What do I need to add to my rational thinking course ?

13 Oct

My own department is current working on a rewrite of our undergraduate programme and as a result my current rational thinking course will change from being taught over one semester to being taught across a whole year, i.e. The amount of teaching time I have will double. I’ve written before about my ideas for a rational thinking syllabus, but a doubling of the length of the course means that I’m going to need additional material.

For the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about the idea of ‘context’ in relation to rational thinking. I’ve already included the idea of ‘historical context’ in my rational thinking syllabus but it now seems to me that ‘context’ is a much broader idea than the strictly ‘historical’, for example can a decision be truly rational unless it takes into account the social and political context in which it is made ? One of the most obvious examples of this is the frequent debate in the UK about how various drugs should be classified by the criminal justice system. Essentially, a ‘rational’ review of the evidence, without consideration of ‘context’, leads to the conclusion that alcohol should be treated at least as seriously as some drugs that are currently illegal in the UK. However, as soon as you factor ‘context’ into the situation the decision becomes much less clear cut. For example, historical ‘context (i.e. The USA’s prohibition of alcohol) suggest that any ban would lead to a growth in organised crime.

Equally, social context seems important for quality decision making. For example, my own students’ evaluation of research conducted in the USA can often be biased by their assumption that they have a good understanding of American society. This assumption seems to be borne out frequent exposure to America television and film. However, as soon as one delves into American society in any depth one finds clear differences with norms in Europe on topics as diverse as gun control and abortion.

All of this leads me to an idea that has been circulating my own institution for a few months, without finds a good home. The idea of ‘cultural capital’ has been around since the early 70’s, encompasses non-financial assessed that enable social mobility. If one discounts ‘education’ from this concept, you are still left with too major ideas and appreciation of the arts and an understanding of the ‘context’ ideas that I’ve been talking about.  So over the next few months I’m going to be thinking about how I can best integrate ‘context’ into my existing syllabus.

One Response to “What do I need to add to my rational thinking course ?”


  1. How much of what I learnt as a teenager is rubbish ???? | Teaching Rational Thinking - April 4, 2014

    […] I’ve written before about how and understanding of historical and political context is importa… to produce rational thinking, and a couple of weeks ago I came across another example of how an understanding of broader context can expose really interesting ideas. […]

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