History and philosophy of science as critical thinking vital for democracy.

I could not agree more. http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/philosophy-and-history-of_b_9542486.html

Free logic books

For those who teach logic, Springer is making their back catalogue available free.

Federal election fallacies

Canadian instructors especially may find useful this site that lists fallacies from the recent federal election.  It’s always nice to have topical examples!!

Unproductive Adversariality

Adversarial argumentation can be epistemically productive, or it can be merely eristic.

Feminist Philosophers

Brian Leiter recently wrote a dismissal of my reply to Joe Heath on “‘Me’ Studies.” My original pair of articles were linked on FP here. I found Leiter’s post quite a useful illustration of Janice Moulton’s claim that a preoccupation with adversariality is bad for philosophy.

More on that point here: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/disability_and_disadvanta/2015/07/adversariality-and-me.html

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Getting there from here: Critical thinking and debiasing

A primary lesson from the first day was that biases pose different problems in different contexts and need specific techniques to be negotiated. Ways to engage the social and emotional variables occupied a central role on the second day. In that afternoon, and today, the third and final day, we get more specific, considering how reasoning operates in particular contexts and the difficulties faced by critical thinking pedagogy in addressing those contexts and improving people’s practice.

Scientific reasoning concerns Ulrike Hahn, who directs us toward the advantages of Bayesian approaches to fallacies and argumentation. Hahn’s point of departure comes from Douglas Walton‘s analysis of argumentation schemes, including taking the appeal to ignorance as a central case. Accounting for how we gain and incorporate information into belief is the key benefit of Bayesian probablistic analysis, and Hahn makes quite a convincing case, at least if we take arguments to be monological. She takes the dialogical approaches of Walton and pragma-dialectics to become unnecessary in the wake of the Bayesian appraoch. Burden of proof and its dialogical shifts are a messy business, to be sure, but I don’t think we can dispense with analyzing them so easily. We need tools to reason with others, and judging by the social approaches to debiasing that prevailed on the second day, the social dimensions may be key to debiasing argumentation.

Mariusz Urbanski presented research completed with Katarzyna Paluszkiewicz and Joanna Urbanska showing that while untutored skill has a lasting effect on performance in deductive reasoning, training can improve performance on difficult deductive problems.

Debiasing was studied in legal contexts by Frank Zenker, Christian Dahlmann and  Farhan Sarwar, because it’s an environment that demands judgements be made; judges can’t suspend their evaluation of a case. People, and so perhaps judges, who score high on agreeableness seem especially influenced by anchoring.

This day gave us little room for optimism about debiasing, or the future of critical thinking as an ideal and an educational practice. An account of frustration with facilitating critical thinking at an institutional level provided the final talk, from Chip Sheffield, recounting his experience as the inaugural Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking at Rochester Institute of Technology.IMG_1510 Sheffield described how institutional pressure to develop or adopt a new assessment instrument flew in the face of a lack of other institutional and faculty support, student resistance to the integration of critical thinking in courses, and only superficial resources in the larger critical thinking movement. Yet he found some progress in student panels and discussions, and community outreach.

The result of Sheffield’s experience is his recommendation of more critical thinking courses, and more at advanced levels. So it might seem that the problem is not how to teach critical thinking but how much to teach it. That could seem to be the only room for improvement given the disjunct between the experimental research on cognition and biases and the philosophical pedagogy of critical thinking. I was struck to hear the experimental psychologists express concern over the philosophers use of “bias” losely, just as the philosophers were discouraged by the inattention to the pressures to find practical strategie for students.

However, as much as this conference demonstrated an absence of the practical evidence we want to guide critical thinking education, it also paves the way for more engagements between the psychological evidence and the pedagogical and philosophical ideals. I take particular inspiration from the work of Kenyon & Beaulac, and Howes, as philosophers attempting to explore the implications of the psychological research, but also Weinstock, Schendel, Cooke, plus Urbanski, Paluszkiewicz & Urbanska, and Zenker, Dahlmann & Sarwar in assessing the impact of specific techniques on the development of critical thinking. We have barely begun to chart the possibilities and potentials for critical thinking education, and we need more research of the sort gathered at this conference to develop and explore options. Ideally, this should be like the work from Paglieri, Mercier & Boudry, directly engaging both the philosophical and the psychological. To start with, we should explore whether they or Goodwin are correct about the effects of classroom debate.

Pedagogical techniques: Social networks, emotions, nudges, classics, games & “wisdom”

Research on the effectiveness of critical thinking education can be discouraging, as can research on debiasing: our educational techniques and intuitive strategies can be ineffective and even backfire. New options are badly needed and today several were proposed, a number trying to exploit the social contexts of reasoning and account for the context-specificity of critical thinking skills.

IMG_1404 As on the first day, we began with robust empirical research and progressed to the more theoretical and speculative. Jean Francois Bonnefon’s studies of how people reason on social networks suggests they are poor for debate, encouraging belief polarization, and discourage critical thinking understood as “system 2” cognition in dual process theory. How social networks help reasoning may be primarily through the facilitation of fact checking.

IMG_1408 The social theme continued as Moira Howes directed us to consider the emotional dimensions of bias. Standard texts direct us to consider omissions and loaded language, and such techniques may be ‘stepping stones’ to support debiasing strategies. However, debiasing is not a finite task, and depends on regular practice, like dental flossing. Epistemic virtues seem helpful in debiasing, which suggests the utility of developing communities and courses that aid people in emotional regulation, perhaps even epistemic psychotherapy!

IMG_1423 Further practical strategies were suggested by Guillaume Beaulac presenting his reflections with Tim Kenyon on some practical implications of their recent article on debiasing. They identify four levels of debiasing strategies:
(1) mitigating an agent’s general disposition to produce a particular sort of biased judgement in the first place; (2) training agents to deploy cognitive strategies that mitigate biased judgements when they arise in context (typical CT); (3) training agents (individually or collectively) to create and defer to situational ‘nudges’ that debias otherwise distorted judgements in context; (4) training agents (individually or collectively) to create and defer to processes or other situational constraints that debias actions or outcomes. The last two are, like Moira’s, fairly radical suggestions, painting a picture of critical thinking that is quite unfamiliar, and perhaps for that reason especially valuable.

The next two speakers addressed specific forms of reasoning that may facilitate the learning of critical thinking.

IMG_1427 Classical oratory remains relevant, Gabor Tahin urged, and analyzing it involves the psychology of decision making and modern argumentation theory. We might say education in classical oratory provides a type of literacy that fosters critical thinking, as gaming literacy provides a type of a critical thinking conducive to scientific method, according to Kelvin Autenrieth, who presented the idea, and Ulrich Wechselberger.


The day ended with a Skype presentation from Bob Ennis, a grand-daddy of critical thinking who dispelled the notion that he might have coined the phrase. Ennis painted for us a detailed account of an ideal critical thinking education, integrated as part of a four-year post-secondary education. Ennis aimed to address both subject-specific needs for critical thinking and those not related to specific subject content, and also to weave the CT instruction into the program or course such that it would not take extra time. He named his program the Wisdom Conception hof Thinking Critically Across the CurriculumWisdom CTAC (or alternately Illinois CTAC).