When Non-Philosophers Teach “Critical Thinking”

When Non-Philosophers Teach “Critical Thinking”


“Critical thinking” means a very particular sort of thing to philosophers (mostly identifying, reconstructing, and evaluating arguments), but in the desperate struggle to stay relevant, other academic disciplines have started to appropriate the term “critical thinking” to describe what they do. I have read blog posts and articles by historians and literature professors, for example, who claim to teach critical thinking. But when non-philosophers say that they teach critical thinking, they seem to mean that they are teaching students how to question authority, challenge the dominant narrative, resist hegemony, and so on. These are obviously important things to teach, but they don’t have much to do with arguments and logic.  

In my philosophy department, we do not offer a course called “critical thinking,” but there is a course with that name offered in another department. I talked to a student who took that course, and she told me that she did not know what a deductive argument was, nor had she ever heard of modus ponens or modus tollens. Should we philosophers worry about this, or should we be ecumenical about the meaning of “critical thinking”?

The above question, sent in by a philosophy professor, is especially relevant in light of the ongoing trend of using learning outcomes to reorganize curricula. Is basic logical and philosophical reasoning part of any good critical thinking course? What else, besides that, would you want in such a course? And how have philosophy departments responded to other departments at their schools offering critical thinking courses?

(image: detail of “Threshold” by Danny Lane)

Lane - Threshold detail

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