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Month: July 2017

AI and the Future of Free Markets: A Nuanced View – Preview of FreedomFest 2017 Panel Comments by G. Stolyarov II

AI and the Future of Free Markets: A Nuanced View – Preview of FreedomFest 2017 Panel Comments by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat

G. Stolyarov II

July 18, 2017


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, offers a preview of his forthcoming remarks at the July 21, 2017, FreedomFest panel in Las Vegas, entitled “Artificial Intelligence & Robots: Economy of the Future or End of Free Markets?”

Find more information regarding the FreedomFest panel here.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party website here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free by filling out our concise application form.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Question-and-Answer Session – July 15, 2017

U.S. Transhumanist Party Question-and-Answer Session – July 15, 2017

The New Renaissance Hat

G. Stolyarov II
B.J. Murphy
Bobby Ridge
Scott Jurgens
Martin van der Kroon

July 15, 2017


In this interactive question-and-answer session, scheduled for 11 a.m. U.S. Pacific Time on Saturday, July 15, 2017, U.S. Transhumanist Party Officers answered members’ and the public’s questions about the ongoing activities and objectives of the United States Transhumanist Party and also discussed other issues of interest that relate to emerging technologies and how to ensure the best possible future for sentient entities.

The following Officers were present for this Q&A session:

– Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman
– B.J. Murphy, Director of Social Media
– Martin van der Kroon, Director of Recruitment
– Bobby Ridge, Secretary-Treasurer
– Scott Jurgens, Director of Applied Innovation

Because of an unexpected technical difficulty, the video stream was split into two portions.

Watch Part 1 here.

Watch Part 2 here.

Join the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free by filling out our membership application form at https://goo.gl/forms/IpUjooEZjnfOFUMi2.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party website at http://transhumanist-party.org/.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/USTranshumanistParty/.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party Twitter page at https://twitter.com/USTranshumanist.

When Academia Turns into Fight Club – Article by Steven Horwitz

When Academia Turns into Fight Club – Article by Steven Horwitz

The New Renaissance Hat
Steven Horwitz
July 14, 2017
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What do academics do for excitement over the summer, you ask? This summer many of us have been engaged in a furious debate over the new book Democracy in Chains by Duke historian Nancy MacLean.

Libertarian and conservative scholars from a variety of disciplines have raised a number of criticisms about MacLean’s sources and her accuracy about historical facts that call into question the “evidence” she has to show that economist James Buchanan and public choice theory, if not libertarianism more generally, are all tools of racist oligarchs like the Koch Brothers.

Rather than rehash all of the particular criticisms, I want to focus on the controversy that has developed over the criticisms themselves. It’s important to understand that the libertarian critics of MacLean have carefully compared passages in her book with her cited sources and showed how she has misread and quoted selectively from them, often leading her to attribute to people the exact opposite of the argument they actually held. These criticisms have been posted publicly on blogs and websites. These are not just vague accusations. They are detailed examples of poor scholarship.

But the fascinating part has been her response. And her lack thereof.

Everyone Is under Attack

MacLean has offered no substantive response to the detailed criticisms. She had one exchange with Russ Roberts over her treatment of Tyler Cowen, but even there she did not respond to the substance of Russ’s concerns. Other than that, nothing.

What she did do, however, was put up a long Facebook post that reads like a combination conspiracy theory tract and call to action for progressive activists. The short version is that she claimed she was under “attack” from a conspiracy of “Koch operatives” who were paid hacks out to destroy her book and her reputation and silence her. She claimed, then retracted when she found out it couldn’t be done, that the Kochs had bought Google results to put the critics at the top of searches. She encouraged her supporters to game the Amazon reviews by posting positive reviews and down-voting the “fake” Koch reviews.

She has continued this narrative of being “under attack” in various interviews, and most recently in a story in Inside Higher Ed, where fellow progressives echo this language.

This notion of being “attacked” is particularly fascinating to me. Let’s be clear what she means: people who know a lot about Buchanan, public choice theory, and libertarianism have taken issue with her scholarship and have patiently and carefully documented the places where she has made errors of fact or interpretation, or mangled and misused source materials and quotes. That is all that they have done.

