Caring thinking about caring thinking

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


Discuss / diskuter


Person and concept

But let us examine another passage of Lipman’s writing about caring thinking, attempting to define it.

Thinking in values is always “intentional” in the phenomenological understanding of that term, in the sense that one who values (or thinks valuationally) is always directing his or her thinking at something. Thus, thinking that values rational beings is respectful thinking. Thinking that values what is beautiful is appreciative thinking. Thinking that values what is virtuous is admiring thinking. If it values what is sentient, it is considerate thinking. If it values what needs to be sustained, it is cherishing thinking. If it values what suffers, it is compassionate thinking. If it values the fate of the world and its inhabitants, it is concerned thinking. In general, we can say that thinking that values value is caring thinking.

This quotation might indeed surprise many readers, since we are here far from the “feely touchy” conception of “caring thinking” that is widely spread in the lipmanian community, for some strange reasons. We appreciate the fact that “caring” has different meaning, depending upon what we care about, and what we care about is something we have to know or determine. This is what in the first part of our text we thought of as the “missing object”. And the reader will notice that it is a “thinking object” one cares about, and not “persons”; it does not exclude “persons”, but that is not the main goal. “Persons” become here a mean, not a purpose. We then wonder how and why some practitioners or theorists have transformed this philosophical lipmanian concept into a psychological “AA meeting”, “Thanks for sharing” type “code word”.

Let us now get back to Matthew Lipman, and ask the following question: whom is he implicitly criticizing with his concept of “caring thinking”, real persons or windmills? Who would lack “caring thinking” thus defined? What would be the “big whoopee” about “caring thinking”? Who would lack such an axiology in their thinking? Who would not have such a vectorized thought? Philosophers generally do put into the forefront of their thinking some crucial concept, be it reason, truth, justice, morals, aesthetics, faith, etc. That is the reason why we still take notice of them. Even subjectivity is not denied in most classical authors. They have just different ways to articulate it, to educate it or to present it. It is a total myth that there would be purely “objectivist” or purely “rationalist” thinkers in the tradition. Let us examine some classical authors. Plato speaks about eros (desire) as being the motivation of thinking, although he is eager to distinguish earthly eros and celestial eros. Spinoza speaks about a conatus, some kind of survival instinct as the fundamental drive of any being. Descartes wrote a treatise of the passions where he invites reason to regulate passion, not to annihilate it, and his “Metaphysical meditations” is a very personal work. Hegel claims that without passion nothing great could take place. Kierkegaard affirms that there is no truth outside subjectivity. We could go on like this, and therefore we do not see which recognized author would refuse to give any room to subjectivity, no more than we would see which author would think in a way that would be deprived of any leading value structuring his thinking. Our best bet here is that the only “enemy” of Lipman is found in modern academic philosophy, the proverbial philosophy professor, who has some relational problem with his students and tends to speak to himself in the classroom. For indeed, in this profession there would be a certain pretension to objectivity, even to certain scientificity, in the grotesque rather recent obsession of viewing philosophy primarily as a history of ideas. Although we can think as well of Erasmus criticizing harshly the neo-Aristotelian philosophical sects, for whom the whole issue about philosophy was to determine who really “truly” understood Aristotle. In this sense, we fully support Lipman’s work, aiming at developing philosophy as a practice: construction of thinking. We recognize that in this path, he invites the student to walk in the footprints of the great thinkers, rather than parroting them.

At the same time, we perceive an internal tension in Lipman’s view: his official and open ties to Dewey and pragmatism, advocating individual experience, and a certain attachment to continental philosophy, to idealist philosophy. A latter dimension that is obliterated by many of his “followers”. The most blatant aspect of it is the way Lipman’s pedagogy is being used, a trivialized “deweyian” model, where under the guise of personal discovery we get a mere exchange of opinions. In most cases, teachers use Lipman’s novels, read it in the classroom and then have a free discussion about it. Rare are the ones who use the manual and exercise books he composed, a work much more geared to formal thinking, methodology, epistemology, critical thinking, conceptualization, problematization, etc. In fact, in many countries, teachers invoking his name have never even heard of those manuals, or have quickly forgotten them.


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