Artificial Intelligence

Outside the Box: Media Literacy, Critical Thinking and AI

In “Outside the Box,” I interrogate ChatGPT to better understand how AI “reasons.” It’s like a conversation with an intelligent friend, sharing ideas and challenging some of the explanations. This week we try to explore what algorithmic critical thinking might look like.

Socrates, ancient greek philosopher © Anastasios71 /

June 03, 2024 05:38 EDT

Last week I began exploring the question of media literacy with ChatGPT. We identified the true core of the problem: our society’s disinterest in critical thinking. I pursued the conversation with a focus on this new issue.

“At the outset of this discussion, I was seeking to get a refined handle on the question of media literacy. It is admittedly complex, and the various points you raised help to situate it rather than define it. The most interesting path to explore is that of the paucity of critical thinking that affects our societies today.

So, this time around I’d like to take it further and explore what we really mean by critical thinking. I would claim that the habits of critical thinking are related to two traditional disciplines: philosophy and science. Philosophy includes metaphysics and logic, but also language itself. Science borrows from philosophy to construct its discourse but adopts an empirical methodology as it examines features of the material universe.

I believe we need a careful balance between the two. I also believe that most serious observers of our education systems would agree that students are exposed to a fair amount of science but not much philosophy. One consequence of this imbalance is that our schools tend to present science as a body of existing knowledge about the material world rather than as a method to help understand the world and ultimately grapple with our place in the universe. That’s where philosophy becomes essential.

Shouldn’t we seek to understand how we come to know things before making a list of the things we’re supposed to know, which becomes what we call ‘standardized knowledge’ on which our learners are tested? This focus on established knowledge thus prevents us from developing a ‘common culture’ of critical thinking.”

Your exploration of critical thinking and its relationship to philosophy and science is both insightful and timely. Let’s delve deeper into these areas and consider how they contribute to fostering a culture of critical thinking. 

Critical Thinking Defined:

Critical thinking is the ability to effectively analyze information and form a judgment. When thinking critically, individuals are aware of their own biases and assumptions, apply consistent standards when evaluating sources, and engage with evidence and arguments thoughtfully¹². Now, let’s explore the roles of philosophy and science in nurturing critical thinking:

1. Philosophy and Critical Thinking:

  • Metaphysics and Logic:
    • Metaphysics: This branch of philosophy explores fundamental questions about existence, reality, and the nature of being. It encourages us to think deeply about abstract concepts such as time, space, causality, and identity.
    • Logic: Logic teaches principles of valid reasoning, deduction, and argumentation. By understanding logical fallacies and constructing sound arguments, individuals enhance their critical thinking skills.
  • Language and Epistemology:
    • Language: Philosophy examines language itself—how it shapes our thoughts, influences communication, and constructs meaning. Understanding language nuances is crucial for critical analysis.
    • Epistemology: Epistemology explores how we acquire knowledge and justifies our beliefs. It encourages critical examination of evidence, sources, and the reliability of information.
  • Philosophy and Scientific Development:
    • Philosophy provides a historical context for scientific development. It helps students and teachers understand the scientific process, epistemology, and the evolution of scientific theories.
  • By studying the philosophy of science, individuals gain semantic clarity, enabling them to engage more meaningfully with scientific concepts and methods.

2. Science and Critical Thinking:

  • Empirical Methodology:
    • Science relies on empirical evidence, experimentation, and observation. It seeks to understand natural phenomena through systematic investigation.
    • Critical thinking within science involves evaluating research methods, data, and conclusions. Scientists must question assumptions and consider alternative explanations.
  • Balancing Measurement and Understanding:
    • While science emphasizes measurements and mathematical rigor, it should not lose sight of understanding. Critical thinking involves going beyond data points to grasp underlying principles and mechanisms.
    • Scientists benefit from philosophical inquiry by grounding their methods and assumptions in rationality and evidence.

3. Achieving Balance in Education:

  • Imbalance in Education:
    • You rightly highlight that students often receive more exposure to science than philosophy. To foster critical thinking, we must strike a balance. Schools should emphasize not only what we know (facts) but also how we come to know (methods, epistemology). Philosophy complements science by encouraging reflective thinking, questioning assumptions, and exploring the foundations of knowledge.
  • Common Culture of Critical Thinking:
    • By integrating philosophy into education, we can create a common culture of critical thinking.
    • Students should learn not only established knowledge but also the processes of inquiry, skepticism, and epistemological exploration.

