32 Animated Videos by Wireless Philosophy Teach You the Essentials of Critical Thinking

Do you know some­one whose argu­ments con­sist of bald­ly spe­cious rea­son­ing, hope­less­ly con­fused cat­e­gories, arch­i­pel­a­gos of log­i­cal fal­lac­i­es but­tressed by sea­walls of cog­ni­tive bias­es? Sure­ly you do. Per­haps such a per­son would wel­come some instruc­tion on the prop­er­ties of crit­i­cal think­ing and argu­men­ta­tion? Not like­ly? Well, just in case, you may wish to send them over to this series of Wire­less Phi­los­o­phy (or “WiPhi”) videos by phi­los­o­phy instruc­tor Geoff Pynn of North­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­si­ty and doc­tor­al stu­dents Kel­ley Schiff­man of Yale, Paul Henne of Duke, and sev­er­al oth­er phi­los­o­phy and psy­chol­o­gy grad­u­ates.

What is crit­i­cal think­ing? “Crit­i­cal think­ing,” says Pynn, “is about mak­ing sure that you have good rea­sons for your beliefs.” Now, there’s quite a bit more to it than that, as the var­i­ous instruc­tors explain over the course of 32 short lessons (watch them all at the bot­tom of the post), but Pynn’s intro­duc­to­ry video above lays out the foun­da­tion. Good rea­sons log­i­cal­ly sup­port the beliefs or con­clu­sions one adopts—from degrees of prob­a­bil­i­ty to absolute cer­tain­ty (a rare con­di­tion indeed). The sense of “good” here, Pynn spec­i­fies, does not relate to moral good­ness, but to log­i­cal coher­ence and truth val­ue. Though many ethi­cists and philoso­phers would dis­agree, he notes that it isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly “moral­ly wrong or evil or wicked” to believe some­thing on the basis of bad rea­sons. But in order to think ratio­nal­ly, we need to dis­tin­guish “good” rea­sons from “bad” ones.

“A good rea­son for a belief,” Pynn says, “is one that makes it prob­a­ble. That is, it’s one that makes the belief like­ly to be true. The very best rea­sons for a belief make it cer­tain. They guar­an­tee it.” In his next two videos, above and below, he dis­cuss­es these two class­es of argument—one relat­ing to cer­tain­ty, the oth­er prob­a­bil­i­ty. The first class, deduc­tive argu­ments, occur in the clas­sic, Aris­totelian form of the syl­lo­gism, and they should guar­an­tee their con­clu­sions, mean­ing that “it’s impos­si­ble for the premis­es to be true while the con­clu­sion is false” (pro­vid­ed the form of the argu­ment itself is cor­rect). In such an instance, we say the argu­ment is “valid,” a tech­ni­cal philo­soph­i­cal term that rough­ly cor­re­sponds to what we mean by a “good, cogent, or rea­son­able” argu­ment. Some prop­er­ties of deduc­tive rea­son­ing—valid­i­ty, truth, and sound­ness—receive their own explana­to­ry videos lat­er in the series.

In abduc­tive argu­ments (or what are also called “induc­tive argu­ments”), above, we rea­son infor­mal­ly to the best, most prob­a­ble expla­na­tion. In these kinds of argu­ments, the premis­es do not guar­an­tee the con­clu­sion, and the argu­ments are not bound in rigid for­mal syl­lo­gisms. Rather, we must make a leap—or an inference—to what seems like the most like­ly con­clu­sion giv­en the rea­son­ing and evi­dence. Find­ing addi­tion­al evi­dence, or find­ing that some of our evi­dence or rea­son­ing is incor­rect or must be rethought, should force us to reassess the like­li­hood of our con­clu­sion and make new infer­ences. Most sci­en­tif­ic expla­na­tions rely on abduc­tive rea­son­ing, which is why they are sub­ject to retrac­tion or revi­sion. New evidence—or new under­stand­ings of the evidence—often requires new con­clu­sions.

As for under­stand­ing probability—the like­li­hood that rea­sons pro­vide suf­fi­cient jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for infer­ring par­tic­u­lar conclusions—well… this is where we often get into trou­ble, falling vic­tim to all sorts of fal­lac­i­es. And when it comes to inter­pret­ing evi­dence, we’re prey to a num­ber of psy­cho­log­i­cal bias­es that pre­vent us from mak­ing fair assess­ments. WiPhi brings pre­vi­ous video series to bear on these prob­lems of argu­men­ta­tion, one on For­mal and Infor­mal Fal­lac­i­es and anoth­er on Cog­ni­tive Bias­es.