None of this was coordinated nor was it part of a conspiracy from the Koch brothers. It was scholars doing what scholars do when they are confronted with bad scholarly work, especially when it touches on issues we know well.

None of these critics, and I am among them, have called for physical violence against her. None have contacted her employer. None have called her publisher or Amazon to have the book taken down. Contrary to her claim, the only silence in this whole episode is her own refusal to respond to legitimate scholarly criticism. We don’t want to silence her – we eagerly await her response.

So where is this language of “attack” coming from? Here is where I think the political right bears some responsibility for the current situation. And to the degree libertarians have cast their lot with “the right,” we are seen as guilty by association. Call it blowback if you will.

In the last year or two, progressive intellectuals and academics have been threatened with violence and had their employers contacted, not to mention threats made from politicians, on the basis of public statements they’ve made. Yes, some of those statements were deplorable, but that is no excuse for threatening people’s physical safety or their jobs. These are real attacks, not intellectual criticisms.

We should also not forget the anti-intellectual “Professor Watch List” put up by TurningPoint USA, which gave left-leaning faculty more reason to imagine coordinated and conspiratorial attacks.

And yes, all of this was not done by conservative or libertarian intellectuals, but they were done by activists associated with “the right,” and that is all that progressives need to find the intellectuals guilty by association.

It probably also matters, though less so, that many conservative and libertarian students have referred to themselves as “under attack” in college classrooms. In my 30 years of teaching experience, what they call “under attack” is far more often than not simply having their views strongly challenged and being expected to defend them. In other words, exactly what MacLean is experiencing.

This is not being “attacked.” It is what college classrooms and scholarly conversation are all about.

Unfortunately, the real attacks on left-wing faculty (and yes, there have been ones on right-wing ones too) have provided MacLean’s defenders with a convenient word to use to blur the difference between legitimate, but forceful, scholarly criticism, and threats of violence or silencing.

Always Take the High Road

Conservative critics of higher education should take this to heart. When you whip people into a frenzy over the crazy things that a small number of faculty say on Twitter, or because of legitimate concerns about the treatment of a small number of conservative speakers, the whipped up folks are going to do things you wish they wouldn’t. And that’s going to lead to blowback.

As a libertarian academic who frequently speaks at public events on other campuses, I do have low-level concerns about my safety. And if I were a progressive academic, I’d have similar fears given the way some of them have been treated, especially by politicians. Calling the intellectual criticisms of her book a coordinated conspiracy heads MacLean into Alex Jones territory, but given the current climate, it shouldn’t surprise us that she and her supporters feel “under attack.”

But notice the result: a book that smears libertarian and conservative ideas on the basis of shoddy scholarship gets attention because the author claims she’s under attack when she is called out in careful detail by other scholars. The real attacks on left-leaning faculty enable her to claim victimhood by association while using guilt by association to blame the conservative and libertarian intellectuals who are criticizing her work.

Once we head down the road, whether caused by the left, right, or libertarians, of turning intellectual disagreements into threats of violence, or threats to employment, or anything of that sort, the social losses are huge. Indeed, once both threats to people’s safety and employment and sharp intellectual disagreement become “attacks,” we will lose our ability to recognize the moral and intellectual difference between the two, and our disgust at the threats will weaken. And to the degree that the left largely dominates the intellectual world, conservatives and libertarians will be the biggest losers when academia turns into Fight Club.

So what to do? First, call off the dogs. Conservatives and libertarians need to consistently take the high road, as many of the intellectuals have tried to do in response to MacLean’s book. The hard part is getting right-wing media, both traditional and social media, to do the same. Those of us who care about intellectual standards have to publicly call out our own when they whip up anti-intellectual and anti-higher education frenzies.

Second, implore our left-wing friends of integrity to do the same. The most important thing that can happen to end this arms race is for scholars of integrity on the left to call out people like MacLean, both for their shoddy scholarship and their hyperbolic use of the language of conspiracy and attack. A strongly critical review of her book by a historian or economist of the center or left would go a long way to addressing the specific concerns it raises and could set a necessary example for others.

In the meantime, those of us critical of MacLean will continue to document her errors and press publicly for a response. And we’ll do so with the most proper of scholarly etiquette. I implore those sympathetic to our cause to be on their best behavior on social media as well. She and her supporters need no more ammunition.

