Phi Beta Cons

Stanley Fish on “Critical Thinking”

On his blog at the New York Times, Stanley Fish has been having some fun with the argument of Professor Anthony Kronman’s new book Education’s End that the country would benefit greatly if the humanities were restored to their former prominence. Fish thinks that Kronman overplays his hand. I have recently finished reading the book and am inclined to agree.
Anyway, in his most recent post, Fish says some sharp things about the claim that the humanities promote critical thinking:

Of the justifications for humanistic study offered in the comments, two seemed to me to have some force. The first is that taking courses in literature, philosophy and history provides training in critical thinking. I confess that I have always thought that critical thinking is an empty phrase, a slogan that a humanist has recourse to when someone asks what good is what you do and he or she has nothing to say. What¹s the distinction, I have more than occasionally asked, between critical thinking and just thinking? Isn¹t the adjective superfluous? And what exactly would uncritical thinking be?

Fish is right. It’s time for some thinking about this notion that the humanities (and indeed the whole of the college experience) is so beneficial in teaching students “critical thinking.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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