10 Apr 2010
02 Mar 2014

IntroductionYou can fool too many of the people too much of the time. —James ThurberA Brief Foreword from Fourth R Practical Philosophy

There are several "Fourth R's" on the Internet, and most have something to do with learning.  Their subject matter varies, ranging from such R's as recreation, relationships, and religion, to non-R's like computer applications and general education.  The focus of this website,, is, like the first "three R's," something far more basic: the fundamental human skill of reasoning.  Specifically, our mission is to propagate sound critical thinking skills among the general public, with the ultimate hope of advancing the well-being of humanity, both as individuals and as a civilization, through reliable decision-making methods.  If this is why you're here, then read on!  If not, you're still invited to look us over and see whether what we offer might be something you'd find of value, if not to yourself, then to a friend or colleague, or if not now, then whenever it's more convenient.




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?

  1. If the king is dying, the prince must be summoned.  The prince has been summoned, so the king must be dying.

  2. Most hard-drug addicts get started by using marijuana, so marijuana use leads to hard-drug addiction.

  3. Elves are wiser than gnomes, and wizards are wiser than elves, so wizards are wiser than gnomes.

  4. 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 voters.

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.

 Emotions , 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.

 Imagination  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 unfavorable one.

 Speculation  (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.

 Belief  is 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).

 Memorization —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 nonsense.

 Knowledge  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 actually true.)

 Association  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 decision-making.

 Reasoning  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

 Common sense , 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 reasoning one.

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 claim.

 Rhetoric  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 popular 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.

 Logic  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 also to 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 reasoning 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.



Let's be clear about one thing:
Fourth R 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 them.

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 plain language.

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 impartial approach.

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 than some 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.  Concepts and 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 diploma, but 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 enjoyable.

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 that we're 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 people's needs.



The short answer is surprisingly simple: It's a good thing to do.  Consider how people in developed societies fare, compared to those in undeveloped civilizations.  We observe that society functions more productively, individuals are generally healthier and happier, and shortage and suffering are much reduced, when the general populace is equipped with a well developed set of basic skills, which are key to learning and understanding almost everything else.

Three of these basic skills—reading, writing, and mathematics—are routinely taught.  They're a sound, long-term investment, as demonstrated by the positive difference they make to both individual and general well-being.  The same ought to be true for good reasoning skills, for reasoning is what makes coherent and relevant sense of the ideas we receive, process, transmit, and use through language and math.  Yet, for the most part, critical thinking has been taught only in conjunction with specific applications (e.g., the sciences and technology), and hence has acquired an erroneous image as something apart from normal life.  At Fourth R, we contend that teaching reasoning as a general skill should ultimately enhance the well-being, not only of the individuals directly involved, but also of the society in which they participate, through a higher level of general competence, with results comparable to the historical effects of literacy and numeracy.  It is therefore our mission, to an extent compatible with our limited resources, to promote critical thinking among the adult populaction, and to advocate the teaching of reasoning per se as part of the standard curriculum in secondary schools.

Still, the question remains: What does Fourth R get out of this enterprise, which is not only not for profit, but actually costs the owner some measure of money and effort to produce and maintain?  Well, we could be evasive, and glibly say "it's a good thing to do" equates to the proverbial "gift horse" that needn't be examined.  But that would be inconsistent with our mission, which is to encourage people to examine and question anything and everything.  And "What's in it for Fourth R?" is certainly a fair question.  Let's call it an investment in the future—yours, ours, everyone's.  Compare our (mostly) prosperous society today with the wretched lot of what passed for civilization during the millennia before the teaching of skills in literacy and math to the general public became routine.  Even the lives of those who manage to remain undereducated are substantially improved by the overall advancement of social and individual well-being enabled by general education.   Granted, today's society still faces monumental problems.  But that's precisely the point of Fourth R: to provide the means for the general public and their chosen leaders to avoid or avert many problems, to deal realistically and effectively with most of the problems that already exist, and to reduce the number and severity of the problems that remain, thus leading to a happier and more prosperous existence for all.  (Well, nearly all, except for those who profit from the gullibility of others, and who thus might eventually have to switch to an honest line of work, once too many critically thinking folks catch on to their schemes.)

So, although it has required a bit of explaining, the answer itself is still fairly simple:

Fourth R Practical Philosophy and its owner expect that society will benefit in many ways from learning the basics of sound reasoning, just as societies in developed nations already benefit so enormously from the general teaching of literacy and math skills.  We hope ultimately to benefit from being part of a society that has evolved to be more prosperous, just, and humane—or, even if none of these, at least comes to be less mindlessly self-destructive.  Being both optimistic and realistic, we're prepared to view any progress within this generous range as a gain.


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