In the final year of his life, the atheist novelist Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965) became terrified of dying and the possibility of judgment by a just and holy God loomed alarmingly. He had led a sordid, decadent and intensely selfish life and he craved secular comfort and consolation. In this state of fevered anguish he summoned the famous atheist philosopher Alfred Ayer to his deathbed in the south of France and pleaded: "Freddie I have led a debauched and depraved life.
In this post I’d like to reflect on a tension that I consider to be quite widespread within academia. ‘Critical thinking’ is often extolled as one of the core virtues necessary for the intellectual life: much university-level teaching is geared towards developing this skill, and it is viewed as foundational for effective research.