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November 27, 2008, 11:26 am
Filed under: Epistemology, Philosophy

Follow the rules of right thinking you read about in your critical thinking textbook?  Be excessively disposed to doubt cherished beliefs?


Actually, aren’t you better served by cultivating humility?  The dirty secret of academia is the dearth of admitted mistakes.  Plently of mistakes; very few admitted.  Vanity causes people to culpably persist in error.

What about honesty?  Do you have any idea how many lies get told in academia?  Usually they take the form of something like “Oh yes, I’ve read that.”  Dishonestly causes a lot of misunderstanding and confusion.

What about patience and courage?  It is true that vanity causes many to persist in error when they know better.  But sometimes it is good and proper to persist in your position even when the prospects don’t seem that good.  If you want to be rational, you need the courage to stand in your convictions and patience to see it all through during times of intense opposition.

What about charity?  If your goal is understanding, you need to be committed to treating your interlocutors charitably.  Otherwise, you’ll misunderstand them and your criticisms will be off-target.  In order to do this consistently you’ll need to cultivate goodwill towards others.  Not easily done—especially when your academic self-righteousness is on the line.


So, for all these reasons and more, being rational has much more to do with personal character and good habits than following the rules or guidelines you read in your critical thinking class.  Notice, also, how bodily and social they are.


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