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Critical Thinking and Ethics

There is a vital relationship between critical thinking and ethics that must be kept in balance if both are to be viable and useful. Critical thinkingùno matter how perceptiveùis apt to lead into the deep waters of the unethical unless it is specifically tempered by ethics. Ethics without critical thinking becomes unreasoning legalism, the kind of dangerous indoctrination that made HitlerÆs dictatorship workable. As Richard Paul argues in his paper, ôEducational Leadership:ö

Moral principles do not apply themselves, they require a thinking mind to assess facts and interpret situations. Moral agents inevitably bring their perspectives into play in making moral judgments and this, together with the natural tendency of the human mind to self-deception when its interests are involved, is the fundamental impediment to the right use of ethical principles.

Every individual needs to be able to think for himself and have the capacity to apply ethics to his situation. There is an important distinction, however, between applying ethics to a situation and deriving ethics from a situation. The latter is referred to as ôsituational ethicsö but is actually a smokescreen for the unethical, attempting to justify unethical actions on the basis of some perceived loophole ostensibly provided by the specific conditions of the situation. Critical thinking is not this ducking of ethics but the ability to assess a situation based on ethics and determine the correct course of action.

Paul, R. (1993). Ethics Without Indoctrination. The Critical Thinking Community. In Critical Thinking: What Every Student Needs to Survive in A Rapidly Changing World. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking). Retrieved on September 28, 2005 from:


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Critical Thinking and Ethics. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:04, February 22, 2017, from