Wednesday, October 11, 2017


One hundred years ago the terrible WWI Battle of Caporetto began (on Oct. 24). The battle was named for a town that is now in Slovenia (and is called 'Kobarid' in Slovene) and that used to be in Yugoslavia, in Italy, in Austria-Hungary, etc.

Caporetto was the 12th Battle of the Isonzo, the last in a series of costly and generally poorly planned attacks in difficult mountain terrain.

It was a cataclysmic defeat for the Italians that nearly knocked them out of the War. In the cultural memory, what the Somme is for the British and Canadians, and what Verdun is for the French and Germans, Caporetto is for the Italians. Technically, while Italy lost at Caporetto, the British won the Somme and the French won at Verdun, but these last two battles nonetheless signify for all parties involved the War's senselessness and catastrophic waste.

One of the young men on the Italian side of this battle was Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (aka Pope John XXIII), who was a chaplain (according to his German Wikipedia entry). Among the Italian soldiers to be killed at Caporetto was the mathematician Eugenio Elia Levi.

Like other major WWI engagements, Caporetto's cultural ramifications reverberated for many years after the War and include important literary works by people who were swept up in the battle or its aftermath. In English there's Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, which describes the Italian retreat and derives partly from the author's experiences with a volunteer ambulance service in Italy about six months after Caporetto.

In Italian, there's Curzio Malaparte's Viva Caporetto! (for which I can't find an English trans.). Emilio Lussu's memoir, Un anno sull'Altipiano, covers the battle and has been translated into English (as A Soldier on the Southern Front). Novelist and engineer Carlo Emilio Gadda was taken prisoner at Caporetto, an experience which he describes in his Giornale di guerra e di prigionia (or War and Prison Diary, unavailable in English). While a POW, Gadda befriended two other literary prisoners from Caporetto, Ugo Betti and Bonaventura Tecchi. I don't know if these last two authors published anything explicitly about their WWI experiences.

Umberto Rossi has written about Caporetto's traces in Italian literary culture.

Rai has a short video about the battle.

The Italians faced an attacking force of Germans and Austro-Hungarians. Erwin Rommel led part of the German group. The Hapsburg troops included many Slovenes, Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, and Hungarians. Among the Hapsburg officers at Caporetto were Ludwig von Mises and the composer Viktor Ullmann, who survived WWI but was murdered at Auschwitz Oct. 18, 1944.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Annus horribilis!

Well, that was a horrible year.

My father died. I was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. My mother-in-law died. Other bad things happened.

I look forward to posting again, starting with some link lists.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sundry items making no coherent whole

I've added content to the following old posts:
These old lines by Mike Royko seem timely:
I always believed that being a Cubs fan built strong character. It taught a person that if you try hard enough and long enough, you'll still lose. And that's the story of life. .... [a year later] Being a Cub Fan prepares you for life because everyone in life winds up a loser. Just check the cemetery. (Royko, 'A Farewell to Cubs' April 20, 1980, and 'When Ya Gotta Go' April 9, 1981, rpt. in For the Love of Mike: More of the Best by Mike Royko [University of Chicago Press, 2001], p. 35 & p. 40)
Leonard Nimoy explains the Spock pinch (the link is to the video for a 1969 CBC interview).

The BBC's list of 10 'lost' books worth our time.

The Guardian's 'top 10 philosopher's fictions'.

Pardon my crooked scanning of this image:

New Words in 1919 (from The New Republic, Oct. 1, 1919)
Hermann Broch (c. 1939-1948): 'When living in a twilight haze, one cannot distinguish between the conditions of nature and those of culture. One's attitude towards culture, then, resembles that of animals towards nature.'* (Hermann Broch Massenwahntheorie: Beitrage zu einer Psychologie der Politik, ed. Paul Michael Lützeler, [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1979], p. 69; trans. of 1st sentence: Stefan Andriopoulos, Possessed, trans. author & Peter Jansen [University of Chicago Press, 2008], n. 456)

Roland Barthes (1984): 'Myth consists in turning culture into nature, or at least turning the social, the cultural, the historical into "the natural".' (Barthes, in The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard, [NY: Hill & Wang, 1986; 1st published in French in 1984], p. 65)

C. D. Broad (1954):
[Aunt Julia's] cat for a great many years was a large tom, whom even I (who am inclined to be weak about cats) must admit to have been ugly, greedy, lecherous, and lacking in affection. She lavished good food on him .... She had named him Urijah .... Urijah survived his mistress for several years. He was treated with the same marked generosity by my cousin Ernest, who surely cannot have approved of his character, and died in extreme and unlovely old age. (Broad, 'Autobiography', The Philosophy of C. D. Broad, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp [NY: Tudor Publishing Company, 1959], p. 20)
James Lees-Milne (1942): '... Ronnie Norman, the eternal handsome schoolboy, noisily loquacious until he finds the conclusion to an argument, when he stops like an unwound clock.' (James Lees-Milne, Diaries, 1942-1954, ed. Michael Bloch, entry for Jan 12, 1942)

The 'Indiscreet charm of Beryl Bainbridge' by Philip Hensher.