Steven Horwitz is the Schnatter Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise in the Department of Economics at Ball State University, where he also is a Fellow at the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. He is the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

The Attack on Hobby Lobby Is Incoherent and Unjust – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The Attack on Hobby Lobby Is Incoherent and Unjust – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey A. Tucker
July 13, 2017
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The mainstream press has accused Hobby Lobby, a great and beloved American company, of hypocrisy, unchristian behavior, smuggling, stealing, and even funding terrorism. As punishment, and concluding an investigation that has been going on for six years, the US government has extracted from the company a fine of $3 million, and the company is sending to the government property it bought fair and square.

What horrible things did the company do? It purchased from sketchy sources in the Middle East thousands of ancient artifacts, including extremely rare cuneiform tablets. The purpose of such purchases – the Green family that owns Hobby Lobby spent its own money – is to complete an exciting project in the nation’s capital, the building of a new museum called the Museum of the Bible that will be open to the public in November.

For its efforts to save ancient historical artifacts and put them on display for educational purposes, the company has been declared guilty of trafficking war loot. And the property it bought? It is presumably going to be owned now by the US government – and maybe put in a warehouse and forgotten, like the disgraceful scene from the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The War Caused This

And yet, it was the chaos of the Iraq War itself that brought these artifacts to the black markets to begin with. Previously, one supposes, they were claimed by Saddam Hussein as the national property of the government that the U.S. overthrew. They were pillaged by traders in the midst of the confusion that the US had not properly prepared for. This was nearly 15 years ago, and, presumably, the artifacts have changed hands many times.

Given how valuable these items are, and how little care the US government showed them, there is a sense in which the black market deserves praise. There was no longer a regime in place to claim ownership. The treasures were not destroyed or forgotten. Rather, they were preserved in the care of new owners and traders who understood their value – far more so than the marauding occupiers who allowed a birthplace of civilization to be pillaged without a thought.

Hobby Lobby – scrupulously and motivated by genuine piety – was only seeking to recover them and put them on display to increase public awareness of their value and what they represent. It is not the company’s fault that these treasures were floating around and changing hands all over the Middle East. Hobby Lobby didn’t cause the war. It didn’t steal a single thing from anyone. What the company was doing was systematically buying them from criminals, gangs, and shadowy forces with an eye toward keeping them safe and showing them to the public.

Hobby Lobby deserves praise, not condemnation, for these actions.

The most preposterous claim is that what the company did was unchristian. This is a jab at the company culture, of course, which is openly evangelical and has otherwise embroiled the company in public controversy. The Supreme Court decided in favor of its claim that it should not be forced to provide medical services to its employees. It was the first time in US history that the courts said that a for-profit company enjoys certain rights to religious liberty – and the partisans of Obamacare have never forgiven the company for that reason.

It’s like the whole of the social-democratic opinion cartel got on board with a plan: get Hobby Lobby!

False Records

What about the claim that there was fraud involved in the shipping of items themselves? According to reports, the company acquiesced to falsified shipping records in order to disguise the contents of the packages.

This strikes me not as fraud – who is actually being defrauded here? – but rather very smart and strategic behavior. What was the company to do? Put a big stamp on the packages that says PRICELESS ARTIFACTS FROM ANTIQUITY INSIDE? The efforts to disguise the contents were consistent with the care that the company was taking with the property that it justly acquired on the market.

In fact, by not insuring the contents as much as the shippers might have been willing to cover, the company was bearing the full liability that would have been associated with theft. Therefore it had every incentive to obscure the nature of the contents. No one got hurt by their doing so.

Making the Market

But there is yet another claim making the rounds. In the words of professional Hobby Lobby haters Joel Baden and Candida Moss:

If collectors like the Green family were unwilling to purchase unprovenanced antiquities — items that do not have a clear and clean history of discovery and purchase — the black market would dry up. As long as there are buyers, there will be sellers. It is because collectors like Hobby Lobby are willing to pay a premium and look the other way that looting continues. They dramatically expanded the market for biblical antiquities in the late 2000s.

