The Kindle version is already available on Amazon. You can download that or pre-order the hard copy here.
This month, Wiley-Blackwell will release The Critical Thinking Toolkit, a readable guide to a wide array of critical thinking concepts, strategies, and applications. Peter Fosl, Galen Foresman, and I introduce all the basics of inductive and deductive reasoning, but we've added some unconventional elements that, we think, make the book more interesting than some of its competitors. We explain when some fallacious appeals stop being fallacious, discuss some practical epistemology, offer some tools for thinking about science, and introduce reasoning in rhetoric, critical theory, and politics. Plus, we include a whole chapter on various types of error.
The Kindle version is already available on Amazon. You can download that or pre-order the hard copy here.
With philosopher Jamie Michael Feldman
For some insights into the joys and pitfalls of the life of a professional philosopher, check out my good friend Clifford Sosis's page:
Sosis has interviewed Berit Brogaard, Michael Ruse, Mary Louise Gill, Justin Weinberg, and Al Mele. And there are many more in the works.
I am excited to announce that I am a new contributor to the philosophy blog: The Philosophers' Cocoon. I have moved this post to that site, and it should be up shortly. Comments or emails are welcome here or there.
* * * * *
Ethics consulting is a growing practice in business, medical, and research contexts. And given the unique subject matter of ethics, there are concerns about the role of ethicists in professional decision-making, even among ethicists. Foremost among these questions is whether ethicists can, like authorities in other fields, speak as experts about their subject matter. I am currently working on a problem for moral expertise called the credentials problem: arguments that there are no sufficient reasons for non-ethicists to assign greater evidential weight to the testimony of ethicists about what one ought to do than they should assign to anyone else’s. I am working on an argument defending the moral expertise of consulting ethicists against this problem, but along the way, I’ve come across a popular objection to moral expertise that I will call the distribution problem. While this problem has important implications for degrees of epistemic authority, that is, how we are epistemically obligated to respond, I do not think it is a challenge for the plausibility moral expertise. To see why, read the rest of this post on:
The Philosophers' Cocoon.
Thanks to Marcus Arvan for the opportunity to contribute.
Since my last post on classic philosophical reading for K-12 teachers, I discovered that philosopher Peter Worley published an article on techniques for philosophizing with children. Worley is the founder and CEO of The Philosophy Foundation, an organization dedicated to introducing philosophy to the wider community, especially schools.
After offering a list of steps that sounds reminiscent of some corporate group activities on effective communication, Worley includes a nice caution about confusing philosophy with procedure:
"If someone were to ask how to do philosophy with children, it is tempting to think that one would describe something like the procedure outlined above. However, it is important to point out that one may follow this procedure to the letter and yet it is possible that no philosophy whatsoever occurs. In short: one must not confuse philosophy with a classroom procedure."
Nevertheless, the procedure seems a good guide for anyone wanting to facilitate substantive discussion.
One step that I would like to know more about is number 3, where Worley says:
3) A stimulus is presented, usually one of the following: a story, a poem, a scenario, a picture book, a puzzle, a short film, some drama, some props with imagined properties such as a stone that always makes you lie. (For example, in the above example I stepped out of the class holding a pen and then stepped back in again.)
It would be nice for teachers to have a list of stories, poems, scenarios, picture books, etc. that seem to work well with children.
If you're curious what sort of stimuli are available for adults in this area, see the Philosophy Games page at The Philosopher's Magazine Online.
(Photo The Philosophy Foundation website.)
A recent study in the UK found that a year’s worth of “Philosophical discussions about truth, fairness or kindness” helped children between 8 and 11 do better in the classroom.
“Both teachers and pupils also reported improved classroom behaviour and relationships, as well as a boost to pupils’ confidence in speaking, patience when listening to others, and self-esteem. Some teachers said the discussions had a positive impact on classroom engagement and may have resulted in some pupils asking more questions across all lessons.”
While these results are promising, the results are fairly minimal, and it is not clear that it the particular type of discussions were doing the work. As education researchers are quick to point out, it could simply be that any significant change in the curriculum might change students’ behavior for a short period; in this case, it was peer-led discussions of open-ended questions. Nevertheless, as a philosopher, I certainly want these to be the effects of philosophical discussion, and I will hold out hope that future experiments yield similar results. It is probably not good to point out that philosophers are not particularly well-adjusted members of society, and that we desperately hope our high levels of arrogance and social awkwardness are not a result of many hours of philosophical discussion. But I digress.
