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Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience and Reason

Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience and Reason

Professor James Hall, Ph.D.
University of Richmond

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Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience and Reason

Course No. 4413
Professor James Hall, Ph.D.
University of Richmond
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Course No. 4413

Course Overview

What is the best way to prove a case, create a rule, solve a problem, justify an idea, invent a hypothesis, or evaluate an argument? In other words, what is the best way to think?

Everyone has to think in order to function in the world, and this course will equip you with the tools to reason effectively in your pursuit of reliable beliefs and useful knowledge. Whether you are a budding philosopher searching for ultimate truths, a science student grappling with the nature of scientific proof, a new parent weighing conflicting child-rearing advice, or a concerned citizen making up your mind about today's issues, Tools of Thinking will help you cut through deception and faulty reasoning to get closer to the essence of a matter.

In Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World through Experience and Reason, Professor Hall turns his friendly but intellectually rigorous approach to the problem of thinking, introducing you to a wide range of effective techniques.

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24 lectures
 |  29 minutes each
Year Released: 2005
  • 1
    What Are “Tools of Thinking”?
    The "tools of thinking" are the devices and processes we use to achieve knowledge. This lecture introduces eight tools: experience, memory, association, pattern discernment and recognition, reason, invention, experimentation, and intuition. x
  • 2
    Which Tools of Thinking Are Basic?
    Professor Hall discusses the eight tools of thinking in detail. Reason, experience, invention, and experimentation are particularly important, since we use them to create our languages and make our instruments of investigation. x
  • 3
    Platonic Intuition, Memory, and Reason
    Plato subordinated sense experience to the tools of intuition, memory, and reason, believing that knowledge results from uncovering what the mind already knows intuitively. x
  • 4
    Intuition, Memory, and Reason—Problems
    We explore some of the major problems with Plato's reliance on intuition, memory, and reason. Even though Plato's position makes good use of several basic tools of thinking, it is still inadequate. x
  • 5
    Sense Experience—A More Modern Take
    What we see, taste, smell, feel, hear, and read can be unreliable. That means we must exercise great caution when we use such input as a basis for our thoughts. x
  • 6
    Observation and Immediate Inferences
    Aristotle recognized the importance of observation. But his primary concern was with what one can rationally infer. This stimulated his interest in the processes and patterns of reason itself, and led to his systematic mapping of what we call logic. x
  • 7
    Further Immediate Inferences
    We continue our investigation of Aristotle's logic by looking at what more can be inferred from a single categorical proposition. The "square of opposition" is a powerful arrangement for analyzing immediate inferences that can be drawn from the truth or falsity of a single proposition. x
  • 8
    Categorical Syllogisms
    A categorical syllogism consists of three categorical propositions: two premises and a conclusion. We learn how to place a categorical syllogism in "standard form" and how to analyze it in terms of "mood" and "figure." x
  • 9
    Ancient Logic in Modern Dress
    Some classes have no members; for example, the class of unicorns. This creates problems because we don't always know whether a class is populated or not. We look at how developments by logicians George Boole and John Venn help deal with this issue. x
  • 10
    Systematic Doubt and Rational Certainty
    We recapitulate some of the reasons for calling sense experience into question, in light of the "systematic doubt" of the 17th-century philosopher René Descartes. x
  • 11
    The Limits of Sense Experience
    What content for thought does sense experience, by itself, provide? This lecture probes the views of David Hume, who argued that we have no sensations of causation as such, casting doubt on our ability to use inductive reasoning to gain demonstrable truths about the world. x
  • 12
    Inferences Demand Relevant Evidence
    Inferences that rely on irrelevant "evidence" commit non sequitur in one form or another. In this lecture, we explore descriptions and examples of seven forms that such bad reasoning can take. x
  • 13
    Proper Inferences Avoid Equivocation
    In relying on experiences as evidence for our inferences, we must avoid making unwarranted presumptions. Otherwise, we may be guilty of fallacies of presumption and ambiguity—eight examples of which are given. x
  • 14
    Induction Is Slippery but Unavoidable
    After making a pragmatic assumption about the regularity of nature, we look at John Stuart Mill's classic analysis of the inductive methods of agreement, difference, residues and concomitant variation. These are illustrated with examples to help clarify what induction can do and what it can't. x
  • 15
    The Scientific Revolution
    Focusing on the methods and ideas of Isaac Newton, we explore three factors that are essential for the generation of a prediction, which is the hallmark of modern science. x
  • 16
    Hypotheses and Experiments—A First Look
    Irresponsible hypothesis construction is hard to distinguish from mere speculation. Responsible hypotheses are grounded in testing and experimentation. Hypotheses that are grounded and confirmed in this way generate covering laws. x
  • 17
    How Empirical Is Modern Empiricism?
    Direct observations and inferences generated from them are possible at the macro level. However, a different kind of empirical link is required at the micro level where direct observation is impossible. In that case, hypotheses must be constructed and inferences from them need only be confirmed by empirical observation. This opens the door to theoretical imagination, creativity, and conceptual invention. x
  • 18
    Hypotheses and Experiments—A Closer Look
    There are at least two uses for experiments that are of interest to modern rational empiricists. Some are aimed at discovering patterns that will help generate descriptive and explanatory knowledge. Others are aimed at testing the theories that we entertain, so as to confirm or disconfirm them. x
  • 19
    “Normal Science” at Mid-Century
    In the middle of the 20th century, the vision of "normal science" was rooted in the movement called logical positivism, with contributions by logicians, mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers. x
  • 20
    Modern Logic—Truth Tables
    Whether we hypothesize, discover, or create the mathematics, covering laws, and state descriptions that we use in explaining what we observe, we need a reliable apparatus for drawing inferences from them. This is provided by modern logic. x
  • 21
    Modern Logic—Sentential Arguments
    We continue our examination of the techniques of modern logic used in complex derivations, with a look at replacement rules, such as DeMorgan's theorems, and rules of inference, such as modus ponens. x
  • 22
    Modern Logic—Predicate Arguments
    In contrast to sentential logic, which treats simple sentences as unanalyzed units, predicate logic involves the analysis of the internal structure of subject/predicate sentences. We look at the tools that allow us to solve predicate arguments far beyond the scope of Aristotelian syllogistic. x
  • 23
    Postmodern and New-Age Problems
    Modern rational empiricism is not problem-free. For instance, we know that observations themselves are theory laden. Further, if the general culture determines what those ideas and theories are, then even our simplest descriptions are culturally relative. These are central themes of postmodernism. x
  • 24
    Rational Empiricism in the 21st Century
    The tools of thinking are available to all. There are useful places to put them to use if we will spend the efforts to master them. The systematic study of logic, science, mathematics, history, and even philosophy, are all good places to start. x