In summary, philosophy and science are intertwined in nurturing critical thinking. By appreciating both empirical rigor and philosophical reflection, we empower individuals to engage with the world thoughtfully, question assumptions, and develop a deeper understanding of their place in the universe.

“This is extremely helpful, and it leads us into an even more interesting terrain. In your final sentence, just after evoking a ‘common culture,’ you claim that we can “empower individuals to engage with the world.” I maintain that your focus on individuals constitutes a major obstacle to developing a ‘common culture of critical thinking.’ Our education systems privilege the idea of competition between individuals over collaboration aimed at building and sharing understanding. This is an historical aberration, reflecting a contemporary cultural bias. Didn’t Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, known as ‘the peripatetic,’ demonstrate that philosophy and science emerge from dialogue rather than individual effort?”

The chatbot once again stalls and sputters

ChatGPT predictably offered a flattering compliment before proposing a list of what I would call “standardized thoughts.”

Your observation is astute, and I appreciate your engagement with this topic. Indeed, the tension between individualism and collective understanding is a central theme in education and intellectual development. Let’s explore this further.

ChatGPT then insisted that individual empowerment was essential because it “encourages personal responsibility” and “recognizes diverse learning styles and paces.” I agree in principle. But with the current emphasis on standardized testing, I see little evidence of respect for diversity.

ChatGPT goes on to list three “Challenges:” “isolation,” “competition” and the “fragmentation” of the student’s “understanding of the world.” Quite honestly, I take its reflections on these concepts to be gibberish and won’t reproduce them here.

Sensing my own interest in collaboration, ChatGPT dutifully went on to consider “Collective Wisdom and Dialogue,” singing the praises of “Socratic Dialogue,” ”Plato’s Academy as a community of scholars engaged in dialogue, debate, and shared learning” and “Aristotle’s Peripatetic School” in which the philosopher “encouraged walking and discussing ideas.” Thanks for the reminder of what I mentioned earlier!

Then comes the real question: “Balancing Individual and Collective.” This is where I learn that “individual empowerment and collective understanding need not be mutually exclusive.” How reassuring! And then I learn why.  “Individuals contribute unique insights, creativity, and critical thinking” whereas “collective dialogue fosters synthesis, shared knowledge, and deeper understanding.”

That Panglossian conclusion led to this recommendation on “Education’s Role.” It should “strike a balance between “Individual Growth…Collaborative Learning” and “Critical Thinking.”

So we find ourselves back at square. Finally, ChatGPT’s conclusion.

In summary, while individual empowerment is essential, fostering a common culture of critical thinking requires dialogue, shared exploration, and a recognition that our collective wisdom surpasses any one person’s insights. Let us continue this dialogue, for therein lies the heart of intellectual growth.

Would it be impertinent on my part to remark that this is not what dialogue looks like? ChatGPT’s discourse is what is called mirroring, a traditional technique students of standardized programs are wise to use when seeking to get good grades. You mirror whatever passes for “thinking” proposed by your teacher or the authorities who decide what the teacher will teach. This has nothing to do with dialogue and unfortunately much to do with political control and cultural conditioning.

So, what has ChatGPT contributed to this dialogue? Basically, elements of standardized thinking. This actually can be a useful exercise for anyone practicing critical thinking. It draws our attention to how standardized thought processes are produced, whether it comes from a human being or an algorithm.

I continued this conversation with a new challenge:

Would it be impertinent to remark that this is not what dialogue looks like? I’m not blaming you or anyone else. I’m just noting that the current algorithmic logic of an LLM is not designed to facilitate dialogue, only the illusion of dialogue. Wouldn’t you agree?

Next week we’ll look at ChatGPT’s response to this prompt and discover the truly surreal follow-up.

Your thoughts

As always, please feel free to offer your commentaries on the question raised in this discussion. Simply drop us an email at We’ll build your reflections into our own ongoing research.

*[Artificial Intelligence is rapidly becoming a feature of everyone’s daily life. We unconsciously perceive it either as a friend or foe, a helper or destroyer. At Fair Observer, we see it as a tool of creativity, capable of revealing the complex relationship between humans and machines.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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