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When it comes to a gen­er­al the­o­ry of prob­a­bil­i­ty itself, we would all ben­e­fit from some under­stand­ing of what’s called Bayes’ The­o­rem, named for the 18th cen­tu­ry sta­tis­ti­cian and philoso­pher Thomas Bayes. Bayes’ The­o­rem can seem for­bid­ding, but its wide appli­ca­tion across a range of dis­ci­plines speaks to its impor­tance. “Some philoso­phers,” says CUNY grad­u­ate stu­dent Ian Olasov in his video les­son above, “even think it’s the key to under­stand­ing what it means to think ratio­nal­ly.”

Bayesian rea­son­ing, infor­mal log­ic, sound, valid, and true argu­ments… all of these modes of crit­i­cal think­ing help us make sense of the tan­gles of infor­ma­tion we find our­selves caught up in dai­ly. Though some of our less ratio­nal­ly-inclined acquain­tances may not be recep­tive to good intro­duc­to­ry lessons like these, it’s worth the effort to pass them along. And while we’re at it, we can sharp­en our own rea­son­ing skills and learn quite a bit about where we go right and where we go wrong as crit­i­cal thinkers in Wire­less Philosophy’s thor­ough, high qual­i­ty series of video lessons.

Find more help­ful resources in the Relat­eds below.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 130 Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es: Tools for Think­ing About Life, Death & Every­thing Between

Carl Sagan Presents His “Baloney Detec­tion Kit”: 8 Tools for Skep­ti­cal Think­ing

How to Spot Bull­shit: A Primer by Prince­ton Philoso­pher Har­ry Frank­furt

Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detec­tion Kit: What to Ask Before Believ­ing

Daniel Den­nett Presents Sev­en Tools For Crit­i­cal Think­ing

“Call­ing Bull­shit”: See the Syl­labus for a Col­lege Course Designed to Iden­ti­fy & Com­bat Bull­shit

Oxford’s Free Course Crit­i­cal Rea­son­ing For Begin­ners Will Teach You to Think Like a Philoso­pher

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness


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Comments (10)
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  • Amirh says:

    A great les­son for the gen­er­al pub­lic in crit­i­cal think­ing. I’m going to share it with the com­ment that “it needs to go viral.” NOTE: in the abduc­tive rea­son­ing por­tion “whoa” is mis­spelled as “woah.” The proof­read­er / writer in me is rebelling!

  • Wireless Philosophy says:

    Thanks for the tip (and the kind words), Amirh!

  • Anirudha Panda says:

    good attempt

  • BobC says:

    Shades of high school debate class. The hor­ror of all those Latin phras­es for argu­ment types, espe­cial­ly regard­ing log­i­cal fal­lac­i­es.

    “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” comes imme­di­ate­ly to mind. “Onus proban­di”, and the list goes on.

    Had­n’t though much about them for at least a few decades. It’s a won­der those neu­rons had­n’t been recy­cled by now.

  • Bit says:

    Thank’s for sav­ing me the time in watch­ing this stuff. I guess these ‘tuto­ri­als’ are exact­ly what is wrong with the prod­ucts of todays edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem, not a solu­tion for fix­ing it.

  • bobbert says:

    “Woah” is an accept­ed spelling.

  • Pourquoipas says:

    Why are you pick­ing on him? You have a CLOSED MIND.

  • Captian_Nemo says:

    I con­sid­er myself a crit­i­cal thinker and vision­ary in Edu­ca­tion. I am fin­ish­ing up a book on “Does Tech­nol­o­gy Makes Us Smarter? Con­ver­gence of Edu­ca­tion, Gen­er­a­tions and Tech­nol­o­gy in the 21st Cen­tu­ry”. How­ev­er, not being asso­ci­at­ed with a foun­da­tion, insti­tu­tion of high­er learn­ing or cur­rent­ly involved in Aca­d­e­m­ic Research, make’s it impos­si­ble for Crit­i­cal Thinkers, vision­ar­ies and those who think out­side the box to make any impact on the prob­lems edu­ca­tion is fac­ing.

    There are a lot of peo­ple out there with Real World Expe­ri­ence that are keep out­side the walls by the sys­tem that enforces the rules.

    So, I am Frus­trat­ed.

  • Andrew Seabrook says:

    I start­ed skim­ming after “arch­i­pel­a­gos of log­i­cal fal­lac­i­es but­tressed by sea­walls of cog­ni­tive bias­es”. But I think I agree with the thrust of the argu­ment.

  • Erica Porter says:

    I agree.

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