Friday, November 8, 2013

Critical thinking yet again

I won't mention Brian Leiter this time.

I don't know why, but I keep wanting to design a kind of introductory course on what I think of as critical thinking (although what this is keeps changing). What I'm currently thinking of would include some stuff on to what extent we are or are not rational (maybe some Plato and Aristotle, definitely Hume, some contemporary psychology), some stuff on science (the scientific method plus some philosophy and maybe sociology of science, as well as how science gets reported), something about how academia and academic publishing works (this could be a very minor part of the course, but I want students to know something about peer review and the extent to which certain sources are more reliable than others), something about whether there are ways of forming justified true beliefs other than science, and inductive and deductive reasoning. It would be a course in where our beliefs come from and which sources of belief are most trustworthy and reliable. Roughly: how to be rational.

Does anyone teach a course like this? I don't mean any readers of this blog, necessarily, but is this a thing? It's sort of epistemology but I remember college epistemology as all theories of perception and Gettier. I don't want to do any of that. And it certainly includes some philosophy of science, but it doesn't really match the tables of contents of introductory philosophy of science textbooks and readers that I've seen. Is the idea horribly misconceived in some way I'm not seeing?


  1. I definitely think that critical thinking is one of the things that universities ought to encourage - and that it's a feature of university life that's currently on the retreat both in the US and the UK. So I don't find your idea daft or misconceived. In fact, more power to your elbow!

    Having said that, I can see you running into difficulty with university administrators over such an idea. Not that they'd be explicitly against it - far from it! All the same, there's a reason why critical thinking is currently in retreat across academia...


    1. That looks like a very nice paper. Thanks.

    2. the third part is the kicker.

      seems like it might serve as the basis for a very nice critical thinking course - and if you wanted you could even turn to some of the ideas from 'the empirical stance' about secularism and religion.

      i like the confluence of luck, courage, math/logic, and rationality as permissible (as opposed to obligatory) belief. that, and enough work with probability to be able to explain the bayesian positions that come up, could easily make for a whole semester.

    3. Yes, I agree. It would take some work, but this is definitely the kind of thing I was thinking of. I have a slight fear that students would end up as relativists (or whatever you call people who think it's OK to believe whatever you like) or skeptics, even though that isn't what he's defending. But I suppose that's a danger whatever you do.