Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

A new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the decline of philosophy in the academy stresses again (see my previous post) the importance of philosophy in providing critical thinking education.  I’m pleased to see the props the author (Lee McIntyre) gives to feminist philosophers for their attention to pressing issues of our time, but I’m not sure his general despair over philosophy is warranted given other reports of the rising popularity of philosophy education.

McIntyre may simply be building a career as an alarmist.  His most recent book “Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior” despairs over losing the emancipatory potential of the social sciences.  (See Berel Dov Lerner’s review here.)  One begins to sense a pattern, and while I haven’t had a chance to investigate “Dark Ages” yet, I’m sceptical that it claims to promote value-free science.

However, his message about the need for a revaluation of the significance of philosophy education, and the central role of critical thinking in that context, may be important.  (He has a book coming out on this too.)  He says “the goal—especially at the undergraduate level—should be to help students recognize that philosophy matters. Not just because it will improve their LSAT scores (which it will), but because philosophy has the potential to change the very fabric of who they are as human beings.”  This requires taking critical thinking to a much higher level than most undergraduate programs will.

McIntyre blames the discipline for hiring sessional instructors, which is absurd since those decisions are made by administrators rather than faculty members.  However, philosophers do tend to view critical thinking, argumentation, and introductory education as less valuable, and so assign it to sessional instructors.  That might be rethought, but only if we begin to have philosophers trained in those methodological issues.

As argumentation theory and informal logic continue to grow (see the introductory editorial in Cogency), giving rise to new journals (such as Cogency) and becoming institutionalized in new research centres and doctoral programs, perhaps we will have the resources for that.   As it stands, critical thinking is much less a part of the philosophy curriculum than one might expect.

Philosophy is not alone in promising (and perhaps failing) to teach “critical thinking,” since that buzzword is so heavily used in education that it is almost meaningless.  Yet philosophers continue to claim a rightful ownership of that terrain.  That claim and the pride that goes with it flies in the face of typical educational and hiring practices that undervalue teaching and research in argumentation and informal logic.

What we need to turn things around may be a radical reconsideration of what is the purpose of a philosophy education.  McIntyre suggests that should be an appreciation of the value of philosophy, and that may require greater focus on the skills of philosophy. That will certainly depend on a broad consciousness-raising among philosophers, not to stem the hiring of sessional instructors but to demand that instructors of courses and authors of textbooks in critical thinking have expertise and training in informal logic.

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Psychology, Emotion, and the Human Sciences

A Symposium at the University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario Canada

20th to 21st of April, 2012.

Deadline for Submissions: 1 November 2011

In Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions [Cambridge, 1999], Jon Elster argues that “with an important subset of the emotions [for example, regret, relief, envy, malice, pity, indignation, …] we can learn more from moralists, novelists, and playwrights than from the cumulative findings of scientific psychology.”  Elster then explores the work of both ancient and early modern moral philosophers  in order to substantiate his argument.

This symposium will explore Elster’s assertions: what can contemporary ‘scientific psychology,’ barely 150 years old, teach us about the emotions that early modern literary and philosophical inquiry cannot?  Does psychology [of various sorts] deserve its status as the discipline of feeling?  What can contemporary philosophical work teach us about feeling and emotion? Are there viable ways of bringing historical and contemporary emotional inquiry into contact?  What insight can various forms of inquiry bring to the increasingly prominent issue of affective education [the education of emotions, dispositions, and values]?  What is the status of emotional inquiry across disciplines? (more…)

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Now accepting submissions in all areas of philosophy.

American Dialectic takes an exciting new approach to scholarly publication by promoting greater philosophical engagement between readers and authors.  Lead articles are published at the beginning of each term and are followed throughout by edited responses written by our readers.  By publishing articles, questions, and responses together, American Dialectic creates an active place for the dialectical exchange of ideas in print, and ultimately fosters the continued intellectual development of contributors, respondents, and readers alike.

