Episode Summary

In this episode, we’ll discuss a 1993 paper by Jonathan Baron, titled “Why Teach Thinking – An Essay” published in Applied Psychology: An International Review. Jonathan Baron is an American psychologist and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in the science of decision-making.

Episode Notes

Baron’s work focuses primarily on judgment and decision-making, a multi-disciplinary area that applies psychology to problems of ethical decisions and resource allocation in economics, law, business, and public policy.

The paper’s summary:

Recent efforts to teach thinking could be unproductive without a theory of what needs to be taught and why. Analysis of where thinking goes wrong suggests that emphasis is needed on ‘actively open-minded thinking’. including the effort to search for reasons why an initial conclusion might be wrong, and on reflection about rules of inference, such as heuristics used for making decisions and judgments. Such instruction has two functions. First. it helps students to think on their own. Second. it helps them to understand the nature of expert knowledge, and, more generally, the nature of academic disciplines. The second function, largely neglected in discussions of thinking instruction. can serve as the basis for thinking instruction in the disciplines. Students should learn how knowledge is obtained through actively open-minded thinking. Such learning will also teach students to recognize false claims to systematic knowledge.

Discussion Points:

  • Critical thinking and Chat AI
  • Teaching knowledge vs. critical thinking
  • Section One: Introduction- critical thinking is a stated goal of many teaching institutions
  • Section Two: The Current Rationale/What is thinking?
  • Reading about thinking is quite difficult!
  • Baron’s “Myside Bias” is today’s confirmation or selection bias
  • Reflective learning- does it help with learning?
  • Section Three: Abuses – misapplying thinking in schools and business
  • Breaking down learning into sub-sections
  • Section Four: The growth of knowledge – beginning in Medieval times
  • Section Five: The basis of expertise – what is an ‘expert’? Every field has its own self-critiques
  • Drew’s brain is hurting just getting through this discussion
  • Section Six: What the educated person should know
  • Studying accidents in safety science – student assignments


  • Good thinking means being able to make good decisions re: experts
  • Precision is required around what is necessary for learning
  • Well-informed self-criticism is necessary
  • Answering our episode question: Can we teach critical thinking? It was never answered in this paper, but it gave us a lot to think about


Link to the paper

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