary for
persuasion to occur. In order to persuade people one has to be knowledgeable of his or
her topic. Critical thinking allows for new theories and metaphors to be created and
allows for them to be used in persuasion. A negative example of persuasion is bending
the truth. Kirby and Goodpaster (2007) state, If the truth is bent, it is not longer the
truth (chpt. 5). Critical thinking allows for the truth to be bent and gives people the
power to persuade others. Persuasion needs the critical thinking process in order to be

Language gives universalizing power to the mind, it structures perceptions, and
allows metaphors to play a crucial role in the way language works and the expression of
thoughts (Kirby & Goodpaster, chpt.5, 2007). Language and language diversity allow for
the critical thinking process to take place and when the critical thinking process takes
place persuasion can take place. Language can also allow for empowerment or limitations
on the thought process. Without language there would be no critical thinking process and
the expression of thoughts would be restricted.

Kirby, G., & Goodpaster, J. (2007). Thinking: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Critical
and Creative Thought (4th ed.). Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook
Collection database.