One aspect of this study that interests me is the worry that “teachers’ subject knowledge did not appear to be sufficient to support a deep and engaging discussion of the material included in the curriculum.” So, what sort of training do K-12 teachers need to excel at facilitating philosophical discussions? Requiring more philosophy classes in their undergraduate degrees or continuing education is one option. This would certainly make academic philosophers (much in need of employment) very happy. But I think the answer need not be formal education. In fact, requiring additional formal education for people who already perceive themselves competent in their fields may result in a “box-checking” mentality, a disposition that the “love of wisdom” (i.e., philosophy) vehemently eschews.
Just as the children in this study benefited from discussing ideas, I suggest teachers might best enhance their ability to facilitate discussion by simply reading classic works of philosophy for themselves and discussing them with peers. I recently read Sophocles's Oedipus Cycle for the first time (Oedipus Rex; Oedipus at Colonus; and Antigone). I knew the general thrust of the stories, but I could not appreciate the subtlety and sophistication of the imagery. And I gained insights from parts of the story not included in the Wikipedia version (alas, Jimmy Wales). Of course, I hear similar stories from my students who actually read the texts for my class. They get so much more than I can offer them in a lecture.
I am sure there are a lot of reasons for resisting this suggestion. And I have anecdotal evidence that one would be the formidable nature of philosophical reading. “Who can understand it?” “That’s too deep for me.” Happily, I can relay that this worry is often misguided by the fact that so many people write so poorly about philosophy. (Is that really a happy point?) Philosophers are sometimes needlessly obscure and many philosophical problems, as the Irish philosopher George Berkeley notes, are “entirely of our own making. We have first raised a dust, and then we complain that we can’t see” (The Principles of Human Knowledge, Introduction, §3). Literary critic C. S. Lewis encourages people to read old books precisely because the old books tend to be easier to read than so many of the new books written about them:
"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism." ("On the Reading of Old Books")
With that thought in mind, someone suggested that I list the classic philosophy texts, say a fourth grade teacher, could read and benefit from and perhaps use to facilitate philosophical discussion more effectively. So, here is a first shot at a list, complete with hyperlinks and some brief annotations. It is by no means complete, and I would also love to hear from others about the books they would suggest, so feel free to leave comments.
NB: If you’re concerned that my list is too white-male-centered, you’re right. It is unfortunately so given the canon handed down to us. To learn more about how the voice of women is being reclaimed in intellectual history, see Duke University's Project Vox page. If I were compiling a list of contemporary philosophers who are brilliant and immanently accessible to non-philosophers, I would not hesitate to include Martha Nussbaum, Catherine Elgin, Jennifer Lackey, Elizabeth Fricker, Onora O’Neill, Rosalind Hursthouse, Kwame Anthony Appiah, among innumerable others. The canon is not closed, and we’ve made a lot of progress with still more to go. I encourage readers to look up articles from these people and to listen to engaging interviews with them on Philosophy Bites.
A brief introduction to the sort of trouble Socrates was wont to start. Readers get a bit of Socrates’s life, some interesting arguments, and a hefty dose of sarcasm.
A brief set of arguments about loyalty and promise-making. Reminiscent of Sophocles’s Antigone in its theme of questioning the authority of the State, Crito’s friends try to convince Socrates to escape his death sentence. Despite the fact that the Athenians would probably look the other way, Socrates offers some very strange arguments for why one should be loyal to the legal system. (Of course, they’re not strange enough that John Rawls doesn’t say something very similar many centuries later.)
A surprisingly accessible (though very long) treatise on justice. Whether you think of it is justice in the city or justice in the soul, there are a number of easy-to-read, very insightful dialogues in this classic. From the allegory of the cave, to the analogy of the sun, to the equality of men and women, to philosopher kings, Republic has something for everyone. (I prefer the Grube translation, but this one will get you started.)
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
This one is a bit tricky because it is so terribly dry in parts. But the payoff is monumental. Aristotle suggests what it means to be an excellent human being, from courage to temperance to liberality to friendship. He explains different types of the Good, the role of emotions, and the value of an intellectual life.
Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus
The classic statement of Epicurean hedonism that should shock readers out of thinking that hedonism is solely about carnal pleasures. In this short piece, Epicurus explains the value of philosophy, perspectives on death, and the benefits of a well-lived life.
Descartes, Discourse on the Method
Part biography, part intellectual history, part discussion of critical thinking, this very easy-to-read book highlights some of Descartes’s major contributions to philosophy in a package slightly less opaque than his more famous Meditations on First Philosophy.
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
One of the most engaging and insightful books on liberal politics ever written. It gives some insights into the social climate of 19th Century England as well as some of the most intuitive and enduring arguments for individual autonomy and freedom of speech.
