An "Amiable, Humorous, Clear, and Interesting" Teacher
Your teacher is Professor James Hall, an award-winning educator who was hailed as "amiable, humorous, clear, and interesting, and, thankfully, never pedantic" in an AudioFile magazine review of his previous course for The Teaching Company, Philosophy of Religion.
In Tools of Thinking, Professor Hall turns his friendly but intellectually rigorous approach to the problem of thinking, introducing you to a range of effective techniques, including:
Deduction: This form of reasoning reaches a conclusion based on a set of premises; if the premises are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows. The classic case of deduction is the Euclidean proof in geometry.
Induction: Less ironclad than deduction, this approach surveys the evidence and then generalizes an explanation to account for it; the conclusion may be probable, but it is not certain. Scientists typically use inductive reasoning.
Syllogism: This is a simple but powerful deductive argument with two premises and a conclusion. An example: "All Greeks are mortals. All Athenians are Greeks. Therefore, all Athenians are mortals."
Boolean Algebra: Invented by George Boole in the 19th century, this system, also known as Boolean logic, gave new flexibility to logical analysis and contributed to the development of the computer.
Avoiding Fallacious Reasoning: Inferences and explanations that rely on irrelevant "evidence" fail, being guilty of the fallacy of non sequitur. An example of this is ad populum, which amounts to inferring that a point of view or opinion must be true because it is widely held.
"The Magic is in the Mix"
"There is no one tool for thinking," says Professor Hall. "The magic is in the mix." You explore that mix through the ideas of some of history's greatest philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, René Descartes, Isaac Newton, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill, among others. You also review the rudiments of logic, an unrivalled technique for separating ideas that don't make sense from those that do. And you learn how to recognize some notoriously egregious—and common—errors of thought.
What You Will Learn
The course is divided into five sections:
Lectures 1 and 2, Introduction: You begin by investigating how our minds make sense of the world. Then you focus on eight fundamental tools of thought: experience, memory, association, pattern discernment and recognition, reason, invention, experimentation, and intuition.
Lectures 3–9, Ancient Views: Plato and Aristotle laid the foundation for rational inquiry, each emphasizing different tools of thought. Aristotle's focus on what we can infer from observation led him to formulate the rules of logic. You explore these developments and the modern treatment of ancient logic by George Boole and John Venn. Lectures 10–14, Early Modern Views: You investigate René Descartes' program of "systematic doubt." Then you look at the ideas of David Hume, who carried doubt even further. After studying examples of fallacious reasoning, you move to John Stuart Mill, who proposed a method for dealing with one of Hume's most intractable quandaries: the problem of induction. Lectures 15–22, Modern Rational Empiricism: The scientific approach to reasoning is called modern rational empiricism. You start with Isaac Newton's contributions to this amazingly productive mode of inquiry and then delve into the logical underpinnings of science. You end this section with three lectures on formal logic. Lectures 23 and 24, How Do Things Stand Today? You explore the objections to modern rational empiricism by movements such as postmodernism. In the final lecture, you reach an understanding of thinking as open-ended. "The more we think," says Professor Hall, "the more things to think about we think of."
Unpacking the Tool Kit
Achieving knowledge (justified true beliefs) is the usual point of thinking. The tools of thinking, then, are the devices and processes we use in that enterprise:
Experience provides the basic new input for our thinking: what we see, taste, smell, feel, hear, etc. It can be firsthand or secondhand.
Memory provides a link to data previously collected by whatever means. Without memory, we would be perpetually at the starting point.
Association functions with both immediate experience and with remembered experiences to group the data we have into clusters and sets.
Pattern discernment and recognition enable us to make sense of what we remember and associate. Only when we begin to cluster information into some kind of pattern are we in a position to begin to use the next tool.
Reason is where the hard work of thinking gets done. Reason takes many forms, such as deduction, generalization, extrapolation, and hypothesis construction.
Invention is the point at which people of genius and creative imagination take over, proposing hypotheses, theories, models, and new ways of construing data that we can then put to work.
Experimentation is the tool for keeping our thinking under the constraint of testing; of constantly looking to see whether what we have reasoned conforms to what we are experiencing.
Intuition is a good thing when it happens, but it is rare and, by definition, uncharted.
Achieving the Right Balance
Things work best when we use these tools together to reach probable understandings of reality. But there is no ideal balance; even the greatest thinkers disagree on which tools to emphasize. For example, in early modern times Descartes made intuition and deductive reasoning central, mistrusting sense experience. In contrast, Hume emphasized sense experience and underscored the crucial role of association in inductive thought.
In more recent times, Mill gave special attention to how we can properly generalize the experiences that we have. Following Newton, modern scientists have emphasized experimentation and the importance of hypothesis construction. And Einstein famously showed that logical thinking need only be confirmed by observation; it need not be based on it. This development paved the way for astonishing creativity in physics.
Master of the Tools of Teaching
Tools of Thinking is not always easy going. Fortunately, Professor Hall is a master of the tools of teaching. Born in Weimar, Texas, and raised in New Orleans and Washington, DC, he has a Southerner's penchant for colorful stories and vivid analogies, which he combines with a philosopher's passion for truth and clarity.For example, Plato's hypothesis that reality exists in a world of ideas independent of the world of appearances may seem to cover the data. But Dr. Hall asks if Plato is not just as mistaken as the hapless Inspector Slack in Agatha Christie's Miss Marple mysteries. He has all the answers, just the wrong ones.You will also hear about Professor Hall's Gilbert Hall of Science chemistry set from his youth, his fiendishly deceptive "sherry challenge" to a oenophilic colleague, and the special logical category that applies to his daughters.
Course Lecture Titles
What Are “Tools of Thinking”?
Which Tools of Thinking Are Basic?
Platonic Intuition, Memory, and Reason
Intuition, Memory, and Reason—Problems
Sense Experience—A More Modern Take
Observation and Immediate Inferences
Further Immediate Inferences
Ancient Logic in Modern Dress
Systematic Doubt and Rational Certainty
The Limits of Sense Experience
Inferences Demand Relevant Evidence
Proper Inferences Avoid Equivocation
Induction Is Slippery but Unavoidable
The Scientific Revolution
Hypotheses and Experiments—A First Look
How Empirical Is Modern Empiricism?
Hypotheses and Experiments — A Closer Look
“Normal Science” at Mid-Century
Modern Logic—Truth Tables
Modern Logic—Sentential Arguments
Modern Logic—Predicate Arguments
Postmodern and New-Age Problems
Rational Empiricism in the 21st Century
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