The Critical Thinker Academy is a site that offers video tutorials on a wide range of critical thinking topics, such as logic, argumentation, and critical reasoning and essay writing.
Philosophy professor Kevin deLaplante, with over 14 years of teaching experience, developed the videos.
In the interview below, deLaplante provides detailed answers to various questions on critical thinking. If you are interested in critical thinking and its implications I am sure you will enjoy this two-part interview.
In a nutshell, what is the Critical Thinker Academy?
The Critical Thinker Academy is a website that hosts video tutorial courses on a variety of topics related to logic, argumentation and critical thinking. It also has some courses on essay writing. I produce all the content for the site, and I continue to add new tutorials every month. The goal is to create a comprehensive set of resources for anyone interested in learning more about these topics and developing their critical thinking skills.
The idea for the site originally came from my students. I’d been teaching philosophy and critical thinking courses for many years, and I’d started producing video tutorials and putting them online as part of a web-based teaching resource for the students in my courses. Rather than have to repeat my standard lecture on the definition of a valid argument in every class, I thought it would be handy if students could access the lecture online at their convenience, and I could devote more classroom time to discussion and application of the ideas.
It was my students who suggested that I make the tutorials available to the broader public. I launched the current version of the site in 2010. The Academy is currently set up as a membership site, where you can subscribe for a one-month, six month or one year membership and gain access to all of the content on the site, including quizzing materials and a discussion forum.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that critical thinking involves much more than learning logic and how to spot fallacies in arguments. For example, we also associate critical thinking with learning to “think for yourself,” but what exactly does this mean? What does it mean to claim ownership and responsibility for your own beliefs and values? These are questions that standard logic and critical thinking texts don’t talk about much.
That’s why I started the Critical Thinker Podcast in 2010, as a complement to the Critical Thinker Academy. The podcast is where I work out my thoughts on these issues about what it means to live an examined life in today’s world. I explore a broader range of themes in the podcast and leave the nuts and bolts of logic and argument analysis to the Academy tutorials.
What is the primary goal of critical thinking?
This is a hard question for me to answer. If you’d asked me a few years ago I would have said that the goal was to develop skills in argument analysis so that you can avoid being persuaded by bad arguments and manipulative rhetoric. That’s still a central goal of critical thinking, but I now view this as only part of the story. Part of what I’m doing in the Academy and in the podcast is figure out for myself just what else is involved.
For example, argument analysis requires not only that you assess the logic of an argument, but also that you assess the plausibility of the premises. Do we have any good reason to think the premises are true? That question can’t be answered by logical analysis alone. Judging the plausibility of premises is largely a matter of background knowledge, how much you happen to know about the subject at hand. No amount of logic can make up for ignorance about the relevant facts that pertain to the issue.
But if so, then a commitment to critical thinking also involves a commitment to life-long learning about the issues that are important to you. And it raises new questions, like, how can I be sure that my understanding of an issue is adequate, that I’ve really looked at all sides and grappled with its complexities? How can I be sure that I haven’t left out something important? These are hard questions to answer in a general way. But to me they suggest a broader conception of critical thinking than what you normally encounter in textbooks. For me, to develop as a critical thinker you need to cultivate skills in each of five areas:
- logic (to understand what follows from what)
- argumentation (how to persuade for good reasons)
- rhetoric (the art and science of communication and persuasion more broadly)
- background knowledge (of subject matter, of intellectual history and of the workings of the human mind)
- attitudes and values (related to the pursuit of truth, doubt and uncertainty, respect for personhood, rationality, community, etc.)
I consider these the “five pillars” of effective critical thinking. To engage critically in an issue you need to engage all of these capacities, and deficiencies in any area can undermine the goal of effective, independent critical reasoning.
Ultimately, the goal of the Critical Thinker Academy is to provide resources that can help people explore and develop their capacities in all five of these areas. I consider the current set of courses in the Academy as just the first baby-step in this direction.
Can you suggest sources our readers can use to further their critical thinking skills?
There are a number of Internet sources on fallacies. I like www.fallacyfiles.org. For anyone interested in cognitive biases, the wikipedia entry under that term has a collection of over one hundred links, it’s really excellent.
My own work tries to distill what I think is important about this material from a critical thinking perspective and present it in a user-friendly way.
In part two, deLaplante answers more questions including:
How will identifying and understanding cognitive biases help us become better thinkers? What are a few of the most prevalent types of cognitive biases?
What do you feel are the most important messages that can be taken from Kahneman’s and Tversky’s research into Heuristics and Biases?
Photo by DeusXFlorida, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.