Critical thinking questions

I. How or why do you think philosophy and critical thinking skills are important tools both for survival and for “flourishing” (in the Aristotelian sense”) as a person in the 21st century? If “thinking is sorrow” and “ignorance” is bliss, why would anyone — in today’s conformist, market-dominated, materialist, and consumerist world – put themselves on a philosophical path and strive to develop a philosophical worldview? What role if any is there between philosophy, the “good life” (in the ancient Greek sense), and happiness (as theorized throughout the eastern and western philosophical traditions)? Address these questions generally, but add a personal statement based on your initial experience with philosophy thus far.


II. Define logic, critical thinking, and logical fallacies. Choose 3 different classic logical fallacies, define and explain them, and try to identify an instance where you see each fallacy at work in any of the material we have read or viewed this semester (except for the Fox News documentary from Week 2), or any editorial, news item, TV pundit discourse, etc., you have noticed or will begin to identify. Fallacious thinking is everywhere, and should not be too hard to identify.


III. Given the serious issues raised in the areas of skepticism, emotivism, sociobiology, relativism, and postmodernism, what chances do we have for making any knowledge or truth claims about (1) the nature of the world generally, and (2) ethical discrimination between right and wrong actions? Are cross-cultural judgments possible – as when, for instance, white Western animal advocates criticize Chinese or Japanese cultures for their “barbaric” traditions, respectively, of eating cats and dogs and of killing whales and dolphins – or is there no possible grounds for such moral judgments? If you believe there not in this given example, then on what basis does an entity like the United Nation presume the authority to monitor (typically they don’t intervene, and is this a problem perhaps?) conflicts in nations like Africa that erupt into genocidal warfare?


IV. Describe what Peter Singer means by the “ethical life,” as contrasted to a life that is selfish, hedonistic, materialistic, amoral, and so on. What is the relationship between the ethical life and the meaningful life and the good life? How does one cultivate the ethical life and why is the emphasis on practice over theory? Give two examples of the ethical life as described in the CNN series, Heroes, and two additional examples using historical figures you admire who deliberately chose the ethical life as their path.


V. Describe the challenges put to ethics and the ethical life by arguments for relativism and egoism. Are “objective” or “grounded” ethical judgments possible amidst the skeptical challenge of relativism? Are we and should we be psychological egoists, or are these positions fundamentally flawed and is genuine altruistic behavior possible? Explain your reasoning carefully and illustrate it with supporting examples.



VI. Describe how, in the case of vivisection, Peter Singer, a utilitarian, and Tom Regan, a deontologist wood take very different positions. What characteristics does a being need to possess to have rights in this society, and what function do rights play. If people typically argue that animals lack rights because they do not have reason and language, then do fetuses, small infants, severely “brain damaged,” “senile,” and comatose people also lack rights to their own bodies and lives? If a chimpanzee is more intelligent than a 3 or 4 year old child, and certainly than an elderly person suffering the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease, why don’t we experiment on them instead of animals?