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Your professor

James Hall

About Your Professor

James Hall, Ph.D.
University of Richmond
Dr. James Hall is the James Thomas Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at the University of Richmond, where he taught for 40 years. He earned his B.A. from Johns Hopkins University, his Master of Theology from Southeastern Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At the University of Richmond, Professor Hall was named Omicron Delta Kappa Faculty Member of the Year (2005) and...
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Rated 3.4 out of 5 by 44 reviewers.
Rated 4 out of 5 by Enlightening The course presented a subject I would normally never have even considered. I listened to the first lecture fully anticipating that I wouldn't be listening to the second. Each CD came and went, and I found the subject fascinating, and the presentation suited me just fine. July 8, 2015
Rated 1 out of 5 by AVOID This One I'm a big fan of The Teaching Company but this course is a dud. They should pull it from their offerings. I teach logic and reasoning and I would consider this a great paradigm of how NOT to teach this or any other subject. The professor rambles slowly along in a monotone voice and frequently slowly rambles off on tangents that are especially difficult to endure. Although this course was exremely unpleasant to follow, I made myself listen to every disc on the off chance that it might improve. It did not. I can only say that I'm glad I wasn't a captive student in the classroom who had to endure this. For those who have not studied logic and reasoning, this course would likely drive them away from the subject. I wouldn't buy it again and I certainly wouldn't give it to anyone I thought might be interested in the subject. June 3, 2012
Rated 5 out of 5 by Old Fashioned Logic is Timeless This was a great course. Of the 50 plus Teaching Company courses I own, this course ranks right up there with the mental power needed to make the most of the message. This course is as close to an old fashioned logic course as one is to hope to find. All of the tools needed to induce and deduce correctly are laid out in a very lively manner by a great professor. It seems many were looking for modern tricks like brainology or memory techniques instead of the rock solid tools that served as the foundation for Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. Anyone looking for a classically based logic class from the Teaching Company, along with a few modern logic twists thrown in, need look no further. This isn't a course one just "listens" to. One needs to engage the mind; thus, this is a "hard" course to many. But practice is necessary to take the principles given and automate them into our daily thinking. This is a great buy by a very engaging professor who really knows classical logic and the modern variations on it. MLC May 13, 2012
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