Beryl Bainbridge in Coronation Street:

* Broch's above-quoted remarks in German: 'Wenn der Mensch sich im Dämmerzustand befindet, kann er nicht zwischen den Gegebenheiten von Natur und Kultur unterscheiden. Seine Einstellung gegenuber der Kultur ahnelt dann der des Tieres gegenuber der Natur.'

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Did an Oxford-comma error lead the press to overstate British gains at the Battle of Loos?

Debate has long raged about use of the Oxford comma (aka the serial comma). This troubling comma has its own Twitter feed, and it can be crucial for interpreting laws. [Update March 19, 2017: Here's a more recent example of a legal case involving the controversial comma.]

I was raised in accordance with The Canadian Style, which includes the Government's of Canada's recommendation not to bother with the serial comma unless it is required for resolving an ambiguity. Some have called any wider use of the serial comma unCanadian. Indeed, it is said to be unAustralian and unBritish, too (despite its Oxford pedigree). It is reputed to be an American thing.

I found an antecedent of the Government of Canada's advice in an Ontario high-school textbook from the 1920s. The book is called High-School English Composition. (H. W. Irwin and J. F. van Every [Toronto: The Copp Clark Company, 1921, rpt. 1929]) The authors say that the serial comma should be used only when necessary. To exemplify its capacity to alter one's meaning, they give this example:
During the Great War, when the British troops were engaged in a critical struggle with the Germans for the possession of Hill 70, General French sent the following message to England: 'We captured the western outskirts of Bulluch [sic., should be Hulluch], the village of Loos, and the mining works around it and Hill 70.' By an error, the message was made to read: 'We captured the western outskirts of [H]ulluch, the village of Loos, and the mining works around it, and Hill 70.' The insertion of the comma after 'it' conveyed the impression that Hill 70 had been captured. In consequence, public celebrations and rejoicings were held in all parts of the country. (pp. 199-200)
It's difficult to find much by way of corroboration for this tale, and the putative celebrations sound far-fetched. Still, the sentence that implies the taking of Hill 70 (and close re-phrasings of it) did appear in newspapers on Sept. 27, 1915 and shortly thereafter. On Oct. 16, 1915, the New York Times (p. 2) quotes a passage from the British Daily News under the headline, 'War Office Official Gives Evasive Answers When Questioned', according to which the Under Secretary for War had tried to clarify matters by saying:
There has been a misunderstanding on this point. The message from Sir John French, which was published in the papers of Sept. 27, stated that we had captured the western outskirts of Hulluch village, Loos and the mining works around it and Hill 70. This was been [sic.] read to mean that Hill 70 had been taken. If the words were correctly read it would be seen that the capture only of the mining works around Hill 70 was claimed.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Critical thinking as meta-thinking in Gadske's dissertation

Critical thinking is often associated with what psychologists call metacognition. In such cognition, the mind thinks (and hopefully gains knowledge) about its own operations. This is akin to what Kant pursued in his own work, where the mind turns its focus back upon itself in order to reflect on its own functioning. Philosophers say that such thinking is 'higher-order' in nature (though they sometimes reserve this phrase for a more restricted kind of thought). Here, 'higher-order' does not mean simply that the thinking is very sophisticated; rather, the point is that such thoughts take as their object further thoughts (just as higher-order desires are directed at other desires).

