Dear philosophers, this is a question from a fresh mother who has a teenage kid. Every time she asks some questions about the truth of life and world, I feel cornered. I hope she could grow up into a person who has her own judgements and ability to reflect independently. I don't want her to be influenced by her mother's words as I was. What should I do?

You could share with your daughter not just your views and opinions on these matters, but the reasons you hold them. You won't indoctrinate her if you're also candid about uncertainties you might have, and about the route(s) you took in developing your own views--the questions that burned in you, your changes of heart, and so on. In fact, you will help teach her how to form reasonable views of her own.

I am a philosophy graduate who has been 'out of the game' for about 3 years now. During this time I have not read much philosophy, and what little I have seems to be forgotten as soon as a couple of days later. I was wondering if any of you might recommend any techniques or reading material that might get me back into the philosophical way of thinking, with a view to renewing my interest and bringing back my intellectual confidence. Thanks.

I feel your pain: I seem to lose any philosophical knowledge or acumen I might have had when I'm "out of the game" for more than a week. I'm inclined to think this is because the human mind (or at least the normal human mind) wasn't evolved to engage abstract issues and subtle dialectic with the duration and intensity required for philosophical investigation of any lasting quality. (My memory is particularly ill-suited--I remember philosphers' names much more readily than their doctrines.) Philosophical thinking seems a by-product of more evolutionarily pressing cognitive skills like causal reasoning, hypothesis formation, folk-psychological explanation, decision making, negotiation, and so on. And unlike, say, musical ability, philosophical ability seems, alas, only to be a disadvantage in sexual selection. I find that re-reading things that particularly engaged me in the past (even my own writing) can get me back into philosophy, and remind me that I've retained a lot more ability, knowledge, and...

Critical thinking: We are bombarded with information all the time so I think it's very important to use "critical thinking" but it's not easy. So my question is: what are the basics in critical thinking?

This is difficult to answer briefly. And there are certainly books and courses that will give you a comprehensive and useful answer. As a start, though, critical thinking involves scrutinizing and evaluating the reasons given (in a newspaper, on TV, in conversation, etc.) for believing some claim or piece of information. Broadly speaking, these reasons come in two flavors. First, certain claims are said to follow from others "logically": the given claim has to be true given the other claims that have already been accepted. (The butler did it because all the other suspects have now been ruled out.) Second, the claim is true because it is grounded somehow, often statistically, in empirical data like observations. (Polls suggest that the president's popularity went down because of the response to Hurrican Katrina.) In practice, these two types of reason--deductive and non-deductive--are often mixed together and difficult entirely to separate. It's useful, though, to separate them in the study of...

Should education be a means to an end?

I don't see anything wrong with using education as a means to an end, as when I suffer through a dreary course on car mechanics so that I can learn how to fix my own engine. Having said this, I don't think education is always merely a means to an end: not only can it be fulfilling to learn certain things even if this knowledge is put to no practical use, but the very process of educating oneself can be fulfilling independently of any value practical or otherwise in the things learned.