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Pat Swenson, CSUN - Profile of the Critical Thinker
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Prof Pat Swenson

Campus Email: pat.swenson@csun.edu

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Department Information

Department of English

708 Sierra Tower
Phone: 818.677.3431

English Department Website

Liberal Studies Program

EA 100
Phone: 818.677.3300

Liberal Studies Website

Profile of the Critical Thinker (excerpts taken from our text)


By analyzing aspects of our personality, we gain insight into who we are and how we behave in this world:

“The ultimate goal in the study of the humanities is that you become as fully aware of yourself as possible: your needs, your fulfillments, your tastes, how you are living your life, and what changes you’d like to make in that life. This is the way to practice the art of being human. The humanities will always be there for you. All you need is to be open to the experience.”

This discussion of what the humanities is all about leads us into how we discover how the humanities can work for us. We forge into the discovery of ourselves, by better understanding ourselves.

What helps bring peace and understanding helps form the ideal person – what the text refers to as the infinite person:

“Refusing to have tunnel vision, to see life from one point of view, one becomes, in a sense, infinite, able to intertwine with the lives of others. If I am tuned in to you, if I know your thoughts as well as my own, then we begin to share a common consciousness… Opening ourselves to the minds and hearts of others helps to prevent the buildup of ego-centered hostilities. The infinite person is free of rigid prejudices and never works consciously to restrict others from exercising their right to assemble, speak their minds openly, practice their own religion, and follow their own preferences – so long as, in being free, they do not themselves limit the freedom of another.”

Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900)

German philosopher who defined the terms Apollonian and Dionysian:

Apollo – God of the Sun (hence truth and light).

Dionysus – God of the Earth, of spring and renewal (hence everything that was natural and beyond rational analysis).

In terms of drama, Nietzche says the conflict between emotion and reason, between Dionysus and Apollo, led to the great age of Greek Tragedy. Nietzche considered the ideal person as one who maintained a balance between the opposites, drawing the strong points from each, and he believed both qualities were necessary.

Tendencies in Human Personality

APOLLONIAN: Reason, Order, Clarity, Moderation, Control, Analysis, Research, Rule-Oriented.

DIONYSIAN: Passion, Spontaneity, Imagination, Excess, Frenzy, Intuition, Feeling, Faith & Ritual.

Awareness of the Past

The humanities allow us to see more than our personal past. Refusing to go beyond this is to say that only the present matters, and especially, how the present affects us. The humanities allow us to immerse ourselves in the first-hand experiences of those who actually lived and often struggled in the past, lived and struggled with manh of the problems that face us today. These experiences help each of us better understand what living is all about. The realized human being is an accumulation of what has gone before and how that affects the present.

Everything exists in a context, a framework of circumstances and relationships. The more historical contexts we learn to recognize, the less likely we are to evaluate everything in terms of today. In reading books or watching movies from the past, the critical thinker knows better than to judge them in terms of the present. Knowledge of historical context makes one more tolerant of art forms in outmoded styles.

The Personal Critical Response

One need not be a professional critic to engage in the process of evaluation after a careful and fair viewing, listening, or reading. The first step in becoming an informed critic is not to jump to a hasty conclusion. "I don't like it" or "I love this poem" is an irrelevant remark at this early stage in the process. Be objective and open-minded - you may not always "like" what you are required to do in college!

Your personal assessment is your own business. But remember: It should not get mixed in with the way you describe what you have read, viewed, heard. That is not being fair to the work. In a sense, you the reader are part of a jury expected to be open-minded about the work you are evaluating.