We hope that this unique publishing mechanism will encourage critical thinking, active participation, and renewed enthusiasm for scholarly discourse in philosophy and related fields.  To start reading or make a submission visit:


Note: Those desiring more information about AD might want to check out the write up of the journal that I did here. SP

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CALL FOR PAPERS: AILACT @ the APA Eastern Division, December 28-30, 2011, Washington, DC
Deadline: July 31

We are now accepting proposals on any relevant topic for the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking (AILACT) session to be held in conjunction with this year’s Eastern Division meetings of the APA.  Papers, papers-with-commentators, author-meets-critics, and panel discussions are all welcome. Send proposals or abstracts to dhcohen@colby.edu by July 31.

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An interesting find for me this week was the online philosophy journal American Dialectic.  Unlike most online journals AD doesn’t aspire simply to be the online version of a print journal. It aims, instead, to encourage thoughtful discussion by publishing focused responses to the articles and (ostensibly at least)  having authors respond to readers’ questions and comments about their articles.  Hence this, from the journal’s “About Us” page:

American Dialectic is an online journal committed to enriching scholarly publication, discourse, and intellectual development in Philosophy and related fields.  As an organization, American Dialectic is devoted to publishing intellectually excellent articles and to promoting the dialectical development of ideas among a broad community of readers.  This is accomplished by combining the best aspects of a traditional publication with the best aspects of a scholarly conference: lead articles are published on our website and then are followed throughout the publication cycle by edited responses that are written and submitted by our readers.  Through this unique publishing mechanism, American Dialectic aims to foster the continued intellectual development of contributors, respondents, and readers alike. […] Readers are encouraged to genuinely engage with the articles by asking targeted questions and formulating insightful responses.  Substantial questions and responses, junior submissions themselves, are then actively published following the lead article.  The lead authors, respondents and readers can then, as a community, identify important points, clarify issues, resolve problems, and ultimately find common ground by building toward a more complete philosophic understanding.

It’s a nice idea, and one that hearkens back to the way philosophy journals operated until the explosion of PhDs in the discipline in the 1970s and 80s.  Comments and discussion notes are still formally welcomed by many journals, but the reality is that they are seldom published and even less frequently answered.  This means that there isn’t much incentive to write such things even though they do a great service to the person trying to work the bugs out of his or her ideas.  The community of those interested in the ideas of a particular article or writer are, as a result, also deprived of the chance to see how the ideas in question fare in thoughtful, critical discussion. This, to my mind, is a real loss. (more…)

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Harman announced on Twitter today that the full text of his 1987 book on reasoning, Change in View had been made available for free download at his website.  Readers of RAIL will, I think, find Harman’s book interesting if they’ve not yet been exposed to it.  Chapter 2 in particular will be of interest to many, as Harman there argues that “logic is not of any special relevance” to the theory of reasoning.  Chapter 7, on explanatory coherence is also likely to arouse the interest of many readers. Apart from Chapters two and seven there are treatments of belief revision, implicit commitments, and reason and obligation that are likely to be of interest as well. Harman’s characteristically thorough and challenging analysis are evident throughout Change in View. The book can be downloaded in sections or as one file. Either way, it’s a great opportunity to get a hold of a fascinating book by one of the most influential American philosophers of the last 40 years.

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I’ve recently begun experimenting with diagramming arguments in my classes–and not my Critical Thinking/Informal Logic classes, but the other more traditional philosophy classes that I teach.   I’ve tried using a few different programs to set my diagrams up (Araucaria, Carneades) but so far what works best are color-coded, free-hand “VanGelder-style” diagrams done on a transparency and projected via a document camera. (I’d love to have ReasonAble, but so far I can’t seem to talk anyone into getting it into the budget for me.)

What I’ve found is that diagramming arguments actually seems to work better than setting the arguments out in classical standard form (i.e. premises numbered sequentially with a line under the last premise as in an arithmetic problem, followed by the conclusion, etc.).  When I diagram the argument students seem to get a clearer idea of the argumentation in the text, and a better appreciation for the overall structure of the article or chapter. I haven’t been doing it long enough to back it up with trends in test scores or anything like that, but the students tell me it really helps them get a grip on what’s going on in the text. I’ve yet to hear anyone tell me that it confuses them even more.

Is anyone else using argument diagramming/mapping in this way outside of classes where a primary aim is to teach argumentation?  If so, how are you doing it and how is it working for you?

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