Critical Thinking 1

SPEAKER: Hi, everybody. This lecture is going to
be about critical thinking and what it means
to think critically. Critical thinking is kind of a
buzz word in higher education. It's usually a general
education competency or pillar of most universities. And you'll often hear people
talking about critical thinking and all these things. But a lot of people don't
know how to define it. So when you even
ask your professor what they think
critical thinking is, they might say something
that's really ambiguous, or that doesn't
really help you out in terms of what it actually
means or how it's practiced. And of course, critical
thinking means different things in different fields. But because this is
a philosophy course, and because critical thinking
has been well defined in philosophy, we're going
to use a very specific set of definitions. One comes from Paul
and Elder, and it says that critical thinking
is thinking about thinking in order to improve thinking. There seem to be a couple
approaches to critical thinking within the realm of philosophy. One is the Paul and Elder
method, and what they do– and you could check out their
community of critical thinking website online. It's a good one. What they do is
they ask students to do a lot of metacognitive
analysis of their own beliefs. So what that means is they ask
students and others to think about their thinking and
think about why they believe the things that they
believe or why they do the things that they do. And they outlined a series
of intellectual virtues that they believe
will enhance thinking. And then for Paul and Elder
and others in that vein, critical thinking
is a set of skills that you can use to evaluate
various types of problems in your life. So if you have these
certain skills, the skills are what's
important, not, for example, content knowledge. Because if you can, for
example, ask the right types of questions in
any circumstance, then you'll ultimately probably
come to better answers, no matter what the field
is or no matter what kind of situation you're in. Then there seems to be another
approach to critical thinking that is also aligned with
the Paul and Elder mode, but it's more formalized logic. So with the other
approach, not only do you talk about
all those things, you learn about
arguments and how to parse arguments to separate
them into different component parts. You learn how to analyze them,
deductive arguments, in terms of validity and soundness, and
inductive arguments in terms of strength and weakness. And then there are
sections on how to interpret scientific data. There are sections on how to
make inductive generalizations properly. There are sections on
informal logical fallacies. And then some of the
critical thinking texts actually go into formal
logic, where you then use Venn diagrams to analyze
validity of arguments. And even so far,
I've seen, as to do some minimal propositional
logic where you're symbolizing statements
and then figuring out using rules whether or not those
arguments are valid or invalid. But I kind of like
both approaches. I think they're both important. And I think each
one does something that can contribute to the
overall thought of the thinker and enhance their critical
thinking capabilities. So another way to think
about critical thinking is that it's a set of
intellectual skills that can be used in
multiple aspects of life. And I talked a little
bit about this. So if you have the
skills that you can use to ask
questions properly, to question your own
assumptions and prejudices, to objectively outline
multiple positions on an issue, and then align yourself with the
one that has the most evidence, then you can apply
those skills at work. You can apply those
skills in your family. You can apply those skills just
when you're out in society. When you're thinking
about anything, when you're thinking about
buying a car, a house, how to distribute your resources,
how to use those resources, you can use these skills
to make good decisions. And another key question–
it's a simple question, and it's one that
we've all thought of. But perhaps we haven't
thought of it properly. Is this decision going
to make my life better? Now, going along
with Aristotle, we could say that every
decision that somebody makes, they make because they believe
it will ultimately bring about a good in their life. So even, for example, the
person who kidnaps a child sees their life as being
better in kidnapping that child than in not
kidnapping that child. Now, is that an ultimately
better life in terms of ethics? Most of us would say no,
it's not a better life. But for that person, what
they're saying and doing that act– or for example, the
person that cuts themselves. What they're saying is
that in cutting myself, my life is better than it would
be if I didn't cut myself. Now, of course, there
are all different types of psychological motivations. So somebody cutting
themselves might think, oh, I wish I weren't
doing this to myself. But from this kind of
ancient perspective, the idea that even though you
might think that in your head, really your actions
display how you really feel about existence. So what you're saying is that
this is my best form of life, or those things. But I want to talk about better
in terms of more flourishing, as Aristotle does. So he distinguishes between
a good and the good. And I want to do that as well. So what I mean by