This is just crazy talk. Are we really supposed to believe that if the Greens had not put a value on ancient Mesopotamian artifacts that these items would thereby fall in value for everyone else? This is preposterous actually. And think about this: if the treasures actually fall to zero price, there would be no incentive to care for them and display them for the public. It is precisely because The Green family and so many others value them that they have been preserved.

These writers are living in a fantasy world. Actually, the black market has done more for the cause of historical preservation than either Saddam Hussein or the occupying military forces ever did.

Ownership Records

There is the final matter of ownership records. These are obviously controversial for property that is, after all, thousands of years old. What to do? Hobby Lobby had the right solution: they should be owned by the highest bidder and displayed for the edification of the public. As a private enterprise, it could have experimented with using the right technology – blockchain – to create immutable records, along with the complete history. That way, there would never again be a controversy.

Much the same is already being done in the art world to prevent forgeries, track ownership, and verify the authenticity of works of art. This process needs to commence with ancient artifacts too, for the sake of posterity and the future.

What Hobby Lobby was doing could have finally saved this sacred history on behalf of the whole of humanity. Sadly, it will not be so, simply because some bureaucrats and petty pundits are working through their resentments of the company, fining them and dragging its reputation through the mud. Hobby Lobby wasn’t stealing; it is being stolen from.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

The Radicalism of Reading – Article by Eileen L. Wittig

The Radicalism of Reading – Article by Eileen L. Wittig

The New Renaissance Hat
Eileen L. Wittig
July 13, 2017
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It’s Peak Reading Season: too hot to go outside, too lethargic to do much inside, no holidays coming up for a while. Polls and anecdotes are probably telling you that reading is on the decline – people just don’t read like they used to! – but it turns out that depends on what demographic you’re looking at, and it’s a bit embarrassing for the old people shaking their heads over “kids these days.”

If you’re looking at people over the age of 65, your thought is right. Only 67 percent have read a book in the past year, regardless of format. But if you look at people age 18-29, a.k.a. the ones who supposedly do nothing but scroll through the internet all day, that number jumps up to 80 percent. Awkward.

Granted, that’s only talking about people who have read an actual book, and I’d argue that reading educational articles counts. If we include that, the reading statistic would jump even higher.

And that would’ve been horrible a century ago. And in the century before that. And all the way back to ancient Greece.

The modern obsession with reading is just that: a modern obsession, created by technology, new genres of literature, and advances in class, gender, and socioeconomic equality. It took about 2,500 years, but we made it.

Technological Advance, Copyrighted

You’d think the ancient Greeks would’ve been all about writing things down, but there was resistance from Socrates. He was a huge supporter of the previous technology: oral tradition, when knowledge was passed down through the generations by talking.

Thankfully Plato ignored him and recorded, for the millennia, that Socrates said writing would be terrible for society, causing “forgetfulness,” giving “not truth, but only the semblance of truth,” making everyone “appear to be omniscient, but knowing nothing,” creating nothing but “tiresome company.” Thus did literature have its first great irony.

For hundreds of years, we wrote things down. Most books were either religious or historical, regardless of country, culture, or religion of origin, and as the times changed, this general rule became alternately stricter and looser. Strict class structure, long work days, and the lack of publishing technology resulted in relatively low literacy rates.

The next big step forward was Gutenberg’s printing press. No more hand-writing everything! Suddenly books could be mass-produced, and with that ability came books in many different genres: poetry, technical knowledge, morality stories, and even sheet music. It took a while for people to realize they could start printing books in their own native languages and not only in the then-universal literary language of Latin, but it got there eventually.

Unfortunately, as happens now, with this new technology came new laws, particularly the Ordinance for the Regulation of Printing, issued in England in 1643. The Ordinance proclaimed that

Nor other Book, Pamphlet, paper, nor part of any such Book, Pamphlet, or paper shall from henceforth be printed, bound, stitched or put to sale by any person or persons whatsoever, unless the same be first approved of and licensed under the hands of such person or persons as both, or either of the said Houses shall appoint for the licensing of the same, and entred in the Register Book of the Company of Stationers, according to ancient custom, and the Printer thereof to put his name thereto.

In other words, you couldn’t print anything unless you had express permission from a government-appointed person. You couldn’t submit your book to the registry without government permission, either.

