I recently published a supplementary “About” page for Creating the Good Life, describing the values that this publication operates within and what we work to support. You can view that page here or read the contents of the page below.
Creating the Good Life’s essays, interviews, features, and resources serve the following core values:
Many of us view academic research as impractical and disconnected from the “real world” – and a lot of it is. But at CTGL, we believe that academic (or “scholarly”) research can be useful and practically applied to solve real life problems.
One of the reasons academic research isn’t used by non-academics is because most of it resides in scholarly journals that are inaccessible to the general public. Another reason is because academics are typically trained to write, speak, and create knowledge with and for other academics.
At CTGL, we believe that a lot of academic research is useful, it just sometimes needs to be translated, unpacked, or taught by a good teacher. Engaged scholarship is academic research that is applied to every day, “real life,” or non-academic problems.
In the words of Jane Addams, “We forget that the accumulation of knowledge and the holding of convictions must finally result in the application of that knowledge and those convictions to life itself.“
Many people think that the disciplines – psychology, philosophy, economics, biology, chemistry, physics, etc. – are natural. They think that disciplines have always been a part of education or that they happened by accident. In actuality, most universities didn’t recognize the formal disciplines that we know today until the nineteenth century.
With each discipline comes its own epistemology, or theory of knowledge that includes methods and assumptions about what can be considered “truth” and how we might arrive at it.
Interdisciplinary research uses two or more disciplines – such as philosophy, psychology, or economics – to solve problems. It is also unique (and particularly useful) because it focuses first on a problem and then utilizes multiple disciplines and approaches to try to solve it.
We believe that interdisciplinary scholarship, as opposed to scholarship that only utilizes one discipline, is the more practical approach because it worries less about methodological purity and more about using as many tools as possible to solve a complex problem.
Liberal Arts Education
At CTGL, we understand (and highly value) the practical skills gained from applied disciplines or trade schools. Yet, we believe that a liberal arts education – which explores the ideas and methods across the humanities, the arts, the natural, and the social sciences – is essential to maintaining individual freedom and a functioning democracy.
Currently, a liberal arts education is only accessible to those that can pay the high price of a university education. And even at universities, the liberal arts are currently under attack for being “impractical” or not providing a high enough “return on investment.”
A practical education, or learning how to do something, is extremely important and helps one acquire the skills needed to get a job, earn a living, and contribute to society in the 21st century economy. Yet, it is just as important to learn how to think – how to read critically, write cogently, and think broadly. This is what a liberal arts education teaches one to do.
We believe that a liberal arts education should be available to everyone, not just those that have the ability to pay for a college degree.
One of the missions of CTGL is to provide a platform for political Leftists (or liberals, or progressives, or whatever you want to call them) to reflect, debate amongst ourselves, and propose and further define Leftist political thought.
In deciding between the many terms that denote “Leftist,” we have decided on the term “progressive” to best define what we value at CTGL. Our definition of progressive relates closely to the progressive movement in the beginning of the twentieth century, when organizers, intellectuals, and political leaders fought for a more fair and just economy, less government corruption, and policies and programs to protect the most vulnerable.
There were many weaknesses to this movement – its most glaring is that it did not speak enough to the needs of women or people of color. But 100 years later, with the help of a new liberalism that speaks almost exclusively to the needs of these groups, we are confident that we can do better.
Some scholars have developed visions of a critical pragmatism, but at CTGL, we have our own definition – one that combines the best of critical theory and pragmatism.
Using Foucault’s definition, critical theory is “an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.”
Over the second half of the twentieth century, critical theory grew to include identity-based studies of oppression, including but not limited to critical race theory, feminist theory, and colonial studies. Most importantly, critical theory helps us see how power functions more like a web than a hammer, and oppression as society-wide, systemic, and sometimes self-imposed or invisible.
Pragmatism, on the other hand, is often considered the philosophical basis for the early twentieth century reform movement. Many of its writers engaged directly with their contemporary social or political issues and wrote for a general, educated public. Pragmatism’s thought leaders include Charles S. Peirce, William James, Jane Addams, and John Dewey.
Using Charles Peirce’s pragmatic maxim, we can define pragmatism’s epistemology (or theory of knowledge) as this: “Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.”
Pragmatism, then, is less concerned with understanding how things “really are.” Pragmatists don’t want a bird’s eye view of reality because, one, they think it impossible to grasp, and two, even if one could grasp it, it’s not very useful anyway. Knowledge, to pragmatists, is found in engaging directly with reality. And only ideas that improves one’s reality are considered true.
Importantly, when pragmatism is used to address social and political problems (as it was during the Progressive Era), it insists on three things: (1) that we advocate for reform rather than revolution, (2) that we engage socially and emotionally with the problems we are trying to solve, and (3) that we clearly define our values – our vision that we are working towards. Without clearly articulated goals, we will have no way of measuring what ideas, laws, or methods “work.” Since true ideas are those that take us closer to our goals, truth is irrevocably enmeshed with value.
Critical pragmatism, as defined by CTGL, works to transform oppressive systems and ideologies while also working within them to promote piecemeal reform and tangible change.
The term social justice has taken on much meaning in the past couple decades. To some, it has come to denote a fiery belief in equal rights and reparations for past harms. To others, it has taken on a pejorative tone, denoting a dogmatic, intolerant movement that restricts free speech and demands “wokeness.”
At CTGL, we view social justice as both an aim and a method – an end and a means. When we work towards social justice, we work towards a society (an end) where one’s background or identity does not determine one’s fate; where all people are free to develop themselves to the greatest extent that they can; where economic participation results in economic stability; and where “the good life” is accessible (though not given) to all. Social justice is also a means because it informs how we define progress and how we work towards it politically, socially, and economically.
Social justice does not equal punishment. Social justice, in its simplest form, means to make a social wrong, right.
Like social justice, a well-functioning democracy is a means and an end. It is an end because a democratic society has the highest likelihood of securing individual rights, preventing authoritarianism, and promoting social equality. It is also a means, or a method, because a democracy is maintained only through well-functioning democratic systems and institutions.
In a democracy, each person is able to participate in and help shape the decisions, laws, and policies that affect them. And while many modern democracies were formed through revolutionary acts of violence, democracies are best maintained through nonviolent methods, such as public education, protest, and the freedom to express and circulate ideas of dissent.
Importantly, one of the greatest threats to democracy is excessive inequality: social, political, or economic. The more connected and empathetic we are to each other, the stronger our democracy.