Beyond Enlightenment Lite.

APP Editors’ note: Boethius is a tenured associate professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America.

In a recent APP post, Z critically compares-and-contrasts Enlightenment Lite and Heavy Duty Enlightenment.

I think most would agree with the basic complaint, namely that it’s a poor excuse for an undergraduate education to say it’s just about gaining mere “critical thinking skills,” with those skills explicated as you say, and then to say that’s what philosophy’s contribution to UG education is. Those basic skills are part of it, but you’re offering more content to go with them—how they’re to be used more broadly, that is. We need to teach them the value of using those skills in argument to think for themselves, where ultimately that’s about making the world a better place.

I’ll bet most everyone will agree with this, yet it seems this real kind of enlightenment isn’t encouraged much. It’s value isn’t either.

But there’s something missing.

It’s implied by what Z says, but there’s a third crucial component to Heavy Duty Enlightenment, to what UG education should be, and to what philosophy’s contribution is or ought to be:

It’s not enough to have (1) competent critical-argumentative skills (the good stuff in what you call “the analytical-critical method of logical reasoning”—the ability to evaluate arguments, analyses, etc.), nor is it enough to have (2) knowledge of its value for thinking for oneself, and the value of using it to criticize actually and potentially oppressive institutions, etc.

What’s also necessary is (3) the willingness/tendency/character to use those skills and knowledge—the willingness to engage in the criticism where needed.

I can’t remember now whether if this is explicit in Kant’s classic piece, “What is Enlightenment?,” or not, but this and other epistemic/intellectual virtues are essential.

It’s also related to what we’re supposed to be saying about critical thinking (CT). The argumentation theorists and those writing about “critical thinking pedagogy” have all kinds of internal squabbles over what critical thinking is and how to use the term.

But it seems the broad sense of CT includes all of (1)-(3) above. They also complain, rightly, about how logic and CT textbooks don’t cover much of (2) and (3) beyond something brief in the introduction. This parallels Z’s critique of Enlightenment Lite.

The nice teaching question is how to teach (3). It’s the old “Can virtue be taught?” question, and it seems there are at least two positions. There’s the lazy approach, and there’s the hard approach:

The lazy approach (or, the “osmosis” approach)—There’s no need to pay special attention to (3), for if you’re exposed to enough philosophical arguments, objections and replies, theoretical approaches, etc., then you’ll start being rationally-minded for your own good and that of others.

The hard approach—We need special strategies to teach (3), ones not currently used, and ones tied generally to inculcating the epistemic virtues tied to the value of CT (broadly) and the dispositions to use reason and analysis where needed. Only then can we expect large proportions of students to be rationally-minded for their own good and that of others.

When I was a student, the lazy approach actually worked out pretty well for me, I think. Nobody really preached the value of critical thinking or philosophy (2), nor did I hear much encouragement to apply philosophy to my own problems or those of our time (3). But I picked it up anyway (again, I think so, anyway).

For many of my students though, I doubt it. And there’s the problem.

Towards a solution to the problem, here’s an article recommended by a colleague—Heather Battaly, “Teaching Intellectual Virtues” Teaching Philosophy 29 (3) (2006):191-222–that offers some strategies in line with the hard approach, and in light of contemporary thinking in virtue epistemology.

Relatedly, in follow-up correspondence, Z wrote this:

As you so rightly say, “The nice teaching question is how to teach (3).” The Kantian answer in “What is Enlightenment,” as I understand it, is this: you can’t teach (3)–the best you can do is bring people to the point where they see that they’ve got a real, life-changing choice: either grow up as a person, and do something for the sake of the highest good, or crap out, and continue to live like a machine. So the issue raised by (3) is whether we freely exit our self-incurred immaturity, become more authentic, principled people, or not. Either/or. It’s up to ourselves and no excuses. Or otherwise put, it’s the good old Existential thing, Kant-wise.

OK. So you can lead a horse to Heavy Duty Enlightenment, but can’t make it drink it. Yes, that sounds right.

So I might rephrase it to be a question about maximizing the chances of becoming intellectually virtuous, rather than strictly speaking teaching those virtues. Or, how do you maximize the chances that people will not only see the important choice to be a reasoned person, acting for the good, etc., but will most likely make that choice too? I’m not sure the exercises in the article I cited do that much, but I suppose they might help.

But yes, at some point it’s the agent’s own ass that has to choose here.

And I DON’T mean”freedom of choice” in DEVO’s sense….

DEVO Freedom of Choice

Devo - "Freedom Of Choice"