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism
Though this is the classic statement of utilitarian moral theory, one need not by sympathetic to utilitarianism to reap innumerable benefits from reading it. Mill begins by saying that we cannot prove the answers to questions about “ultimate ends” like we can mathematical questions, but nevertheless, there are some good reasons for preferring some goals over others. He is also quite humble in his pronouncements, allowing that acting morally involves a good deal of risk. A sailor does not consult his nautical books during every journey; nevertheless, he has to make nautical decisions, and he does them to the best of his ability given his understanding of the sea. The same is true with morality. We may not always know what’s right, but we are forced to make moral decisions, and there are some fairly reliable considerations than can help guide those decisions.
John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women
A clear picture into the nature of sexism in 19th century England alongside some excellent arguments for what philosophers call liberal feminism. All good stuff.
The medical model most of us grew up with is that physicians are experts about physical health while patients are novices. GPs, pediatricians, surgeons, oncologists, and gerontologists have specialized knowledge about diseases and their treatments, while patients have none of this; most cannot pronounce even an over-the-counter drug like diphenhydramine, much less explain the patho-physiological basis of their diseases. It has long seemed necessary that patients are passive recipients of treatment, while medical professionals are active caregivers.
This view—held widely both by professionals and patients—has led, in many cases, to medical “paternalism,” that is, to physicians’ excluding patients from discussions about treatment options, financial and personal trade-offs, and how to manage the course of an illness. For example, in the UK, “accusations of paternalism have dogged the [National Health Service] since its inception” in 1948 (Tyreman 2005: 154). And since a patient’s biology is taken to fully account for the patient’s condition “the patient’s perception may be ignored, or even disbelieved, in favor of the professional’s” (Tyreman 154).
But there is a recent push to recognize the unique contributions of patients to their treatment and care. Patients know themselves and how their illnesses feel better than their doctors. They also know more about what is at stake for them in the course of a treatment and what is feasible for managing an illness or recovery after primary treatment has ended. They have important information to share with other patients about their experiences as patients and can provide “informational support” in the form of advice, explanations, and opinions on matters related to treatment (Civan and Pratt, 2007). These contributions are now referred to as “patient expertise,” which Civan and Pratt define as “the experiential knowledge that patients have gained about effectively accomplishing the work of being a patient” (2007: 140).
But the notion of patient expertise is convoluted. What is expertise? And what about a patient’s understanding of her situation justifies calling her an “expert”? Stephen Tyreman distinguishes between a “well informed patient” and an “expert” in terms of skill-level. “Through enhanced access to information, particularly via the internet, some patients become well informed about their condition [sic]” (155). But physicians, in contrast, are able to troubleshoot illnesses, rather than simply understand a set of details. Even older physicians do this better than their younger, arguably better-informed, colleagues: “the experienced colleague may be able to cope with uncertainty and unfamiliar presentations of familiar problems far more competently than the newly qualified” (155). Experts not only have information, they can use it. Of course, physicians are fallible, too, subject to the vagaries of bias (explicit or implicit), fallacious reasoning, and the effects of working too many hours. In the academic world, experts are continually vetted by other experts through the peer review process (regardless of what you think about the reliability of this process, its aim is to eliminate error and bias). Increasingly, there are checks on physicians through advisory boards, ethics boards, and consultation with clinical ethicists. But to whatever extent the patient is left out of the decision process, these procedures are biased in a non-trivial way. Autonomy is threatened, and paternalism looms.
So what’s the point? The goal of the patient expertise movement is to carve out protections for patient autonomy and promoteon in medical discussions. The aim is to reduce medical paternalism and increase long-term well-being. Defending “patient expertise” may establish patients’ authority in the conversation, but if professionals are to take it seriously, there needs to be a clearer sense of what constitutes a patient’s expertise. Further, a weaker notion of authority may do just as well to preserve what we’re after. Even if a physician is unwilling to grant that a patient is an expert with respect to his condition, she should at least be willing to grant that he has some information she doesn’t, for instance, what his illness feels like and what he values with respect to treatments.
The focus of medical treatment has long been “curative,” diseased focused. But the palliative care movement (among others) has shown that different people are affected differently by the same treatments. Care- or person-centered models remind us that complex people are affected by medical treatment, not just diseases. According to David Badcott, the expert patient movement proposes “an active partnership in which both participants—patient and health professional—contribute with respect to individual competencies” (2005: 176, emphasis his). Active partnerships suggest much more in the way of long-term benefits than paternalistic models. But perhaps instead of raising patients to the level of experts, we should call for a levelling.
