Some reasonable doubt about “Clear and Present Thinking”

I got an interesting question from someone who backed my Kickstarter project:

Upon further research, it seems that you have a spiritual (specifically Pagan) background. Does this affect the timbre of your textbook? I am certainly aware of “spiritual” people who do, in fact, honor the values of critical thinking; However, I am also aware of others who use the language of this process in order to impose their own spiritual viewpoint of the universe in place a true skepticism. Does your textbook promote a spiritual approach to thinking? Or, does your textbook actually explore the concepts of logical reasoning, thinking for oneself, questioning everything, standing up to authority, etc.? I’m not saying that it does or doesn’t (how can I? — haven’t read it), but I’d like to know your response to these questions.

This is my response.

I am a philosopher, first and foremost. And although I have been part of the pagan community for much of my adult life, my thinking in the last several years has been more humanist than anything else. Most people in the pagan community know this about me (well, if they know about me at all). My most recent published works have been more philosophical than pagan, which has earned me some criticism from my own community, let me tell you!

I have some personal views about why I think philosophy and human reason is spiritual, but I have published those views elsewhere, notably in chapter 17 of my book “Circles of Meaning“. So I don’t need to use this logic text to describe those views. But if you are curious or worried about what bias I might bring to this project, that book might be a place to find it. You could also peruse my blog. Here’s a recent post that might be relevant to your concern.

Moreover, I have had in my classroom students with a huge variety of religious points of view, from mainstream Abrahamic faiths to small subcultures that I had never heard of before. And so I have acquired a lot of experience in presenting critical thinking principles and exercises in a respectful way, as objectively and as bias-free as possible. For when it comes to teaching logic, as I have done for many years, my purpose is not to tell people what to believe and what not to believe. It is to help students identify good and bad reasons for believing whatever they believe. Thereafter, students can make up their own minds. This is what any good philosophy professor does, no matter what his or her religion happens to be.

In the FAQ of the project, you can see the proposed table of contents for “Clear and Present Thinking”. You may note that I’m planning a chapter on “thinking about religion”. The thrust of that chapter will be to help students recognise the difference between strong and weak reasons for believing whatever they happen to believe about religion. I’m planning a discussion of Anselm’s Ontological Argument, Aquinas’ 5 Ways to God, and Pascal’s Wager, for instance. But I might also recruit a few contributors from several faith traditions for commentary. Two seminaries have already contacted me to inquire about using this textbook for their religious education programs, and neither of them are pagan seminaries.

Similarly, I hope to recruit contributors from across the political spectrum for the chapters on thinking about politics and economics.

I hope this helps answer your questions. Please contact me privately if you would like to know more.

Brendan

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3 Responses to Some reasonable doubt about “Clear and Present Thinking”

  1. Julian Greene says:

    Brendan,

    Excellent response! I’ve been going through the same thing with my new position at the college. Perhaps it is that no one can imagine a religion that doesn’t proselytize! When the religion editor of our local newspaper came to watch a ritual and write a story about our grove, she told us we were the first religious group in nearly 10 years of her tenure that hadn’t tried to “save her soul.”

  2. Jim Burrows says:

    Hello. I’m a “Clear and Present Thinking” backer, Deist and Process philosopher and came across this posting while checking out your site for indications of how the project was going on the one hand, and curiosity about your writing and perspectives. I’ll have to say that on the whole I am quite pleased with everything that I’ve seem and am quite comfortable that your perspective as a philosopher and Pagan Humanist while different from mine as a philosopher and Deist, seems quite compatible. I particularly like your view that “philosophy and human reason is spiritual”. I’m also comfortable that it is possible to maintain, discuss and teach the reasoning and critical thinking without imposing your on theological considerations, whether they be pagan, deist, atheist or Christian, on the reader or student.

    Your mention of Anselm’s argument inspires me to ask if you have considered covering, Charles Hartshorne’s modern version the Ontological Argument as well. I have to admit a bias in this area, being a student of Hartshorne’s student, Eugene Peers, and having had the opportunity to discuss the argument first hand with my grand-mentor. Still, I will suggest that it is a significant perspective on the venerable argument.

    Keep up the good work. I look forward to the book eagerly.

    JimB.

    • Brendan says:

      Hi Jim,
      Thanks for this note. I have just posted a short, perhaps slightly superficial excerpt from the first chapter of CPT: http://www.brendanmyers.net/blog/2012/09/clear-and-present-thinking-sample-2/

      I’ve never heard of Charles Hartshorne before, but now that I have, I’ll look up his work. I appreciate the tip! I haven’t got to writing the chapter on religion yet, although I suspect that’s the part a number of my backers are looking forward to. So far I’ve been working on the “boring” chapters: argument patterns, fallacies, etc.

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