Wednesday, May 9, 2018

astute reasoning

This is Section 2 of a commentary project titled “astute reasoning and ‘fake news’.” But it’s independent of that project.

The easiest way into this is the curricular notion of “critical thinking.” But I shy away from ‘critical’ because it’s commonly (in academic humanities) associated with a negative sense of being critical, which isn’t salient in curricular notions of “thinking skills,” which have become integral for the systematic educational development of reasoning.

What professional educational leadership seeks to advance as “critical thinking” in K-12 education systems can be characterized as inquirial, analytic, and evaluative reasoning. Likewise, states commonly include “critical thinking” in curriculum standards; California, for example (page 1, after the title page, click “942”). And all might be thanks to work by the Foundation for Critical Thinking (next paragraph), which began in the 1980s.

In all cases, “critical” is a wide-scope notion, and “thinking” is synonymous with reasoning. The Foundation defines “a well cultivated critical thinker” as someone who:
  • “raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely; 
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and 
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.”

Note that there’s a distinction between reasoning and communication of results. Being rational is primarily a matter of warranted or warrantable interaction. Reasoning itself precedes rationalization (or an adequate show of being “reasonable”); and reason benefits from others’ rationality. But the two are different kinds of engagement. I’ll return to this difference. (I would quibble with details of the Foundation’s various definitions, for the sake of refining a more-integrated, formal conception; but that’s beyond this discussion.)

A standard definition of ‘critical’ corresponds to the evaluative mode of reasoning: “exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation” (Merriam-Webster Unabridged online). But generally, reasoning isn’t “critical,” and criticism is more than evaluative. Yet neither are basically the special aspect of being “inclined to criticize severely; given to notice faults and imperfections.” But this latter aspect seems to be the guiding interest of academic “critique.” No wonder: The etymology of ‘critical’ traces back to 1547: “indicating or being the stage of a disease at which an abrupt change...may be anticipated...”

So, it’s easy to appreciate that attention to standard lexical variabilities can be fruitful for reasoning and rational clarity. Etymology is a kind of linguistic anthropology.

Consider ‘transparency’. It simply means: being transparent, which means—for here—being ”free from pretense or deceit :  open, frank, guileless.” Is that also being “easily detected or seen through :  obvious”? Or is it being “readily understood :  perspicuous, clear”?

In a transparence of genuineness, the other (reader/listener) may discern what the actor (writer/speaker) doesn’t yet discern, thus letting oneself (the actor) potentially be mirrored in order to learn. But the challenge for genuiness is, in the first place, to make oneself understood. A rule-of-thumb in conflict resolution is that, in apparent disagreement, it’s less likely that we basically disagree than that one doesn’t yet understand the other (or one misunderstands the other)—or each doesn’t yet (or each misses).

Reaching shared understanding or resolving disagreement can be a challenge. But also, this can be methodically engaged. Rationality (distinct from astute reasoning which makes good rationalization possible) can be advanced through being with each other fairly. In Habermasian terms, “ideally, every participant sincerely desires to understand (also desiring to make oneself understood); no one is prevented from satisfactory participation (while everyone participates as best they can), and (most ideally) everyone reasons competently and appropriately, such that a plan, value, etc. prevails for activity only due to its real validity appreciated by all involved....(though the pragmatics of justification may require extended learning processes).”

Transparency serves the rationality of a stance by—in short—openness, clarity, and accessibility. Yet, being transparent—truly, appropriately, and accountably—is to be done, enacted, made to work. It’s not a happening, like light through a window.

Ideally, reason can be highly conceived; and high rationality, correlatively.

Highly conceived transparency (exemplarity) follows in light of high potential in reasoning (lucidity of mind, high discernibility) as a stance’s rationality, for the sake of making sense, like rhetoric serving “philosophy” (in some classical sense).

My basic point is that each of us is a necessary dyadity: (a) the individuation that we are (embodying reason, maturely [we hope], exemplarily, at best); and (b) the interpersonal life that we advance. Yet, one may live such dyadity in ways that are far beyond basic points. But that’s beyond my need for the present discussion.

Next: Section 3: “Fake views exploit the appeal of valid drama.”