The Legitimacy of Critical Thinking

”The Legitimacy of Critical Thinking: Political Liberalism and Compulsory Education”
Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children, vol.18, #1.

This essay examines the political-philosophical legitimacy of critical thinking as an aim of compulsory education. Although critical thinking is given an important role in Norwegian educational policy, the right to demand a critical attitude from all citizens has been extensively debated in political and pedagogical philosophy the last two decades. This debate stems in large part from the late work of John Rawls. In this essay, I start by stating the case for critical thinking as an educational aim, focusing on democratic education. Next, I give an account of the challenge that Rawls’ later philosophy puts to education for critical thinking. Finally, I discuss some possible ways of responding to the Rawls. The upshot will be that some aspects of critical thinking can and must be defended as politically legitimate. However, any such defence must include a reply to the Rawlsian argument – if not, it will simply be naïve. In that sense, much Norwegian educational policy has been naïve.

Key words: Critical thinking; democratic education; autonomy; political liberalism