Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Critical Thinking

Does that title sound good or what? What exactly is it about that phrase that evokes memories of mornings after? Not the pleasant glow of memory but the wretched results of overdoing it. The reason for that reaction is clear. It is always accompanied by a disputation of acknowledged truth. It implies the need to cast the known aside to establish the new law of the universe and enter into a new age.

It is the clarion call to disputation, rancor, and just plain orneriness to upset the placid believers and sound the alarm; “question everything.” As a skeptic—no, they are not the same—I firmly believe in the practice of establishing the validity of every truth, person, and law. This is why my office is cluttered with books on religion, law, politics, science, history, current issues and reference. I firmly believe in reinforcing my knowledge with the opinions and qualified research of persons I trust. It would be impossible for any lone man to acquire the individual experience and knowledge required to enjoy the conceit of ignoring others who have devoted themselves to the effort. As I look back on my modest education I realize the most important thing I learned was how to expand on what the instructors taught..

Otto von Bismark provided us with an astute observation when he noted, “We must never look into the origins of laws or sausages.” Nominally, they are both the products of men. Both can seem delicious from outward appearances and have a sensory appeal but both suffer from critical thinking. The temptation for men to arrive at conclusions within their own frames of reference and personal desires regardless of offerings of evidence is far too strong. Adherents of “critical thinking” make little or no allowance for faith. Emanuel Kant in "The Critique of Reason" abridged the reach of reason to accommodate a measure of faith.. Once he made the claim, he went on to ignore faith completely.

For the atheistic hedonist it becomes a convenience to occlude behavior with pleas of avoiding ancient truths which frown on such actions. If there is no God, there is no worrisome and bothersome conscience. Lacking conscience, sin is not available as a definition. One cannot be separated from that which does not exist. No God: no separation, no sin; it’s all tied up in a neat little bow. Except of course, it really isn’t. If no allowance is made for the unquantifiable then we are all suddenly free to substitute our own versions of truth and bring the man/God separation to its inevitable conclusion.

We are rapidly turning critical thinking into the ideology of “criticism-ism.” If there is no truth then every thing is debatable. The result of every one assuming an adversary posture in intellectual life has become a “directionless quibble.” The philosopher David Stone supplied the idea and he is right. But, it is not just intellectual life which suffers. When we abandon the truths which have been established over centuries we all forfeit the simplicity which allows avoidance of useless conflict. I carry in the palm of my left hand the lingering evidence of an absolute truth. Babies should not put the hand, palm down on a freshly opened oven door. The scar will easily hold a lima bean and is a constant reminder; it is not open to debate.

The participants in formal debate often draw their position from a hat. They then present the case for whatever side of the argument they have drawn. Hence the victor is determined by the quality and presentation of argument which is judged to prevail. The truth is shoved aside to accommodate the style, organization and delivery. Skillful mocking of reality is rewarded. Thus, it is not an exercise for those seeking to uncover the truth in our lives but rather it becomes extemporaneous theater with little meaning.

In the wooly world of academia—a prime bastion of critical thinking—the denizens have accomplished some of the most outstanding examples. Roger Kimball in observations of these phenomena references a thirty thousand word brief (?) by a professor of inquiry and philosophy entitled, “Ocularcentrism, Phenocentrism, and the Counter Enlightenment Problematic; Clarifying Contested Terrain in our Schools of Education” and published by an in-house paper at Indiana University. For better understanding, I grabbed Mr. Webster’s book and translated as best I could to isolate the subject of the paper. Before the semi-colon it is roughly, “Trusting your Eyes, Blowing Gas, and Critical Thinking.” “Contested Terrain” no doubt refers to the proposition that 1 + 2 = 5! Check it out for yourself and perhaps you can, through critical thinking, come up with a better result. If you have a sadomasochistic bent I will happily furnish a reference to the entire piece—all thirty thousand words.

This is reminiscent of a verse from a song which was a hit on the blue grass circuit in the sixties. Actually it was “top of the charts” in the 19th century and sung to a lively tune in two chords:

“Putting on the Style"

Young man just from college makes a big display;
With a great big jawbreak which he can hardly say.
It can’t be found in Webster’s and won’t be for a while,
But everybody knows he’s on putting on the style.

Chorus:

Putting on the agony, putting on the style
That’s what all the young folks are doing all the while.
And as I look around me, I’m very apt to smile,
To see so many people, putting on the style.”

Freed from the constraints of parenting, youngsters in our colleges are especially susceptible to the influence of “critical thinking.” With their new found freedom they can then challenge the most rock solid verities and attempt to make their mark by attacking the status quo. With encouragement from the former students of John Stuart Mill, all things cease to be venerable or sacred. The only ones who are exempt from criticism-ism are the founders of the movement; Kant, Dewey, Nietzsche, Lionel Trilling, Marx, Comte and, of course, Mill. No one with a background in reality need apply.

We shall continue this discussion tomorrow.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

1 comment:

matt lowry said...

Cecil,
Your use of the word "known" as contrast to "new" in your opening paragraph throws this post, and the one that follows, into a tailspin for me. The balance of your two pieces have no meaning for me because of this.

The supposition that what is "old" or "accepted" is better than the new and is beyond challenge is just the flip side of the Muslim argument (new automatically replaces old).
Neither are very useful to true critical thinking.

The problem with critical thinking is that not many bother with it.
The other problem is that certain subjects have been taboo when it comes to critical thinking.

We could abolish critical thinking and return to the days when the world was "known" to be flat, and the sun moved across the sky, and there were 4 elements that made up all that is, and....

In my opinion, negating critical thinking is the paramount application of adopting the ways of man, and completley antithetical to your argument.

I love your blog, btw!
matt