Caring thinking about caring thinking

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


Discuss / diskuter


Respect and respect

Let us now examine one definition we found, among many, of caring thinking. “Caring thinking means that persons take each other as seriously as they wish to be taken”. At that point, in order to problematize the definition, we would like to oppose to this scheme what we will call the “not caring thinking”, in order to see what happens. We have observed in many P4C discussions that indeed participants take themselves seriously. In fact, too seriously. We must add here that in many such discussions laughter is often banned, if not taboo. Laughter being perceived as a form of disrespect, as is often thought by some teachers, who explicitly prohibit it. Indeed, we want to be taken seriously when we speak, and why not! We want our thinking to be valued and not derided. But at the same time, this taking ourselves seriously prohibits us from thinking, as we see in many philosophy professors. (Aside from the U.K. where self-irony is an almost obligatory behavior for professors in order to look smart and liberated.) But we had noticed in our practice that at a very early age, as soon as 5 years old, problems of logic are linked to laughter. Any perception of paralogism produces an enjoyment in the children, such as when we tell stories about crazy people, or traditional tales like the ones of Nasruddin. In other words: no laughter, no critical thinking. Now of course, one can laugh nervously, stupidly or aggressively, and since laughter is an emotional issue, like any other emotions, it can be educated. Just like critical thinking, caring thinking is a practice in itself, that implies a certain attitude, a simultaneous desire to confront the other and oneself and sympathize with him, as well as the development of certain skills. Just like in the martial arts, where one learns to fight while learning a profound respect for the other.

“Take off your shirt, and come for the body to body”, says Socrates. And that is why he does not like long speeches but short statements and questions. And let’s not forget that caring for the others in antiquity, had often to do more with passion, including the agonistic and violent dimension of it, than with some soft passive mental state often called “feeling”. Although we could attempt to distinguish here the wild and violent frenzy of eros, the calm and patient philia and the ascetic agape. They of course produce different forms of caring thinking, different types of relationship to others.

Another argument that we should briefly mention, to justify reason as the form par excellence of caring thinking, is the fact that it can pretend to universality, probably much more than emotions, that are very personal, much more cultural and individual history dependent. Strangely enough, if one wants to share his emotion with someone, he has to be able to explain what he is feeling, take some distance from it in order to give it a name, or provide an explanation without which the other one will be blind to his personal situation. We might feel something at the sight of the person that is expressing emotion, but if he cannot master the words to express it and we ignore what caused the emotion, we will hardly be able to share it. Reason seems paradoxically to constitute a condition for sharing emotions.

Evidently one wants to be taken seriously, but at the same time one has to learn not to take himself seriously, otherwise this will produce sincerity or rigidity, two main obstacles to real thinking, for the latter implies a work of negativity. Even trickier is how to teach someone else not to take himself too seriously, a task which many pedagogues relinquish. Too dangerous, too delicate, too politically incorrect. In our times of extreme psychologization of thinking, the subjectivity is sacred, and you might get sued for not respecting one’s subjectivity. I still remember the mother of a little girl who was totally enraged at me since she had heard that I asked her nine years old girl if she was in love with her bag, because of the way this pupil was holding the object so tight to herself in the classroom. Teaching one to let go with his ideas, to examine them with distance and a critical eye, like teaching this nine year old girl to let go with her bag. What a difficult task! But how fundamental! And this has to do with emotions, like it has to do with growing up.


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