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The Ideal Compared to the Real

Another way to approach professions is through an analysis of the disciplines underlying them and the manner in which those disciplines are represented and taught. We of course recognize that every profession is a powerful mode of thinking that can make a significant contribution to human welfare. However, we must be cautious not to assume that ideal conceptions of the disciplines are equivalent to their actual practices. Rather, reasonability requires that we hypothesize some gap between expressed ideals and actual practice.

Let us therefore experiment with the process of comparing and contrasting the relationship between the ideals that are implied in the way disciplines represent themselves publicly (at the universities and colleges) with the actual consequences of their instruction.

We shall examine some initial elements of this critique. Our examples are not advanced as flawless examples of critical thinking in action but, rather, as illustrations of how we might begin to put the above insights into action in our mode of thinking. We will begin by looking at a variety of academic disciplines from this perspective, followed by some initial reflections in each case.

In this chapter, we will begin with mathematics and then consider the so-called hard sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology. We will then reflect upon the human sciences, the so-called soft sciences, and finally, literature, the arts, and philosophy.

Each case is guided by two important insights:

  1. All professional knowledge in use in the world is based in academic disciplines and is subject to the pitfalls of human fallibility on the part of individuals using it.

  2. The teaching of all professions occurs within a culture, and is thus influenced by the pursuit of power and vested interest within the culture.

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