Sunday, February 25, 2018

valuing higher society

What’s “higher” about higher education? That’s easy to answer relative to notions of academic achievement. But what makes a domain of achievement higher? Originally, in classical Greek times (The Platonic Academy), the question might well be put as: Why philosophy?

Philosophy didn’t express a love of sophistry; it sought to advance genuine sophistication: philo-sophy. We standardly equate that -sophy with wisdom, yet the Greek sense of -sophia was more holistic than our modern sense of life-orienting good sense or exemplary prudence.

Obviously, philosophy can make a Difference, i.e., advance differentiations that matter for practical thinking. Below, I’m improvising an example.

I’ll briefly pursue a philosophical issue of progressive thinking in terms of two recent items: a solicitation I received from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); and Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

A couple of days ago, I got a “Donate” solicitation from the AAAS, of which I’m a member. Its good cause seemed to be undermined by its implicit reasoning. The value of “evidence-based thinking” was compromised by an overtone of scientism. So, I responded, which follows below. Then, I’ll briefly elaborate my point.

The email’s alleged author is the CEO of AAAS, who was a professor of physics before becoming a U.S. Representative from New Jersey for 15 years. I don’t think that it’s necessary to see the original, short AAAS email, but that’s available here. At a few points, I substitute ‘evidence-based’ for ‘scientific’ in supportively quoting him. The AAAS email isn’t one of their common “Policy Alert” emails, but I allude to this type of email. Also, I allude to the fact that the AAAS will be tracking the 2018 Congressional campaigns of candidates who are professional scientists.

Re: “Support evidence-based thinking”

Dear Dr. Holt,

The subject line in your solicitation is exactly right. But I want to emphasize how that importance lives.

You’d probably agree that anyone who cherishes evidence-based thinking values scientific views on whatever: public policy, community development, education, parenting, etc. So, the heart of the matter is what educators commonly call “critical thinking,” which is inquirial, not basically “critical” (in a sense of critique). 

Evidence-based thinking isn’t fundamentally empiricist or model-theoretical, as science itself is. E-b thinking belongs to the entirety of inquiry, even to all of being well; i.e., it’s integral to growth and educational psychology. It is e-b thinking that appropriates scientific views by discerning well which science-based evidence is relevant to an issue versus what other kinds of evidence are relevant to an issue. Appreciating the range of evidences in thinking well is the keynote to also appreciating the relevance of scientific evidence to public policy, community development, and lives. This is primarily a matter of educational excellence in communities.

As you surely appreciate very well, the education profession suffers more and more from political neglect. The 120,000 AAAS members cannot serve science for the public good better than to talk obsessively about the importance of funding educational excellence in our states and localities.  One might well regard that as the heart of an AAAS Policy Alert to “Cry Educational Democracy.” Advocate for the enabling state over the corporate state.

So, we should, in your words, “draw the idea that [evidence-based thinking] is relevant to their lives and can inform their decisions.” AAAS should need to regard itself as a vanguard voice for general educational excellence. We shouild “provide training, tools and resources for [educationists] to communicate [evidence-based thinking] and find opportunities to connect with local communities.”

Why doesn’t science news turn up more often in social media news feeds, like Google News? Why doesn’t evidence-based thinking itself turn up more in major media? Why don’t citizens spend more time reading? Why is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting always at risk of losing funding? 

I’m delighted to see that AAAS is promoting and tracking scientist campaigns for Congress. If more evidence-based thinking in Congress can cause more Congresspersons to give time to listening, thinking, deliberation, and good policy formation, that might indeed make a lasting difference. 

A keynote of the humanities is the value of giving time to appreciate what matters. Within that horizon of giving time well, we gain chances to learn to think better. This doesn’t happen by regarding family time and leisure time as chances for passive entertainment or “shop ‘til you drop.” More importantly, the more that educational excellence leads to enrollment in higher education, the more that evidence-based thinking will prevail in the face of “scattered distrust of [evidence-based thinking], neglect of [evidence-based thinking] by public officials and [thus] frequent denial of scientific thinking.”

Bringing more science to the world is about bringing more of the lived world to giving time, and doing so well (i.e., with appropriate evidence-based thinking—and, generally, valuing what truly matters). 

I’m sure that you agree heartily. The challenge is simple—and difficult: more higher education in more lives; more free time for what truly matters. 

Thanks for your work,

Gary E. Davis

Near the end of my letter, I was overtly aware of (though not alluding to) a relationship of giving to time which can be explored in Heidegger’s thinking, as well as my having in mind an expansiveness of evidentiary validity in Habermas’s thinking. The efficacy of giving time to validity wholly is at least a function of valuing validity highly. The appeal of the value—theorized in “value theory”—is a necessary precursor to there being validity in play or as critical point. Yet, to value well is, to my mind, to value appropriately, which is relative to “what truly matters.”

I haven’t yet delved into Derek Parfit’s On What Matters (3 volumes!), but, in some sense, that’s the heart of the matter in “what calls for thinking” (in Heidegger’s What Is Called Thinking?—a title which is intended by Heidegger to echo the notion of Calling).

So, obviously, to think well we want “chances to learn to think better.” Do we prefer to talk and read rather than be entertained? Do we prefer true friendship to mere sociality?

What are the conditions of long-lasting love of learning? Look at Steven Pinker glow with enthusiasm for our bright evolving. The Inner Child is alive in his elder years. The NYTimes’ review of his book is enthusiastic; the book is “cool.” The Washington Post’s review of Pinker’s book wasn’t particularly positive; so, there I write in the article’s “Comments”:
Pinker is writing very much in the spirit of contemporary American pragmatism, celebrated at profound scale by German philosopher Jürgen Habermas (see: Facebook/Habermas for easy links to authoritative expositions). And Pinker is writing in the spirit of Positive Psychology, which has become integral to educational psychology (I would argue: Greater Good Science Center, UC@Berkeley). If you love to learn, you'll find that its joy can be never ending.

And of course, we love to learn, and it’s a fun Calling to show (or to fundHey, what about me?).