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

Image by Pablo Fernández, via Flickr Commons

When I was younger, I often found myself disagreeing with something I’d read or heard, but couldn’t explain exactly why. Despite being unable to pinpoint the precise reasons, I had a strong sense that the rules of logic were being violated. After I was exposed to critical thinking in high school and university, I learned to recognize problematic arguments, whether they be a straw man, an appeal to authority, or an ad hominem attack. Faulty arguments are all-pervasive, and the mental biases that underlie them pop up in media coverage, college classes, and armchair theorizing. Want to learn how to avoid them? Look no further than Critical Reasoning For Beginners, a top rated collection of lectures led by Oxford University’s Marianne Talbot.

Talbot builds the course from the ground up, and begins by explaining that arguments consist of a set of premises that, logically linked together, lead to a conclusion. She proceeds to outline the way to lay out an argument logically and clearly, and eventually, the basic steps involved in assessing its strengths and weaknesses.

The six-part series, which was recorded in 2009, shows no sign of wear, and Talbot, unlike some philosophy professors, does a terrific job of making the content digestible. If you’ve got some time on your hands, the lectures, which average just over an hour in length, can be finished in less than a week. That’s peanuts, if you consider that all of our knowledge is built on the foundations that this course establishes. If you haven’t had the chance to be exposed to a class on critical thought, I can’t recommend Critical Reasoning For Beginners with enough enthusiasm: there are few mental skills that are as underappreciated, and as central to our daily lives, as critical thinking.

Critical Reasoning For Beginners is currently available on the University of Oxford website in both audio and video formats, and also on iTunes and YouTube. You can find it listed in our collection of Free Online Philosophy Courses, part of our collection of 1300 Free Online Courses from top universities.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman, or read more of his writing at the Huffington Post.

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Comments (8)
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  • Tony says:

    “there are few mental skills that are as underappreciated, and as central to our daily lives, as critical thinking.”

    Not to mention in very short supply.

  • oroo says:

    I think it is quite possible to reason with the unconscious mind without fallacy … true of false?


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  • John Brownridge, Ph.D. (Philosophy) says:

    “I think it is quite possible to reason with the unconscious mind without fallacy” … true of false?

    There is no way to determine whether this statement is true or false, because we are not in the head of the speaker. We cannot know what the speaker thinks. If the first 2 words of the statement(i.e. I think)are omitted, then the proposition changes, and it may then be possible to determine its truth value.

  • jake3_14 says:

    The problem with valuing critical thinking over other modes of reasoning is that humans are primarily non-rational. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, its newest area in terms of its evolution, exists primarily to justify decisions our non-rational decision systems have made. More poetically, our desires precede our reason, which wraps them with a pretty bow.

  • Dmitry says:

    jake3_14, I thought I was alone in thinking that humans are primarilily non-rational. Good to know there are others who understand it.

  • Alfred Otto says:

    Yes,we are a nonrational species, but we also have the ability to think rationally. It will take rational thinking in order to survive our irrationality.

  • Miriam Yagud says:

    Can I join this now?

  • Michael Benton says:

    I think people should learn this. Then take it apart for its obvious cultural bias and privileging of a singular way of seeing reality.

    You would think that would be in any post about thinking critically (or course – I teach this way, others will think this way).

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