WHAT REASONING IS AND
WHY WE NEED IT
We're all familiar with the standard three R's—"Readin',
'Ritin', 'n' 'Rithmetic." Basic skills in literacy and mathematics
are crucial to functioning in modern society as informed and productive citizens.
It's hard for those of us who have such skills to imagine trying to get by in the modern world without
being able to read and write in our native language, or to figure
dimensions, weights, time, energy, percentages, and (of course) money.
The three R's are arguably the most important of all the things we
study, because without them it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to become
adequately conversant and competent in any other subject. They're key to
learning and accomplishing just about everything else, from sports to
arts, from mechanics to medicine, from physics to philosophy, from
homemaking to high finance.
But while the three R's are crucial to
communicating information and crunching numbers, they don't show us how
to analyze and synthesize that information or how to interpret the
number-crunching. Without the ability to evaluate and process all
this information reliably and effectively, we'd find ourselves in the
predicament of being interactive but not very intelligent, knowledgeable
but not very smart, clever but not very wise.
That's where reasoning comes in. Reasoning
is the ability to distinguish good information from bad (i.e., with
respect to what's consistent and coherent), and to process the good
information in ways that explain (i.e., make more comprehensible) what
we think we know, guide us to plausible answers to our questions, and enable us to
find realistic solutions to our problems. But the number-one problem here is
that, for the most part, it's assumed that good reasoning skills are
naturally acquired, when evidence suggests that this isn't actually the
case for most people. For example, can you tell which, if any, of
the following lines of reasoning are logically valid?
If the king is dying, the prince must be
summoned. The prince has been summoned, so the king must be
Most hard-drug addicts get started by using
marijuana, so marijuana use leads to hard-drug addiction.
Elves are wiser than gnomes, and wizards are
wiser than elves, so wizards are wiser than gnomes.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims all believe in
God; so, Christians, Jews, and Muslims all believe in the same thing.
If you answered that 3 is the only logically
valid example of the four, you're correct. But can you explain
exactly why 3 is valid, and why 1, 2, and 4 are not?
If you can't (or if you answer "Because 3 is my favorite number!"), then
stick around, and you might learn something interesting!
Yes, the ability to reason comes to us naturally; but the ability to reason well—that is, critically,
coherently, and consistently—is something that requires disciplined
objectivity, which most people can acquire only with a measure of effort and
guidance. The fact that most people aren't routinely
taught basic principles of good reasoning as such is a major factor in our tendency
to use trial and error as our preferred method, and tradition or
ideology rather than reality as our guide, in decision-making outside
the fields in which we're specifically trained. We may be expert
thinkers in our jobs, but tend to be impulsive consumers, undisciplined
debtors, fumbling problem-solvers, unrealistic planners, panicky
investors, and gullible
This last point is arguably the most
troublesome. Much of the electorate is far too eagerly charmed by
platitudes and blinded by simplistic ideologies that deliberately ignore
the very real implications of salient and relevant facts.
Consequently, bumbling incompetents and narrow-minded schemers are all
too often elected, rather than knowledgeable and disciplined leaders,
to the detriment of all. The results have historically ranged from
frustrating to catastrophic: hot-headed and counterproductive policy,
economic instability, wholesale lapses of ethics, loss of public and
diplomatic trust, runaway toxic pollution, neglect of infrastructure,
ineffectual emergency relief, unnecessary wars, and so on and on.
Things aren't always what they seem.
This detail from Salvador Dali's
Surrealist painting, Slave Market and the Disappearing Bust of
Voltaire, fools the viewer's mental imaging networks into
"seeing" different things. One moment, we might see
Houdon's grinning sculpture of the French Enlightenment thinker.
On second glance, though, the crown of Voltaire's head has become an
open archway in the background, and instead of his eyes we see the
heads of two black-and-white-clad women emerging from the arch.
Which do our eyes
actually see? Neither! The eye simply detects light
focused on its retina. Our brains' interpretations of neural
impulses generated by these light patterns are what we perceive.