Some authors identify critical thinking with a specific type of higher-order thinking or metacognition. For example, in his unpublished, 1940 dissertation, Richard Edward Gadske* writes:
The adjective 'critical', therefore, suggests a very special phase of thinking. Thus, critical thinking becomes a process of becoming aware and criticising the thinking that has already taken place. In other words, it is a process of thinking about thinking from the point of view of a critic.' (Gadske, Demonstrative Geometry as a Means for Improving Critical Thinking, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University [Evanston, Illinois, June, 1940], p. 9; emphasis added)
A critic, says Gadske, is one 'who expresses a judgment on any matter with respect to its value, truth, or beauty'. (Ibid.) However, Gadske's notion of critical thinking might extend beyond what philosophers typically mean by 'higher-order thinking' and what psychologists seem to mean by 'metacognition', since it may be directed at the thinking of others (rather than just at one's own thinking). As Gadske puts it, critical thinking occurs
... when a person is analyzing his own thinking as well as the thinking of others through the media of self-scrutiny, questioning, discrimination, search, and research with respect to any situation that may be of interest or of vital concern to him. (Ibid.; emphasis added)
But critical thinking, on Gadske's conception, may yet be a species of higher-order thought or metacognition. After all, even if my aim is to assess the thoughts of someone else, it's hard to see how I can do so without exploring those thoughts, and this seems to require me to think those thoughts (or relevantly similar ones). I have to make those thoughts my own before I can subject them to critical scrutiny. Also, recall (from the previous post) that critical thinking is plausibly taken to be directed at a decision that culminates in a judgment of my own. That is, the outcome should be a decision about what I ought to think (or believe or conclude). Thus, even if my focus initially was on someone else's thinking, the critical-thinking process must include a step whereby I assess the thoughts and consider the sort of judgment that I ought to form about them.

Still, one may doubt that critical thinking is always a matter of thinking about one's own thinking. When I reflect on whether local real-estate prices will go up in the next year, I entertain propositions about recent market trends, interest rates, the approaching introduction of a new land-transfer tax, etc. Here, my thoughts seem transparent: rather than thinking of them, I think, via them (or through them), of the market, interest rates, new taxes, etc. Insofar as I consider logical and evidential relations, they are relations among propositions about these things (rather than relations among my thoughts about the propositions).

Regardless of the merits of Gadske's conception, his notion of critical thinking is similar to one of Richard Paul's later definitions. According to Paul, 'Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better'.

*Richard Edward Gadske (1901-1989) was born in Chicago on April 4, 1901. He held a B.S. in Electrical Engineering (awarded by the University of Colorado or the South Dakota School of Mines -- the records are conflicting -- in 1925) and two advanced degrees in Education from Northwestern University: an M.S. (1932) and a doctoral degree (1940). As an undergraduate, he played on a varsity football team for four years. For most of his career, he taught math at New Trier High School (Winnetka, Illinois). He coached high-school football, basketball, baseball, and track teams. In WWII, he served for four years as a commander in the US Navy. He died on July 21, 1989. (Gadske was the high-school advisor of James C. Warren, who is one of the Tuskegee airmen. Warren played on football and baseball teams that Gadske coached, and Gadske accompanied the young Warren to father-son events.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Critical and reflective thinking (3) - Dewey on these terms

H. Reed Geertsen attributes to John Dewey an interesting distinction between 'reflective' and 'critical' thinking. According to Geertsen, Dewey 'distinguished between searching and judging and called them reflective and critical thought'. (H. Reed Geertsen, 'Rethinking Thinking about Higher-Level Thinking'  Teaching Sociology, 31 [2003]: 1-19, at 2) On the one hand, says Geertsen, Dewey took reflective thought to be a 'mental process that originated with a state of doubt and then expanded into a search for ways to ease that doubt'. (Ibid.) On the other hand, Dewey is said to have 'described as critical thinking the judgments that an individual made while solving some problem'. (Ibid.) In support of his attribution, Geertsen cites Dewey's How We Think, but he supplies no page or chapter number. The book was first published in 1910, but Geertsen cites the revised, 1933 edition. (Dewey, How we think : a restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process [Boston: D. C. Heath and Company, 1933]; hereafter cited as '1933')

I cannot locate this distinction in either edition of How We Think. To be sure, Dewey's analysis of reflective thinking does distinguish a process of searching ('hunting', p. 112 [1910]) that culminates in a judgment. However, I cannot find a passage in which Dewey reserves the term 'critical' for the culminating act of judgment. In fact, the 1933 version of How We Think has fewer uses of 'critical' than the 1910 edition. The word 'critical' appears in the index to the earlier edition (under 'inference') but not in the later version's index.

In fact, in some places Dewey uses 'critical' and 'reflective' interchangeably. For instance, in a 1922 reply to Laurence Buermeyer, Dewey says that Buermeyer uses the word 'reasoning' 'to express what I call critical or reflective thinking -- thinking in its eulogistic sense'. (Dewey, 'An Analysis of Reflective Thought' The Journal of Philosophy 19 (1922): 29-38, at 31, n. 2, emphasis added)

Perhaps Dewey made the distinction in question in one of his other works (which are many).

