The Need for Skepticism

Reading Guy P. Harrison’s book “Think” is a truly enjoyable feat. I am reading it as I am reinforcing my perception that teaching is all about helping students to develop critical thinking with the tools to communicate and analyze difficult and complex concepts. In a way it doesn’t matter what the topic is or the subject matter everyone and all topics and subjects have to be taught by giving to the student the context that allows him/her to see the connection of these ideas with the lives of those developing the ideas. Including the cultural and semantic context in which the ideas are developed and the fact that the models proposed in this way will always have some imperfections. These imperfections are in any way making the models, hypothesis or theories unusable but have to be known in order to improve them. As we are in an ever changing world where development and progress is unstoppable we have to be aware of the fallacies embedded as to be careful to fix them or to not support new ideas based on these erroneous concepts.  There are many examples of this as when thinking about a flat earth people developed all sort of erroneous (some time poetical) models to describe its behavior like the one where elephants were standing on a turtle. For images of these ideas click here. Once a wrong idea is used to sustain more ideas is hard to be fixed. More so when they are supported by dogmatic interests and human powers that see changes in these ideas as threat to the status quo that benefits those in power.

The complexity and interconnectedness of models that explain reality is also the problem when we analyze the behavior of the individual.

At Warner Pacific College we have a senior capstone course within the general education core called “Humanities Senior Seminar” which leads students into a research project that explores the “paradoxical” nature of our humanity. This project is an excellent example of the way in which skepticism supports the students’ effort to analyze paradox in different contexts and with different relationships to their interests and “major.” This project has produced many remarkable papers. From analyzing the paradox of success through failure to the identification of unity in order from a disorderly origin. What all these papers have in common is the underlying skepticism of an inquisitive mind.

All these years that I have been reading these papers have given me a lot of satisfaction as I am witnessing the growth of these student. Some have told me that they have continued thinking about their project as it helped then have a better understanding of life.

It looks like the reason that skepticism has developed a bad name is because is a liberating attitude, not good in a repressive society. Will it be necessary to have an explicit course within the Liberal Arts called “Skepticism”?

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