This is true, whether the light is reflected from a painted canvas
or a printed page, or is emitted by red, green, and blue pixels on a
video screen. Such is the nature of art, to trick the brain
into perceiving something that isn't really there, whether the
"something" is a physical object, a historical or mythological
event, an abstract concept, a feeling or an
emotion, or a bizarre dream.
There is also a kind of art in reasoning; it
can range from a fair verbal reflection of reality to utter illusion or
fantasy. Reasoning that might seem "logical" to the untrained
listener or reader all too often turns out to be just high-sounding
rhetorical nonsense. This can result from applying valid logic
to inaccurate or misleading information, or from butchering reliable
facts with nonsensical thinking, or from a combination of
both bad information and bad reasoning. To be successful in a
world where real problems demand realistic solutions, we must
learn to distinguish soundly logical reasoning from logical-sounding
claptrap, and thereby separate reality from falsehood.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, we all too often
tend to think as children—wishfully instead of rationally, fearfully
instead of cautiously, hopefully instead of objectively, dogmatically
instead of realistically.
Considering the problems we face, we must do better. We must grow up!
Sloppy, mediocre, reactive, myopically self-serving
thinking is a practice we can no longer afford to indulge when it comes to
important decisions. We face issues today, as never before, which
affect not only our own immediate health and prosperity, but also that of our
children and grandchildren, and even civilization itself. No, we
needn't abandon our hopes and dreams. But to have a realistic
chance of attaining them, we must cultivate the habit of thinking clearly
and soberly. While our goals may be guided by ideology, we must
acknowledge that both the goals themselves and the path to them are
constrained by reality. To get there, we must have a reliable way to distinguish
what's real from what isn't, and critical thinking is an indispensable
tool to this end. Indeed, it isn't only the personal and global calamities we hope to avoid, but
also the new levels of prosperity and well-being
we mean to achieve, which hang in the balance.
What Reasoning Is, and What It Isn't
There are several modes of thinking, of which
reasoning is one. Other modes include emotion,
imagination, belief, memorization, speculation, knowledge, and
association. Each has its own function; each contributes something
to the unique human "package;" and no one of them can accomplish the
whole job alone. To get a clear overall picture, let's start by
considering each of these elements briefly.
, such as joy, anger, fear, sadness, love, hate, desire,
jealousy, pride, shame, envy, and resentment, are largely influenced by our
body chemistry—which in turn is influenced by our glandular secretions,
our genetic makeup, our physical and social environment, and things we ingest.
Emotions are our feelings: primitive, spontaneous and sometimes overpowering, yet
something we consider an essential facet of our humanity. Emotions motivate us to act in certain ways, without our
having to give serious consideration to the implications of our actions.
Human emotions evolved over tens of thousands of
years. However, human society has evolved from Stone Age to Space
Age in a relative eye-blink. Thus, in contrast to other species,
humans' natural emotional responses aren't always in synch with their
artificial social traditions and mores. In our current, highly
synthetic environment, sometimes emotions work to our benefit, and
sometimes to our detriment. We depend on them in emergencies; but
we'd be unwise to place unquestioning trust in them when deciding to visit the dentist, what
line of work to get into, which candidate to vote for, or whether to
trust the chummy salesperson at the used-chariot lot. Fortunately,
we have other tools available.
is the process of envisioning the unknown, the
unsensed, or the non-existent, from Tolkien's Middle Earth to "the middle
of nowhere," from molecules to distant worlds, from microscopic life to
afterlife. Imagination can serve merely as an escape from boredom,
or as a door to the contemplation of ancient mysteries and the investigation of new
possibilities. But it's also key to empathy, to imagine what
others feel and think in situations to which we ourselves might or might
not be subject; and this, we might argue, underlies our desire for fair
play and justice, while a lack of empathic imagination might be a factor
in the callous and brutal behavior of some people. Human
imagination is also a powerful tool that enables us to plan, by
envisioning alternative futures and ways of altering our behavior, to
improve our chances of achieving a favorable outcome or of avoiding an
(also called conjecture) is closely related to
imagination. It is an active mental process that serves as a preliminary
approach to questions of "how," "why," and "what
if." Speculation can be a purely playful toy, a device for scheming and
planning, or a tool for developing testable hypotheses, depending on our
goal and the degree of discipline we're prepared to apply.
the acceptance of some ideas as true, and the rejection of others as
false, based on inconclusive evidence, or even in spite of evidence to
the contrary. The practical function of belief is
formulating tentative working hypotheses for coping in a world
where certain knowledge is scarce. As more
evidence comes to light, we can adjust our beliefs accordingly.
