Monday, July 30, 2007

The Rockford Institute

I spent a very pleasant week in Rockford, Illinois, in mid July. Evey year at that time The Rockford Institute conducts a program, officially called The Regnery Lectures, but everyone involved refers to it as "Summer School."
This year the topic was The Stuarts and the English Civil war. Readings involved The Pilgrim's Progress, Paradise Lost, David Hume's history, poems of the time, Lord Clarendon's history, Hobbes and Locke.

There were some parallels with the American experience. The Puritans settled in New England, while the Anglicans tended to settle the South. Yet one wonders how much the Scots had to do with the whole thing, and whether the Jacobites could have brought about a different kind of England.

Was the English Civil War the first "philosophical" rather than "religious" war? One could ask a similar question about the original jihad, in which another iconoclastic movement tried to convert the world to abstraction. It did not succeed. The Puritans did. Their decisive victory over Christianity led to Hobbes' Leviathan. Yes, I did mean "Christianity," because after that war Christianity ceased to be a factor in English public policy. Hume would never have accepted such a philosophy, because reason can provide no values. Like all philosophers, Hobbes imported his values from pre-reflective sources, whether custom, revelation, personal interest, or projected common interest. Unlike Hume he did not acknowledge that.

The first king to be beheaded was not Louis XVI, it was Charles I, one of the better monarchs.
It is impossible to view Cromwell in a positive light. You don't have to be Irish to find him abominable. I'm glad that most people know little of him except for the brief comment in Gray's Elegy. It is a fitting one.

The evening meals were provided, Tuesday shish kabobs at the Institute office, Wednesday a buffet at the Irish Rose Saloon, Thursday another buffet at the Arboretum, followed by poetry readings, and Friday an Italian dinner at Altamore's. Saturday evening we were at Thomas Fleming's house for a cook-out.

We had wonderful presenters, in fact some of you may know Aaron Wolf who gave the talk on Bunyan. He is a Lutheran home-schooler.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

On critical thinking

Do our schools teach children to think critically? I have heard some rather bizarre accounts, including one in which students were taught "kindness" as a form of critical thinking. To set the record straight, kindness is a value, not a thought process. So let me outline what true critical thought consists of, so we may discuss the matter with common definition of terms.

There are five parts to critical thought:

1. Consistency, which asks:

a) Does this hapopen every time?
b) Does everyone tell the story the same way?
c) Does this word always mean this?

2. Relevance, which asks:
a) Can we use all of the given facts?
b) Are we using the right tool?
c) Are we in the mainstream?

3. Structure and sequence, which asks:
a) Does A depend upon B?
b) Do we have to do something else first?
c) What will happen if we do this?

4. Authority, which asks:
a) Who says so? Where?
b) Why should we believe this authority?
c) Does another authority contradict this?

5. The last part is interpretation. It doesn't exactly ask questions, but seeks to integrate known facts, theories, and opinions into systems. If no existing systems seem to include them, one should attempt to construct a new system based on them. We might summarize interpretation with the question, "What does this mean?"