Debating the Humanities, Round II

Stanley Fish continues on the value of the humanities over at his NYT blog.

Of the justifications for humanistic study offered in the comments, two seemed to me to have some force. The first is that taking courses in literature, philosophy and history provides training in critical thinking. I confess that I have always thought that “critical thinking” is an empty phrase, a slogan that a humanist has recourse to when someone asks what good is what you do and he or she has nothing to say. What’s the distinction, I have more than occasionally asked, between critical thinking and just thinking? Isn’t the adjective superfluous? And what exactly would “uncritical thinking” be? But now that I have read the often impassioned responses to my column, I have a better understanding of what critical thinking is.

Joseph Kugelmass responds again over at The Valve.

If by “critical thinking” one means merely the capacity for analysis, and the willingness to analyze something independently, then it is true that other venues besides the academy produce critical thinking. Nonetheless, skills specific to the interpretation and production of texts differ in enormous ways from the skills specific to the analysis of sports events. Otherwise, every head coach would also be a Cicero.

This variance obtains with each of the spurious alternatives you present to us here. Talk radio, while marginally interactive (since one caller at a time can speak to the host), imposes such limits on the level of the conversation that I’m frankly amazed you would compare it to a college seminar. Political analysis is rarely interactive at all: just watching a pundit talk does not produce skilled, independent political thought.