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Instructor: Kyle Cessna. This course meets via remote, mostly asynchronous (RM) instruction.

In this course, we’ll dig into critical thinking – what it is, how to do it, and when it’s appropriate (spoiler: perhaps contrary to popular opinion, many philosophers argue that it’s not always the best, most rational thing to do). We’ll begin with a brief introduction to how to interpret, structure, and evaluate arguments. Then, we’ll review some ways in which we often fail to reason well. Specifically, we’ll look into some common statistical fallacies, e.g., the base rate fallacy, and some common cognitive biases, e.g., confirmation bias. This will constitute the more straightforward portion of the course, in which we learn some skills, tools, and background knowledge that will help us to reason well.

In the next part of the course, things will be more open-ended. We’ll look into open-mindedness, a purported virtue that’s often associated with critical thinking and good reasoning, and we’ll investigate whether it actually is a virtue, and if so, why and when it is advisable. We’ll read arguments from philosophers strongly in favor of open-mindedness, as well as arguments from philosophers who think we should place some restrictions on the scope of open-mindedness. Finally, we will look into the circumstances under which it’s perhaps not best to engage in critical thinking, at least as it is often traditionally conceived. Those are circumstances under which we perhaps ought to defer to the experts. We’ll think about when and why we ought to defer to the experts, as well as how we can do so in a rational way.

This course is partially asynchronous, meaning we’ll be meeting together 1-2 times a week on Zoom to discuss the topics we’re working through. On any day we are not meeting, you will have some task to complete through Canvas, e.g., a forum post, a short piece of writing, a problem set, etc. The major assignments for the course will be short papers summarizing and critically evaluating the issues we work through.

No prior background in philosophy is necessary or expected; all are welcome.