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Thread: Philosophy for the everyday Citizen

  1. #1 Philosophy for the everyday Citizen 
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    Scenario: The government is proposing a 3 month, full time course to be completed before someone leaves high school. Even those dropping out of high school early, must complete the course before they are legally entitled to look for work. Completion of the course is also required (for those born after 1995) before being eligable to vote.

    The government views the course as vital for everyone to become an active and useful member of society.

    In addition to offering the course free of charge for all citizens, the government will run regular television, adverts, and web episodes. These will give reviews of the topics covered in the course.

    The course contains a five week block on philosophy. What subjects (be very specific. eg: not "epistimology". This would be too broad a field. You could pick something within the field of epistimology though) do you think should be taught in such a course?

    I am not a philosopher (I don't even know what "epistimology" is) so I don't have too many ideas. Here are mine:

    Inductive Reasoning - Strengths and Weaknesses (four days)
    Deductive Reasoning - Strengths and Weaknesses (four days)
    Logical Fallacies (two days)

    That is all I have.

    Reasons:

    Both inductive and deductive reasoning are used on a regular basis by the individual. If we are able to recognise what logic we are using, we will then be able to see the inherent weaknesses and strengths of our reasoning.

    We will also be able to judge debates (eg political debates) better.

    By enhancing our reasoning abilities, politicians will need to be more informative about their policies. Rather than just saying "I will fix the problem! I know how, trust me"

    People appearing in court unrepresented will have a be in a better position to argue before the court. More importantly, the decision maker will be better qualified to spot errors in argument. This would improve the decisions being handed down by the courts.


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  3. #2  
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    everyone to become an active and useful member of society
    Philosophy's a good approach for thinking. It's valueless for political, economic and citizenship purposes unless people are working with reliable facts.

    The first step in dealing with facts is arithmetic. Maybe Arithmetic, Population and Energy - FULL LENGTH - YouTube should be a starting point - or at least the first 20-35 minutes of Bartlett's lecture.

    And for political and economic decision-making, a critical evaluation based on the last 6 minutes - "The biggest cause of problems is solutions" - might be a concrete starting point for discussions about more familiar or local problems.


    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
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  4. #3  
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    Thank you for your reply adelady.

    I would strongly disagree with your first statement. Philosophy is not valueless for political, economic, or citizenship purposes without reliable facts.

    Even if you know nothing about a subject, you can still detect logical fallacies in an argument. You can identify bad arguments and good arguments.

    For example:

    I know a [insert nation here] Supreme Court Judge who told me that fluoridated drinking water is dangerous. So you should make sure you only ever drink 100% pure H2O.

    You do not have to be a chemist or toxicologist to see that this argument is flawed. You do not need to know that there is no such thing as 100% H2O - small amounts will dissociate into OH- and H3O+.

    It is sufficient to know of the fallacy of appealing to a false authority.

    There are too many facts in this world to learn them all. The best that we can do is give people the tools to help them when they need to make a decision regarding a set of facts.

    That is why I thought logical fallacies were important.

    Knowing the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning can be used to determine that some methods of crime solving are ineffective. Without requiring you to have an extensive background in criminal investigation or criminology.

    Drawing conclusions about a perpetrator of a crime based on induction (some methods of Criminal Profiling use induction) has been criticised by criminologists. At least some of their criticisms are based on a knowledge of inductive reasoning (studies have also been carried out that are critical of Criminal Profiling via inductive reasoning). If the law enforcement officials that came up with these techniques were familiar with the inappropriateness of inductive reasoning for their purposes, they would not have used it as a starting point. Alternatively, their bosses would not have allowed them to move forward with ideas that were based on reasoning that was flawed.

    You do not need to have a background in economics to know that an economic policy that relies on the world having unlimited resources is deeply flawed - "lets make everyone rich!".

    The hypothetical "course" is about getting people prepared to deal with claimed facts. So they can make better decisions.

    The scenario I gave you in the opening post can be rewritten as this: I am a chemistry student. I have found my knowledge of logical fallacies to be very useful in my everyday life. We are coming up to the summer holidays (where I live in the world). I will have time to learn some more things. What should I learn that will help me in my everyday life?