better is something that makes your life better in
the sense of more flourishing. Are you happier? Does it contribute to
your overall well being? Does the decision contribute
to the overall well being of people that you care about? Does it lead to positive
outcomes monetarily? But meaning you're gaining
resources that you need, but you're not doing
it in such a way that you feel badly about
the way that you did it. There's nothing better than
to make money doing something that you know is not
harming anyone else, I guess you could say. And a lot of us probably
have been in situations where we do something,
and then we second guess why we're doing it. I mean, we're doing
it, of course, because we need
money or resources. But you have those issues. Should I be working
for this company, or should I be
working in this way? Because what if it's– I'm
having to do things that go against what I believe
to be a better life. But this is the
question that we should start with every time we're
going to make a decision, to be a critical thinker. Is this decision going
to make my life better or the lives better of
people that I care about? Now, of course, you have the
example like the Jason Statham example. I'm going to kill this
guy because he wants to kill my family,
and therefore I'm going to make their life better. Let's eliminate those
types of examples, although those are
interesting philosophically. Let's just think of
everyday examples, and let's just use a folk
wisdom understanding of better. So let's say you're going to
buy a TV screen that pops out in your car. You should think,
well, is this decision going to make my life better? Let's say it's going
to cost you $700. Do you need a TV
screen in your car? Probably not. Is it ultimately going
to make your life better? Could you use that
$700 in such a way that your life would be better? For example, let's say you
have $700 in credit card bills that you could
use that $700 for. Or you have the TV screen
that pops out in your car. Well, let's say that the
bills you keep getting are making your life
very anxiety filled. Oh, another bill. Well, if you pay off
the bills, probably overall your life is going to
be better because then you won't have that continuous anxiety. So it's probably best to
maybe pay off those bills, then to buy the TV screen
that pops out in your car. Maybe it's best
to save the money and just wait for something
that you actually need, or sit on it. Maybe you're going to come
across a hard couple weeks where you don't have much money,
and having that little egg will help you get
through that hard time. Just because you
have money doesn't mean that you should spend it. We live in a society
that tells us– the whole market is based
on people buying products. If people start saving
money, then the economy suffers because–
by the economy, meaning businesses suffer
because they're not selling as much. So it kind of harms
the whole economy when people save all their
money because they're not buying things they don't need. And so thinking outside
of those distinctions, it's always a smart
move to save your money. It's pretty much
always a smart move to never buy anything
that you don't need. And what do we really need? We really need clothing, but
we don't need clothing that costs thousands of dollars. We need food. Most of us would say
three meals a day, but we probably
could do fine on two. And then lodging, but we don't
need huge, multimillion dollar houses. We probably don't even need
more than two bedrooms, even with a family of four. But anyway, is this decision
going to make my life better? And thinking about all the
decisions you make every day, or the things that
are on your plate or that you're approaching,
think about this question. This is a great place to
start in critical thinking. But there are a
series of other skills that critical thinkers practice. And that's what I'm going
to talk about right now. So one thing that
critical thinkers do is they state problems
as clearly as possible. So they state problems
as clearly as possible. I'm just stepping out so
you can see the whole thing. Another thing that
critical thinkers recognize is that problems
are not simplistic. Black and white distinctions
only exist in math, and even in probably higher levels of
math, they don't even exist. Critical thinkers
understand that problems are multiplicitous. They're these gnarled
knots that are hard to undo that have
multiple aspects that come in from different angles. And so to say something
as clearly as possible doesn't mean that
you're going to state it absolutely perfectly. But you do your best to
state it in such a way that others can understand it. Critical thinkers
also create answers to problems that are realistic. Perhaps you've heard
of the big idea person. And this person at
work or whatever is always coming up with
these great, huge ideas. Like let's create a flying car,
or I bet time travel actually is possible. Now, of course, there
might be some people who can actually do that. But sometimes
creating big answers to uncleanly stated
problems does nothing but create more confusion. Sometimes there are
no good answers. So what we have to
do in those examples is to just choose the best
possible worst answer. So for example, Rawls, a
great political philosopher, said that in a
society, you ought to distribute wealth
and resources not such that some people
have $1 million dollars and some people have $100,