(Some people try to do it the other way round—distort or ignore evidence to
comply with existing beliefs. But reality tends to win out in the end,
even though in some cases it might take centuries to dislodge especially
popular beliefs.) Belief compares with
disbelief, which is an active opinion that a belief is false, and so
disbelief is actually also a form of belief, only in a negative sense. This contrasts with unbelief, which is simply a passive lack of
belief. It's probably fair to say that most adults are
disbelievers with respect to flying unicorns (which they feel they have
adequate reason to reject), and unbelievers with respect to the
advisability of colonizing the moon (for which they simply have
inadequate evidence upon which to form an opinion).
—rote learning—is handy for building vocabularies and keeping
multiplication tables handy. It allows us to store and retrieve
information and procedures that we use frequently, without having to
rethink them or look them up each time. But while this
storage-and-retrieval mode is important and vast, it contributes little to our
evaluation and understanding of the information content. We can
memorize gibberish—"Be-bop-a-lula"—almost as easily as we can
memorize intelligible thoughts—"That's my baby." Memory doesn't
care. Something else has to take care of distinguishing sense from
is an information storage mode characterized by some as
"justified true belief." By "true," we mean in accord with some
standard, such as reality (as nearly as we can determine what reality is), or
dogma or existing belief, which are easier to specify but sometimes
turn out to be at
odds with reality. By "justified," we mean that
there is both sufficient supporting evidence to make it very likely that the
belief is actually true, and little or no significant evidence to
suggest that the belief might be problematic or false. Note that
both parts of this justification are necessary for an idea to be fairly
characterized as knowledge: Lack of serious challenge does not by itself
constitute justification without positive evidence, and evidence in
support of an idea does not refute hard evidence against it.
(Many ideas are incorrectly claimed to be knowledge, when in fact they
amount only to willful belief. No intensity of will, even if
globally unanimous, constitutes even the slightest evidence that a belief is
is a quick and easy form of mental evaluation, in
which new ideas are compared to those already existing in memory. Some new ideas are
found to be compatible with our existing beliefs, some are incompatible
with them, and some are neutral. Whether we accept or reject ideas
on the basis of association alone, or apply a more objective approach,
depends on other factors, including whether we have the time, ability,
and inclination to exercise more advanced brain functions.
Each of the kinds of thinking mentioned so far
can be classified as to functions of survival response, trial-and-error
testing, information storage and retrieval, amusement, and passive
filtering. What's left is the active evaluation and linking of
ideas in ways that lead to comprehensive understanding and informed
is the application of intellect to find meaningful
connections and relationships among ideas, to evaluate and explain
evidence, to pose and answer questions, to identify and solve problems,
to envision and consider alternatives, and to make thoughtful decisions
among available options. However, there are different kinds of
reasoning. Some are quick and easy, but not very reliable outside
the realm of the very simple and familiar. Others rely on
appealing allusions and can be emotionally persuasive. Still others require a bit
more effort and discipline, but are more consistently reliable.
