Alternatives Thinking

Critical thinking can be viewed as people understanding things better when they have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives. That is, inquiry is informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise (see think-piece Journeying to Develop Critical Thinking). The term Alternatives Thinking is a synonym for this sense of critical thinking, which avoids the connotations that critical has with cutting down another person's position and does not imply that a person lacking critical thinking has some intellectual deficit that needs to be remediated.

One tool to stimulate Alternatives Thinking is to ask the following paired questions about any knowledge claim:
Actions: What actions could people pursue on the basis of accepting the knowledge claim?

Questions for further inquiry: What more do you want to find out in order to:
  • Clarify what people could do (i.e., the actions).
  • Clarify which people are interested in that action.
  • Understand more about the knowledge claim.

  • Example
    Knowledge claim: Population growth will lead to environmental degradation.
    Action based on claim: Exhort people to use contraception or to reduce their per capita consumption.
    Question for further inquiry: What is the land distribution in the region where the population is growing? What are the social, economic, and political dynamics among the groups with unequal shares of the land and its resources? (For elaboration on the significance of these questions, see think-piece Journeying to Develop Critical Thinking.)

    (Asking the paired questions is a variant of using the KAQF tool in which you identify what you need to Find out by examining the interplay between Knowledge, Questions for inquiry, and ideas about possible Actions.)

    How this tool opens up questions as well as other, more indirect approaches to foster Alternatives Thinking are discussed in the think-piece cited above.