Yes, you actually need to be taught how to think

Seems to me most people see logic as something straightforward. The truth is obvious, or at least superficially apparent, we are told. But is it?
Western nations are at the tail end of a long stage of evolution. (Whether our current stage is good or bad is partially a matter of taste.) Beginning with the Greek philosophical tradition, we became deeply interested in thinking clearly about reality. Classically speaking, we had the intuition that the practice of virtue and the practice of intellection go hand in hand. (Philosophy means “love of wisdom”. Love and wisdom imply virtue and thought.)
Throughout the medieval period, Catholicism upheld Neoplatonist and Aristotelian thought as paradigmatic for the practice of virtue and the cultivation of reason. Christianity’s Trinitarian doctrine and notion of creatio ex nihilo reiterated the splendor and rational order of the cosmos and bequeathed the conviction of the fundamental goodness of creation insofar as it is in harmony with the love of the Three Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It would be naive to look to a pristine Christian past with unqualified Romantic longing — only a few Christian cultures have almost fully lived up to the ideals upheld by their religion. But it is instructive to compare the sense of the dignity of reason and the necessity of virtue held by Christian antiquity to the situation we are facing today several centuries after Rene Descartes and the advent of secular liberalism.
Today, people are disillusioned with the concept of reality. Reality is something to be doubted, tested against whatever theories the mind constructs from numerical data. But classically knowledge was an act of trust in the world. Our senses can lead us to an accurate understanding of the world. Christianity only reinforced this notion with a conception of God’s truthfulness and wisdom, especially in creation.
In moral theory, people tend to assume a utilitarian ethic. Whatever hurts me must be bad for me, or worse, is hateful, or so we are told. But what about the classical era? To the classical philosophers, pain was a part of the process of becoming virtuous, much in the way athletic training makes us stronger. The next time someone makes an argument from a statement like, “studies show that pain is caused by X,” ask yourself, “Is there more to the story than the affect a given thing ‘X’ has on people”? Virtue ethics is a resurgent field that asks how to think again of morality without consequentialist utilitarian assumptions.
Yes, we actually need to be taught how to think. The truth of the world is not obvious, but it is available to the one who would seek it.

6 thoughts on “Yes, you actually need to be taught how to think

    1. Hi Joanne,
      Your questions are appreciated. Regarding #1, I have high regard for the pre-Constantinian Christians as possibly the ultimate model for Christian activity in the world. Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity narrates their emphasis on charitable community and the ultimate success of that approach to faith that eventually led to the conversion of the Roman Empire as a whole. Regarding #2, this article was triggered by about three weeks of spending time on Twitter again. Based on what I see on social media I’m convinced that Western culture gives and undue priority to utilitarian / consequentialist ethical philosophy. In that system, the ends justify the means. But on a Christian view of morality, we are not permitted to do evil that good may come.

  1. Thanks, am interested in reading about those eras. I see the underground church in China today living closely to the ideal of Christianity, and am intrgigued with the organic/simple church phenomenon in our own country.
    And I’d agree with you on the western cultural approach to ethics.

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