Common Kinds of Reasoning
, in its most charitable manifestation, is the application of
generally held beliefs, traditions, hunches, and sketchy thinking about what usually works
and what usually doesn't. In some cases, the beliefs happen to be true; but
in others, they turn out to be poorly founded or to have obscure
contingencies. Commonsense beliefs
typically hang more on tradition than on fact. They're often subject
to unspoken conditions that can be safely assumed in most situations,
but turn out to be unexpectedly variable in a few. Far from being universally
constant, traditions have historically evolved, and vary from one group
to another, depending on the shared experiences and prejudices within
each group. Thus, so-called common sense isn't really all that
common. Moreover, it often has less to do with sensibility than
with biases, and thus is more of a simple associative process than a truly
Through the ages, common sense has persuaded
people that the earth stands motionless at the center of the universe,
that disease and misfortune are caused by wrathful spirits, that slaves should
subjugate themselves to their masters, that women are the property of
their fathers and husbands, that rulers are divinely inspired and
privileged, and that the natural universe is governed by the will of
supernatural beings. Most of these commonsense notions have long
since been disproved or discredited. And whatever we might be
inclined to think about the rest, we must concede that they've yet to be
reliably verified. In perhaps a majority of cases, the admonition, "Use common sense,"
essentially means, "Think and behave as I do, even though I can't think of a
convincing reason for you to do so!" We are thus wise to regard
so-called common sense with a measure of suspicion, if not outright
contempt, if it turns out that there's no other justification for a
is an ancient art of persuasion that uses artful manipulation
of words to play on the feelings of an audience. Rhetoric
typically works by associating ideas with notions of good and evil,
right and wrong, rather than by advancing through a methodical progression of
evidence and rational linkages. Rhetoric is very effective at eliciting response using cherry-picked evidence and
inferences, and can even appear to mimic logic with a generous
sprinkling of whenevers, becauses, and therefores.
But rhetoric has no firm constraints on truth, coherence, and consistency,
beyond what a clever speaker or writer can get away with when addressing an eager and
uncritical audience. Thus, while it can be used to promote
constructive objectives, rhetoric is just as easily (and perhaps even
more often) used to advocate
incoherent foolishness, or to incite destructive rage or fear, among a gullible
populace largely untrained in methods of critical thinking.
is a form of reasoning based on the systematic
connection of ideas in a way that methodically leads to a specific
implication or inference. Properly applied, coherent logical
method ensures that the conclusion is at least very likely, and at best incontrovertible, in
light of sufficient and reliable evidence. Unlike rhetoric, logic has internal
checks on the mutual consistency among the ideas it presents. It
has a well defined structure, developed and refined over 25 centuries,
which guards against misunderstanding and incoherence. Thus, logic
has arguably become more of a science than an art. (Indeed, the sciences
would be lost without it!) Whereas rhetoric might be thought of as
the flamboyant advocacy of causes, logic is more the tirelessly sober
quest for rational consistency, and thus truth, insofar as truth
signifies being consistent with reality.
Logic is clearly the superior mode of reasoning,
when the objective is to discover what's real and true, rather than
what's simply easy or popular or declared by authority. The trouble is that what's real and
true often doesn't coincide with what's easy and popular; and many
people prefer answers that are appealing but unworkable, rather than
unappealing but workable.
Moreover, using logic correctly isn't quite as instinctive as we might
assume, but requires a bit of effort and discipline to master.
Furthermore, even when we've mastered it, logical reasoning often comes
across as dry and uninteresting, even when it concerns issues of vital
importance. So, logic has an automatic public-relations
deficiency, to put it mildly. Very well, let's deal with this
deficiency point by point.
Logic sometimes doesn't give us the
answers we want. But this is just a reflection of the real world,
which is indifferent to what
we want. Besides, what we want often isn't what we actually need.
When we have a real problem, we might want a handy excuse or a
comforting diversion, but what we actually need is a real solution to
address the problem effectively. Logic is the reasoning tool to
help get this job done properly. Once it's done, the want of excuses
and diversions evaporates.
Logic requires effort and discipline.
Reasoning comes naturally to humans; all that most people need is a little
guidance on how to use it properly and to avoid common errors.
This relatively small effort is an investment that pays off in the long run, in
terms of consistently reliable results, and in reduced error, waste, and
frustration. Over a lifetime, the reward is well worth many
times the initial effort.
Logical reasoning seems dull and boring.
