Caring thinking about caring thinking

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


Discuss / diskuter


The necessity of “not-caring thinking”

With a concern for problematizing the concept of “caring thinking”—a necessary critical examination of the term—let us now introduce and defend the idea of “not caring thinking”. Let us add, in order to reassure the anxious pedagogue, that this “not caring thinking” might actually be, in a certain way, the real form of “caring thinking”. The question is: what is it that we should not care about? And what advantages would we gain by “not caring”? The first “object” we should not care about is our own self, and from this abandonment we would gain an increased capacity to think. Strangely enough, “not caring” about oneself allows a greater possibility to commit oneself. The main reason for this, as we have outlined before, is that our “person” is a hindrance to the search for truth. Plato comments that friendship and truth don’t fit well together, since truth is repellent rather than being attractive: saying the truth will bring us enemies more than friends, as the example of Socrates shows. And our worse friend is of course our self, a friend who wants us to feel good, really good, and be very happy. Therefore, anything in the way of real thinking must be removed. And if we accept the idea that critical thinking has principally to be applied to oneself, we must “not care” about oneself in order to apply this critical thinking. If I have no distance from my emotions, how can I examine their legitimacy? Now, of course, if one takes the romantic perspective that emotions are always good, “pastel” love being the epitome of this “wonderland of subjectivity”, one does not see why there should be distance from emotions. On the contrary they should always be expressed, if only to relieve the overburdened soul! And we periodically meet adults that thus glorify children emotions, in order to feel better, fill their existential gap, get themselves a good conscience, and justify their own emotions as well as their own self. They forget too easily that emotions are, like ideas, the main reason for violence, xenophobia and war. Possibly those naive pedagogues escape this argument by assuming some kind of Rousseau like posture, where the children, closer to nature, are good, and they become bad as they integrate into society. Why not! But let’s not forget that children integrate into “society” at a very early age, probably even more so today than before, as experienced by many contemporary parents.

“Not caring” about our self therefore allows us some distance and a capacity for critical thinking. And this does not imply an abandonment of emotions or opinions, but a mere suspension of them, or a capacity to split one self, in order to become an object of one’s own thinking. And paradoxically, this capacity to split probably allows us to reconcile ourself with our own being, since it implies growing up emotionally. But as well, it allows us to accept much more the other, with his differences, since emotions—probably even more than opinions—can be very blind to otherness, especially when this otherness does not vibrate in the same way as ours does. Furthermore, for teachers or parents, this “not caring” about oneself allows us to understand and accept that children—or other adults—do not function like us. How many times have we been amazed at adults who project in a totally unconscious way their own emotions on children, with the utmost good conscience! A blindness which induces in the children they are responsible for a sort of corruption, since those children then mimic those adults in order to get some “reward”, if only the satisfied look contemplating them. I will always remember the astonished face of the Norwegian teacher who “had suffered” during the “harshness” of a philosophy workshop with her pupils, and cried out later in her report to the teacher’s meeting: “I can’t believe it! They liked it!”. Another such example is a workshop of critical thinking where I was asking the children, after they heard someone speak, to state openly if they believed or not the person speaking—as well as justifying their choice—a demand which horrified the teacher as a rude thing to do; but the children found it fun, among other reasons because this rightful and common judgment is generally banned, being never expressed in public but always in private way.

How often when an adult projects his own needs to be loved on the children themselves, very surprised when some pupil dare reject that “love”! A rejection sometimes expressed in an unexpected violent way, especially with teen-agers, a rejection which the poor disappointed teacher explains entirely with the “problems” of the pupil. If he would “care less” about himself, be less dogmatic about his own emotions and his own “needs”, he probably would see better, understand and accept better the persons he has in front of himself, especially the different ones. At the same time, he would invite his pupils to see and understand better what they say and are, a condition for seeing, understanding and accepting better what the others say and are. Just like ideas, emotions have to be passed through the sieves, examined and criticized, in order to see which are legitimate, which are not. For the advocates of pragmatism who are so keen on “self-correction”—although this is a new name for an old concept, like Spinoza’s “adequate idea”—why would self-correction be applied only to ideas but not to emotions? But indeed, emotions are much more difficult to examine than ideas, we tend to trust them a lot because they are harder than ideas to distance ourselves from, which explains why philosophers have often been somewhat critical and suspicious of them, as they have been with common opinions, largely criticized as well. But let’s not confuse this criticism with the strange behavior of the proverbial philosophy professor, what students familiarly call a “nerd”, among other reasons for his incapacity to exist and relate to human beings. And for sure academia is often a place where irrationality, egotism and emotional blindness reign, under the guise of not being emotional. But let’s not forget that this caricature of a philosopher should not be a reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater and fall—from Charybdis to Scylla—into the arms of the caricature of a psychologist, for whom emotions are the only real thing. Complacency is in both cases the enemy, be it with rigid ideas or glorified emotions. And strangely enough, as we see it, to be authentic, to commit one self, is the condition both to exist and to think, which implies not being a prisoner neither of our emotions, nor of our own ideas.


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