Saturday, March 24, 2007

Stanley Fish is confused about learning to reason



In "Advocacy and Teaching" (New York Times, March 24), Professor Fish misunderstands the importance of advocacy for intellectual growth. He's correct that "Emily Brooker’s professor was wrong to enlist her in a political campaign," but he confuses a political sense of "public advocacy" with the curricular importance of advocacy, by his apparent complaining about "advocacy" itself.

Indeed, as he says, "a student assigned to study an issue must be equipped with the appropriate analytical skills," but that's for use in good reasoning, which standardly is used to make cases that take stands, i.e., advocate something. Fish occludes this purpose for building analytical skills.

Though it's surely useful that an "assignment is to give an account of the dispute about gay adoption rather than to come down on one side or the other," understanding each side of an issue requires seeing the claim to validity that each has as advocable stance.

One can't genuinely understand another's perspective apart from its claim to be worthwhile for advocacy, which involves doing one's best to "see" the case, achieved by taking on that perspective as best one can.

Of course, "academic performance and individual beliefs are independent variables," but analytical skills are only as good as the case-making they enable, which is independent of whether or not one actually subscribes to the well-made case. You'll never be persuasive about what you do believe, if you can't see the presumably good case for the stance you wish to change.

That said, I strongly subscribe to Professor Fish's objections to "intellectual diversity" conservatism.

Gary E. Davis
Berkeley



Sunday, March 18, 2007

philosophical practice as discursive reading



I feel a sense of closure on my participation in the Yahoo! Habermas forum—participation which has been especially intense the past month, for my part in the site's posting span from #1719—#1787 (hence little posting here). It's been a remarkable month for me because I've shown now, to my satisfaction, an integrated sense of theory and practice through discursive readings and interactions that apply my sense of philosophy as integrative discursivity in terms of my sense of Habermas and development that may also exemplify how Critical Theory has normative investment in a telos that's essentially Open.

Today, I extracted all of my thematic interests and explicative passages (distinct from critical response directly to what Ken MacKendrick says, whereby I tried to exemplify a sense of discursive reading as critical interactive practice), and sought to see what set of topics the passages altogether might make, as a matter of integrating a discourse that is entirely drawn from discursive interaction. A value of this for a reader might be to show a coherence of interest and themes, across tens of interactive moments of response. But the consolidation of all my commentary into nine sections, it turned out, also brings thematically related material, drawn from so many interactions, into adjacency for more formally integrating the thematic areas, a practice I've long called "thematology" (related to phenomenology's tendency to parse itself into complex thematics).

I'm not going to soon recycle all that material into a singular discourse, basically because it's all improvised (or occasioned) from already-well-thematized work that I'd prefer to get back to (like wanting to get back to one's research, rather than write lectures). But the past month or so, I satisfactorily tested my sense of critical practice through an extended textuality of interaction with Ken. If I wanted to do a formal deconstruction (or psychoanalysis) of our interaction (applied to me, as well as to Ken), there's plenty of material to work with.

But that's not what I want to do. However, the material provides the basis for nine good and long discussions:

1. What sense of progressive interest might exemplify a practical motivation for theory, inquiry, philosophy, and critical reading?

2. Aspects of developmental theory relative to Habermas as exemplary theorist, in light of the sense of progressive practice.

3. How a therapeutic interest is derivative of developmental interest in Habermas' work.

4. How discursive reading may express a therapeutic interest in interaction that grows toward good discursivity

5. Aspects of the relationship of discursive inquiry to scientific inquiry

6. A sense of philosophy as integrative discursivity that learns through scientifically conceptual efficacy

7. Habermas, discursive inquiry, and naturalism

8. Aspects of social evolution as singularity without teleology

9. Viewing Critical Theory for the future, relative to progressive interests in healthy freedom and potentials of discursive inquiry.

But, again, I'm not going to dwell with all that; and I don't suggest that you read all of my postings from #1719 through #1787. Actually, it's all pretty interesting (I would think so, of course) and worth your time!

What I do intend, though, is to develop part 6: "A sense of philosophy as integrative discursivity that learns through scientifically conceptual efficacy." That would take the various allusions I've made lately to an evolutionarity of discursive inquiry and try to make practical sense of that for a reader (as it's already very practical to me, but not in the improvised terms I've recently used). I would constrain myself by what was earlier occasioned, for the sake of integrating that set of relevant comments (from postings and a few occasioned Web pages of the past month or so), but not try to go much beyond that (though somewhat beyond that, otherwise the endeavor would have little interest for me).

However, what I do intend and what I actually make time to do are often not the same. The pile of books on my desk is much more appealing, but one should need both midland mediations and highland explorations in philosophy—like the balance of teaching and research that's healthy for academic life. (But one should be given more free time.)