Today’s papers were quite exciting for argumentation theorists, such as myself, hungry for empirical knowledge — ’empiricism envy’ is how Jean Goodwin described it. “Talk data to me!” she exclaimed. It can be a relief and a refreshing change to move from the “might”s and “should”s and “possibly”s of normative theory to facts and findings.
Plus, as teachers, we want good reason to believe our efforts are effective. There has been reason to consider recently that teaching critical thinking is not very effective and that the skills students learn in class do not translate to other environments. For philosophy departments whose budgets often depend critically on the expected utility of these courses, more information about what works and what doesn’t may be increasingly urgent.
Today, from Michael Weinstock we learned about how argumentation skills connect to folk epistemologies: absolutist, multiplist, and evaluativist –drawn from Deanna Kuhn. His review of the research indicated a need for work specifically exploring the effect of education in one on development of the other. Kuhn’s view of folk epistemologies also formed the basis of Rebecca Schendel‘s discussion, and both of them complicated the picture with questions about the cultural specificity of epistemologies. Weinstock looked at contrasts between Bedouin and Jewish lay evaluations of argumentative reasoning.
Schendel, drawing on her experience as an educator in Rwanda, asked us to consider how the educational ideal of critical thinking connects with other social values, such as the creation of job skills or an empowered electorate. Moreover the values encouraged by critical thinking may vary from one cultural context to another in a way that demands further study… more data!
A deeper look into the culture that generated the educational ideal of critical thinking came from Patty Cooke, who discussed her research on how a “fun with philosophy” class for middle school children helped them develop skills in argument analysis and construction. The grade 6 students were encouraged to scrutinize their beliefs and have open-ended discussion in the pursuit of good reasoning. In addition to gaining skills in argumentation, they showed some improvement in meta-cognition.
Discussion became more theoretical with Fabio Paglieri, who presented his joint research with Hugo Mercier and Maarten Boudry.
While Paglieri does not adhere to the evolutionary psychology behind the Sperber and Mercier approach, together Paglieri, Mercier, and Boudry employ the related Argumentative Theory of Reasoning, the view that reasoning functions to serve argumentation, and provide for better communication. The implication of ATR — and the empirical studies behind it — for critical thinking instruction is that we need interventions based on social environment.
In the abstract the authors take that the fallacies approach to argument evaluation is unlikely to yield good results. Paglieri did not explain that, and I’ll have to ask him about it tomorrow — I disagree at that point, as I think fallacies are good tools for identifying different contexts of reasoning. Instead, Paglieri stressed the problem with adversarial debate as a means for teaching critical thinking, especially when it involves the role-playing of taking up a perspective one does not believe. That encourages, he suggested, a disconnect between the tools of argumentation and its operation in specific contexts .
ATR also provided background for Goodwin’s paper, and she elaborated problems with the critical thinking pedagogy that exposes individuals to artefacts for analysis. She too stressed the influence of social settings, but she introduced the consideration that personal accountability is crucial to the value of communication, which argument and reasoning serve. So CT pedagogy should attend to the motivation for reasoning provided by personal accountability, which suggests the value of debate as a learning exercise, contra Paglieri, Mercier and Boudy.