Saturday, July 16, 2011

Re-thinking reason in the service of postmodern irrationalism

Re-thinking Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking, edited by Kerry S. Walters. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. xviii, 265 pp. (SUNY series, Teacher Empowerment and School Reform)
Table of Contents:
Introduction : beyond logicism in critical thinking / Kerry S. Walters
Teaching two kinds of thinking by teaching writing / Peter Elbow
On critical thinking and connected knowing / Blythe McVicker Clinchy
Educating for empathy, reason, and imagination / Delores Gallo
Critical thinking, rationality, and the vulcanization of students / Kerry S. Walters
Toward a gender-sensitive ideal of critical thinking : a feminist poetic / Anne M. Phelan and James W. Garrison
Critical thinking and the "trivial pursuit" theory of knowledge / John E. McPeck
Why two heads are better than one : philosophical and pedagogical implications of a social view of critical thinking / Connie Missimer
Community and neutrality in critical thought : a nonobjective view on the conduct and teaching of critical thinking / Karl Hostetler
Critical thinking and feminism / Karen J. Warren
Teaching critical thinking in the strong sense : a focus on self-deception, world views, and a dialectical mode of analysis / Richard W. Paul
Toward a pedagogy of critical thinking / Henry A. Giroux
Teaching intellectual autonomy : the failure of the critical thinking movement / Laura Duhan Kaplan
Critical thinking beyond reasoning : restoring virtue to thought / Thomas H. Warren
Is critical thinking a technique, or a means of enlightenment? / Lenore Langsdorf.
This annotation is compiled from comments written on 28 Jan. 2005, 4 Feb. 2005, and 29 Aug. 2006:

The premise of this book is to challenge prevalent assumptions of the 'critical thinking' literature, i.e. that limiting critical thinking to an expose of logical fallacies and to concentrate exclusively on the formal aspects of rational thinking just won't do the job. All this is true, and several of the essays provide more comprehensive models of reasoning, all except the feminist essays (and the postmodernist ones—usually the same), all of which are garbage. We can find similar things going in feminist philosophy of science, similarly trashy.

I have a strong aversion to the use of feelgood language as a tool of manipulation, which this book seems to represent: keywords like "empathy", "gender", "feminism", "community", "nonobjective", "sensitive," "empowerment" are red flags. What is most alarming and depressing here, if my hunch proves to be correct, is a move not beyond formalism, but beneath it, i.e. towards an illiberal irrationalism in the guise of emancipation. This is just the worst of the mentality that came out of the self-indulgent childishness of the '60s, which at least was sufficiently undertheorized at the time not to yield the monstrous intellectual constructs whose institutionalization began in the '70s and exploded into pop culture in the '80s. It is truly mind-boggling and distressing how this poison has insinuated itself into the commonsense of liberal and radical intellectuals. Some of them seem to be amnesiac about their own history. (Once again my trademark slogan for explaining our current state: “It's the '70s, stupid!”)

The move beyond formalism seems to be a pretext to retool critical thinking in an irrationalist format exploiting the obscurantist comfort language of communitarianism and feminism. What could serve as a more fitting example of the counteracting of the expansion of social vocabulary by philosophical contraction?

As a counterweight, consult the essays of Karl Maton, who has analyzed the logic of knower vs. knowledge modes of legitimation, characterizing the new knower mode as the inverted correlate of the divine right of kings. I'll add that the proliferation of identities coincides, curiously, with the eclipse of the individual.


Popes, Kings & Cultural Studies: Placing the commitment to non-disciplinarity in historical context” by Karl Maton

Historical Amnesia” by Karl Maton & Rob Moore

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