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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Oxford’s Free Intro­duc­tion to Phi­los­o­phy: Stream 41 Lec­tures

The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy With­out Any Gaps – Peter Adamson’s Pod­cast Still Going Strong

Intro­duc­tion to Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy: A Free Online Course from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty 

200 Online Cer­tifi­cate & Micro­cre­den­tial Pro­grams from Lead­ing Uni­ver­si­ties & Com­pa­nies.

Online Degrees & Mini Degrees: Explore Mas­ters, Mini Mas­ters, Bach­e­lors & Mini Bach­e­lors from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

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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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