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Directionless Quibble

June 24, 2008

File under More Light Reading: Roger Kimball’s Essay “Sausages, enlightenment, and ‘critical thinking’ “ Example:

The first thing to notice about the vogue for “critical thinking” is that it tends to foster not criticism but what one wit called “criticismism”: the “ism” or ideology of being critical, which, like most isms, turns out to be a parody or betrayal of the very thing it claims to champion. Criticismism is an attitude guaranteed to instill querulous dissatisfaction, which is to say ingratitude, on the one hand, and frivolousness, on the other. Its principal effect, as the philosopher David Stove observed, has been “to fortify millions of ignorant graduates and undergraduates in the belief, to which they are already only too firmly wedded by other causes, that the adversary posture is all, and that intellectual life consists in ‘directionless quibble. ’”

The phrase “directionless quibble” is from Jacques Barzun’s The House of Intellect, and a fine book it is, too, not least in its appreciation of the ways in which unanchored intellect can be “a life-darkening institution.” I suggest, however, that the phrase “directionless quibble” is not entirely accurate, since the habit of quibble cultivated by “critical thinking” does have a direction, namely against the status quo.

A brilliant definition of an attitude I see all to frequently, even among friends.

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