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Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World through Experience and Reason

Cut through deception and faulty reasoning to get closer to the essence of a matter.

Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience and Reason is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 57.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Math is not freely created by the mind Excellent course. I have an advanced degree in psychology and was listening to the lectures with a rich background on models of thinking.
Date published: 2024-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Would add REQUIRED to title Use in my college classes and personal life. Should be basis of American education.
Date published: 2021-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great features I BOUGHT BEFORE AND I REGRET DOING SO. I REALIZED IT IS A GREAT COURSE.
Date published: 2021-03-09
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
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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? In Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World through Experience and Reason, Professor James Hall turns his friendly but intellectually rigorous approach to the problem of thinking, introducing you to a wide range of proven techniques used in effective reasoning and the pursuit of knowledge.

About

James Hall

Philosophy is reflecting on why you think what you think, believe what you believe, and do what you do. Anyone can do it. Everyone should.

INSTITUTION

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 Student Government Association Faculty Member of the Year (2005), and he received the University Distinguished Educator Award (2001). He has written many articles and essays and is the author of three books: Knowledge, Belief and Transcendence; Logic Problems; and Practically Profound: Putting Philosophy to Work in Everyday Life. Professor Hall specializes in 20th-century analytic philosophy, epistemology, logical empiricism, and the philosophy of religion. At Richmond, he was noted for developing cross-disciplinary courses combining physics, chemistry, economics, psychology, and literature with his own field of philosophy.

By This Professor

What Are “Tools of Thinking”?

01: 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.

31 min
Which Tools of Thinking Are Basic?

02: 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.

30 min
Platonic Intuition, Memory, and Reason

03: 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.

30 min
Intuition, Memory, and Reason—Problems

04: 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.

30 min
Sense Experience—A More Modern Take

05: 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.

30 min
Observation and Immediate Inferences

06: 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.

30 min
Further Immediate Inferences

07: 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.

30 min
Categorical Syllogisms

08: 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.

30 min
Ancient Logic in Modern Dress

09: 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.

30 min
Systematic Doubt and Rational Certainty

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.

30 min
The Limits of Sense Experience

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.

31 min
Inferences Demand Relevant Evidence

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.

31 min
Proper Inferences Avoid Equivocation

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.

30 min
Induction Is Slippery but Unavoidable

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.

30 min
The Scientific Revolution

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.

30 min
Hypotheses and Experiments—A First Look

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.

30 min
How Empirical Is Modern Empiricism?

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.

30 min
Hypotheses and Experiments—A Closer Look

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.

31 min
“Normal Science” at Mid-Century

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.

30 min
Modern Logic—Truth Tables

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.

30 min
Modern Logic—Sentential Arguments

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.

30 min
Modern Logic—Predicate Arguments

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.

30 min
Postmodern and New-Age Problems

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.

31 min
Rational Empiricism in the 21st Century

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.

31 min