Socrates, considered as the founder of western philosophy, is also known to have created this vague yet so fundamental concept: critical thinking. Using Socrates, Hannah Arendt, and Karl Popper, I will argue in this article that his concept is evermore needed in an age where views are increasingly entrenched, and why a healthy dose of critical thinking could help reverse this worrying trend.
Socrates is often perceived as the first philosopher of the western world. Through his process of “elenchus” (Socratic examination), he would critically examine and deconstruct someone’s claim to knowledge. In order to do that, he would rethink the person’s assumptions, question their foundations and reveal their weaknesses. He challenged anyone’s beliefs, demonstrating that anybody’s claim to knowledge was and should be questioned. In doing so, he also criticised the values of his own city, rejecting the idea that consensus is sufficient to elaborate an argument. As H.M. Hare states: “For what above all got philosophy started was Socrates’ and Plato’s insistence that the right opinion is not enough”. Instead, he believed any propositions should be critically examined through your own ability to reason (“logos”), enabling you to detach yourself from your surrounding environment. Through self-criticism, you could establish a more nuanced and less essentialist view of the world, hence improving your argument.