Where Do I Start?


One of the most common questions I get when people sign up at the Critical Thinker Academy is "Where should I start? Is there a recommended sequence of courses?".

The short answer is yes, there are natural course sequences. But if you're like me you'll have an urge to jump around and explore, and move on if the content isn't grabbing you.

I have some recommendations for course progressions below, but don't feel too bound by them.


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1. What My Critical Thinking Classes Looked Like

When I was teaching at Iowa State University the first half of my critical thinking course was a standard introduction to basic concepts in logic and argumentation, leading up to an introduction to formal and informal fallacies of reasoning.

At the halfway point I would switch to topics in cognitive biases, human (ir)rationality, and the psychology of belief and decision-making.

You never find all of these topics in the same textbook, so I used course packets assembled from different sources.

The following course sequence matches the structure of a course like this:

  1. What is a Good Argument?
  2. Formal Fallacies: Errors in Reasoning Due to Bad Logic
  3. Informal Fallacies: A Guided Tour
  4. Upgrade Your Mindware: A First Course on Cognitive Biases, Debiasing Strategies, and Critical Thinking

2. Another Introductory Course Sequence

If you'd like to start with a broader discussion of what critical thinking is and why it's important, this course is the best place to start.

  1. What Critical Thinking Is and Why it's Important

This course has an introduction to cognitive biases, so it leads naturally into

  1. Upgrade Your Mindware: A First Course on Cognitive Biases, Debiasing Strategies and Critical Thinking

So, I think another good introductory sequence is this one:

  1. What Critical Thinking Is and Why it's Important
  2. Upgrade Your Mindware: A First Course on Cognitive Biases, Debiasing Strategies and Critical Thinking
  3. What is a Good Argument?

3. If You're Interested in Logic and/or Formal Reasoning

Some students come with a particular interest in logic, either because they're enrolled in a course at school or they work in some area they study formal reasoning in one form or another (philosophy, philosophy of science, mathematics, probability theory, computer science, linguistics, economics, etc.)

If this is your interest, the natural course sequence is

  1. What is a Good Argument?
  2. All the Formal Logic You Need to Know For Critical Thinking
  3. Formal Fallacies: Errors in Reasoning Due to Bad Logic
  4. What is Probability?
  5. The Logic of Probability
  6. Probability Fallacies

The formal logic I cover avoids the details of proof methods, it's primarily conceptual. I focus on the parts of formal logic that in my view are genuinely useful and important for critical thinking.

The material on probability gives a fairly comprehensive introduction to critical thinking issues related to reasoning about chance and uncertainty. A lot of students in math, economics and philosophy have thanked me for helping to make a challenging subject more understandable.

If you're interested in research on cognitive biases, the material on probability and probability fallacies turns out to be quite important. This is4 because many of the early experiments in behavioral economics were designed to test whether human beings actually obeyed the formal rules of probability and decision theory that are assumed in classical economic reasoning (spoiler: we don't).


4. If You're Interested in Improving Your Argumentative Essay Writing

I've got three courses that are devoted to writing:

  1. How to Cite Sources and Avoid Plagiarism
  2. How to Write a Good Argumentative Essay
  3. A+ Essays: A Structured Approach to Successful Essay Writing

The third one is more recent and quite a bit broader in scope than the second one. You can watch me write a college essay from start to finish. And it includes a somewhat philosophical discussion of the concept of writing "style", and what makes for good versus bad academic writing style.

The most popular video of mine on Youtube is from the second course: it's the video titled "A Minimal Five Part Structure", which covers the basic logical structure of any good argumentative essay (one Youtube commenter: "I learned more from a four minute video than I did in four years of high school").


5. Special Topics

I have a very strong interest in the history and philosophy of science, and in one of my courses I try to make the case that true SCIENCE LITERACY is really PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE LITERACY:

  1. Critical Thinking About Science: New Foundations for Science Literacy

I got started on this and then realized it was going to be a huge project. So I stopped after developing an overview of a curriculum that would teach genuine science literacy. I'd love to complete this project at some point in the future. Take this course if you want to hear my argument for why most people, even people with advanced degrees in science, remain scientifically illiterate.


I did a short series of videos on critical thinking about CONSPIRACIES and CONSPIRACY THEORIES that has proven to be quite popular. These videos are in the course titled:

  1. Special Topics: Conspiracies, God, the Big Bang and More

I produced a recruiting video for my old philosophy department a number of years ago. It's been quite popular on YouTube:

  1. Five Reasons to Major in Philosophy

(It's hidden in the Special Topics course.)


I'm currently working on a new video course on topics in the PHILOSOPHY OF MIND and ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, that will be titled "Is Your Brain a Computer?"


6. Martial Arts for the Mind

Since the summer of 2016 I've been producing a podcast titled "Become an Argument Ninja". I'm using the podcast as a forum for me to work out my latest thoughts on what's wrong with critical thinking education today and where it has to go if it's to become more relevant and useful.

There's a separate website for the podcast...

http://argumentninja.com

... but I'm collecting the episodes in a special course here on the Academy site:

  1. The Argument Ninja Podcast

The topics I discuss here range pretty widely, from the social science of persuasion to the philosophy of the martial arts, from seduction experts to magic and hypnosis, and much more.

My goal with the podcast is to lay the foundations of a new approach to critical thinking education, and ultimately to develop and implement such a program here in the Academy.



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