but that the best possible worst person is accounted for
or is produced, the maximin principle. So in Rawls' society,
a more just society would be one where
people make $100,000, but the poorest make $50,000
than a society in which people can make $1 million, but
the poorest have $100. So the best possible
worst case scenario is what we often
have to look for and what critical thinkers are
often really good at finding. Perhaps there is no perfect
solution to any problem, except maybe 2 plus 2 equals 4. Every other problem that
we deal with every day might not have a good solution. But instead of
getting frustrated that there is no
perfect solution, critical thinkers
are able to maximize the worst possible solution. They're willing to try things
and improve on those things, rather than try to make
everything perfect initially only to not even get started. Let's continue. What's another thing that
critical thinkers do? Critical thinkers attempt to
be objective with evidence and argumentation. Critical thinkers attempt to
be objective with evidence and argumentation. Look, I'm making
an imperfect video right now because my
marker is running out. So I'm walking to
get another one. So people who really care
about things running smoothly in a video will
not like my video. But you know what? I don't care. Does that mean I'm
a critical thinker? Maybe. Because what I care
about is these ideas, not the video being pretty. Not that it's not important
to care about aesthetics. So attempt to be objective with
evidence and argumentation. Perhaps you've been
in a conversation with a friend or
colleague, and you believe that you're being objective. But really, you
have your position, and you do everything
you can just to prove that you're right. And you interpret all the
evidence for the opposite side through the lens of some
sort of negative filter. For example, you say,
well that's only true if you believe this. But really, it's not true
because what you're doing is this or that. So Paul and Elder called
it sophistic objectivity. You pretend to be objective. You go do all this research. But really, you're not open
to all the possibilities. What you're doing
in your research is trying to find reasons that
counter the position that you already despise. And this is what
we see on the news all the time, the Fox
News versus the MSNBC or I don't even know
that distinction. It's like everything
on Fox News is filtered through Democrats are bad. Everything on the
opposite side is filtered through Republicans are bad. Therefore, anything that a
Republican does is wrong. Anything a Democrat
does is wrong. Anything a Democrat
does well, I'm going to critique it
through the lens of actually Republicans made it possible
for the Democrat to do it well. Blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, it's like what's the
difference between Republicans and Democrats? Not much, but everybody
thinks there is. What about other ideas,
like even further this way or even further this
way or in the middle? They're lost because we don't
really want pure freedom. We don't want to
choose between extremes or find the best possible
solution to each issue. We want somebody to tell us
everything we believe over here and everything we
believe over here. I'm going to align over here. I'm going to align over here. You're wrong. You're wrong. Well anyway, critical
thinkers attempt to be objective and listen to
evidence and argumentation. And instead of making
the other side appear weak or simple minded,
they're willing to say, look, I understand– let's take
abortion, for example. There's some people
who are extreme, like abortion all the
time in all cases. And the other side's
like abortion never. And now we're finally
starting to see people who say abortion in rape
and molestation cases and all this stuff. That's OK. So that's kind of
a middle position. But it's pretty obvious
that in a perfect world, no woman would have to
go through that process. So that seems to
indicate that there's something negative about it. Whether it's the physical
trauma that happens or the emotional trauma
that happens to these women. In a perfect world,
that would not happen. But on the other
side, it's almost like there's no willingness to
allow women to make a choice to do these things. And for some reason,
people can't just realize that there has to
be some sort of balance between the two. If there's not–
everybody recognizes that it's not a fun thing
to go through an abortion. And it causes harm in some
way, either to the woman or to the fetus or
whatever you believe. But on the opposite
side, it's pretty evident that if it weren't a
possibility, that there would be a lot of other
negative outcomes that would arise from it,
from not providing abortions. So critical thinkers try to
maintain objectivity and admit the strengths and
weaknesses of each side. Of course, I believe
in women's rights. But at the same
time, I recognize that that is not
a procedure that would exist in a perfect world. And I'm not saying that you
have to take my position, but I think that I'm displaying
a little bit of objectivity in the middle here
and kind of hovering in this middle ground about it. Because that's a hard issue. But I'll leave it at that. Next point. Oh, critical thinkers
change courses of action. Critical thinkers are willing to
change their course of action. So what that means is I
like to exemplify this by the horror film. It's like, four teenagers out
