Thank you for addressing the cultural aspects of critical thinking. I’d like to make a few comments on this as it impacts on Japan.
There has been a tension between Western styles and Eastern styles of thought in Japan since the 17th century, a notable example being in 1839 when Japanese scholars of Western thought were imprisoned (Kobayashi, 1965). Kobayashi explains that the moral teachings in the commoners’ schools, the terakoya, were limited to “practical aspects of the commoners’ life” and espoused Confucianism in which “no critique of the class system could come” (Kobayashi, 1965, p. 294). Confucianism is predicated on ‘virtues’ such as filial piety and a reverence of rituals and rites (Lang et al., 2012) that make direct exposes of others’ thinking errors problematic. Not only is the act of pointing out errors difficult but also the act would be thought socially clumsy as “people in collectivist cultures, such as Japan, focus more on maintaining positive evaluations of their groups” (Heine et al., 1999, p. 783).
A good thinker–and I mean this to include a critical thinker–in Japan is someone who is able to understand how arguments work, recognise the value (or not) of provided evidence, see reasoning and understand theoretical bases when faced with a complex situation (following Cottrell’s criteria, 2005, p. 148-149). Yet, the expert social being is reticent to state their knowledge directly except within highly defined and safe social environments as in a Confucian heritage country, learning is seen not as a self-aggrandizer, but as a tool to serve the group (Yang et al., 2006). The where and when of thinking is as much a part of critical thinking as the how.
When you say, “In my African culture the audience matters with whom I criticize”, I feel a strong sense of similarity with Japan. Not that I’m Japanese, and my own life is problematic when I ‘forget’ where I am at times and spout out what the other professors acknowledge as (I hope) propositionally valuable but socially inept.
Cotterall, S. (2005). Critical Thinking Skills. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Heine, S. J., Markus, H. R., Lehman, D. R., & Kitayama, S. (1999). Is there a universal need for positive self-regard? Psychological Review, 106(4), 766-794.
Kobayashi, T. (1965). Tokugawa education as a foundation of modern education in Japan. Comparative Education Review, 9(3), 288-302.
Lang, L., Irby, B. J., & Brown, G. (2012). An emergent leadership model based on Confucian virtues and East Asian leadership practices. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 7(2), 1-14.
Yang, B., Zheng, W., & Li, M. (2006). Confucian view of learning and implications for developing resources. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 8(3), 346-354.