On critical thinking and artificial intelligence

Despite the possible danger of artificial intelligence, the far more dangerous scenario is a society or body politic composed of unthinking members.

Jose Mario D. De Vega

Jose Mario D. De Vega

Philippine Daily Inquirer


January 25, 2023

MANILA – The public, specifically the academe, has recently been confronted by both shock and awe at its latest challenge: artificial intelligence (AI). The issue started when a faculty from the University of the Philippines (UP) posted on social media the rambling essay of a student, expressing suspicion that AI might have been used to write it.

The post prompted some UP faculty members to call for a review of the state university’s policies on academic integrity to include the use—or misuse—of AI in meeting class requirements. The faculty of UP Diliman’s AI Program “condemned the misrepresentation of AI outputs as valid scholarly works,” while also pushing for the use of the technology “to improve and encourage student learning.” Noted the faculty’s statement: “Manuscripts, graphic designs, videos, computer programs, and other academic requirements must be solely created by the student or group of students, as required by the instructor of the course. However, the use of AI tools to enhance and facilitate the students’ learning should be encouraged.”

In my view, the enemy is neither the machine nor this latest technology, but rather individuals who refuse to think for themselves. Despite the possible danger of this app, the far more dangerous scenario is a society or body politic composed of unthinking members.

Instead of shunning ChatGPT, professor Ramon Guillermo did something that to my mind is absolutely brilliant: he engaged the app in a conversation. The same was true of professor Randy David; not only did he download the app, but also tested its “intelligence.” His verdict? “Although it bore clear attempts at embellishment, the poem I prompted (about gray mornings and the stillness of the forest) came out flat and formulaic. The story I requested (on the pros and cons of AI) was too general, almost as if it was an attempt to expand the headings of a Wikipedia entry. But the outline (on the concept of globalization) was quite useful—at least as a starting point for a sensible discussion on the topic. Here, perhaps, is a way of repurposing a tool like this—use it to tease out your own thoughts on a given subject, a means to get out of the barren object fixation that a blank page can often induce.” (“AI and the challenge to education,” Public Lives, 1/22/23).

I concur with the recommendation of the UP Diliman AI Program to conduct open forum discussions on the use of AI and its implication on academic matters, and for their peers to educate students on the proper use of AI tools, and embed these in their courses. UP must also revisit its definition of academic integrity to include AI, while also improving class requirements to include more critical and in-depth thinking. Of the four recommendations, the most important is the last one which is composed of three elements, namely: the improvement of academic requirements to include more in-depth critical thinking, scholarly discourse, and sound judgment.

In his book, “The Critique of Judgment” (1790), the German philosopher Immanuel Kant laid down the three rules of thinking, namely: to think for ourselves, to think on the place of another, and to think objectively. The first rule is sapere aude or dare to know, which means that we must have the courage and the boldness to use the power of our own reason. The second rule refers to empathy or human solidarity. When we think for ourselves, we must also think of others. The last rule simply means that we must think and use our reason in a consistent manner, not only in an individual aspect but in a cosmopolitan or universal sense.

It is my belief that if we internalize these three rules, it will lead to the spark of critical thinking that will eventually generate scholarly discourse and reflection that will lead us to just, reasonable, and sound judgment.

Professor John Rawls in his book, “A Theory of Justice” (1971) continued Kant’s tradition: aside from thinking for ourselves, on the place of another, and consistently, he advanced the idea or the challenge of thinking that excludes accidental or historical labels. This is thinking that is no longer just critical but of a higher order, and one we need not only as individuals but as citizens of a fast-changing world.

It is thus my ardent contention that no matter how great, fast, and powerful these latest apps and technologies are, as long as we use our head, maximize our reason, and think for ourselves, there is no way that machines will overwhelm or defeat us. In fact, I will reiterate: it is not us against the machine. How can a mere creature overpower its creator? Machines are not the enemy. Our opponent is the person who does not think. Our enemy is laziness, cowardice, indifference, pride, prejudice, and misplaced arrogance.

Jose Mario D. De Vega is assistant professor at the Philosophy and Humanities Department of the National University’s College of Education, Arts, and Sciences.

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