Friday, January 06, 2012

[Opinion] Criticism and Growth

1. Changes are almost always either changes for the better or changes for the worst - seldom does something changes and then stay the same.

Personal growth, a sort of change, is tied to one’s ability to benefit from criticism.

A person who cannot learn from mistakes does not have the capacity for growth.

One way to find out one's mistakes is through criticism by others.

Criticism is mistake or fault finding.

Criticism can be ego bruising for the one receiving it.

Yet a person who can take criticism invariably have the capacity for learning from mistakes.

The ability to learn from mistakes implies the capacity for positive personal growth.

2. Alvin Plantinga is a very important contemporary philosopher.

In his first intellectual biography Self-Profile, Plantinga records two episodes of criticism which I find quite moving:

(a) (Plantinga 1985, 17-18):

I [i.e. Alvin Plantinga] also learned much from William Frankena - much at the time and much later on. I admired his patient, thoughtful and considerate way of dealing with students almost as much as his analytical powers. There was (and is) much about Bill Frankena that is eminently emulable. Several years later, for example, I attended a conference on ethics held on the shores of Lake Michigan. Frankena was a mature and extremely distinguished philosopher; he read a characteristically clear and thoughtful paper. The commentator was Peter De Vos, then a graduate student at Brown. De Vos detected and acutely exposed a crucial ambiguity that pretty well vitiated the paper's main line of argument. And Frankena, rather than throwing dust into the air or claiming he'd been misinterpreted or carrying on in some of the other familiar ways, thought for a moment and then said, "It looks like you're entirely right. At the moment I don't see how to fix things, and I'll just have to go home and think about it." I found Frankena's quiet and simple words impressive and even moving, and in subsequent years have tried myself to react in the same way when my errors are exposed.

(b) (Plantinga 1985, 29):

I [i.e. Alvin Plantinga] must mention one final benefit I owe to the Old Wayne Department. [Richard] Cartwright and [Robert C.] Sleigh had both been students of Roderick Chisholm at Brown; and for a while the Wayne and Brown departments had a series of home and away engagements in which we read papers and criticised each other's work. It was then that I began to study Chisholm's work; and I suppose there is no other contemporary philosopher from whom I have learned more over the years. Chisholm's clarity, penetration, patience and resourcefulness are of course widely appreciated; there are several topics, I think, on which his work is the best contemporary philosophy has to offer. But perhaps one of his most impressive qualities is a splendid capacity for growth and for learning from criticism. Although his desire not to be found in error is at least as healthy as that of the next man, he routinely seeks out and welcomes criticism, objections and refutations of his views. At the conference on philosophy of mind I mentioned (above, page 25) Chisholm read a characteristically clear and ingenious paper on the marks of intentionality. Sleigh then read a characteristically penetrating comment in which he demonstrated that Chisholm's proposal was indeed wanting. Rising to reply, Chisholm began by saying "I see that, ah, Professor Sleigh has, ah-um, demonstrated that my paper has at least one philosophical virtue: it is falsifiable." And a few days later he had an improved substitute. That quality in Chisholm is impressive and is one source of his capacity for constant growth.


Plantinga, Alvin. 1985. Self-Profile. In Profiles: Alvin Plantinga, eds. James E. Tomberlin and Peter van Inwagen, 3-97. AA Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company.