Needless to say, this didn’t help publishing progress. However, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 created the Declaration of Rights, which included the right to free speech, England’s society opened up, and the Ordinance was allowed to lapse in 1694. Free speech combined with less regulation resulted in many more printing presses and publication houses in both England and the American colonies, and publication of books, newspapers, and pamphlets started going up. With more things available, more people could start reading, and the literacy rate in the West went up.

And then a brand new literary genre was invented, and the literary world changed forever (not even hyperbolically).

But the Women!

Up to this point, “the literacy rate went up” has referred more to men than to women. Some women could read, of course, but it was a male-dominated sphere until the end of the 19th century. Women didn’t work outside the home as much, and they were still considered to be inferior to men, so they often did not have comparable educations. The rise of female literacy came when the novel was spreading across the world, but the genre was not welcomed like it is today.

There’s disagreement over what the first novel was – most people say it’s Don Quixote, published all the way back in 1605, but others say it’s Pamela, published in 1740 – no matter which author was responsible for it, there was a lot of antagonism, even from the medical world. Novels were considered to be evil, destroying not only the morality but also the physical health of their “susceptible” female readers. Even in 1899, people were still warning against the “evils of reading” for women.

The problem was that they couldn’t actually agree on the details. One doctor wrote that novels would detrimentally accelerate a girl’s physical maturity, while another wrote that reading, and education in general, would cause of the opposite problem by preventing women from being able to have children. Reading novels could even make a woman uppity and encourage her to disrupt the status quo – the horror! Some went even further, warning that reading novels would cause insanity and even death.

Other people were more subtle in their predictions, believing novels would merely blur the line between fact and fiction. Authors themselves were torn: Gustave Flaubert ironically wrote a novel about this idea in Madame Bovary, while Jane Austen sensibly wrote against it in Northanger Abbey.

As more and more novels were written, and as women themselves entered the writing world, the hostility and sexism eventually died away. Today, we’ve progressed far beyond the old sexism: women now read more books than men, and the best-selling book series in history is a set of novels written by a woman: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Lowering the Threshold

Even with the lapsing copyright laws and the increased demand for books thanks to women’s literacy, publication was expensive, so books were expensive too. Reading was generally reserved for the higher classes who were, first off, educated, but could actually afford the money and time to read. Even Benjamin Franklin’s library required a subscription only a few tradesmen could afford. But that trend started changing when Charles Dickens and New York entered the sphere, thanks to the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment.

New York’s publishing houses – including Harper Bros. – were big enough to afford both large-scale publications, which made the books cheaper to publish and buy, and the vast expanse of the American West opened by the creation of the Erie Canal in 1825. The invention of the paperback book lowered the cost of books even further, giving people the “dime novel.” Publishers also took advantage of the lax international copyright laws and published whatever they wanted, including the works of one of the world’s first celebrity authors, Charles Dickens.

Over in England, Dickens was doing a strange thing and successfully writing about the poor. Taking from his own experiences growing up, Dickens used his talents and popularity to promote equality among the classes, greater education, and sympathy for people historically ignored. But he was also creating a new medium of publication: the magazine serialization, which ultimately became the standard form of novel-printing for the era all over the world. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, Henry James, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, and Harriet Beecher Stowe all published serial works. Printing in magazines allowed a greater audience to enjoy literature that would otherwise be reserved only for the people who could afford the time and money to read them in book format.

Speaking of Stowe, the literacy gap in America between whites and all minorities was huge for the first 200 years of our history. Just after the Civil War, in 1870, 79.9 percent of blacks and minorities were illiterate. That rate dropped steadily until 1910, at which point the illiteracy rate among minorities was 30.5 percent. The literacy rate continued growing, albeit slower than before, until the race gap was finally closed in 1980.

21st-Century Reading

All the technological, social, and economic advances made during the explosive 18th and 19th centuries carried through into the modern era, spreading literacy and dispelling weird rumors until the world literacy rate went from 12% in 1800 to 85% in 2014. With the internet, e-readers, and all our smart devices, people are reading more now than ever; and the availability and variety of content is unlike anything even imagined just a century ago.

So when a relative or stranger tells you to put your phone down, ask them when they last read a book, and then quote something smart from the article you’re reading on your phone.

