Critical Thinking Crash Course with Peter Boghossian

Being humble about what one claims to know goes a long way. If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, you say “I don’t know.”

I enjoyed this extremely short, well-organized, and dense lecture on critical thinking from Peter Boghossian. I’ve listened to the first part of it many times in order to internalize the content, and I am going to take notes on here so that I can retain and repeat it down the road.

Initial Statement about Judgement & Evaluating Ideas

  • Importance of making judgements.
    • We are teaching students not to make moral and cross-cultural judgments—and to withhold judgements about belief systems that are different from our own.
    • What are the downstream implications of having an attitude of “Who am I to judge?” If we really believed it, then we’d look at the horrors of Darfur as well, shrug our shoulders and say, “Who am I to judge?”
    • We need to teach student to make discerning judgements, because withholding judgement is detrimental to creating healthy, vibrant societies.
  • Evaluating Ideas
    • When talking about critical thinking, we’re really talking about how some ideas must be wrong.
    • If you’re not evaluating ideas, then you’re not critically thinking.
    • Making a judgement about an idea is NOT the same as making a judgement about a person.
    • Moral relativism undermines the process of reason and rationality to make a society more just, more civilized, and more kind.
    • Belief systems are not like pizza toppings. They are not matters of taste or preference. There are better and worse ways of reasoning and coming to conclusions.
    • Remember: certain ideas not only “can” be wrong but ARE wrong. (example, geo-centric universe)
    • Remember: Ideas do not become less wrong if more people subscribe to them.

Critical Thinking, Definition and Attitude (4:58)

  • Definition
    • Critical thinking consists of a skill set and an attitude. Core components of critical thinking are: Interpretation, Analysis, Inference, Explanation, Evaluation, Self-Regulation.
  • Attitude Measurement, Ask yourself
    • Do you trust reason? Do you try to solve problems using reason? Is reason your go-to? Is it crucial for you to formulate your beliefs on the basis of reason and evidence? Are you willing to reconsider what you believe? If you are presented with dis-confirming evidence what do you do? Do you dismiss it? Are you offended?
    • Attitude is much more important than developing the critical thinking skill set. Many professors do not attempt to do attitude adjustment on their students, mostly because it’s impossible to measure it.

Critical Thinking Techniques (11:00)

  • Technique #1 – “How does somebody know that?”
    • Focus on the process one uses, and not on the conclusion “What process did you use to arrive at this conclusion?”
    • There are good and bad ways people hold a belief. Common bad ways: “Someone told me it was true.” “I saw it on the internet” “Everybody knows this”
      • A response like this is a good indication that no one has evidence for it.
      • Beliefs formed as a result of these processes are less likely to be true.
    • Dunning Kruger effect: People who are not competent lack the meta-cognitive judgement to know that they are incompetent.
      • Being humble about what one claims to know goes a long way.
      • If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, you say “I don’t know.”
  • Technique #2 – Counter Examples
    • Can you think of an instance of the claim that will make the claim false? It gets more difficult when you enter into the moral domain.
      • Claim: “The numbers 3, 5, 7, and 9 are prime, therefore all numbers are prime.” A: 2
      • Claim: “Everything natural is good for you” A: “arsenic is natural”
      • Claim: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” A: oven
      • Claim: “Treat others as you would like to be treated” A: masochism
      • Claim: “Justice is paying your debts” A: ?
  • Technique #3 – “How could my belief be wrong?”
    • What conditions would have to be in place so that my belief would be in error? This builds a mental space that prevents you from believing everything you think.
      • Claim: “I believe that there is intelligent life on other planets.” A: “We could be the first and last of our kind.”

Image source: Pixabay

2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking Crash Course with Peter Boghossian

  1. This is pretty good common sense thinking. This counters a lot of wrong thinking going around in society. I like it.

    Now if you want to go deeper in this:

    You wrote, “Do you trust reason?”
    What is reason? What is deductive logic? What is the relation between the two? And how about self-deception?

    What are your answers to these questions?


    1. It’s a good question, because I think depending too much on pure rational thought can be a pitfall. I think of the mind as a bit like an iceberg, you know? The conscious part is what you see above the water, and the unconscious is the huge massive bulk below, built on millions of years of evolution. So making judgement with only the conscious part of your mind denies your unconscious a voice. Humans do things for no apparent reason sometimes, and it can seem utterly crazy. We are often driven by some instinctual nature.

      So do I trust reason? Yeah, mostly. When I sit down and try to discipline my mind and think things through rationally, I can usually arrive at a good judgement. But you know, for the person who arrives at the good judgement to “quit drinking and go to the gym” but then the next day the skip the gym and go find a friend to drink with… actions speak louder than judgments, hm?


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