The distinction is in accordance with the etymology of 'critic' and its cognates. The English word has its source in the ancient Greek verb krino, which implies sifting or selecting, or forming a discriminating judgment. (Dewey uses 'sifting' on p. 101 and p. 102. [1910]) The related Greek phrase kritikós indicates an ability to discern and decide. So, there is the notion of weighing or assessing something (e.g., evidence) in view of some at least tacit standards; there is also the implication of acting, or making a decision. The act is typically one of judgment. Roughly, then, one who has good judgment, or a keen critical sense, is able to decide how to judge based on some discerning insight. (Note that in German, 'beurteilen' is used to clarify kritikós.)

It is safe to say that Dewey was familiar with this etymology. According to Jay Martin's biography, Dewey studied ancient Greek in high school for three years. Moreover, the process that Dewey outlines conforms to standard interpretations of kritikós; for Dewey repeatedly emphasizes that reflective (or critical) thinking involves a searching and sifting (or 'hunting') stage, which is followed by a decision to issue a judgment. For example, in the first chapter of How We Think, Dewey writes, 'Reflective thinking, in short, means judgment suspended during further inquiry; and suspense is likely to be somewhat painful.' (1910, p. 13) Later, he says, 'The essence of critical thinking is suspended judgment; and the essence of this suspense is inquiry to determine the nature of the problem before proceeding to attempts at its solution'. (1910, p. 74) Both versions of How We Think contain this sentence: 'The judgment when formed is a decision; it closes, or concludes, the question at issue.' (1910, p. 107; 1933, p. 126)

Here, the decision that terminates the search process is usually a choice, or a free action; for it is often within our power (says Dewey) to suspend or postpone it. In addition, Dewey takes the overall process of reflective (or critical) thinking to be essential to our autonomy. In both versions of How We Think, Dewey writes:
Genuine freedom, in short, is intellectual; it rests in the trained power of thought, in ability to 'turn things over,' to look at matters deliberately, to judge whether the amount and kind of evidence requisite for decision is at hand, and if not, to tell where and how to seek such evidence. (1910, pp. 66-7; 1933, p. 90)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Critical and reflective thinking (2)

In my previous post, I noted that the phrases 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking' are often used interchangeably and that both terms have Kantian connotations that suggest a focus on thinking about one's thoughts.

In his 1910 book, How We Think, John Dewey's terminological preference was for 'reflective thought' rather than 'critical thought'. However, as is evident from the quotations in an earlier post, many of those whom Dewey influenced soon adopted 'critical thinking' as the moniker for their topic. In places, Dewey, himself, seems to use the phrases as being roughly equivalent. For instance, in one book, he writes of a pre-scientific stage, in which 'no reflective or critical thinking' is present. (Essays in Experimental Logic [The University of Chicago Press, 1916], p. 89) (In an interesting paper, H. Reed Geertsen says that Dewey did assign distinct meanings to 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking'. The meanings are closely interrelated. I'll look at them in a later post.)

In the previous post, I noted that in addition to Dewey, another anglophone philosopher in the early 20th Century, George Ladd, used 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking' as meaning largely the same thing. A third philosopher to exhibit this pattern is Rupert Clendon Lodge. (Marshall McLuhan was one of Lodge's students at the University of Manitoba.)

In a 1920 paper, Lodge clarifies what he means by 'critical' and 'reflective'. First, says Lodge, we must recognize that judgment is produced by
... reflection upon sensory experience. The primitive sensuous consciousness is split up, certain elements are cut off and fixed by the mind, and by the application of such intellectual standards as identity, difference, and organization, select elements from the original material are so worked over and reconstructed that they can be taken up into the intellectual self-consciousness in the form of concepts or mental counters which can be referred to, or judged of. ('The Logical Status of Elementary and Reflective Judgements'  The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 17 [1920]: 215)
So, a first level of judgment, or cognition, arises from mental operations upon sensory material. So far, so Kantian (broadly). Lodge then adds a second level of judgment:
There is a further level of "reflection", at which we consider, not the data of sensory experience, but our own judgment about these data, and reflect upon the method of this judgment, its validity or invalidity, its success or its failure to bring us in touch with reality. These two levels of reflection are distinguished as the Urteil or elementary judgment, and the Beurteilung or critical, reflective judgment, respectively. (Ibid.; last emphasis added)
As interpreted by Lodge, the elementary kind of judgment (Urteil) seems to be more spontaneous and, given its connection to sensation, is likely to feel automatic (in the sense of not requiring much conscious thought or deliberation). The second type of judgment (Beurteilung) has an inner focus and involves assessing or evaluating other judgments. By way of summarizing his distinction, Lodge has this to say:
In judging, we synthesize ideas in such a way as to produce in the mind a relational structure which corresponds to some relational structure in the objective world. ... For traditional logic, all thought is of this general kind. For modern logic, only a small part of our thinking falls within this field, which is treated as the field of "elementary" judgment. The modern viewpoint in logic, as in other sciences, is fundamentally skeptical, critical, and reflective; and for the modern logician, the vast majority of our judgments belong to the field of thought about thought, reflection upon method, critical or reflective judgment, which only mediately, if at all, is concerned with a reality beyond that of the mind itself. Expressed technically, traditional logic recognizes only the Urteil, while modern logic recognizes the Beurteilung as well as the Urteil. (Ibid., 214; first and second emphases added)
Here, Lodge isn't concerned to follow Kant. Instead, he indicates (in a footnote) that he is following F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, Wilhelm Wundt, Benno Erdmann, and Christoph Sigwart. (Ibid., n. 2)

