Apparently the only kind of thought not allowed is that which might “undermine,” according to UnKochMyCampus, “environmental protection, worker’s rights, health care expansion, and quality public education.” Stopping such research is the mission of this organization, which is spearheaded by Greenpeace, Forecast the Facts (a green outfit focused on climate change), and the American Federation of Teachers.
2. Read Tyler Cowen’s post on Elizabeth Anderson, a chaired professor of philosophy invited to give a prestigious lecture at Princeton.
I won’t summarize her views, but I will pull out one sentence to indicate her stance: “Here most of us are, toiling under the authority of communist dictators, and we don’t see the reality for what it is.” These communist dictators are, in her account, private business firms. That description may be deliberately hyperbolic, but nonetheless it reflects her attitude that capitalist companies exercise a kind of unaccountable, non-democratic power over the lives of their workers, in a manner which she thinks is deserving of moral outrage.
I cannot view this charitably. The way it looks to me, if you are on one side of the ideological divide, you are harassed and hounded. If you are on the other side, someone whose ideas are ignorant and ridiculous is considered an eminent scholar.
I am not saying that no one should listen to Elizabeth Anderson or that she should not have a forum in which to speak. Exposure to a broad range of viewpoints is a good thing. I just wish that there were a little boy who would stand up and say that the empress has not the slightest bit of clothing until she can explain the concepts of exit and voice, and explain the different ways in which they empower individuals.
But as far as I can tell, broad exposure to ideas is not what our leading colleges and universities are providing these days. Let me provide a perspective on this, and on “critical thinking.”
Critical thinking is not challenging views that are disliked. Anyone can find fault with those with whom you disagree. It is questioning the views of people with whom you agree that constitutes critical thinking. Above all, it means questioning your own views.
Many people are familiar with Rene Descartes’ phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” Few people know the context. Descartes’ is meditating about what he can know with certainty. He asks, what if all of my sensory perceptions are simply tricks played on me by an evil demon? Then maybe everything I believe that I know about the world around me could be wrong. But I cannot be wrong about my belief that I am thinking. At least one entity in the world certainly exists, namely, the person doing this thinking.
The ability to question large chunks of your own belief system is for me the essence of a well-trained mind. When we share things that other people say and write on the Internet, chances are they are things that we agree with. How often do you share things that raise reasonable doubts about your beliefs? If you do that as often as once a month, you are doing well.
If the future truly belongs to those who can think critically, then today’s college faculty may be left behind.