I'm about to retire, and I'm going back to school.

I have the opportunity to take an introductory Critical Thinking course, and I think that it will be a little dry, but I'm wondering if it could encourage good habits of thought that would pay off later in evaluating philosophical issues.

Any thoughts?

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    I'm not 100% sure how suited the question is to this part of the site, but for what it's worth the courses I did in this area were some of my favourites (though of course I can't promise it'll be the same for you). Generally the idea isn't to enforce any sort of discipline in the students so much as to teach them about the structure of arguments and ways of dissecting the techniques (good and bad) being used to try to convince people. This definitely will be useful if you plan to do other philosophy courses as it's both instructive and a good warm up for the kind of thinking you'll do. – DTR Apr 26 '16 at 2:50
  • Thanks DTR, would you say that Critical Thinking has helped you for example, evaluate the claims made by your favorite philosopher, or helped you to clearly understand a philosophical issue? – Bill Bill Apr 27 '16 at 2:56
  • I'd say yes, but perhaps not directly. It's rare that you can refute a given argument using, say, the logical structures you'll learn in a course like this but at the same time things like a working knowledge of fallacies are indispensable. IMO, it's definitely a good way of getting into the habit of picking apart arguments and the way of thinking that this requires. If as the title suggests the course is listed as 'critical thinking' then this should be right up your alley ('logic' may be a bit less practical). tl;dr - yes, but it's about developing a skill more than learning specific things. – DTR Apr 30 '16 at 6:35

The value of formal instruction in critical thinking surely depends entirely on what type of person you already are. So having said one shouldn't generalize too much, I am simply going to do so, and let you filter my advice through your experience. Don't take my negativity as anything too much of an absolute.

As someone who has studied and taught math between career changes in computing, I am highly skeptical that introductory-level courses generally meet the needs of people with real-life experience unless that instruction directly addresses problems met in real life from some remedial angle.

I buy the Montessorian model of a skill as abstracted from applications in which one finds value. This applies to everyone, but especially to those not of 'school-age', including very young children, resistant teens, and full adults who have already done real work in the world. Unless there is some real barrier to getting on with the things you want to accomplish, the skills you need to accomplish them will arise naturally from use, and should not be programmatically taught.

Formal modes of thinking critically are closely related to language, and most things linguistic are surely best learned by example, and not by rule. But the best examples are not available in a general course in logic, or in a course intended to inculcate habits of logic. They are found in real solutions to real problems.

If you have trouble following philosophical arguments in general, or you are tripped up by the subtlety of the logic involved, it might pay to study Logic per se. But it might pay more to study formal linguistics, or to focus on the grammar of some very subtle language, or to study a highly self-critical mathematical discipline -- either math itself, or a modern science. Or, alas, it might pay most to simply trudge through the philosophy and discuss it until it coalesces into something you can 'get'.

Introductory courses intended to teach a specific kind of abstract still, instead of a real applied discipline, strike me as an unwarranted form of remedial education. They are assuming you need 'a grounding' in something that is usually discovered naturally at the point of application.


I took a critical thinking class and did well and passed. And I thought I was a better thinker. But I wasn't.

Later, I took a Real Analysis class (the study of real numbers and sets, etc...). I couldn't get it. I didn't understand why they were asking (seemingly) obvious questions. It broke me down. I was indeed stupid...

Suddenly it clicked! I got it and everything made sense. The devil was in the details. It required REAL critical thinking. I haven't been the same since.

I'm not suggesting you take real analysis or critical thinking. But you should stretch your mind on something really difficult. It will be worth your time. It will make you better.

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