in the woods, and they're like, let's go into this little cabin
with the doors hanging off. And everybody's like, yeah. Let's go into this little cabin. Oh look, there's a stairwell
that goes into hell. Let's go down there and
see what's down there. And they're like, yeah,
let's go down there. And so they go down
the stairwell, and then all of a sudden, the
first one, a knife comes out and chops their head
off and blood flies everywhere. And the other three are like,
well, we've come this far. We might as well keep going. So then they go
down there and then a huge rat jumps out
and bites the guy. And he's like, ahh! And then the other people,
instead of running back, of course they
keep running down. We've gone this far. Let's keep going. And ultimately, it ends
poorly for everyone. It ends with Leatherface doing
the dance with the chainsaw, [CHAINSAW NOISE]. which is still the
freakiest thing ever. Best movie ever. But anyway, critical
thinkers don't do that. If a critical thinker
makes a decision, and it becomes evident
that that decision was not the right decision,
a critical thinker is one who says, OK, look. I made the decision. First of all, the
critical thinker will take responsibility
for that decision. Look, guys, I made a
decision, and I was wrong. It appears now that
there's a better way. And then the critical
thinker will say, let's go down the better path. I'm really sorry
we led us this far. I'm really sorry that Steven
got his head chopped off. But you know what? At this point, we want
to keep all of our heads. So we're going to run
back the other way, and we're going to try
to get out of here. And so being willing to
change courses of action, I'm sure that many of you
have been in situations where somebody is too strong willed
to admit that they're wrong, and so they continue to
lead people down this path. And everybody
behind them is like, but you know this path
is leading to nowhere. But the person is like, no. I've chosen this path for all of
us, and we will all go down it. That is not a form
of critical thought. Especially when it's leading
to negative outcomes, not only for yourself,
but for those that you either work with or care about. So what do you do
in that instance? You chop that person's
head off, and then you run with everybody else away. No, don't do that. OK, what's another thing? Oh, critical thinkers know
what interested parties are. An interested
party is anyone who has anything to gain from
your believing something that they want you to believe. The easiest way to
think about this is let's imagine I
am in a jeans store. I don't know if those
exist, but it's just a store full of jeans. And the people who work there,
the only money they make is when they sell a pair
of jeans to a customer. And they only have
three types of jeans. So I choose the three types of
jeans that supposedly fit me. And I come out, and
they look horrible. They don't fit right. They're falling
off or something, or they just don't
look good at all. It's not a good fit. What is a person going to
tell me when I come out of the dressing room? They're probably not
going to say, hey, look. All these jeans look bad. Really sorry. Thanks for coming
to Jeans World. But you might have better luck
down at the Gap or something. They're not going to tell
me that because they're an interested party. They have something to
gain– money– from my belief that the jeans look good. So they're going to tell me,
oh yeah, those jeans look good. And the easiest way to do
this, to think about this is with people and businesses. Like car salesman. It's like, oh, that's
the car for you. Trust me. You look good in that car. And you're like, yeah,
I look good in this car. Like 2000 Civic, what? With the cracked windshield. That's what I'm rolling in. But anyway, so interested
parties are that way. But it doesn't just align with
business or with salesmen. And not all salesmen
and women are people who are interested parties. Some only make an
hourly wage, and they'll tell you the truth
because they're not going to make any more
or less based on if they sell you the product. But there are other
interested parties, like people who work
for political campaigns. They're going to tell you things
about the opposite campaign that sway the interest
toward their party. Now, maybe 1 in 1,000 will
be absolutely objective and will say, look. Here are the weaknesses
of our party. Here are the weaknesses
of that party. And they'll be actually
telling the truth. But in general and
for the most part, it's impossible for
humans to be objective when they have something to
gain from somebody else doing or believing what they
want them to do or believe. So the next time that you
ask your partner, hey, where should we go for dinner? And they say, I don't care. You choose. And then you choose something,
and they're like, well, what about that? It's pretty obvious
they want to go there. But they become an
interested party. So they're going to
try and convince you why your choice is wrong
and theirs is right. And I'm not just saying that
other people are that way. We are interested parties. For example, we'll
probably defend our jobs or the
companies that we work for no matter what because
we get resources from them. Or we might not defend
them no matter what, but we might say–
we might view things from more of a
positive perspective than somebody who is
