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
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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
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 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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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos, diagrams & charts
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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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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Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience and Reason is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 54.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect course for me As a lifelong student of logic I am finding this to be the most enjoyable of the many courses I have bought from The Great Courses over the years.
Date published: 2018-07-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from It is totally unhelpful My husband and I tried to listen to this course. It is really painful. We forced ourselves to CD number 4, then we gave up. I will return this course.
Date published: 2018-04-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Case for Modern Rational Empiricism This course may be better called A Case for Modern Rational Empiricism. From the start, Professor Hall excludes ethics, emotions, and will from the scope, which implies they are not relevant in discussions about “thinking”. However, he later states that the “… exclusion of ethics, religion, and the like from the arena of actual or potential knowledge seems arbitrary and self-defeating“. Is he making a distinction between thought and knowledge? If so, what is this distinction? As he sees it, knowledge is possible through the use of two basic “tools”: empirical experience, which provides input, and deductive logic (processes and patterns of reason itself), which operates against the empirical input. In the pursuit of knowledge, hypotheses should be created and rigorously tested. Truth is a matter of increased probabilities. Prof Hall shares lists of common errors around capturing and analyzing empirical input and making inferences; he discusses methodological implications around experimentation and devotes seven lectures to deductive reasoning. It is not clear what Prof Hall thinks about mind (whether it is different from the body). Do we each have a soul that can both experience and reason? If not a soul, what is it that has these capacities and from whence does it come, or are these questions not appropriate subjects for thought? He considers intuition to be problematic, and regards creative insight (inventive genius, luck, inspiration) as a “given”, of value only if it can be validated through empirical testing. Since he defines knowledge as hypotheses that have been empirically validated through testing, then by definition, intuition and insight can not constitute knowledge in and of themselves. In the end, Prof Hall suggests an analogy that truth is like a mathematical limit - ongoing responsible experimentation should be seen as ever approaching Truth, which will never quite be reached.
Date published: 2018-03-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Older stuff on sale Too complex for this older limited mind. Presentation in written form is as far as I got so far...
Date published: 2017-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intellectually stimulating I recently finished watching the 24-lecture "Tools of Thinking" course by Professor James Hall on a portable dvd player. I didn’t know what to expect because I tend to regard a lot of philosophy as so much naval gazing, but this course is enlightening and really provides ideas that can be put to use. Professor Hall is the master of the pregnant pause. He avoids listener confusion by clearly indicating when he is providing tangential material or material that will be addressed at a later point. I appreciate his use of clear examples to demonstrate cases where a particular rule of logic is valid and when it isn’t, and – perhaps more importantly – why. Although I may not share the high regard he seems to demonstrate for the ethics of the pharmaceutical industry in lecture 18, I could certainly understand the point he was making. I re-watched lecture 20 on Truth Tables after listening to lecture 22. I especially enjoyed Professor Hall’s approach to the concepts of uncertainty, universal error, and radical skepticism. His method of defining terms is particularly useful, especially “knowledge” as “justified true belief” and “truth” as “a label we use for the limit toward which we perpetually strive in our thinking. It is not a label for where we happen to be at any moment in the quest”. Logic, of course, is a tool to help determine what is true. Professor Hall is very good at communicating that systems of thinking exist within a framework of what is accepted as possible, and pointing out all the associated limitations, caveats, and constraints that go along with that. Professor Hall makes it interesting to consider all the ambiguities involved in reasoning, and reminds one that doubt is necessary in order to know the difference between what is assumed and what can be proven. Concerning the guidebook, there are a few obvious typographical errors, especially in the biographical notes, but nothing significant. However, in the “Valid Categorical Syllogism” table on page 42, it may be a mistake in the “Figure 1” row to list “AAI” in both columns: that is, as being “Valid for Aristotle and Boole” AND “Valid for Aristotle but Invalid for Boole due to the Existential Fallacy” – obviously, the same argument can’t be both valid and invalid for Boole. An example of an obvious typo is on page 26 where, in discussing A, E, I, and O propositions, it says “A and O are the vowels in the Latin (and English) word AFFIRM”, when he clearly means A and I. The synopsis for lecture 19 at the top of page 75 should probably have the word “relativity” instead of “relatively” (as in “theories of…”). I’m not sure if it’s a typographical error or merely confusing, but Lecture 21, Question 2 on page 90 may or may supposed to read “Does finding” rather than “Does not finding”. Lastly, it would have been helpful if, on the next page (Lecture 21, page 91) Question 3 was explained more clearly by more extensive text next to or below it. Overall an entirely worthwhile course and I’m glad I spent the time taking it. I was so impressed with Professor Hall’s teaching style I purchased the “Philosophy of Religion” course which he also does.
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poorly presented I have simply not been able to get beyond the second lecture. I feel that this course, unlike the other courses I have bought, is a waste of time and money and I am unlikely to ever finish this course.
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have always enjoyed all the Course I have gotten from all of you. It have help me understand things better in having a different perspective. and learning is very enjoyable to me.Thanks to all of you at the Great Courses.
Date published: 2017-02-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting course on thinking I found Prof James Hall engaging and the content interesting. He starts with a history of thinking from Plato and Aristotle through to Cartesian and Lockean thinking. We normally don't think of 'memory' as a tool of reasoning but without it reasoning and analysis would almost be impossible. If you are interesting in improving the quality of your reasoning, particularly with written argument as I was you will find this course useful and informative.
Date published: 2015-12-30
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