November 20, 2007

A whole army of new philosophers must be hired specifically to teach these courses

Quaker/Philosophy What does it mean to be a Philosopher and a Friend? Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Philosophy used to have a very big role in the college curriculum. The role has grown progressively smaller with each decade. I think we have been outmanoevered by other fields (mainly by the social sciences) in the game of academic politics. We should have a big role to play. How can we get it back?
In the standard American college curriculum today the English Department gets every student for at least one and usually for two required courses in composition. This means big English Departments. People in general recognize that the thinking skills of college students are poor. So a demand for critical thinking has arisen. But Philosophy has been outmaneovered here. As philosophers we understand clearly that good thinking requires a grounding in logic. You don't have to be able to do proofs in predicate logic with overlapping quantifiers, but if you don't see the difference between modus ponens and affirming the consequent you are in bad shape. Most college students are in bad shape. A simple practical applied logic course would do them a world of good.
But instead on our campus we have every department claiming that they teach critical thinking already. The art department claims that they teach students to "think critically" when they teach them how to critique a work of art. Well, as valuable as that skill is, it isn't going to help people to see the fallacies in political speeches and editorials. You need a good solid grounding in logic for that and there is no substitute for it.
We ought to push our institutions to make Critical Thinking a required course for all students and the course should be 100% under the control of people with solid training in logic. This will require a huge shift of resources on campus and this amount of change is not easily accomodated by colleges. It's easier to "solve" the problem of lack of critical thinking skills by redefinition. "Critical Thinking" becomes whatever the Art School, Communications Department, Business SChool etc. want to call by that term. In other words change nothing in fact but rename what we are already doing. Real change requires a shift of resources.
A whole army of new philosophers must be hired specifically to teach these courses and that means a gradual shift of resources away from other departments. But the shift does not have to be done overnight. It could most smoothly be accomplished in phases over a ten year period. Right now our Sociology Department mandates PHIL 1180 for its majors as their way of satisfying the humanity general education requirement. A gradual plan could target different years in which different departments made a equivalent shift in their graduation requirements. As the demand for Critical Thinking courses grew new philosophy positions could be added incrementally to handle the demand. What do you think of my utopian vision? Posted by RichardM at 2:28 PM

3 comments: Joe Jordan said... Your recommendation is hardly Utopian. I consider it critically important. Businesses desperately need people who know how to think logically, comprehensively, and factually about a situation and then determine an appropriate course of action. Ideally, this is a fundamental part of parenting--but one that is often neglected. I applaud your effort to make critical thinking part of the curriculum. Please join in our dialogue about critical thinking at November 15, 2007 9:57 AM
Jeffrey Dudiak said... Thanks, Richard, for starting us off again, and Joe for your comment. Allow me to chime in with a comment that is oversimplified (granted), a bit provocative (by design), but still three-quarters serious.
I sometimes wonder (although I am no historian of the disciplines) whether it is so very true that philosophy has lost so much of its importance in the curriculum. In asserting that I sometimes wonder whether we are not romanticizing a bit. Is it really that what we now call philosophy was ever so central, or is it rather that much of what used to be called philosophy now goes by other names, like, for example, pretty much the whole of the social sciences (and not too long before that the natural sciences as well, under the name of “natural philosophy”)?
But let us concede that something has been lost, in any case, and that philosophy is being eclipsed by other disciplines vying for preeminence in the university (and even more so in the consciousness of society at large). I am tempted to suggest that this may not be the fault of other disciplines claiming territory that is the rightful province of philosophy, but because philosophy itself has lost its nerve, and its integrity. Over the past hundred years or so, philosophy has been scared off (and rightly so, in some respects) from the too grandiose, totalizing visions offered perhaps most paradigmatically by a Plato or a Hegel, ... too grand (even slightly embarrassing) for our time because these visions do not stand a spirit’s chance in a lab of living up to the demands of testability and rigor demanded by empirical and methodological science, this latter being the Lord of our age.
As such, philosophy (in what may be one of the most excessive overcorrections on record) has hung on for its dear life by transforming itself into the housekeeper of science, earning its keep by trying to keep science’s ideas (language and logic) in order, neat and tidy, but without any real “content” of its own, while science goes merrily on its way (which is no insult to science!). Well, perhaps this needs to be done, but it will hardly attract either the respect or excitement of students or colleagues, college deans or deep-pocketed donors.
For that (if that is worth going for, which is far from certain), I think, philosophy must recover something of its grandeur, or at least some of its dignity. If philosophy is to have a bigger role in the curriculum, it will first have to offer its own “bigger” (grander) curriculum. We have perhaps been outmaneuvered, but we are also very likely where at present we deserve to be. Critical thinking is important, vitally important, like doing the dishes (which is no insult either to critical thinking or doing dishes!). But falling in love with wisdom, ... that has cachet! November 16, 2007 5:47 PM
RichardM said... While I'm not a professional historian either I'm convinced that the loss of philosophy's influence and prestige is largely real and not a product of a romanticized vision of the past.
"because philosophy itself has lost its nerve, and its integrity." That, indeed is the real problem. "philosophy (in what may be one of the most excessive overcorrections on record) has hung on for its dear life by transforming itself into the housekeeper of science"
Again, right on target this time with a more specific analysis of the problem. "Without any real “content” of its own . . . (which) will hardly attract either the respect or excitement of students or colleagues, college deans or deep-pocketed donors." Minor quibble here, deans, in my experience have no interest in the real worth of any ideas and respond only to whatever numbers are being crunched within the bowels of their bureaucracy. But they do respond to what grant agencies are willing to spend money on. So the fact that people outside academia won't spend money on philosophy does negatively affect us. But once more the heart of the problem is quite accurately stated--we essentially have nothing to say and that marginalizes us from the culture. In the past Plato, Descartes, Locke, etc. had something of importance to say to Everyman. It was no doubt wrong in some ways (though I would contend each had something valuable and right to say as well) but at least it wasn't trivial.
Compare that to thirty years of Frankfort examples or forty years of Gettier problems or digging further back hundreds of articles on "grue" and the new problem of induction. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.
So....this problem was the one I was trying to solve by turning to the conceptualistic pragmatism of C.I. Lewis. Have any of you guys thought further about whether my proposed solution actually works? November 19, 2007 9:29 AM

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