The education system today heavily promotes the development of critical thinking. This includes not only self-examination but also the ability to question the sources, timelines, perspectives, and motives of everything encountered. Skepticism is healthy in the pursuit of truth. Also, an awareness of conditions such as confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance helps guard against the misinformation distributed through today’s technologies.
Technology has dramatically limited our capacity for reflective examination. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram encourage spontaneous emotional reactions and the few seconds typically allotted between receipt and response leave little time for sober second-thought or moral consideration. It is a challenge maintaining composure, and the current social and political arenas of hatred, narcissism, selfishness and bullying tend to inspire knee-jerk retributions.
Ancient Greek ideology sought to prioritize societal needs over personal needs and today’s priorities seem remarkably shallow and self-serving; the current view of happiness and success seems to be measured in yacht ownership, new cars, and large TVs. Today’s society tends to conflate the good life with an excessive abundance of both financial and material assets.
The Ancient Greeks built upon the theoretical concepts of phronesis and eudaimonia, which represent yesterday’s version of critical thinking, and created a practical application of the theory, an activity referred to as praxis. It is about not only thinking through an issue to determine the morally correct thing, but then applying the theory to do the right thing.
Aristotle’s concept of praxis begins with a focus on social responsibility and being able to live what was considered to be a good life composed of a happy and ethical existence. Well before the implementation stage, the act of praxis involves repeatedly reassessing possible outcomes. The commitment to truth and social improvement underlies all decisions. Praxial thinking is the socially-responsible extension of critical thinking. Changing the application and even challenging the knowledge are natural components of the discovery process in both critical thinking and praxial thinking.
Praxial thinking is an explicit process built on critical thinking and could support a new (yet very old) paradigm for living.