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June 7th, 2006

While perusing the library to learn more about the LCC (Library of Congress Classification), I bumped into -- how unsurprising -- two papers on dogmatism, intelligence and critical thinking.  Both papers shed psychological light, instead of the philosophical sort, on beliefs and thinking.

"Although dogmatism, intelligence and analytic ability are all cognitive factors which interplay in the human personality, " Mary van Reken concludes, "a puzzle still exists as to their exact relationship." (The Relationship of Dogmatism, Intelligence, and Perceptual Analytic Ability, 1970)  A somewhat ambiguous conclusion, yet I find Reken's synopsis of psychological literature more satisfying.  In her thesis, Reken summarizes research from the 1960's that led to Rokeach developing the Dogmatism Scale: "strong agreement with a particular item on this scale indicated one extreme ...; strong disagreement indicated the other extreme."  In our era, these scales are so abundant -- as online personality quizzes and patron evaluation cards -- that I think it important to understand the foundation of Dogmatism Scales lest we take their conclusions for granted. 

"A belief-disbelief system, according to Rokeach," Reken says, "is organized along three dimensions: a belief-disbelief dimension; a central-peripheral dimension; and a time-perspective dimension.  These dimensions operate in the context of a field or systems theory to form a unified whole." (italics ours)  Therefore, Rokeach assumes "... that there are two strong conflicting sets of motives in all belief-systems.  These are 'the need for a cognitive framework to know and to understand and the need to ward off threatening aspects of reality.'" Otherwise, I will interject, a belief system forms a disunified fragmentary

"The more open one's belief system", Rokeach elaborates, "the more should evaluating and acting on information proceed independently on its own merits, in accord with the inner structural requirements of the situation. ... Conversely, the more closed the belief system, the more difficult should it be to distinguish between information recieved about the world and information recieved about the source." (The Open and Closed Mind, 1960)  This later kind of system can lead to dogmatism, a common term with a standard definition, and one Rokeach extends to include a cognitive system "... organized around a central set of beliefs about absolute authority which ... provides a framework for patterns of intolerance toward others." (A factorial study of dogmatism and related concepts.  Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1956)

Another synopsis of psychological literature codifies the essential definition of critical thinking.  Jack Geckler writes on the same turf as Reken, namely dogmatism, although his research applies to students.  Gecker coalesces definitions given by several psychologists, like Burton, Watson and Glaser, David Russell, Dressel and Mayhew, Wallen, Ennis,  and Hullfish and Smith, and found, "upon close inspection of the selected definitions, it can be seen that although the wording is different there is much agreement on the essential aspects of the term [critical thinking]." (Critical Thinking, Dogmatism, Social Status, and Religious Affiliation of Tenth-Grade Students, 1965)  Critical thinking is, Geckler says, "(1) an attitude of being disposed to consider in a critical manner various problems encountered, (2) careful examination of statements and problems through consideration of supporting evidence, (3) application of the methods of logical inquiry, and (4) ultimately taking action based upon the supporting evidence."

... to be continued ...