This isn't a problem when we're just trying to analyze a line of
thinking without unnecessary distractions. But once any logical
glitches have been remedied, a dull presentation can be a setback—even
a fatal one—in the public arena. The solution is to mix in just enough rhetoric to hold interest and build enthusiasm,
while building a solidly logical case around clear evidence and
coherent reasoning to engage and convince the critical mind. Rhetoric shouldn't be used to camouflage
logical weaknesses, but it isn't taboo if the underlying evidence and
logic are sufficient and sound in themselves.
What Reasoning Can and Can't Do for Us
Reasoning isn't a substitute for knowledge.
Without knowledge, reasoning can't safely guide us through using a toaster,
let alone designing a bridge, flying
a plane, curing a disease, or remedying economic fluctuations. But with a working knowledge of
these things, disciplined reasoning helps us to master them with
greater efficiency and fewer errors, and to solve related problems as we
encounter them. Reasoning enables us to evaluate, organize, and apply knowledge, and
develop reliable new knowledge from that which already exists.
Reasoning is how we make sense of knowledge, so that we can do more than
simply memorize and repeat it. Reasoning allows us to connect the
dots provided by plain facts, so we can deduce implications and draw reliable inferences,
which can in turn be usefully applied, and thus advance to a more
comprehensive level of understanding about nearly anything. In
short, good reasoning both refines our knowledge and multiplies its
effectiveness. Like reading and math, reasoning helps us to learn and understand everything
else both more easily and more thoroughly, and enables us to put that
understanding to good use. That's precisely why
must, like literacy and mathematics, be considered a basic and essential
skill in any society that hopes to be credibly competitive in the
increasingly global environment of the twenty-first century.
USING THIS WEBSITE
Let's be clear about one thing:
PRACTICAL philosophy is
not an accredited educational institution,
and its owner is not aN EDUCATOR BY TRAINING OR profession.
By the same token, however, we're less
influenced by the academic establishment's prevailing biases.
Granted, many of these biases are surely well justified; but a few are
revealed by experience to be at odds with reality, and thus tend to interfere with
education's noble mission of preparing people for real life. For
example, this website's author is aware, through personal experience
in the work environment, that
non-college-educated people are not, generally speaking, the unreasoning
dolts that some ivory-tower academicians imagine them to be. Nor
are all university graduates the universally clear thinkers they might
fancy themselves to be. Most people are potentially capable of
thinking critically, but have only been taught to do so with specific
regard to their own lines of work. They just need a little help in
acquiring the basic skills to apply critical thinking competently to
other interests and aspects of their lives. As with basic literacy and math, acquiring such skills won't make
anyone a genius; but no one needs to be a genius to acquire and apply
Fourth R is an individual initiative to call
attention, and to offer a stopgap remedy, to a perceived shortcoming of
our current educational system. This shortcoming—an inability to
apply general rules of coherent and consistent reasoning outside one's
specific area of training—afflicts a major portion of our population. It not
only restricts individuals' ability to optimize their own situations,
but also distorts motives and justice within society, and severely limits
our competitiveness as a nation in the global community.
What's Expected of the Student
Reasoning is a distinguishing natural ability of the human
species. Psychologists inform us that the ability to reason
abstractly emerges in most children by about age 11 or 12. Hence,
the concepts in this course should be comprehensible to nearly all secondary
school students. However, it's felt that most adults—the primary
target audience for this website—might find an eighth-grade writing
level condescending. Therefore, we use a vocabulary and style that
should be more appealing to a mature audience, while
restricting the content to what we believe most people can readily learn
and apply without professional instruction.
The main prerequisite is that you be
able to read and comprehend Standard American English at an adult level.
