Competitive alpha-dog types often view critical thinking as a kind of verbal combat in which one party establishes dominance over another. That may be the case at the Dartmouth debate club, but in the real world critical thinking involves the rigorous examination of what we believe and more importantly the reasons we believe it. But that’s a very general notion, since as Aristotle said, “the soul is in a way all things” (De Anima III.8 431 b22). So the first step in thinking rigorously is identifying what it is we need to be thinking about. If we’re responding to someone else’s criticisms of our beliefs, for instance, we must have some notion of what those criticisms are.
And this brings me to today’s installment of the D’Souza op-ed of some weeks ago. The reader might remember that a commenter said a few weeks ago that no sentence in D’Souza’s op-ed was immune from some kind of error. So far that’s been about right. The most basic kind of error–the one we noticed when we first read this–was a failure to grasp the basic content of his opponent’s criticism. Considering the amount of criticism he has received in his professional lifetime and before, this is really hard to believe. But alas:
>One of my earlier books, “The End of Racism,” explored why nonwhite immigrants to the United States (like me) tend to succeed academically and economically compared with African Americans who are born here. I received lots of abuse for playing down racism — as a “person of color,” no less — and taking sides with the white man. Some of my fellow immigrants from India advised me to “decolonize” my mind.
>But the personal attacks have reached new heights with “The Enemy at Home.” So much so, in fact, that I feel compelled to explain why I wrote this book, what it does and doesn’t say and why I think it prompts people to threaten me with hospitalization.
D’Souza’s first problem is that he doesn’t even bother responding to the substantial criticisms of his beliefs. So he commits the first mistake of critical thinking. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His second problem is that he assumes everyone else thinks like he does. Which ought to be a canonical rule of critical thinking:
>never assume others think as you do.
They don’t think as D’Souza does. So their views don’t require the same kind of explanation as his. As a matter of fact, the truly critical thinker realizes that views don’t require explanations at all. They require justifications. And this D’Souza simply does not understand.