Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Philosophy Season Begins! (Slow Thinking About Big Questions)

Monroe County Community College

This week I'll begin my 13th year of teaching philosophy at Monroe County Community College. I'll teach three classes - two sections of Introduction to Logic, and one section of Philosophy of Religion. At this stage of my life I am able to walk into these classes, without notes or preparation, and teach, with enthusiasm. Yet, because I love philosophy, I never stop studying it. Here are a few thoughts I have today about my classes.


  • Most students today lack critical thinking skills.
  • The ability to think logically helps in any field. In law, e.g., to be able to intuit the claim of inference from premises to a conclusion is necessary. 
  • Logic is about evaluating arguments and formulating arguments. In logic, an "argument" is: one or more premises that, if true, make a claim of inference to a conclusion. Premises and conclusions are "statements." A "statement" is a sentence that describes a state of affairs that obtains. Or, a statement is a sentence that is either true or false.
  • I'm going to do my best to make this intrinsically boring class interesting for my students. One way I do this is to present arguments that are relevant and, I think, fun. For example, tomorrow in my first class I'll argue for the conclusion Dogs are smarter than cats. In another class I will argue for the conclusion We are alone in the universe (using Ward and Brownlee's Rare Earth theory). Later in the semester I may present philosopher Francis Beckwith's logical argument against abortion. This is a particularly good argument to give in a logic class, since in logic emotive arguing adds nothing to an argument. I really enjoy presenting these arguments as exemplary of logical thinking.
  • Because most students are postmodernists without knowing it they will have a hard time grasping the idea that: If a statement is true it is true for everyone, and if a statement is false is it false for everyone. The DNA of today's adolescent is relativistic. In logic, subjective and collective relativism is irrational (illogical).
  • I am personal interested in Daniel Kahneman's thesis that there are, basically, two kinds of "thinking"; viz., "thinking fast" and "thinking slow." Most thinking is of the first kind; critical thinking (logic) is of the second kind. I'll be teaching my student to "slow-think."
Philosophy of Religion
  • I love teaching this class! Over the years most students seem captivated by the material.
  • We'll never escape metaphysical, "Big Questions" thinking. Most students (nearly all, in my experience) want someone to dialogue with about these questions. 
  • I'm going to do my best to release students from the mental bondage of Facebook-reasoning. None of the arguments Facebook atheists and theists use are used by scholars to defend their worldviews, whether atheistic or theistic. OK, I'll back off that statement a bit. But not much. The real discussion is found in the academic literature. Here, e.g., is the standard philosophy of religion textbook I use in my class - Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings
  • This course is not only about introducing students to philosophy of religion issues, but is also an extended exercise in critical thinking and logic.
In both classes we'll talk about "worldviews." Everyone has a worldview. I'll let the class know that I am a Christian theist. Then I'll share the various worldviews and let them know that, no matter who they had as a professor, that professor would also have a worldview. Just as they, the student does. A "worldview" is comprised of a set of beliefs. A "belief" is a "statement." A "statement" is a sentence that is either true or false. Beliefs make truth claims which, if true, are true for everyone. Therefore all beliefs marginalize. This must be understood to make any progress in philosophical thinking. (Of course students are not evaluated on whether or not they agree with my worldview. A few of the atheists in my class have earned 'As' and I have a failed a few Christian students who are from my own church.)