When it comes to the intellectual life in our day, the fear of error—believing things as true when they are in fact false—far outweighs a desire for truth. Whether it’s the big questions of religion and morality, or even those concerning history and literature, we have developed an intellectual culture of exaggerated circumspection in which large, long-standing truths are questioned and only small, fashionable truths affirmed. “Critical thinking” has taken on a new meaning in recent decades, one more associated with critique than constructive criticism, and it has become an end-in-itself for many educators. We put a great deal of emphasis on learning how to interrogate, challenge, and criticize. But, while these are all useful skills, and in many cases necessary to help us avoid falsehood, first and foremost we need to be trained in assent. Unless we learn how to affirm beliefs as true we can never arrive at the truth. To do this in a reliable, responsible way requires a pedagogy of piety, for we can only hold as true those things we believe to be true.
From the prophets of Israel, to Socrates and Descartes, join First Things editor R. R. Reno in exploring the ideas behind the current cultural fixation with critical thinking as the highest intellectual good, and how a pedagogy based on piety provides a more successful roadmap for the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful.