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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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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Reviews

Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience and Reason is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 54.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Plodding, dull, confusing lectures, not for me! I regret I cannot recommend this series of talks. The professor has a boring, monotonous presentation style which allowed my mind to wander continually. If you expect to gain anything from this course, you'll have to focus and fix your attention in a deeply determined manner, concentrating your mind, perhaps making notes. Yes, there is some value in the course; it's not a complete loss, but it goes off-topic frequently, as though the professor is not quite sure what he's teaching, more delivering his stream of thought about learning and thinking, and thinking about learning, and how to do it all, rather than offering a structured presentation about the tools of thinking. I could not finish watching the lectures, far too dull and dreary.
Date published: 2015-11-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2015-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from TOP-NOTCH PRESENTATION DON'T TRUST THE NEGATIVE REVIEWS. PROFESSOR HALL HAS PRESENTED AN OVER VIEW OF THE HISTORY OF REASONING ACCOMPANIED WITH THE INSTRUCTIONS OF HOW TO VIEW THE RESEASONING OF OTHERS INCLUDING YOURSELF. COULD YOU ASK FOR MORE? OBVIOUSLY THOSE WHO WERE CRITICAL COULD ONLY HEAR THEMSELVES AND NOT PROFESSOR HALL. i WOULDLIKE TO SEE A LECTURE SERIES ON LOGIC(IN DEPTH) BY PROFESSOR HALL. THANK YOU PROFESSOR HALL.
Date published: 2012-07-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2012-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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
Date published: 2012-05-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice overview This course is more about epistemology and the structure of thinking rather than thinking in everyday life. It is a nice historical overview and goes into considerable detail on logic and science. I recommend it for people who want an entertaining overveiw of how epistemolgy has developped since Plato. The coverage of logic is rather detailed and cannot be studied without the course manual (if using the CD version). The probelm with this course is that on most topics covered (with the possible exception of logic), there are more useful and focused TC courses out there. For those who want a more detailed approach to epistemology, I recommend the excellent "Modern Intellectual Tradition" by Professor Cahoone. For those who want a tools of thinking course about everyday matters I recommned the duo "Your Deceptive Mind, Neuroscience of Critical Thinking" followed by "Argumentation, the Study of Effective Reasoning". And finally for those who want to help their children learn and think better, I recommend "How We Learn".
Date published: 2012-04-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Pointless and dull The lecturer has an old-style charm, slow and wordy, but with more pomposity than would be fashionable today. That barely justified my not sending this back. He does not cover much and what he does says switches from the obsolete to the trivial. Part of this may be my fault for listening to this while driving. Though sold as an audio course, there are parts that either need video or the presence of the course book on your lap as the speaker talks. I was particularly annoyed by a long and detailed discussion of Aristotelian logic in its most medieval formalism. His approach to logic elsewhere seems painfully ancient. Overall, except for a few mentions of Kuhn and some obscure comments that relate to logical positivism, this course could have been written in 1950, and much of it could have come from before 1850. His approach is often rambling and incomplete. I have listened to and appreciated dozens of Teaching Company/Great Courses series and feel sorry to write that this lecturer's tools of thinking seem pointless and dull.
Date published: 2012-03-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Poor professor presentation & highly uneven course content nonetheless important & profound tools of thinking.
Date published: 2011-05-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A DIFFICULT CHALLENGE This review refers to the CD's. It's a challenge to sort through the wide differences of opinion among previous reviewers and decide whether to purchase this series of lectures. Although philosophy is not a major, or even serious, interest of mine, I decided to weigh in among the supporters of Dr Hall. While there may be complaints about his delivery or speaking technique, it's important to concentrate on what he's attempting to achieve with this series. It's, to me, the formidable project of attempting to systemize patterns of thought about an issue. Further, there's the trying job of inventorying these patterns under traditional headings so that communication about them follows accepted nomenclature to facilitate discussion about them. In that respect, it appears Dr Hall does a pretty good job. At least, he's been successful in stirring up controversy among Great Courses customers if the reviews are any indication. Readers of this review will have accept it's from the standpoint of one indifferent to the subject of formal philosophy who has no dog in this fight and found a discussion of different ways to think about an issue, or life, interesting and provocative.
Date published: 2011-05-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from First half better than second half. After reading other reviews, I cannot agree with the negative reviews of Prof. Hall. I thoroughly enjoyed his voice and personal style (I listened to the CDs). As regards the course content, I marked it lower due to the fact that the 2nd half of the course did not interest me personally as much as the first half of the course. Lectures 6 - 12 were superb in helping me understand deductive logic. You must use the guidebook if you really want to understand it though. The square of opposition in chapter 6 and how syllogisms are formed in chapter 7 provided excellent visuals to help me work through whether arguments are valid or not. When a reviewer says that a course from the Teaching Company is a complete waste of time, I think the problem is with the reviewer more than the material. There is always something to be gained from these courses. This is my contribution to the value of this course.
Date published: 2011-01-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Verbose delivery, content needs better editing The topic of "Thinking", along with the topic of creativity, are two of my deep interests. So, this isn't the first course i've taken on this topic. I found the professor to be verbose, taking many words to communicate easily understood concepts. He also has the habit of saying "I'm not going to discuss [specific topic] now. Instead, i'll be saving it for later, when we get to chapter [X]. It's more relevant then, so i'll wait until that point in these lectures on "The Tools Of Thinking" to discuss that. But i wanted to refer to it now, because you may be thinking it's appropriate at this point. So, i wanted to make sure you knew i'll get to it, but at a future point." Ugh. So many words to say what he's not going to say. The true content of this could be boiled down to about 90 minutes, instead of the 12 hours. For reference, Jeff kasser's lectures on "The PHilosophy of Science" are as close to perfect delivery as i've found. Each word and sentence isn't wasted. For a good book on thinking and language, try "Language, Truth and Logic" by A.J.Ayer. And "Wittgenstein" by Ray Monk.
Date published: 2010-09-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fine Presentation of a Sometimes Tedious Subject I did not particularly enjoy this course, on the whole, but I must DISAGREE with reviews criticizing Professor Hall. The professor's presentation is fine (worthy of 4 or 5 stars for his part). The problem is not Hall; it's the subject matter itself, which is INHERENTLY tedious (and there is not much he can do about that). Nevertheless, if you want to learn the technical rules and jargon of formal logic, this would be a good course for you. In fact, some of the lectures, especially in the second half, are quite interesting--providing, for example, a corrective for the common misuse of such terms as "equivocation" and "BEGGING THE QUESTION" (which nowadays is almost always misused). Though some of the reviews strangely allege the contrary, this course DOES present analytical tools for examining arguments and postulates. That is precisely what this course is. The problem, in my opinion, is that many people do not need to be "taught” such tools, most of which seem intuitive and self-evident. (Again, that’s not the professor’s fault; he’s simply teaching the subject as it is.) Though probably of limited popular interest, this course IS as well presented as the subject matter allows. And it might prove stimulating to you—or at very least you might become better acquainted with the terminology of formal logic, which is not a bad thing to know.
Date published: 2010-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course Dr. Hall is an outstanding lecturer. The depth of this course, and the skill with which he delivers the material make it one of my most favorite courses.
Date published: 2010-09-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dull as ditch water Of the many dozens of courses I have purchased from The Teaching Company this is the only one I have had cause to return. I am delighted to say that the Teaching Company lived up to its "life time guarantee" and was good enough to provide me with a full refund. I was hoping to acquire tools that would sharpen my faculties. However, the course is incredibly dull, pedantic and ponderous, as is the style of the lecturer. Due to the extent that I became so bored with the course I was simply unable to make any headway with the course and eventually gave-up.
Date published: 2010-08-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not good This course is dull and unispiring. It does not provide any "tools" for thinking better. However, it is a solid introduction tinto "modern rational empiricism."
Date published: 2010-08-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Dissatisfied The material presented was in no way what I expected. The first 12 lessons dealt with the principles of debate as used by Socrates and Plato. While this may be of interest to some, it was not what I would call “tools of thinking” for the 21st century. However, even that may have been useful had the lecturer been easier to listen to. His manner of speaking with measured pauses and little “asides” in an attempt to impart gravity to what he is saying was tiring to say the least, and finally became so distracting that I had trouble getting beyond the method of presentation to the material being presented
Date published: 2010-04-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dry and uninspiring This was the driest, most tedious course I've ever listened to. I'm a regular Teaching Company customer, I love reading philosophy, and I teach at a university, so it's not that the material was hard for me to understand. But the content and delivery were so pedantic, with almost no examples to make the material come alive, that I actually could not finish the course. I tried. I kept thinking that maybe only the early sections would be dull, and that if I just stuck with it, it would get better. It didn't. It was, in fact, a painful experience. I almost gave this course as a gift to my son; thank goodness I didn't! It would likely have soured him on the otherwise-wonderful topics of philosophy and logic.
Date published: 2010-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from lawyers and jurors need to master these lectures I have about six teaching company courses that I have bought that stack up without being enjoyed for two reasons: 1. I keep listening over and over to Professor Hall and trying to master his information. 2. I bought them (other courses ) on DVDs and I can't listen to them in the car. Really, I don't want any more DVDs. Back to Professor Hall and his analysis of argument. Arguments in the courtroom are amateurish, theatrical, egotistical and lack the discipline required of informal logic. Jurors begin to think that this is normal and are "at sea" in trying to analyze arguments and legal boundaries without any help from the lawyers that they can trust. Professor Hall gives the practationer a tool for clarifying and exposing fallacies and other such red herrings. Problem: Since the problem, much less the solution cannnot be explained to a jury in an hour, advocates can be of minimal effectiveness. We need some way to educate jurors in some depth as to how to analyze arguments and evidence. Professor Hall's interesting lectures take us far down this road, if we would just listen.
Date published: 2009-10-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dullest Course Yet While I don't agree with the reviewer who stated this course was "a complete waste of time", I must admit that after having watched several other, much more advanced courses from the Teaching Company, this one left me wondering, "where's the beef?". The presentation was slow, rather dull, and did I mention that it was S-L-O-W? The professor made many good points, but most of what he said was all too obvious-- as another reviewer described it, "at the Jr. high school level" (a smallish exaggeration). Plato and Aristotle had already been done to death by other TTC lecturers I've seen, and just about the only thing I found to be unique and new here was the discussion regarding truth tables (which were quite tedious). At the end of the course, Professor Hall explains how Creationists have criticized (rational empiricist) Science for its vacillating character, and this was essentially brushed off as being a *strength* of Science, not a weakness. In reality, we know from logic that inconsistency is indicative of some glaring flaw or other, and at the very least one should chastize those who say they are practicing "Science" for being overly confident and certain of their misbegotten ideas, so often later refuted throughout the history of Science. Either that, or else admit that what has often passed for "Science" was in reality nothing more than a cheap imitation thereof. With this course's emphasis on "rigorous logic", it should be obvious that pseudo-science is not true science, and the correct explanation for this observed vascillation might better be accounted for by human arrogance-- overstepping the bounds of what we only think we know. (For example: what happenned at 0.001 second after the purported Big Bang? Many a lecturer will tell you exactly what, how, and why!) This course might work well for someone who wants a very basic introduction to thinking skills, and who is not bored by formal logic. But if like me, you've already had several more advanced TTC courses that overlap, this will indeed seem like a waste of time.
Date published: 2009-08-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 'Not Easy Going' -- But Essential A tool box for thinking, but does Professor Hall address all the tools? Perhaps, except for Faith (which he covers in TTC's 'Philosophy of Religion'). Can we think reliably? Yes, but not perfectly. What's the best rule? It's that we can't think reliably if we use only one tool (e.g., intuition). Good advice! Then ... hard thinking starts getting very hard. 'Tools of Thinking is not always easy going,' it says in the course description. Dead-on right -- especially for the second half of this course. It felt like a post-graduate level class in logic. I purchased the audio version, and sometimes it was difficult for my brain to stay tuned in. I agree with some others here that the course may have needed a better title, like 'Tools for EFFECTIVE Thinking: A Handbook for Modern Rational Empiricism.' A pleasant highlight for me was Dr. Hall's discussion of 'fallacies of reasoning' (Lectures 12 and 13). He covers fifteen fallacies, but you can find longer lists at wikipedia and elsewhere on the Internet. I like to keep a fallacies list handy when I'm writing. 'Logical Fallacies' might, someday, make a great TTC course in and of itself, and have more rubber- meets-the-road, hands-on pragmatic applicability and appeal than much of the heady and difficult material in Dr. Hall's 'Tools' course. I recommend Dr. Hall's 'Tools of Thinking' with a major caveat: it will take much time and effort to learn and master the tools he describes. But at least with this course, you've taken a step in the right direction, and will know what the tools are (and how others might use them against your own ideas and thinking!).
Date published: 2009-07-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Great The problem with symbolic logic is that arguments in real life never adhere to its strict rules. The problem with this course is the title and the description on the site. Saying things like, "introducing you to a wide range of proven techniques used in effective reasoning" makes it sound like this course is going to help you win arguments. It won't. Here are the things that make this course the only course I have not recommended (out of 30 so far): 1. Description of the course is misleading. 2. Very hard to follow without the course booklet. 3. Average presentation at best. 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? I wish I knew, because this course didn't tell me.
