There has been an implicit assumption within the intellectual tradition of the West that goes as far back, at least, to Socrates and maybe even in the pre-Socratics. It is an implicit assumption that is so pervasive, so fundmental to our way of thinking that when it began to be questioned by post-modernity, it lead to a lot of hostiltiy from various corners of the intellectual world. Unfortunately, in not being able to really see the pervasiveness of this assumption, the prevailing reponse to post-modernity by modernity was to continue to buttress this basic assumption, rather than come up witha new assumption that would simultaneously lift up some of the the value of the intellectual tradition of the West, particuarly the advances made in the Enlightenment as it came to science, while at the same time accept the critque of post-modernity in such a way that it the intellectual tradition could correct itself while also insulating itself from the corrosiveness of post-modernity.
What is this assumption? That critical thinking under its various names, such as reason, analytic thinking, etc., leads us to the truth. What is the assumption I would put forward instead? That analytic thinking is truth-therapy, healing us from a specific class of errors we are prone to make, but analytic thinking does not itself provide us epistemic access to truth. In so arguing, I am admitting a deep inspiration by Wittgenstein’s notion that philosophy is a form of therapy, but I am giving a broader account of human cognition in relationship to questions of truth that spans beyonds simply the specific practice/discipline of philosophy.
One area of philosophy that I think can nicely demonstrate the implicit idea of reasoning as therapeutic can be seen in the three well-known philosophies of science: (1) the view of the positivists that posited that scienitific knowledge is grounded upon the verification of theories, (2) the Popperian view that scientific knowledge are theories that have withstood falsification, and (3) the Kuhnian notion of scientific paradigms that provides answers to the questions and problems that scientiests are engaged in.
A therapeutic view of reasoning aligns with Karl Popper’s philosophy of science, as scientific reasoning functions to challenge various errors that might be present in our scientific theories. According to Popper, we do not arrive as a confirmation of our theories as much as our theories have stood the test of various challenges to its veracity. While Popper’s account of science does not fully express a therapeutic view of reasoning, it does express one of the fundemntal features of analytic thinking: its ability to cast away errors from our thinking. However, if one were to morph Popper’s falsification into a broader, therapeutic understanding of scientific reasoning, it would provide the basis for explaining many of the reasons that undergird the acceptance of the positivists and the Kuhnian views of science.
On the one hand, by helping to correct us from errors, analytic thinking allows our minds to come to a place of cognitive openness to pay fresh attention to the focus of our questions by getting rid of previous confidences and assumptions we have challenge and rejected in virtue of analytic thinking, thereby allowing our thinking to be more attuned to our observations. In so doing, the therapeutic role of analytic thinking can seem to function to also verify truth in scientific reasoning. However, at the same time, science is contingent on the processes of attention and perception to progress towards truth, which are not cognitive processes that are analytic in nature but rather are increased because of analytic thinking. What seems to be “confirmation” is really the processes of attention and perception creating and consolidating our theoretical knowledge. Thus, insofar as science gives us true theories, it rest not in scientific reasoning itself, but the cognitive process of attention and perception that scientific reasoning then alters.
On the other hand, the Kuhnian understanding of science can fit under a therapeutic conception of analytic thinking. Insofar as as the shift in scientific paradigms are determined by the failure of previous paradigms to address specific problems and questions, the processes of scientific reasoning by scientific communities that leads to to shifts in paradigms can be understood as the truth-therapeutic functions of analytic thinking, challenging and dispelling the old paradigms and their errors with a new paradigm that has been enabled by the cognitive openness to new understandings that analytic thinking was instrumental inculcating.
This brief foray into the philosophy of science is meant to demonstrate the explanatory value of analytic thinking as truth-therapy, allowing us to incorporate some of the insights of the positivists, Popper, and Kuhn in a relatively coherent account, while whisking away some of the more problematic accounts of the positivists and Kuhn.
How then would analytic thinking as truth-therapy change our intellectual atmosphere? On the one hand, it would cast down the arrogance of Enlightenment and its child of modernity that suggested reason was a fountain of progress towards truth. While it certainly instrumental in coming to an account of truth, the skills of critical reasoning do not themselves ensure that we have the truth but that we can be receptive to what is true in virtue of analytic thinking. However, we still need to have epistemic access to the truth that happens independent of whether we are thinking analytically or not. On the other hand, it would cast down the high-octane skepticism of reason in post-modernity, recognizing that there is a real value to analytic thinking that is instrumental in providing truth, even as it does not provide truth directly.
Another benefit that comes in theologically is this: the acquisition of religious truth about God is conditioned upon God’s gracious intiative to make Himself know to us, although there is still a role for analytic thinking in Christian faith for healing our personal faith and theologies from the errors that otherwise hinder our recognition and comprehension of God. Human reason doesn’t lead us to directly know God, but it can help correct us of many of our own errors when God makes Himself known to us.