Discussions of bias seem to take on a similar pattern. Aside from the groundless hurling of the "you're biased" accusation, someone will quickly make the claim that "bias" is inevitable and that we all have our own unjustified biases, so why bother. Here is yet another way, the Stanley Fish way, to deal with questions of bias:
I agree that it is important to have a position on such questions of truth, but the classroom is not the place to work that position out; the classroom is, however, the place to consider the efforts of men and women to work it out in the course of centuries. Steven Brence may or may not be right when he announces that an “untenable” Hobbesian notion of individualism is responsible for “much of contemporary conservative thought.” But “untenable” is not a judgment he should render, although he should make an historical argument about conservative thought’s indebtedness to Hobbes. Save “untenable” for the soapbox.
Sarah asks, what good does academic conversation “do us if it does not put us in a better position to assess current theories and thoughts?” It depends what you mean by assess. If you mean analyze, lay bare the structure of, trace the antecedents of, then well and good. But if it means pronouncing on the great issues of the day — yes we should export democracy to the rest of the world or no we shouldn’t — then what she calls assessing I call preaching.
Sarah touches on what is perhaps the most urgent question one could put to the enterprise of liberal education. What, after all, justifies it? The demand for justification, as I have said in other places, always come from those outside the enterprise. Those inside the enterprise should resist it, because to justify something is to diminish it by implying that its value lies elsewhere. If the question What justifies what you do? won’t go away, the best answer to give is “nothing.”
Now I hate to be the guy who draws the facile conclusion, but isn't "laying bear the structure of" a kind of "pronouncing on"? I mean, if I say, "this argument has the structure (and say content) of an equivocation," aren't I pronouncing on it? Or should I not teach logic, because it's biased?
2 thoughts on “Lay bare the structure”
“The demand for justification, as I have said in other places, always come from those outside the enterprise. Those inside the enterprise should resist it, because to justify something is to diminish it by implying that its value lies elsewhere.”
The first sentence just seems false. Certain academic spheres may be entirely uncritical of their own enterprise, but this is not something we should accept. I think we value internal criticism and justification just as highly as we do external critiques. In any case, I have no idea what Fish is talking about here. The second sentence is a normative claim about resisting external pressures for justification based on the assumption that external justification diminishes the value of one’s enterprise, because “its value lies elsewhere.” Again, I have no idea how one could justify that claim. Apparently, the answer is, “there is no way to justify that claim.”
That’s first sentence is just a lot of hangover from Fish’s typical faux post-academy rhetoric.
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