Philosophy 1A: How Should I Think?

Philosophy 1A: How Should I Think?


Each of us possesses the ability to think. That is, we can formulate ideas, infer, and make judgments about ourselves and the world around us. Indeed, a recurring theme in the history of philosophy is that thinking is a defining characteristic of human beings.

Being good at thinking is very important. For instance, someone who thinks well will be more likely come to possess knowledge about the world. As a result, this will improve their chances of achieving their aims. By contrast, a bad thinker will tend to end up with false and distorted beliefs, and will consequently face greater obstacles in attaining their goals.

Despite its significance for us, we don’t always think as well as we could or should. It is widely known that when are thinking we are all prone to multiple kinds of bias and fallacy. As a result, we end up missing out on opportunities to gain knowledge about the world, which in turn, has significant implications for how our lives go.

Thus, it seems important to ask: how should I think? The general answer that we consider in this course – and of relevant to doing philosophy more generally – is that we should think critically. Roughly this involves making judgments only on the basis of good reasons. By doing this, we avoid bias and fallacy, and improve our chances of gaining knowledge about ourselves and the world we inhabit.

The Course

The course is split into four sections.

In the first part  we ask: how do I think critically? We approach this by focusing primarily on arguments, which are defined as attempts to establish a conclusion by providing reasons for it. Specifically, we work on improving your ability to identify and evaluate arguments, drawing on examples from philosophy and popular media. As a result, you will become better at judging on the basis of good reasons.

In the second part of the course we ask: how do I think critically about what matters? That is, we apply critical thinking skills to practical issues of profound significance for our lives. Specifically, we think critically about issues in contemporary moral philosophy. Possible topics covered include (but are not limited to): abortion, animal rights, euthanasia, and obligations to future generations.

In the third part we ask: how do I think formally? Here we approach the general question of how we should think from the perspective of formal logic. As in the first part of the course, we are interested in arguments, and distinguishing good ones from bad. It turns out that, in many cases, this is a matter of examining the structure of an argument; the aim of formal logic is to study this structure in isolation, thereby giving us some powerful tools for use in classifying arguments, and for aiding us in becoming better critical thinkers.

Finally, we ask: how do I get knowledge? Here we consider some basic issues in epistemology (the study of knowledge), focusing on competing accounts of how we acquire knowledge about ourselves and the world around us. This involves both applying and developing the critical thinking skills gained in the earlier parts of the course. Possible topics covered include (but are not limited to): scepticism, rationalism, and empiricism.

‌Course convener:  Dr Robert Cowan
Semester: 1
Lecture hour: 10-11 or 2-3
Seminars/Collaborative Classes: Wednesdays at 2-4 or Thursdays at 9-11
Lecture venue: See MyCampus

Teaching resources for this course, including lecture notes and exercises, will be made available on the Philosophy Moodle site.