We all lack information crucial for performing our roles well. We are forced to trust the testimony of others unless we systematically exclude them from the process. Professionals do not like to hear that they depend on the opinions of “novices” for their success, but the patient expertise literature suggests not just that patients know more than they are given credit for, but that physicians know less. The difficulty in explaining the authority structure of the doctor-patient relationship raises are host of questions rife for applied philosophers and bioethicists. In particular, more work needs to be done in two areas: To what extent are patients experts (if in fact they are)? And what are the limits of professional expertise?
David Badcott, "The Expert Patient: Valid Recognition or False Hope?" Medicine, Health Care Philosophy (2005) 8:173-178.
Stephen Tyreman, "An Expert in What? The Need to Clarify Meaning and Expectations in 'The Expert Patient,'" Medicine, Health Care Philosophy (2005) 8:153-157.
Andrea Civan and Wanda Pratt, "Threading Together Patient Expertise," AMIA Symposium Proceedings (2007) 140-144.
I've always taken the reliability of experts at face value. Scientists do better than non-scientists at predicting sciency things, doctors perform better than non-doctors at medical things, accountants do a better job at preparing taxes than lay people. Even in my research on expertise, I grant the practical reliability of experts to focus on more fundamental questions of understanding and access to information.
But at a recent conference on expertise, I was surprised to hear some resistance to the idea that experts perform better than non-experts. The most commonly cited counter-examples were weather forecasters, those who work in econometrics, and stock analysts. This, of course, raises the question of whether reliability (in the practical sense of performance) is a necessary condition for expertise.
It is worth distinguishing two types of reliability: reliability in performance and reliability in belief (that is, having more true beliefs formed in a responsible way). I certainly do not think reliability in the second sense is necessary for expertise. Given the radical shifts in the assumptions of science over the centuries, it would be surprising to me if scientists held, all things considered, more objectively true beliefs than non-scientists. I am not an anti-realist about science; I still think science is truth-oriented and that our evidence seems to indicate truths, even if we don't actually have any. But this is true for Descartes's evil demon world, as well. Those subject to the demon's machinations have good reasons for thinking that what they believe is true, even if they are sadly mistaken.
However, reliability in performance does seem to be important, perhaps essential, for becoming, identifying, and choosing experts. To be sure, one might be an expert without performing at all. But our general, social interest in experts is about performance--we want to know who to look to for answers.
If that's right, what do we make of these counterexamples? If weather forecasters, certain economists, and stock brokers cannot help us make informed decisions, are they experts? Or, at least, are they experts in any interesting sense? It would seem that such judgments require some fine-grained distinctions. A weather forecaster can be an expert in the best contemporary methods for predicting the weather than anyone else, even if she doesn't often get her predictions right. But there is a question of how right is good enough. If a weather forecaster does better than chance or than non-weather-forecasters, there is something to be said for her expertise. Stock brokers apparently do no better than dart-throwing monkeys at choosing stocks. So, even if they are experts in how markets work, it seems hasty to regard them as experts in forecasting.
What's the take-away? Expertise is tricky. Some people gain the status of expert when they know the best of what's available even if that doesn't help us forecast. These "status" experts must be regarded cautiously. On the other hand, I really hope my doctor is better than my friends at identifying the causes and fitting treatments for my illnesses. My lawyer's track record should exceed that of a non-lawyer. The same goes for my mechanic. So, expertise is tricky. Be careful where you find it; be careful where you rely on it.
Thanks for your patience while the blog has been on a hiatus. I've been exceptionally busy, but I am eager to share with you a number of news items:
* I just finished, with Peter Fosl and Galen Foresman, the manuscript for a book called The Critical Thinking Toolkit (Wiley-Blackwell), which should come out this year. This book has a number of exciting features, including extended discussions of epistemic justification and critical thinking about race and gender.
* I also just finished revising my book Critical Thinking: An Introduction to Reasoning Well (Bloomsbury) with Rob Arp, for a second edition that will be out this year. This book is great because it includes a laypersons' introduction to reasoning with statistics and probabilities and a chapter on the reasoning games used in graduate school entrance exams.
* I am excited to announce that I recently signed a contract with Lexington Books for a book on reasoning in political rhetoric called Fear, Pity, Guilt: Winning Votes by Abusing Reason. I am planning for that one to come out in 2016 (just in time for the election--see what I did there?).
* And I just returned to the US from presenting a paper on expertise at a fantastic conference in Münster, Germany with some of the biggest names in that area.
Over the next few months, I am finishing papers on Inception and Philosophy, Discworld and Philosophy, a book review on philosophical methodology, and I am scheduled to present a paper on the cosmological argument in Joao Passoa, Brazil in April.
I hope to be back to regular blog posting soon. Thank you for your patience in the meantime. And here's to thinking critically!