Eileen Wittig is an Associate Editor and author of the Lazy Millennial column at FEE. You can follow the Lazy Millennial Twitter here.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Bobby Ridge

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Bobby Ridge

The New Renaissance Hat
Gennady Stolyarov II and Bobby Ridge
July 8, 2017
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Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, interviews Bobby Ridge, a researcher into transhumanist philosophy and the scientific method and the new Secretary-Treasurer of the United States and Nevada Transhumanist Parties.

Watch this conversation regarding the subjects of Mr. Ridge’s research, the scientific method, and transhumanism more generally.

Bobby Ridge has a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Science from California State University of Sacramento (CSUS) and is striving to achieve his MD in Neurology. He only recently became a Transhumanist. He conducts research for CSUS’s Psychology Department and his own personal research on the epistemology and Scientiometrics of the Scientific Method. He also co-owns Togo’s in Citrus Heights, CA. Mr. Ridge considers transhumanism to describe the future of humanity taking its next steps in evolution, which are both puissant and daunting. With the exponential increase in information technology, Mr. Ridge considers it important for us to become a science-based species to prevent a dystopian-type future from occurring.

Visit the website of the U.S. Transhumanist Party at http://transhumanist-party.org/.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free by filling out this form.

Critical Thinking Doesn’t Mean What Most People Think – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Critical Thinking Doesn’t Mean What Most People Think – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
July 4, 2017
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Academics like to say that we teach “critical thinking” without thinking too critically about what it means to think critically.

Being Critical, Not Thinking Critically 

Too often in practice, people equate critical thinking with merely being skeptical of whatever they hear. Or they will interpret it to mean that, when confronted with someone who says something that they disagree with, they either:

a) stop listening (and perhaps then start shouting),

b) find a way to squeeze the statement into our pre-existing belief system (if we can’t we stop thinking about it), or

c) attempt to “educate” the speaker about why their statement or belief system is flawed. When this inevitably fails we stop speaking to them, at least about the subject in question.

Ultimately, each of these responses leaves us exactly where we started, and indeed stunts our intellectual growth. I confess that I do a, b, and c far too often (except I don’t really shout that much).

To me, critical thinking means, at a minimum, questioning a belief system (especially my own) by locating the premises underlying a statement or conclusion, whether we agree with it or not, and asking:

1) whether or not the thinker’s conclusions follow from those premises,

2) whether or not those premises are “reasonable,” or

3) whether or not what I consider reasonable is “reasonable” and so on.

This exercise ranges from hard to excruciatingly uncomfortable – at least when it comes to examining my own beliefs. (I’ve found that if I dislike a particular conclusion it’s hard to get myself to rigorously follow this procedure; but if I like a conclusion it’s often even harder.)

Teaching Critical Thinking

Fortunately, people have written articles and books that offer good criticisms of most of my current beliefs. Of course, it’s then up to me to read them, which I don’t do often enough. And so, unfortunately, I don’t think critically as much as I should…except when I teach economics.

It’s very important, for example, for a student to critically question her teacher, but that’s radically different from arguing merely to win. Critical thinking is argument for the sake of better understanding, and if you do it right, there are no losers, only winners.

Once in a while, a student speaks up in class and catches me in a contradiction – perhaps I’ve confused absolute advantage with comparative advantage – and that’s an excellent application of genuine critical thinking. As a result we’re both now thinking more clearly. But when a student or colleague begins a statement with something like “Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I believe…” that person may be trying to be critical (of me) but not in (or of) their thinking.

It may not be the best discipline for this, but I believe economics does a pretty good job of teaching critical thinking in the sense of #1 (logical thinking). Good teachers of economics will also strategically address #2 (evaluating assumptions), especially if they know something about the history of economic ideas.

Economics teachers with a philosophical bent will sometimes address #3 but only rarely (otherwise they’d be trading off too much economic content for epistemology). In any case, I don’t think it’s possible to “get to the bottom” of what is “reasonable reasonableness” and so on because what ultimately is reasonable may, for logical or practical reasons, always lie beyond our grasp.

I could be wrong about that or indeed any of this. But I do know that critical thinking is a pain in the neck. And that I hope is a step in the right direction.

Sanford (Sandy) Ikeda is a professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.