The design of a critical thinking course as a philosophical and pedagogical project

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Critical thinking (CT) is an important learning objective in most liberal education. In post-secondary education, CT is often taught as its own subject with a dedicated first-year course, normally in the philosophy department. I describe the design of such a course, address some major philosophical questions about CT and CT pedagogy, and present a textbook I created that is suitable for students with diverse educational and language backgrounds. The course design reflects several years of trial and error in college and university classrooms as well as a designation at Simon Fraser University as a quantitative and a science course. I present a picture of the critical thinker as someone with skills and dispositions that prioritise truth, the rational use of evidence, and clarity of thought and communication. I take seriously but reject the contentions that CT encourages combativeness and that CT is an inherently subject-specific activity that cannot be taught in a general standalone course. I describe the course design with a set of parameters reflecting oppositions or trade-offs. The course adopts a restrained pluralism in its approach to reasoning, is focused on skills over dispositions, balances comprehension and communication skills, emphasizes reactive thinking skills but not to the exclusion of constructive ones, and employs an extremely concise writing style. I also describe the course design in terms of specific content. I show that my reconstruction of some common arguments as short extended patterns helps students to understand the language and commitments of these arguments and to criticize them in useful ways. I defend a highly pragmatic treatment of deductive reasoning. I defend the course's focus on arguments against some actual and potential objections informed by cognitive science, Paul Thagard's critique of a CT based on informal logic, and a concern that arises from Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber's evolutionary theory of reasoning. Finally I explain how my treatment of Bayes' rule relates to my treatment of scientific reasoning, and I show that my partially original geometric teaching method captures what is best in the traditional form of Bayes' rule and in an increasingly popular but limited alternative form.
121 pages.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Fillion, Nicolas
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