Date published: 2009-07-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I Couldn't Listen To It From reviewing the guidebook, it appears that this course is interesting, useful, and worthwhile. But, I couldn’t listen to it. Dr. Hall spoke too slow and monotone for me.
Date published: 2009-06-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but what's missing? I was glad to be walked through the history of thinking, but disappointed that the walk was restricted to Europe and America. Prof. Hall leaves us completely ignorant of the thinking, and non-thinking, of Asia (not to mention Africa, Australia, etc.). If he had engaged with Eastern philosophy, Prof. Hall might have found some possibilities underlying the incommensurability of paradigms, and he might have gained new perspectives on the nature of reality. Prof. Hall effectively lays out the struggle in the West to translate reality into knowledge. We describe our sense experiences, we explain them, and we forget that our descriptions and explanations are not reality itself. Perhaps it's the human drive to gain control of things through understanding. Gautama Buddha blew the whistle on that illusion 2500 years ago. Adam and Eve weret dismissed from Eden on these grounds in the year zero. Because knowledge is founded in language, and reality is a parallel universe beyond language, the twain can never truly meet. Logic, helpful as it is in the realm of descriptions, explanations and predictions, dismisses the ineffable, the paradoxical and the immeasurable as beyond the pale. Religion, which in the West has devolved to an unholy synthesis of magical thinking and politics, is the bathwater. Wisdom, the holy baby, is alive and well in our hearts, but not available with the Prof. Hall's tools of thinking.
Date published: 2009-06-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Course Guidebook Required These lectures work well as a course in basic logic. The title "Tools of Thinking" might be somewhat misleading, as the more descriptive "Understanding the World Through Experience and Reason" would seem to be more in tune with actual course content. Perhaps I was foolish to expect a simple cookbook approach -- e.g. "How to Think," much like "How to Bake a Cake." This is not what you get here, as the professor runs through a complete history of various ways people tried to make sense of the world using brainpower before he gets to modern rational empiricism. A word of advice: get it on DVD. If you listen on audio CD you better have your course guidebook at hand. I listened while exercising, but I got confused more than once. Worse, my mind wanted to wander.
Date published: 2009-05-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from No polite way to say this - a complete waste Wow. I'm glad others appreciated some things about this course, but for me it was an unmitigated waste. My reasons: 1. The course has nothing to contribute to improving your thought processes, unless your goal is to prove that Socrates is mortal, or you like to frame your thoughts in truth tables. Unfortunately, no argument with the slightest nuance or real-world impact lends itself to syllogisms or high school level symbolic logic. 2. Even if you're taking it simply out of intellectual curiousity (which is a great reason to take a course!), it will disappoint. Anyone with just a passing familiarity with such things as syllogisms, Occam's razor, symbolic logic, rationalism, empiricism, and the scientific method will learn nothing new. If you know nothing of these concepts (which really are fascinating and extremely valuable), this is the wrong course to take. They are presented with an extraordinarily casual lack of clarity, dressed up here and there with unnecessary jargon which obfuscates rather than assists. (Try the Teaching Company's Philosophy of Science and Argumentation courses, neither of which is perfect, but which together will provide a very solid foundation to the topics so poorly presented here.) 3. The discussion rarely exceeds a junior high school level. (Again, don't confuse jargon with erudition.) Many comments are embarrassingly trivial. Just a few of many possible examples (from the Course Guidebook): "Unless our purported evidence is relevant to the inferences we are trying to draw, we are not even in the ballpark, much less in the game," and "Prejudice, bias, faulty instrumentation, lack of due care, and the like are always possible [when performing an experiment]...Such things are relevant because they affect outcomes." 4. Professor Hall, as becomes apparent late in the course, has as his overriding concern the defense of rational empiricism. However, one must keep in mind that the more usual term for rational empiricism is common sense: We take in information through our senses, organize them and come to tentative conclusions by means of our rational powers, try out our conclusions in the world, and modify our conclusions as appropriate. Whether describing science or daily living, this hardly seems to require a twenty-four lecture course. 5. Finally, a pet peeve of mine (although I must note I came to the above conclusions before getting to this part of the course.) In Lecture 23 Prof. Hall does an intellectual hatchet job on Thomas Kuhn and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He sets them up as examples of postmodern relativists who purportedly believe that all truths are culturally relative, and that there is therefore no such thing as "the" truth. This is utter nonsense. Kuhn (the philosopher of science who popularized "paradigm shifts") was a very smart man, even if many of his ideas have been superceded, and Wittgenstein was one of the great geniuses of western culture. Neither would be so stupid as to agree with Hall's characterization of relativism as leading to the belief that "we cannot reach any kind of conclusions about anything at all." This extreme formulation goes under the term "vicious relativism" and is held by essentially no one. Hall's discussion implies that either he has failed to grasp the essentials of either Kuhn's or Wittgenstein's philosophy, or that he is purposly misconstruing their ideas to set up a straw man so that he can knock it down. Neither option is very becoming. Well, that's it. I love the Teaching Company, as can be seen by most of my other reviews, but this course makes me wonder if success is going to lead to a calamatous decline in their standards and quality. I sincerely hope not.
