Skip to 0 minutes and 14 secondsSo what have we done in this first week? We've seen an initial account of what it is to think logically and critically. Essentially, we saw that logical and critical thinking tends to guarantee that we have good reasons for our beliefs. Those beliefs might be about small things, such as whether a colleague is likely to be at a meeting, or bigger things, such as whether we should hire a young and promising job candidate, or even bigger things, like the plausibility of the iatrogenic global warming hypothesis. And we saw that we're called upon to exercise these skills constantly, to adopt and assess beliefs all the time.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 secondsBut perhaps surprisingly-- at least I'm always surprised by it-- we turn out to be prone to making logical and critical thinking errors. And we looked at some examples of the obstacles and reasoning mistakes which lead us to make those errors. Some of those obstacles appeared to be deep seated psychological tendencies to reason in certain ways, to assign probability according to availability, how easy it was to call an event or outcome to mind, to be led by framing to misinterpret evidence or reason for belief, and by our tendency to prefer evidence which confirms an antecedent hypothesis, and the psychological research that gives a fascinating explanation for at least some of these problems. Our reasoning is infused with emotion.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 secondsOur positive or negative emotional reactions to people, to things, to ideas, arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, getting in first to establish a framework in which subsequent reflection takes place. That subconscious emotional response both frames our subsequent cognitive processing, our thinking, and generates initial hypotheses or attitudes which we then tend to give a privilege status when considering, supporting, or challenging evidence. So it's not surprising that those sorts of obstacles are hard to avoid, at least if we're relying just on our own cognitive skills. We need systems like logic, and perhaps institutional practises like science, to help us overcome them. And remember that we've only looked at a sample of these obstacles. There are lots of them.

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 secondsWe talk about some others in the supporting material. And we've also seen through the week's articles and quizzes that there are other types of common reasoning errors, the common fallacies-- things like the appeal to authority, the red herring, the slippery slope fallacy, and so on. Those fallacies aren't called common for nothing. They really are very common. Keep an eye on the letters to the editor in your local paper, on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube, and you'll see them all the time. But although they're common, they should be easier to avoid. We should be able to check for ourselves whether we're committing those errors.

Skip to 3 minutes and 16 secondsAnd bear in mind that the good, logical, and critical thinker always considers the reasons for their beliefs. Always take responsibility for evaluating the grounds for the beliefs you hold. We aim to give you the tools to meet that responsibility. Over the next three weeks, we'll introduce a bit of logic that will help with that. At the end of week four, you'll be able to tell if arguments are good or bad. And in weeks five to seven, we'll show you how this applies in science, morality, and law.

Summary of Week 1

So what have we done in this first week?

Essentially, we saw that logical and critical thinking aims to ensure that we have good reasons for our beliefs. And, we’re called upon to exercise these skills constantly - to adopt and assess beliefs at every turn. However, we are prone to make logical and critical thinking errors. We looked at some examples of the obstacles and reasoning mistakes which lead us into those errors:

  • Common obstacles
  • Confirmation bias
  • Time-saving bias
  • Framing problems
  • Common fallacies

Some of these obstacles appear to be deep seated psychological tendencies to reason in certain ways. Our reasoning is infused with ‘affect’ or emotion. Our positive or negative affective reactions to people, things or ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, getting in first, to establish a framework in which subsequent reflection takes place. That sub-conscious affective response both ‘frames’ our subsequent cognitive processing, and generates initial hypothesis or attitudes which we then tend to give a privileged status when considering supporting or challenging evidence.

So it’s not surprising that those sorts of obstacles are hard to avoid – at least if we’re relying just on our own cognitive skills. We need systems – like logic - and perhaps institutional practices – like science – to help us overcome them. We aim to develop good logical and critical thinkers so in the coming weeks we will give you the tools (eg logic) to meet that responsibility.

You can check your progress on the course so far.

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Logical and Critical Thinking

The University of Auckland

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