Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Habermas and Critical Thinking

Ben Endres
Columbia University

"In this paper, I propose to examine some of the implications of Jürgen Habermas's discourse ethics for critical thinking. Since the argument that Habermas presents is complex and multi-dimensional, I will not be able to confront its entirety. Instead, I will briefly summarize the argument and then examine the implications of his standards for reason and communication for education and critical thinking. Critical thinking is also a broad topic with conflicting interpretations. Therefore, I will ground my use of critical thinking in a conception similar to that of Richard Paul's account, which I will also summarize briefly. Given this background, I will argue that Habermas's theory directly confronts the central problem in characterizing critical thinking. The problematic tension in his theory - between the acceptance of profound social differences, and the attempt to ground moral reasoning in universal principles - is also a challenge for critical thinking. Critical thought must be characterized in a way that allows for different subject matter and different methods without sacrificing its usefulness for particular disciplines and diverse learners. I argue that although the requirements that Habermas places on reasoning may need to be broadened to incorporate different kinds of thought, his theory demonstrates the epistemological and ethical need for a general commitment on the part of the thinker to reflect critically on personal and social beliefs."

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