outside of our perspective. If I have something
to gain, let's say from the death of a
loved one, like let's say that somebody I care about
is on their deathbed, and I know that I'm in the
running for their inheritance or something. Probably I'm going
to visit more than I have over the past 30 years. I'm going to pretend that I care
more than I have in the past. Now, of course, that
doesn't always happen. But that's what an
interested party is. So always be aware
of anybody who has anything to gain
from your believing what they want you to believe. So when somebody comes up to you
on the sidewalk and says, hey, have you ever
thought about this? You should believe this. You should believe that. You should be like, how
much are they paying you? What do you have to
gain from telling me all this information? So critical thinkers know
what interested parties are, and they know how
to react to them and protect
themselves from them. One more thing, and
then I'll probably do another video because I have
a lot of bullet points here. Let's see. Let's pick out another one. Critical thinkers
maximize their time. And here I think of Camus. Camus said, the best
life is the most living. So you need to burn–
and I kind of think of a Jack Kerouac
or Hemingway, people who just want experiences. They want to live life. They want to try
different things. Again, the best life
is the one in which you have the most living. Now, that's a
debatable proposition. But at the same
time, I like it here because I think it works well. Whatever you choose to do
in your life, the things that you care about, remember
from the first few bullet points, the things
that ultimately lead to your flourishing
life, critical thinkers are really good at maximizing
their time in relation to those things. So if what makes your
life better is hanging out with your kids and your partner,
and you're a critical thinker, then you're going to
figure out– usually that person would be really good
at getting work done at work, keeping work and
home life separated, being proactive in terms
of family events and things like that. They don't waste
their time alone in their room doing
meaningless activities. If you are currently,
which you probably are, a student, critical
thinking students, they don't study with the TV on. They do their best to
perhaps put the kids to bed first before they study. In their 15 minute
break at work, instead of sitting and playing
cards with their friends, they've got maybe their book,
and they read a few pages. When they're in traffic, maybe
they have audio lectures, and they're listening
to their lectures instead of listening
to the radio. So they figure out ways
to maximize their time. They don't go home and watch
Everybody Loves Raymond. Now, of course, it's good to
not just study all the time. We need some sort of relaxation. But if you're having six
hour Everybody Loves Raymond marathon sessions at
home, and then you're getting stressed out because
you didn't do your homework, then you're probably
not thinking critically about how to best
utilize your time. And so the final thing I
guess I'll leave you with is that critical thinkers
maximize their time in relation to the things that make
their life more flourishing. Now, technically I
guess a critical thinker could maximize his
or time– let's say they're a heroin addict. They could get the
money– and let's say that they're
homeless or something. They can get their money
as quickly as possible. They know where the dealer
is, so they walk there and they get the–
and then they know how to properly
inject the heroin, or however they take it. But that, again, doesn't
maximize their time in relation to an ultimately
flourishing life. So you can see how the different
sets of skills kind of work together to
reinforce each other. And if you don't have one,
then probably the others will suffer. So anyway, just keep
thinking about the things that you care about
and that you love and thinking about ways
that you can maximize your time in relation
to those things that you love because
that's ultimately going to lead to your ultimately
flourishing and happy life. And so the next video
will be some more points about critical
thinkers and the skills that they have that enable them
to flourish in multiple types of situations and environments.

10 thoughts on “Critical Thinking 1”

  1. Objectivity is a farce, a self deception which the apathetic ascribe to themselves. I get the more benevolent intents behind it, but it's just very naive.

  2. Thank you Professor, all of your videos helped me pass my Logics course!! You are super easy on the eyes!!! 🙂

  3. Well done, great discussion. In a perfect world a baby would be welcomed and loved, and a woman would never have to make such a difficult decision.

  4. What if we determine that the pop out tv in our car is a good decision based off of critical thinking? This example is invalid, there is no way to determine the quality of this specific topic in relation to the moral reasoning provided. 

  5. Why don't you use your fantastic critical thinking skills and get yourself a better car? Ladies and gentleman, what we have here is the definition of a HACK.

  6. @ 5:15 You say you can apply these skills in all areas of your life, but is that not hard to do in situations that require quick decision making, i.e in the span of seconds, rather than hours, days, or years?

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