The notion of ‘critical space’ offered by the American sociologist of religion Doug Porpora is central to how I see the world. I realised earlier today that it’s one of the few ideas to fall into that category which I’ve never blogged about.
Critical space confronts us whenever we enter a conversation with diverse others about the truth … we are distinguished by the arguments we accept and the ones we reject. But we are also distingushed by our relations to the argumentative process itself. We may be someone who believes in arguements and therefore weighs all that is said. Alternatively, we may be one who takes no argument seriously but who loves to argue just for the sake of argument. We may be intellectual heroes, daring to accept painful truths, or intellectual cowards, shutting our minds when the truth is insufferable. We may be close-minded dogmatists, impervious to argument because we are already sure we have truth in hand; alternatively, we may be intellectual sojourners still on the road. These are all possible postures in critical space. They, too, define who we are.
Douglas Porpora, Landscape of the Soul, Pg 22
I like the notion of critical space because it helps conceptualise the interconnection between the inward/existential and the outward/social. Porpora is drawing on Charles Taylor’s work in the 1980s and 1990s to argue that the positions we take within critical space help constitute our identities. What Taylor calls our ‘strong evaluations’ both shape our orientation towards critical space and are, in turn, shaped by our participation within it. We change what we believe through participation in critical space and, more so, we ourselves frequently change in the process. It is a point of intersection between ideas (logical relations), relationships (causal relations) and normativity (evaluative relations) and it is for this reason that there is a complexity to debates, discussions and dialogues which is more often than not unrecognised.