(If your vocabulary is on the meager side, this might require
keeping a dictionary at hand. This is not a put-down. It's simply
an acknowledgement that we anticipate a diverse audience, and we credit
everyone at the post-secondary level with the ability and initiative to
use a dictionary when necessary.) We will (no doubt to everyone's
immense relief) avoid the use of jargon wherever possible, and try to
present material in terms understandable to passably educated people
having no prior exposure to philosophy. The relatively few
specialized terms that we must use will be defined and explained in
There is one major challenge of this course,
primarily to those accustomed
to processing ideas mostly through rote memorization and
uncritical belief. This style of thinking is essentially the sort
of activity associated with a simple recording-and-playback device; it
can acquire, record, and repeat information, or even gibberish, but doesn't actively
question or evaluate it. Unlike simple machines, people do question and evaluate, but in some
individuals these processes don't spontaneously evolve much beyond simple
association and emotional appeal. If a new idea appears compatible with what
they like and already believe, they accept it without question; but if
it seems to challenge their existing beliefs, they reject it without
consideration. Rational thinking demands a more disciplined and
We aim to engage you on a level that
involves coherent thinking, and the thoughtful evaluation of ideas on their
own merits and on the basis of available evidence. We hope to
encourage you to use and hone your natural thinking skills, especially if
these skills have suffered from lack of regular exercise over the years.
This course requires you to employ and develop your
innate, natural powers of reasoning. For many, this should be a
fairly familiar, not unpleasant, and perhaps even refreshing experience, requiring little more
error-filtering and fine tuning. For some, though, active,
disciplined reasoning might at first seem an alien activity;
for them it will spring to life only with a deliberate application of
effort and concentration. We try to make the process as easy as
possible, and even enjoyable. But it's up to you to study and understand
the material, if you hope to benefit from it. We can only
offer information; you must make the effort to comprehend and
apply it, both during the course and afterward. You will get out
of the experience only in proportion to what you are able and willing to
put into it.
The General Process
This course is laid out in several sections, each
comprising a number of lessons on specific aspects of some general field of reasoning.
Although it's possible to sample bits and pieces of the course at random,
please bear in mind that lessons later in the sequence
generally assume a working understanding of concepts introduced and
developed in earlier material. Thus, for most people with little
or no formal training in logic as such, the best results will be achieved by beginning at the beginning, and progressing in the
prescribed sequence, one section at a time. The various sections
of the course are accessible from the Lesson Plan menu on the Home page, which
is arranged with the simplest subjects to the left and the most
challenging to the right. At the end of each lesson, you'll find a
link to the next item in the normal sequence, in case you wish to
undertake more than one lesson at a single sitting.
Each section of the course should be considered
with two general objectives in mind. The first is getting your own
thinking in order, working toward making it clear, complete,
compelling, and free of errors. The second is analyzing
the reasoning of others, examining it for bogus or inconsistent claims
and incoherent structure. Your aim in both cases is to use the
tool of clear reasoning to improve your lot in life, and to avoid being
taken in by poor reasoning, be it your own or someone else's.
In so doing, you'll be able to distinguish reliable information sources from unreliable ones,
and to challenge the latter competently. The ultimate goal, of
course, is to evolve an environment in which sound reasoning becomes the
rule rather than the exception, so that we may all enjoy the fruits of a
society that is more in tune with reality, more prosperous and just, and
less wasteful and error-prone.
Scoring and Grading
This course provides an environment in which
you can feel completely at ease. There is no schedule.
There are no lectures, no quizzes, no exams, and no fees. On the
other hand, there are no credits or awards; your reward is the enhancement
in the reliability and effectiveness of your critical thinking,
problem-solving, and decision-making skills, and the benefits which such
skills yield in the course of daily life. Thus, you are
motivated to do well, not by the "gaming" psychology of juggling an
abstract score, but by the real prospect of
your own benefit, in whatever terms you
personally choose to define it. You learn at a
pace that you find comfortable and within the constraints of your other commitments,
and you benefit in proportion to the amount of effort you apply to
assimilating the material and applying the concepts.
Since there are no exams, students might desire
some way to gauge their progress. At some point, we intend to
develop exercises to be inserted at appropriate points throughout the
material. These will have two purposes: (1) practical application
of concepts learned will help to ingrain them as productive and useful
habits; and (2) feedback on performance will allow you to assess
your own progress, and to identify any weak points you might wish
to review. Until such exercises are available, application of
concepts to real-life issues should suffice for reinforcement.
