About

About Me

I’m a philosopher with a passion for good reasoning and a distaste for conspiracism, science denialism, pseudoscience, and intentional misinformation. My primary research revolves around the growth of science denialism and conspiracism and their effects on public policy-making within a liberal democracy. I’m interested in how accounts of public justification of laws handle the rise and prevalence of denialism and conspiracism. You can follow my philosophy blog here:

About the Course

I’ve taught various versions of critical thinking courses and have used a many of the most popular textbooks. While the books are excellent, I found that they didn’t sufficiently address the primary way that students and the general public encounter claims and arguments–online in their social networks. Because of the way our peers influence our beliefs and lower our guard, the online environment makes us especially susceptible accepting poorly-supported claims and arguments on a wide variety of topics. This course is an attempt to address that gap.

You’ll notice that I don’t call this a critical thinking course. Let me explain. I’ve never met a single person who didn’t think they were a good critical thinker. However, when I ask them what critical thinking means, they can’t answer. Usually, what people mean by ‘critical thinking’ is to believe whatever they believe. That is, it’s defined in terms of particular beliefs.

Critical thinking has nothing to do with what you believe and everything to do with why you believe it. As I repeat ad nauseam to my students (and throughout this course!), critical thinking is a method of thinking, not a set of beliefs. More specifically, critical thinking is a systematic method of evaluating arguments, evidence, and reasons.

Even if there were a double italic font, I could not emphasize enough how important it is to understand that critical thinking is a systematic method. Our brains are hard-wired to take shortcuts in reasoning which often lead us to false beliefs and bad inferences. No matter how smart you are, you cannot undo the evolutionarily-derived hard-wiring of your brain. All of these shortcuts were evolutionarily advantageous on the Savana but it doesn’t follow that they led us to true beliefs or do now in our radically different environment. We can only say that they led us to believe whatever allowed our ancestors to outcompete others.

Our best chance at overcoming these shortcuts is slow down and implement a deliberate system of thinking. It probably won’t eliminate all errors but it will dramatically shift the odds in our favor–if we’re interested in having true rather than false beliefs.

I began this introduction by mentioning that I don’t refer to this course as a critical thinking course. The word has been co-opted by people who misunderstand the term they think it means ‘believe what I believe.’ Also, ‘critical thinking’ has become a buzzword so overused and abused as to become vacuous. Hence…

WELCOME TO THE RRAR! METHOD OF REASONING FOR THE DIGITAL AGE…

where you will learn to become a beast of reason. The purpose of this course is to teach you the fundamentals of argument evaluation. It will also train you to recognize common errors in reasoning and rhetorical tactics that make people vulnerable to the conspiracism, science denialism, fake news, and pseudoscience that pervade the internet.

This course is based on a simple 4 step method that can be applied to any argument once we’ve reconstructed it into premise-conclusion form (i.e., standard form). Once you understand the basic components, there is a worksheet you can use to help systematically evaluate any argument using the RRAR method.

RRAR stands for the four primary criteria one must apply to systematically evaluate any argument:

Reliability of the source
Relevance of the premises to the conclusion
Acceptability of the premises
Relative merits of the conclusion compared to alternative policies, technologies, or actions.

This first unit is meant as a brief introduction to the core method and concepts you’ll encounter in this course. Part 1 of the course teaches you how to identify arguments and put them into standard form. Part 2 introduces you to the four main evaluative criteria as well as the core concepts of reasoning. In Part 3, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of the four evaluative criteria and learn the most common ways people can be fooled by bad or misleading arguments. In Part 4, we take a close look at inductive reasoning and learn to systematically evaluate generalization, statistical syllogisms, polls, causal reasoning, analogies, and arguments from ignorance.

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