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Critique: Uncovering Important Weaknesses

To engage with other thought we need to LACE: Listen, Affirm, Critique and Enrich. The previous pieces showed the importance to Listening, so as to truly understand what is meaningful to the other stream of thought, and Affirming that which is valid. However, if we are to make a real contribution to the other thought, or their field, we need to be clear where we fit in: which holes we fill. That is the purpose of critique.

"What assumptions and presuppositions underlie their ideas,
which narrow, impoverish or distort their insights?"

Critiquing is not just criticising. It is not just showing where the other thought is deficient but why it is deficient. Critiquing is not just of the detail of inadequate research methods. Those do of course matter, but critiquing goes much deeper.

Critiquing involves laying bare the assumptions and presuppositions that underlie the other thought and then showing how they prevent the other thought achieving what it most deeply wishes for or values.

Critiquing does not mean forcing other assumptions and presuppositions on the other thought, but it means laying bare the assumptions or presuppositions in ways with which (open-minded) proponents of the other thought would agree, once they saw them. Critiquing helps them to see any fundamental inconsistencies that have hindered them. The idea of such fundamental inconsistencies is well discussed by Roy Clouser (2005).

Example: As we saw earlier, Feminism wishes to recover an holistic perspective on aspects that are important to life, by restoring long-overlooked "feminine" aspects, given the long emphasis on "masculine" aspects. There is a tendency in feminist thought to replace the masculine aspects with the feminine. While this might be understandable from the idea of pendulum swinging from one pole to the other, it ultimately undermines the desire for holism. Does not the holistic desire imply that the overlooked aspects should be restored alongside, rather than instead of, the others? The tendency to swing from one pole to the other presupposes that reality has two opposing poles of what is meaningful - and Dooyeweerd [1979] traces three such 'ground-motives' in Western thought over the past 2,500 years. Dooyeweerd also argues that such polar dualism is not Truth, not even one valid option, but that it always has wrought havoc on philosophical and scientific thought, and always will. Dooyeweerd calls, like the feminists most deeply do, for holism in which all aspects are celebrated together and in a true harmony. (The issue of how to achieve this is a different challenge, and might indeed some over-elevation of overlooked aspects for a time.)

Shallower Levels of Critique

Critique of academic thought usually takes place at a shallower level than interests us here. At this shallower level, we critique a paper for its research method, its data (such as sample size or bias in sampling), or its arguments (such as flaws in logic). Those kinds of critique occur within each discourse and serve (hopefully) to improve the quality or integrity of research findings and contributions made by that discourse. All can usefully undertake such critique.

However, they are not the kind of critique we mean here, because they do not involve any change of perspective (paradigm, viewpoint, philosophical underpinning, etc.), which is what good quality Christian thought can bring to the discourses. That kind of critique is at the deeper level, of questioning assumptions and presuppositions.

Deeper Level of Critique: Assumptions and Presuppositions

Soth assumptions amd presuppositions lie at the start and root of our thinking. They steer research and its surrounding discourse, and also philosophy and the thought of society, into particular directions rather than other directions. The critique we can make is to help the other see that other directions might be possible. Both assumptions and presuppositions are often hidden, unacknowledged, taken for granted, presuppositions more deeply than assumptions.

Since the Christian thinker often comes to a field from a different direction, they can more easily see what is taken for granted. That is, perhaps, the main contribution that Christian thinking can make when engaging with mainstream thought.

Assumptions and presuppositions steer in different ways.

Assumptions rest on presuppositions. For example: The assumption "It might rain tomorrow" is not meaningful if we are in a desert, because the possibility of rain is presupposed by the assumption.

We can contribute to the other thought or idea by questioning its assumptions and also its three levels of presupposition, but do so in different ways. The difference between these is not well understood, so it requires some explanation. That is the topic of the next piece.

Here are the elements of LACE:


Clouser, R. 2005. The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories. University of Notre Dame Press, USA.

Dooyeweerd H, (1979), "Roots of Western culture; Pagan, Secular and Christian options", Wedge Publishing Company, Toronto, Canada.

Author: Andrew Basden.

First created: 18 January 2021 Last updated: 29 May 2022 question, recommendations.