Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Philosophy and Political Persuasion: Causation or Correlation?

It is very tempting to draw a causal connection between these two stories. First, the Texas GOP declared in their party platform, a formal opposition to teaching critical thinking.

"We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning), which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."
Schools are not places where students go to have their beliefs challenged and to be given the tools to critically evaluate the validity of the arguments presented by the authorities who rightly tell them what they have to believe.

Second, there was this one about Jonathan Krohn whose fifteen minutes of fame came at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference when he gave before the nation a speech outlining the essential nature of American political conservatism and led many to label him a star in waiting who would someday be a major player in Republican politics. Well, it turns out that now that he's a few years older, he's no longer conservative. Gay marriage and Obamacare? Fine by him. What caused this radical change in view?
“I started reflecting on a lot of what I wrote, just thinking about what I had said and what I had done and started reading a lot of other stuff, and not just political stuff,” Krohn said. “I started getting into philosophy — Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Kant and lots of other German philosophers. And then into present philosophers — Saul Kripke, David Chalmers. It was really reading philosophy that didn’t have anything to do with politics that gave me a breather and made me realize that a lot of what I said was ideological blather that really wasn’t meaningful. It wasn’t me thinking. It was just me saying things I had heard so long from people I thought were interesting and just came to believe for some reason, without really understanding it. I understood it enough to talk about it but not really enough to have a conversation about it. I think I’ve just matured overall.”
Hmmmm, there's philosophy again seemingly playing the role the Texas Republicans feared.

We know that there is a correlation between level of education and likelihood of being liberal, but could it be a common cause or an accidental correlation? There is a lot of work out showing neural or psychological factors that tend to lead to political party affiliation, could those factors also lead to the seeking of advanced educational opportunities or to a propensity to enjoy philosophy? Could it be a socio-economic difference, that in some segments of our culture education, especially in philosophy, is valued, but very much not so in other parts? Socrates was killed for corrupting the youth of Athens, are philosophy professors still doing it?