Contextual integrative thinking as a form of adult thinking and a component of wisdom

Ontological pre-understanding and adult thinking

The theorisation around postformai or relativistic-dialectical thinking encompasses implicit beliefs, which so far have not been properly analysed theoretically

(with the possible exception of Kramer, 1983; Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993). According to the post-Piagetian scholars, the context of thinking must always be taken into account, like problem identification, i.e., the type of problem or situation in question. Thus, focusing solely on logical thinking is inappropriate, as it is obvious that not everything can be solved by logical inferencing. As for the capacity of formal thinking, it would suggest that adults are capable of implicit hermeneutical preunderstanding regarding the domain in which their thinking processes are applied. However, this point is rarely, if ever, stated explicitly in theoretical discussion.

Hermeneutics (from Latin “hermenéutica”, Palmer, 1969) refers here generally to theories of interpretation and understanding. We are hermeneutically situated: our understanding and knowledge formation occurs within a particular horizon, but at the same time, it is under constant and ongoing construction (Gadamer, 2008; Malpas, 2018; Peters, 2007). Adult thinking does not take place in a cultural or contextual vacuum but rather within a diverse community of paradigms and values. It is based on historically, economically, and ideologically conditioned phenomena. Tradition serves as a base and condition to any knowledge formation, and is present and underlying both scientific inquiry and everyday thinking. These hermeneutical conceptions are mostly tacit, hidden and not openly discussed, if even recognised (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993).

Neo-Piagetian scholars seem to criticise basically a philosophical ontological problem behind Piaget’s notions. Causal scientific thinking focuses ontologically on physical object reality, but generalisation beyond this domain is questionable. It might be absurd to use hypothetico-deductive logic so as to understand, for instance, an emotional conflict between partners, where both of them are involved in a complicated situation. Which features of the situation/object need to be taken into account and prioritised, and which not? Is the chosen approach, way of thinking and action, appropriate and relevant regarding the situation? All this refers to increasing sensitivity to situational properties, i.e., denoting context-sensitive and content-wise thinking.

Another important issue with regard to Piaget’s theory has been raised in current scientific discussion. Formal and postformal thinking also include so-called well-and ill-defined problems (Schraw, Dunkle, & Bendixen, 1995). In studying formal thinking in the light of Piaget’s Pendulum problem, we are dealing with a well-defined problem (see Chapter 3). The subjects are provided with choices where it is clear in advance which factors they need to use when solving the problem, and there is only one correct solution. By contrast, if the problem is defined in a way that the conditions are not clear enough, the outcome cannot be straightforward either: problems of this kind are called ill-defined problems (e.g., Chi, Glaser, & Farr, 2014, for more about this kind of problems, see e.g., Chapter 4).

Georg Henrik von Wright (2004) has argued that there is a definitive ontological difference in the way knowledge is constructed in the respective domains of natural and human sciences: natural sciences seek to explain why and how things happen in the natural world, whereas human sciences seek for practical understanding of human actions and behaviour. Von Wright argues against a causal theory of human action: behaviour can be understood only by referring to the intentionality of humans; “Things move, persons act” (Kenneth Burke, according to Henderson & Williams, 2001, p. 164). Any social action is tied in the persons’ hermeneutical understanding of implicit social rules and situation-specific characteristics. In conclusion, it seems that the Piagetian and neo-Piagetian scholars have different ontological premises and hermeneutical preunderstandings of how human action should be understood. Causality cannot exhaustively explain human action (see also Mascolo & Kallio, 2019, 2020). Moreover, human action cannot be understood in terms of the machine paradigm, since human mind is constantly creating new internal and external meanings of reality based on one’s experiences, agency, and plasticity (Kohler, 2010; Teo, 2010).

I have already re-labelled adult thinking as integrative thinking (Kallio, 2011), arguing that the terms “postfomial” and “relativistic-dialectical” thinking should be replaced with integrative thinking. The position of postfomial thinking as a new developmental stage has not been confirmed, and there is always a risk of confusion when using philosophical terms in psychological research (see Chapter 13). Absolutism can be understood as single-perspective thinking and relativism as multiperspective thinking (Figure 2.1). Moreover, the term “postfomial” may be misleading if it is understood as a developmental stage in the original Piagetian sense: the same criterion for “stage” is not applicable to both formal and postfomial thinking (Kallio, 2011). Hence, I suggest here that “contextual integrative thinking” or just “integrative thinking” (Kallio, 2011) could replace the terms postfomial and relativistic-dialectical thinking in the theorisation of adult cognitive development.

Development of contextual integrative thinking

FIGURE 2.1 Development of contextual integrative thinking: three stages or different modes of thinking. (Markings A through D refer to different perspectives). Printed with permission. Copyright by The Finnish Educational Research Association.

Contextual understanding seems to be one of the necessary conditions in adult knowledge formation. This understanding is about tacit hermeneutical, ontological pre-understanding of human action differing from the perception of physical objects. It has to be noted, however, that the mentioned three modes of thinking are not necessarily manifested as if in a developmental, normative hierarchical interrelationship. They can also be understood as different cognitive modes to be used in different contexts depending on the ontology of the object or situation at hand. It may be so that single-perspective thinking is preferable in some occasions, like with natural scientific problem solving in line with the Pia-getian tasks, while other modes may be suited better to some other settings or the different modes can also be of equal value in some cases. Thus, these modes can be equally useful and appropriate, but used selectively depending on the purpose and domain concerned (see also Figure 2.2).

According to some sources, the first known use of the term “integration” dates back to 1620 (Integrate, 2019). Oxford Lexico tells that the term derives from the “Mid-17th century from Latin integral- ‘made whole’, from the verb integrate, from integer ‘whole’ (see integer) ...” (Integration, 2019).

Alexander and Langer (1990, p. 27) define integrative thinking as follows: “Integration (is) ... a synthetic form of thinking ... that integrates several opposing systems into an abstract whole (and) contains all particulars”. In general, integration does not mean simply connecting, uniting, or linking things together. It is about fusing or merging components together, which is more than just assembling things mechanically together.

Main research traditions regarding the development of adult thinking, their connections to other close fields of research, and related ontological pre-assumptions for different domains of thinking

FIGURE 2.2 Main research traditions regarding the development of adult thinking, their connections to other close fields of research, and related ontological pre-assumptions for different domains of thinking.

In the field of cognitive sciences, there are several close concepts to be pondered in comparison to integrative thinking, however. Integrative complexity is one possible candidate in this respect. It has been used at least by Suedfeld and Leighton (2002). As a psychometrically validated concept, it was originally introduced both as a personality trait and a cognitive style, but nowadays it is understood rather as a situation-dependent pattern (see also Chapter 6). Evaluative integrative thinking seems to refer to the integration of positive and negative selfconcepts (Showers, 1992). In both of these concepts, both differentiation (knowledge along different attributes), and then integrating the knowledge to more complex structures are in the core of construct (Showers, 1992).

Also holistic thinking is a close term to integrative thinking as opposed to analytical thinking. In holistic thinking the relationships and the wholeness are of primary importance instead of isolated things or objects. Holism implies that no phenomenon can be understood by reducing it to smaller units but only as an integrated whole. Holism vs. analytic cognition refers closely to field independence vs. dependency, i.e., the ability to focus attention either on a larger field or the parts thereof (Choi, Koo, & Choi, 2007). As the mentioned terms (integrative complexity/evaluative integrative/holistic thinking) are set phrases pertaining either to personality- or general cognitive psychology, it is suggested that the use of the term “contextual integrative thinking” should be limited to refer to the domain of adult cognitive development.

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