What the Student Can Expect from This Course
As we've stated already, Fourth R Practical
Philosophy is not an
accredited institution of learning. So, if you're seeking awards and diplomas, you'll need to look elsewhere, and be prepared to
invest the time, effort, and money to that end. Fourth R requires
your time and effort, but arguably much less than a typical university
degree program would demand. Fourth R won't give you a diploma, but (aside
from any Internet connect-time charges) it
won't cost you a dime either. It's simply a public-interest
project, offered for your benefit, as the owner's way of making a
meaningful contribution to society.
This course is a drastic distillation of perhaps
three or four semesters of undergraduate university-level material.
techniques for which most people are unlikely to have any practical use
have been omitted. The remainder has been consolidated into a
sequence of lessons, which progress in the approximate order of
increasing difficulty. An average pace
of one lesson per day would get you through the course in a span
of little more than two weeks. However, some lessons are longer
and more challenging than others, so the pace will vary. It's
anticipated that the average high school graduate, working at a pace of
an hour or two per day, could complete the entire course in a few weeks,
whereas someone with practical experience in a logic-related field might
be able to finish it in a matter of days, or perhaps even hours.
Still, you're under no obligation to complete the course, and reasoning
skills can benefit somewhat from even a few minutes' study.
So, if you reach a stage at which the materials seem advanced beyond
your immediate needs or interest, you can simply pause your studies, or
abandon them altogether, and put to use whatever you've learned to that point.
(It's anticipated that most students will complete at least the
Introduction, Basic Concepts,
and Fallacies sections. The difficulty level increases somewhat
thereafter, though we feel there's nothing in this course beyond the
ability of a sufficiently motivated adult of average intelligence.)
Since this program of instruction is targeted to
a mostly non-academic audience, with ease of learning a primary
criterion, the material deviates somewhat from standard textbook
tradition. The objective is not to drill in memorization of
obscure terminology and rules. Rather, it is for you to integrate
sound methods of critical thinking into your everyday thought processes,
with the aim of applying these methods to real-world issues—as you
already do with
literacy and mathematics. The ultimate objective here is not a grade or a
simply an improved likelihood of personal success in life, with
fewer errors and less frustration. We bother to introduce some specialized
terminology and rules only insofar as they make it easier to grasp the
whys and hows of logical method—why to do it correctly,
how not to botch it up, and how to avoid falling victim to flawed
thinking. To this expeditious end, we take a few liberties and
shortcuts with textbook conventions, with the aim of making the learning
of a basic skill acceptably easy and enjoyable to those who might
otherwise rate this task rather low on their personal lists of what's
acceptably easy and
The intent of this course is not to teach
what to think, but rather how to think consistently well.
We employ some real-world issues and scenarios in our examples, in order to retain
focus on developing a skill that's practically useful in a variety of
applications, from the mundane to the arcane. We at Fourth R concede
not immune to personal biases; however, we don't intentionally preach
any brand of dogma or politics. if there's any "slant" to the
course's content, it's simply the direction in which coherent reason
leads from the pool of evidence at hand, our interpretation of which is
admittedly less than perfect. The Fourth R learning
center professes no official stance on whether any controversial idea is
true or false. Our fundamental tenet is simply that any idea worth
believing ought to be able to withstand objective scrutiny. We
thus encourage you to examine any and all ideas, both those you
cherish and those with which you disagree, and
subject them to rigorous tests of reason, divorcing the evaluation
process from emotional biases as much as possible. If an idea is
justified, such scrutiny should reinforce it. If not,
considering workable alternatives can be a worthwhile and enriching pursuit.
Please bear in mind that the reasoning concepts
and techniques presented in this course are fairly rudimentary.
While the standards we set are intended to help raise the general
competence level of an adult of average intelligence and education by a significant
degree, no one should anticipate any miracles. This course won't
turn anyone into an Einstein. However, with a little effort, it
should make competent thinkers out of mediocre ones, and better thinkers
out of marginally competent ones. If what you seek is more than that,
there's no getting around the need for a few semesters of Logic at an
accredited university! But if you don't have the spare time and
cash to devote to that, then a free course such as this is an
alternative that's arguably both attractive and adequate to most