Date published: 2009-02-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Course You have to stick with this one. The professor has a certain style that once you get used to, you see he's pretty good and really understands the material. I found myself looking at how I think and seeing all kinds of problems- even spotting problems in everyday life. Really enjoyed learning about Mill's methods- that was really an eye opener because so much of it we learn to use without 'knowing' what were using. It just works. Over all a good course but the learner needs to be engaged to get the most out of this. Thinking ain't always easy.
Date published: 2009-02-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from But Where are the Tools? When I saw a course advertised on "Tools of Thinking," it was pretty much a no-brainer for me that this course was a must-have, and I plunged into the course eager to pick up some new tools which would make me a generally better thinker. What I found is that I worked through 24 lectures waiting for the tools, but they never showed up. Instead, what the course really presents is an introductory overview of "modern rational empiricism," with topics including basic logic, some quick discussions of fallacies, and a fairly simple introduction to philosophy of science. If someone has limited background in these areas and is interested in them, this course could be useful (as previous reviews attest). But people already familiar with these areas will probably find that they will learn very little from the course, as was the case for me. And getting back to the key point, the course doesn't really provide any practical but non-trivial "tools" which can be applied to daily life or specialized areas. From that standpoint, I think the course title is quite misleading (it certainly fooled me). If the course was titled something like "Introduction to Scientific Reasoning," I could have given it 4 stars, maybe even 5 stars, and I could recommend it; in fact, this course is a good warmup for TTC's "Science Wars" and "Philosophy of Science" courses. But with the current title, it drops all the way down to 3 stars, since many people are prone to not getting what they expected from the course.
Date published: 2009-02-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Readingaloud's point about Professor Hall being "uncomfortable with the notion that knowledge is socially constructed" is apposite, and exposes the only major limitation of this course, which needs to be understood as something of a classical logic primer. These days of course not too many of us have the kind of basics that this course covers - so at least when one moves into the murky waters of postmodernism one feels better equipped. After the first few lectures I was a bit concerend that I wouldn't make it through the whole course - Hall seemed so laconic that he might fall over. But once one is in tune with his rhythm he is (mostly) very engaging. He is certainly wise throughout.
Date published: 2009-01-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting This course provides a good way to learn how to think logically and use reason rather than emotion to make arguments. It provides a framework for reducing the amount of bias that can creep into peoples reasoning and to limit the amount of self-serving justification we humans are prone to. My only criticism is that some of the techniques and examples are so complex and hard to follow that I started to "tune out". Thinking logically requires hard work and lots of practice, but in the end it it well worth it.
Date published: 2008-12-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A logic course, with sweeteners At bottom, this is an introductory logic course, with bits and snippets of epistemology and philosophy of science. The sweeteners break up what might otherwise be an oppressively abstruse subject. Prof. Hall's great strength is the ability to explain things clearly. His lectures proceed rather deliberately, but not too slowly, and he has a knack for laying out difficult subject matter in a very accessible way. If you're listening to an audio version, following with the course guide in hand is needful for about six of the 24 lectures. With the aid of the guide and Prof. Hall's patient explanation, you will indeed be able to absorb a few of the rudiments of symbolic logic. I only wish he had gotten a little further into some of the other areas of the course--the epistemology part stopped short of Kant and Hegel, and I would really love to have heard how Prof. Hall would treat those authors. I was never quite able to get past a bit of discomfort with the notion that the course was called "tools of thinking". If these are really the tools, then lots of us hardly know how to think at all. Most of what the course discusses, though reasonably interesting in itself, seems far removed from the ordinary thinking process. The gap is particularly pronounced where others might veer into the social sciences--Dr. Hall is clearly uncomfortable with the notion that knowledge is socially constructed. And so, for example, there were only a few passing references to the problem of cognitive authority, and Kuhn was mentioned only with an air of foreboding. This might be a good first philosophy course for a particularly nerdy student. Others, I'm afraid, might find that there is too little chocolate and too many brussels sprouts.
Date published: 2008-12-24
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