[lit-ideas] Re: What the Tortoise said to Achilles

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 2 Feb 2012 01:26:01 -0500 (EST)

R. Paul:
>What the Tortoise said to Achilles
>Excerpt from a comment in the  daily InsideHigherEd.com.
>'The so-called "No Child Left Behind" policies  have given us a crop of 
students nearly incapable of drawing >conclusions on  their 
>own--so to teach critical thinking, we have to teach what thinking  is 
>Robert Paul,
>caught in  a syllogistic web
What the Tortoise said to Achilles involved Modus Ponendo Ponens, which  
Grice has, with the rest of most philosophers (notably Gentzen), as the  
introduction of 'if'.
'If' and syllogism get an indirect connection:
a valid syllogism can be defined in terms of some modal prerequisites  
involving the premises and the conclusion. 
There is indeed an associated 'conditional' (or 'if' statement) to a valid  
The slogan, as reported, goes:
>'[T]o teach critical thinking, we have to teach what thinking is  first.'
I have not checked with the source, but it seems a bit of a loose wording.  
Note that the sentence begins with:
"to teach critical thinking". 
This is different from:
"to teach HOW to think critically."
So, pedantically, one can take, 
'to teach critical thinking' 
to stand for 
'to teach what critical thinking IS' (and thus get a parallel with the  
second bit of the sentence which mentions 'what thinking is'). 
But it may be argued that one can teach what critical thinking is (or  that 
one can 'teach critical thinking', to stick to the original locution)  
WITHOUT getting the learner involved in a Rylean know-how. 
In other words, the utterer (A) can get to teach B critical thinking  
without having B in the process of to learning HOW to think critically, or  
without B learning to think critically. (Similarly, I can learn what cubism  
means without becoming a cube).
>'we have to teach what thinking is first'.
I think this is a non-sequitur? In this case, we have an implied  
"thinking is X"
-- i.e. A is alleging to know (or believe that he or she knows) what  
thinking is (necessary and sufficient conditions for a true ascription, 
T thinks that p" iff...). 
But we don't! 
Grice for one spent the whole four John Locke lectures at Oxford (now  
published as "Aspects of reason") aiming at a partial answer to that ("A 
 from premise to conclusion"), 'to think critically', almost.
Ryle had spent even longer days at a partial answer to what thinking is --  
and only to contradict Turing.
So, the second bit of the statement presupposes not only that 
A knows, unlike Socrates, that thinking is X.
AND that A aims at 
succeeding in teaching B that thinking is X.
What the Tortoise Said to Achilles may thus involve:
we have one class:
The class of "THINKING".
And we have a sub-class: the class of "CRITICAL THINKING" (the class of  
apples, and the class of green apples). 
It is just _logical_ that you cannot _understand_ the idea of 'critical  
thinking' without understanding that of 'thinking'. But one is not sure about  
Consider 'analog watch', 'digital watch'. 
If I teach B what an analog watch is, does B need to know what a watch,  
simpliciter, is? (If I teach you to identify an European robin, have I  taught 
you to identify a _robin_ simpliciter (i.e. any robin, including the  
European AND the American robin)? 
Similarly: to teach what a digital watch is, does one really need to know  
what, in general, a watch is? 
Surely one can know what an analog watch is without getting  the 'general' 
and more 'abstract' (and thus psychologically less real) idea of  'watch'? 
Similarly, I can teach you chess without having to teach you what 'a  game' 
'The so-called "No Child Left Behind" policies have given us a crop of  
students nearly incapable of drawing >conclusions on their 
>own--so to  teach critical thinking, we have to teach what thinking is 

But then I'm not sure that 'thinking' HAS TO INVOLVE 'drawing  conclusion 
on your own'. 
If I see that a tree falls after a storm (call it "p"), I come to THINK  
that a tree falls after a storm ("I think that p" -- cfr. Descates, "I think;  
therefore I am"). I'm not sure that I am drawing a conclusion _as I think_. 
What is the premise out of which Descartes concludes, "I think"? His whole  
point is that the cogito requires NO premise. It is self-evident. (cfr 
Grice on  trivial reasoning, "I like it because I like it", or "p; therefore, 
In other words: a thought is the outcome of some perceptual input.  No 
inference need be at play (unless we stretch the use of  'infer' as some early 
verificationists like Isaiah Berlin or G. A. Paul  did). 
The utterer is, however, taking 'think' to mean 'reason' rather. 
It is with 'reasoning' that we start drawing conclusion -- never mind, 'on  
your own' -- as opposed to 'on your other'?
'The so-called "No Child Left Behind" policies have given us a crop of  
students nearly incapable of drawing >conclusions on their  
The utterer is implying ('implicating' even) that the crop of  students, 
however, did sort of succeed in drawing conclusions, but which were  alas not 
on their own? But how idiosyncratic do conclusions have to be? Grice  
alleged that 'know' is overused. Gettier wanted to dismiss a case  like:

"I know the date of the battle of Trafalgar".
Surely a student of history KNOWS things; he has been taught things, and he 
 has drawn conclusions. One big conclusion is to rely on your teacher. So 
if a  group of experts have concluded that C, it is reasonable to rely on 
that  conclusion rather than to experiment each time. "We conclude that the  
Independence of the USA was in 1776". A student relies on that conclusion and  
comes to think that the Independence of the USA was in 1776, without having 
to  double-check each document that LED to that conclusion. 
And in any case, perhaps we can expand on what it means to 'draw  a 
conclusion,' but not 'on your own'? 'Not' can take maximal scope, and the  
implicature may be that the utterer is claiming that the student just does  not 
draw ANY conclusion, simpliciter? In which case 'on your own' is  
rhetorical and redundant.
>so to teach critical thinking, we have to teach what thinking is  first.'

As we saw, thinking, _per se_ as any cognitive psychologist will tell you  
(consult those boring Textbooks of psychology: Chapter I: Perception, 
Chapter  II: Thought, Chapter III: Reasoning) does NOT involve the explicit 
drawing  of conclusion ("I thought it was a rather good book", "I thought it 
tasted  rather nice"). 
The idea of 'critical' as applied to 'think' is a careful, post-modern,  
one. "Crisis" is a typical Greek word, we sometimes forget, and meant 'to make 
a  fine distinction', almost, as in 'sifting thru the evidence'. 
The way the utterer uses the idea of 'critical' is still a  different one: 
the idea that 'critical' opposes to the 'drawing of a  conclusion NOT on 
your own'. 
And so on.
And then what Achilles said to the Tortoise...

Grice concluded that in a piece of reasoning we have 
the premise
the conclusion
And we have to incorporate that into real thoughts:
the thought of the premise
the thought of the conclusion.
Grice argued that there is indeed some causation involved. I.e. the THOUGHT 
 of the conclusion has to be caused, almost physically, by the thought of 
the  premise. In the case of the alleged phenomenon of 'drawing a conclusion 
not of  your own' the 'trouser word', 'not on your own' makes it manifest 
that we would  not be encountering, in this instance, a case of 'drawing a 
conclusion', and  thus 'thinking' (never mind 'critical') at all. Or not.
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