Caring thinking about caring thinking

by Oscar Brenifier, April 2008
Revision and suggestions by Janette Poulton


Discuss / diskuter



But is this the meaning given in the famous P4C concept, as it is commonly conceived? Far from it, we now have to come back to earth. Let us say, if we might express a P4C generality, that “caring thinking” has more to do strictly speaking with the idea of pampering—one of the possible connotations of the term “caring thinking”—than with any other form of mental activity. And of course we cannot pamper thinking since it is not a person and does not need pampering, but we pamper the “others”, and ourselves, as if thinking beings were babies or weak little creatures that could not stand on their two feet. We doubt we should call this activity thinking, since it has more to do with a purely sentimental non-examined behavior, than with anything else. When we pamper, there is no demand.

In general, “caring thinking” is invoked in order to counterpoise it—“complement it” says philosophical correctness—to critical thinking: an opposition which on the one hand makes sense, but on the other hand is very revealing of a certain world vision, which for now, without justifying it, we will call “complacent relativism”. How did this happen? Well, for one by simply replacing, without any warning, the object of care from the thinking itself toward some interlocutor, toward a human subject, including oneself. In other words, thinking does not care so much about thinking itself, but about whom it speaks to, and by a principle of reciprocity to the person speaking. This Copernican type epistemological reversal does not surprise us. First it fits the spirit of the time, where “people” or “persons” are more important that anything else. Second, in the wave of popularization of philosophy, such a newly defined vision has to fit consumer society, where the client is king, and has to be pleased, contra to the tradition of philosophy that conceives of thought itself as a disturbing activity. We think here for example of Leibniz claiming that philosophy creates “uneasiness”, or of Socrates the gadfly. So we see many philosophy for children practitioners acting to establish a situation where everyone goes out of his way not to provoke, deride or criticize “persons”, but at the same time, thinking itself is not really cared about. This is probably because if there are human rights, there are no “thinking rights”; thinking is a mere product, very cheap, and democracy allows us to say whatever we want... The best proof we can provide for this, is that in most activities of P4C, even in training session, very rarely—if not never—is there any invitation to critical analysis of the sessions. And it is admitted, just like in political movements, that the main point is that it becomes popular and grows: we “care” about people, about “gathering people”, with not so much care for the quality of the work.

On the other hand, caring for people could certainly take place, and probably does take place, in a different way, not so much by practicing “pampering thinking”, but through another perception of “caring”. Let us distinguish here between “motherly care” and “fatherly care”, as this polarity has been established principally since the birth of psychoanalysis. One is linked to unconditional love, the other one is linked to conditional love. The first one is undifferentiated, the second is differentiated. One considers that caring is giving one everything it wants, the other one considers that caring is to give one what it deserves. And of course, the popular “non dualistic” apostle who enjoys the new age perspective will tell you that there is no reason to oppose those two visions, and they can be united, for example with the concept of “need”. But we choose to obey the logical principle of identity, which claims that one is one and the other is other, and asserts an excluding principle which permits clear thinking by seizing the operating tension between the terms. Therefore, either we care about the speaker by telling the person that everything he says is wonderful, or imply such a vision by excluding criticism: the important goal is only that he participates. Or we care about the person by examining thoroughly what has been said, and inviting everyone to do so, in order to see what is worthy and what is not worthy in a given behavior or a given thinking. And we don’t see why the latter one would be a lesser form of caring: maybe more rigorous and less generous, but as attentive.

One concrete example of this is the demand of answering questions, which for Plato is the art par excellence of dialogue. The idea of questioning and answering is for him, following the Socratic model, the way to meet with the other, to care about him, since this produces the closest encounter between souls. This is the reason why he does not want long speeches but short answers that have to deal with the problem posed in the question. Since good questions set us up in front of a specific task that forces us to produce specific concepts or oblige us to confront some aporetic “dead end”, or at least force us to face a situation of a double bind where we have to see our own blind spots or contradictions. Of course, this form of caring thinking, which cares about the thinking, the question and our capacity to answer, and about the other, since we honor his demand, is far from being “nice” since the whole idea is to confront the finiteness of the being, its imperfection. But there again, is not this to care for someone, than to examine his own limits, which constitute his being, and allow him, if possible, desired or necessary, to go beyond them? Growing up constitutes here a process of education: learning to accept oneself and reality, independently of the nature of self and reality.


Page created: 26.01.09. Page last modified: 18.11.09 14:41.