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Concept: Critical versus Apologetic Reasoning

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: January 31, 2000
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Black Letter Definition of
Critical versus Apologetic Reasoning

Black Letter Law Concept: Critical versus Apologetic Reasoning

The critical approach takes the perspective we might deduce from its title: the focus is on evaluating the social structure or process with attention to those components which are not working effectively to produce the desired ends. That doesn't mean that we see no value in the present structure. It just means that we are exploring those who fall through the cracks, or jump through the cracks, as Stanley Salas put it, to see if we can prevent the disaster of slipping through the cracks, and under what circumstances. If we are trying to make our programs work better, we need to take this approach. We need to test reality, and the extent to which we have effectively grasped that reality. Thus, we look at our programs critically.

There are times, though, when it is more appropriate to take the apologetic approach. The apologetic perspectiive looks at a broader view, and evaluates the program in the context of what alternatives were realistically available. We don't have to declare that this is the "best of all possible worlds" (Candide in order to declare that we did a respectable, if not downright good, job and deserve the additional funds for which we are now applying to further improve the progarm and extend its boundaries.

The apologetic perspective often emphasizes that we have done the best possible job, even though the results are not perfect. This, of course, is the kind of "puffing" that goes on in applications for funding, for raises, for merit pay, for A grades, etc. Such emphasis on the less qualitative measure of outcomes, as opposed to a more sophisticated measure of local process in all its complexity, often leads to structural violence in our institutions. For that reason most of us who actively seek change towards a more just social structure emphasize critical theory: critical legal theory, critical race theory, critical feminist theory.