An Ontological Turn in Critical Thinking in Higher Education

Deakin University, Australia


It has been argued that higher education pedagogy needs to take an 'ontological turn' because the focus on the development of generic skills does not enable students to face the ontological challenge of a 'supercomplex' world (Barnett, 2004, 2005). This challenge requires that students are able to develop a sense of an ethical self in relation to competing discourses and perspectives. Higher education is, as yet, ill-equipped to prepare students for this ontological challenge (Barnett, 2004). There is a need therefore, to review current teaching practices and to develop practices more able to support students to meet this challenge. Critical thinking is an appropriate teaching and learning area for this type of review as it is concerned, at least in theory, with teaching students skills to analyse competing discourses.

This paper examines critical thinking in professional education and finds little evidence of an ontological turn. The focus is, instead, on critical thinking as the skill of making judgements. Drawing from theorists who argue against critique being directed at making judgments (Butler, 2001), the limitations of this focus are reviewed. It is argued that Michel Foucault's (1984) 'critical ontology' can be adapted as a method in critical thinking that addresses the need for an 'ontological turn'. Further research in this area is warranted in order to develop ontological teaching and learning methods.

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