Before we had developed the scientific method, experimentation, and instrumentation to test and measure our hypotheses the world of science was the world of the Philosopher. A Philosopher is, “a person who offers views or theories on profound questions in ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields.” There are many well known Philosophers through out time. Socrates, Plato, Epictetus, René Descartes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Immanuel Kant are among those you should read and learn about. That list is not in anyway exhaustive, it’s not even the tip of the iceberg, but they are some of the thinkers who have shaped my thinking and I want you to be aware of them.
Perhaps one of the best known Philosophers of the ancient era to tackle the ideas of science was Aristotle, a Greek who lived from 384bce to 322bce. Aristotle used philosophy to not just create ideas about moral and ethical behavior but also to try and explain matter and elements, the laws of motion, and ideas about gravity. His work in science was the accepted truth until Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who considered himself to be a “Natural Philosopher” (this was before we called people Physicists), established the rules of classical mechanics and gravity as we know them to this day.
We must never forget that critical thinking is not about jumping from one piece of information to another; it is a disciplined course using rational information that we are both open to and skeptical of, and that we can support through evidence.
In modern times however, and particularly since the dawn of the twentieth century the worlds of philosophy and science have been separated by one another by the chasm of experimentation. Philosophers seek to answer questions about the meaning of life, our purpose on this earth, and means of living a quality life. These questions rarely have one factual objective answer. There are likely as many ways of reaching the object of a quality life as there are people on the earth, however what Philosophers are coming to understand is that regardless of our ideas or beliefs about what makes a purpose filled life we are living creatures that have to find a balance with our environment and the world around us. So, perhaps the world of Philosophy will continue to reach back to its roots and become about distilling the knowledge of science into a practical way of living. Ultimately I consider myself to be a Philosopher. I’m also a coach, and spent a career as a firefighter, because being a Philosopher outside of the Academy doesn’t pay very well and I have a mortgage, and my own child who wants to read books and do silly things like eat groceries, but I am a Philosopher none the less. I suppose if you are reading this I’ve become a bit more successful than when I sat down to write it.
All that said I put before you one of the most critical sets of questions in the Philosopher’s tool kit that are central to critical thinking. For anything you read, are taught, or that you question you must ask yourself first, “Is it so?” Does the information match what we know about the real world? Secondly you must ask yourself, “If so, so what?” Does the information have any bearing on your life, on your health, on your happiness? There is more information to be had in our world today then men and women dreamed of even just a recently as when I was starting high school in 1990. I, and very likely most of you, have a device in my pocket that gives me access to almost all the information on the globe. Some of the information is good, some of it is pure garbage. You need to learn how to sort the wheat from the chaff and see how it fits together. This ready access to information gives each of us an amazing freedom to explore, question, and seek answers. There is also a temptation to accept the next factoid that is placed in front of us as the irrevocable truth. We must never forget that critical thinking is not about jumping from one piece of information to another; it is a disciplined course using rational information that we are both open to and skeptical of, and that we can support through evidence. Even if our information passes those criteria it may still be of no use to us though, hence the importance of our question, “If so, so what?”