Beurteilung is a philosophically intriguing German word. Lodge treats it as implying (in some contexts) critical and reflective judgment about thought and method. In a subsequent post, I'll give reasons for thinking that the use of this German term by late 19th-Century German psychologists (such as Wundt, Erdmann, and Sigwart) influenced Dewey.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Critical and reflective thinking (1)

I've looked into the history of the phrase 'critical thinking'. Given the phrase's Kantian connotations, it's no surprise that several early uses of 'critical thinking' occurred in papers about Kant. For example, there are a couple of uses in an 1883 issue of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, which was prepared (a couple of years earlier?) to mark the 100th anniversary of the Critique of Pure Reason. (One use is on p. 232 of an English translation of a paper by Kuno Fischer.)

There are even earlier uses in some American, Protestant religious publications, which are also likely to have a Kantian source.

As the Google Ngram at the end of this post indicates, use of the phrase took off in the 1890s. What sparked its surge? It might be the use of 'critical thinking' in the 'Art of Thinking' (c. 1892) by Henry Makepeace Thayer. That piece found its way into a school textbook (Ethics of Success: a Reader for the Higher Grades of Schools, 1894).

Some authors show a tendency to use interchangeably the phrases 'critical thinking' and 'reflective thinking'. Both phrases have a Kantian ring. The Kantian aura is clear in George Trumbull Ladd's 1904 Presidential Address at a meeting of the American Philosophical Association. Ladd spoke of philosophers as 'reflective and critical thinkers' ('The Mission of Philosophy', The Philosophical Review 14 [1905]: 119) and of philosophy as resting on 'critical and reflective thinking'. (Ibid., 120, 126, 135) A big part of Ladd's paper focused on Kant. Accordingly, Ladd gave a Kantian characterization of philosophy as being addressed not directly at external reality but, instead, at our cognitions or representations of that reality. Ladd, himself, was much influenced by Rudolf Hermann Lotze and was familiar with the works of German philosophers and psychologists who followed in Lotze's wake (e.g., Wilhelm Wundt, Benno Erdmann, and Christoph Sigwart).

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The NEA's de-emphasis of propaganda in its promotion of critical thinking

The National Education Association's early efforts to promote critical thinking were concentrated on helping secondary students to resist propaganda. This endeavor culminated in a 1937 collection of papers: Education Against Propaganda, Seventh Yearbook of the National Council for the Social Studies, ed. Elmer Ellis. [Cambridge, MA: The National Council for the Social Studies, a Department of the National Education Association, 1937] The focus was on teaching students about the techniques that propagandists used.

By 1942, when the NEA's National Council for the Social Studies published its Thirteenth Yearbook, [Washington, DC: The National Council for the Social Studies, a Department of the National Education Association, 1942] this method was deemed to be too narrow, since it did not make students any less susceptible to propaganda. (Howard R. Anderson, 'Introduction' in Ibid., p. vi; Hilda Taba, 'The Evaluation of Critical Thinking', in Ibid., pp. 161-2) Also, according to Hilda Taba, (Ibid., p. 162) the focus on resistance to propaganda was merely negative, since it aimed only to help students to diminish the influence of harmful, external content, and did little to promote a wider use of critical thinking in guiding one's own, constructive reasoning.

Anderson and Taba both cite a study by Wayland Osborn, who concluded that:
While the possession of knowledge and intelligence is no doubt necessary in order to do critical thinking, the results of this experiment strongly suggest that an individual may, according to commonly obtained measures, possess both these traits to a high degree and yet be highly susceptible to propaganda influences. ('An Experiment in Teaching Resistance to Propaganda' The Journal of Experimental Education 8 [1939]: 16)