    Thank you for mentioning the exponential function. It is a very interesting.
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  5. #4  
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    You do not have to be a chemist or toxicologist to see that this argument is flawed.
    I'm not so sure of that. If you've had any exposure at all to the proponents of 'natural living' (who largely but not entirely overlap with the 'all chemicals are harmful' crowd), you'd know that there are large numbers of people who'd fall for this argument hook, line and sinker.

    You may not need to be a chemist or toxicologist, but a better than passing acquaintance with high school chemistry or biology would be a good start.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
    "nature is like a game of Jenga; you never know which brick you pull out will cause the whole stack to collapse" Lucy Cooke
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  6. #5  
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    Unfortunately I have had plenty of exposure to the proponents of natural living.

    I am not suggesting that these people will pick up that the argument is illogical. To the contrary, I am suggesting that they will be persuaded by it. What I am saying is that if they had knowledge of logical fallacies (specifically the fallacy of appealing to a false authority), then they would be less likely to be persuaded by the argument. They would identify it as illogical.

    They may still hold on to their beliefs that fluoridated water is bad, but hopefully not based on the example I gave.

    Knowledge of logical fallacies can be used generically. It can be applied to an argument about chemistry, physics, biology, criminology, psychology, gender issues etc etc.

    There is more opportunity to "practice" applying your knowledge of logical fallacies, so you will get better at it.

    If you learn chemistry on the other hand, it will take a lot longer than it would to learn about logical fallacies. As a chemist, the example I gave of the judge saying fluoridated water is harmful can not be picked apart using chemical knowledge in an understandable way. So you may be able to say fluoride is safe or unsafe, but you cannot convey your reasons to a lay audience easily - they do not have a background in chemistry to understand the significance of the difference between the anion fluoride and the element fluorine, as well as electronegativity etc etc (such basic chemistry knowledge can be used to pick apart at least some of the arguments put forward by anti-fluoridation activists).

    If everybody is familiar with logical fallacies (because they studied it in the "citizens course"), it is sufficient to say the example argument I gave is "appealing to a false authority". They should understand that.

    Even if everyone took a course in chemistry (it would have to be longer than three months too) and had refresher ads/tv programs showing regularly on TV and the internet, it would not help them evalute the reliability of the particular argument I gave. So if the same type of argument was used, but about a medical treatment, you would be back to square one:

    "I know a [insert nation here] Supreme Court Judge who told me that western medicine is dangerous and is actually the cause of more advanced diseases".

    To deal with that statement, the chemistry trained citizen can go and study medicine for a very long time, or they can apply their knowledge of logical fallacies (if they know about logical fallacies - as the course they took only taught chemistry) and say "that is appealing to a false authority, it is not a valid argument". Then:

    "I know a [insert nation here] Supreme Court Judge who told me that protecting the beach from erosion by erecting groins and sea walls is a good way of keeping our beach the way it is whilst having no side effects, so lobby the city council to build a groin and a sea wall".

    Now our chemistry and medically trained citizen is back to square one. He must go and learn about oceanography. Alternatively, if he has a background in logical fallacies, he could just say "that argument isn't valid, it is appealing to a false authority".

    Knowledge of logical fallacies will not qualify someone to know what the correct policy to follow is in any given situation. However, it will allow them to identify flawed arguments and hopefully decrease the number of people joining such things as the "natural living" movement. Also my personal favourite: "the longer the name of a chemical, the more toxic it is" movement. Buy only products that have chemicals with short names. I would personally suggest some cyanide or methanol. Perhaps even some methanal (formaldahyde) as some "safe" chemicals.
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  7. #6  
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    So you're suggesting this be an additional course in High School or roughly a semester long?

    While I completely agree that students should learn reasoning, do we really need it an additional courses in addition to the courses where reasoning is already required, such as science and math? If we we add a course, what are we going to take away? (we're already making unrealistic demands on many kids).

    Also, I'd stay away from the word philosophy--- it automatically puts the uneducated to sleep or tosses up the "too hard" shield, while many of the educated who've taken philosophy courses, think it's mostly mental masturbation with little practical value unless linked to a specific subject-orientated application (such as science, math, writing).
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  8. #7  
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    What...you expect the powers-that-be to teach people how to think and analyze!?

    You're mad!

    What would the politicians do, not to mention the big banks, drug companies, corporations, etc., if the people could figure out how they are being screwed over by these entities!
    "Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati"
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