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UNLV PHIL 102 - Section 1 Lecture Notes 1

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Section 1 Lecture Notes 1 Course Outcomes: 1. Recognize arguments 2. Identify premises and conclusions 3. Distinguish between Inductive and Deductive reasoning This comic sketch actually provides a good beginning point for discussing the unique nature and scope of our course in critical thinking. In the scene, arguments and counter arguments are presented, evidence is offered, conclusions drawn, and the dialectical process takes place within a set of assumptions, which go unquestioned. Let us begin with the last of these points. Some of the unquestioned assumptions at work in this scene include beliefs like: ‘there are such things as witches’, ‘one ought to be just in their treatment of others’, one ought to use science and logic in making reasonable decisions’; on a deeper level there are assumptions like: ‘one ought to be reasonable’, ‘there is a supernatural domain operating and interacting with the natural’, ‘there are forces of supernatural evil’, people have souls separate from their bodies that might be infiltrated by supernatural evil’, ‘souls can be purged from evil and freed to eternal goodness only by burning the body’, etc., etc. Such beliefs and assumptions along with many more fit together into what many call a world-view, or a framework, which each of us has, and by which each of us makes sense of our experiences from moment to moment. Your experience of reading this text right now, for example, entails a host of concepts, which are so embedded in your worldview that you are unaware of most of them and likely find it silly to reflect on them. Silly or not, let's exercise our self-consciousness for justa moment. You are not at the moment looking haphazardly around you so you have some value that allows you to focus visually upon a particular line of text after another; you must have some mastery of your physical senses to be able to focus them on any one object at a time; you must have the concept of a written language that you can pick out the important elements (the letters, punctuation, etc.) from the unimportant (that clutter of icons, etc. in the margins); you must have some mastery of all of the alphabet, vocabulary, syntax, etc. of the English language; and so on we could go listing those elements of your world view necessary to merely experiencing that there is writing in front of you. This does not even get us to what is necessary to understanding the content of that writing and so on. We become most acutely aware of worldviews when we are in some relationship to another who does not share particular aspects of our own. The more significant the disparity, the more reflective we are forced to become. When someone looks at your computer screen and says, "I don't have this software on my computer, what does it do?" we have little reason to reflect long on how we might bring their world-view more in line with our own - we need simply to build on their current knowledge of computers and software. But when someone picks up a chair and threatens to bash in your computer screen while screaming that the "blinking magic box is a demonic power", you know that you will have to stretch a great deal more to understand the framework they are bringing to their experiences and reflect much more upon your own before you can find some common ground from which to begin to communicate intelligibly about the blinking magic box. Becoming an educated person begins with thinking critically about our own worldviews. Thus, a general education program will include explorations in literature, philosophy, religions, arts, histories of civilizations, anthropology, natural sciences, theories about human behavior (psychology) and group behavior (sociology), as well as theories aboutpolitics, and much more. Such explorations provide ever-larger contexts into which we can place our own worldviews. Throughout this process our assumptions and beliefs are challenged – we are growing. At the same time, we are continually presented with (bombarded with?!) alternatives to our own views. This process of intellectual growth from one state of status quo, a challenge to that status quo, and movement to a high-level awareness has come to be called a dialectical process. The most basic pre-requisites to participating in this dialectical process of intellectual growth are the ability to communicate and to think critically. Back to witches! Our characters in the scene are fully immersed in a world-view quite unlike our own. They are involved in a dialectical process, but it is not a dialectic involving questioning their basic world-view; it is a dialectic occurring within a shared world view. Whether or not: “She’s a witch!” is true is the only question at hand. Arguments and evidence are presented on each side, and a conclusion reached. ‘Whether or not there are such things as witches’ is simply not a possible question for our characters. So, it is important to note at the outset of our course, that critical thinking takes place on different levels. Much of the time, we, like our witch burning counterparts, are concerned to direct our critical thinking skills to solving problems within a set of shared assumptions. On another level, we might be forced to think critically about those assumptions themselves. The process of critical thinking itself is the same in both cases. Thus, we must remember the distinction between the application of critical thinking, and the content to which it is applied. Some of the conclusions reached in our scene are actually quite acceptable in terms of critical thinking and logic, but outrageous in terms of their content! For example, the argument: All witches should be burned, Mary is a witch, therefore Mary should be burned, is a perfectly valid argument. The content of the argument, however, includes beliefs and assumptions that we likely do not share! Our course is aboutcritical analysis of arguments. We will therefore be more interested in the structure of arguments than with their content. By emphasizing this rather mechanical aspect of the dialectical process, however, we can become more aware of where our agreements and disagreements with others lay. Realizing that someone’s argument is perfectly good, though leading to intolerable conclusions forces us to step back and recognize that the real disagreements are found in a


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