Saturday, January 5, 2013

3 takes on critical thinking

As I have noted before, I have a problem with the theory and practice of critical thinking. From my web guide and links you will be able to see why:

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking: A Guide

Now here are some recently encountered examples of the problem:

(1) For a Better Society, Teach Philosophy in High Schools by Michael Shammas, The Huffington Post, 12/26/2012

This piece of airheaded fluff disproves the author's thesis. It's typical of a spineless formal liberalism that in fact commits itself to nothing other than the image of its own niceness. It is the clueless bourgeois ideology of an "open-mindedness" that means nothing, and an especially stupid specimen of it.

But since we are on the subject, you should know there is a whole literature on teaching philosophy in the classroom from early childhood on up. See the section on Philosophy for Children in my 'Intellectual Life in Society, Conventional and Unconventional: A Bibliography in Progress'.

(2) Five Critical Thinkers on Television by Breanne Harris, Critical Thinkers, July 26, 2010

Aside from this post being fluff, this web site is a representative of an entrepreneurial/consulting outfit, and the spin as well as the limits of the application of 'critical thinking' in an entrepreneurial setting should be evident. Bourgeois professionals are not prone to turning critical thinking on themselves except in that pseudo-detached fashion outlined in the first example. The exception I suppose is that small corner of left-liberal academia preoccupied by reflexivity, which translates into the politics of guilt.

(3) Educational Objective: Critical Thinking Skills, Ruthless Criticism

This little article is in a whole different category, as is this far left web site. The problem with several articles on this site is that there is no mediating analysis between the abstract concepts under review and the particulars of a political/social configuration in a way that would give us more than generalities.

If you read this article carefully, you should see that its critique applies to the tacit ideologies of the first two examples, especially the first. I do not find this to be an adequate critique, but it contains essential elements of a critique of 'critical thinking' that dovetails with my own.

The first point in this criticism relates to the educational emphasis on the critical subject, i.e. self-criticism. While the student is urged to be self-critical, where does one find the discussion of the objects that one can or should or cannot or should not be critical of? The sense of neutrality, of even-handedness and the avoidance of partisanship, is mocked, as it deserves.

The second admonition of the educational ideology of critical thinking, is skepticism. Again, there is an implicit critique of the formalism by which one can subjectively approach any topic with a skeptical point of view without actually knowing anything one way or the other. Note the criticism of the indifference to content.

Third, there is a criticism of relativization, that is, of the posture of modesty, which I presume to be an aspect of the posture of even-handedness and impartiality which is presumed to be ethically superior to 'ideology', extremism, partisanship.

Fourthly, there is a criticism of the presumption that there is a general critical capacity that needs only be awakened. This criticism and article ends most aptly, pooh-poohing "the possibility of criticizing something specific is supposed to exist in abstraction from each specific criticism, namely in the individual and not in what he has to criticize."

Such critiques of critical thinking seem to be very rare, at least in this part of the world. All these points are good ones, but the argument is far too adumbrated: without further exposition, the reader is likely to fail to grasp these points and to fill in the missing pieces of the argument as well as its necessary correlative overall structure.  This does nevertheless add something to my critique of the formalist, approach endemic to the critical thinking industry, without degenerating to postmodernist irrationalism.

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