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Introduction to Critical Thinking?

  1. Dec 3, 2006 #1
    Can anyone recommend some good 'introduction to critical thinking' books?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 10, 2006 #2
    Care to define 'critical thinking'?
  4. Jan 7, 2007 #3
    Unfortunately, it's a subject dealing with poorly defined terms so I cannot give a rigorous definition of the subject. Here is a start

    "Critical thinking consists of a mental process of analyzing or evaluating information, particularly statements or propositions that people have offered as true. It forms a process of reflecting upon the meaning of statements, examining the offered evidence and reasoning, and forming judgments about the facts."

  5. Jan 7, 2007 #4


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    Unfortunately, the world gets along by people fooling each other, so there would never be much impetus to encourage people to think critically. I think education is largely designed to breed robots for industry.

    Critical thinking is really something to develop on your own, by your own steam. I think the best thing one can do is to read many different viewpoints and to not take what anyone says at face value.

    Obviously if you have a good grasp of logic, you will be better able to spot erroneous arguments, so having that is always helpful.

    I'll look around to see if I can see books that look worthwhile.
  6. Jan 7, 2007 #5


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    Hmm, I suppose there will be two types of books available, methodology books and context books. Personally, I would avoid the methodology books because if you are trying to learn to think critically, you shouldn't be expected to swallow a methodology without critically thinking about it.

    Books that tell you "ask this, consider that" are probably not all that worthwhile. However, there is one methodology book that I have read which I thought was really good, however I won't adopt every suggestion or even most of them that it made, and that's the point. This book is "How to read a book" by MJ Adler et al.

    Part of what makes that book worthwhile is that it is extremely verbose, I found myself becoming impatient and skipping over much text, to the point that I was reading only the first sentence of each paragraph until something interesting came along. This is very good and part of why I liked it.

    Also I would consider books about logic, but there are logic tutorials online so you probably wouldn't need to buy a book for that. Or perhaps look for one of the informal ones by Smullyan or someone similar, if you prefer that to formal stuff. I would avoid books which specifically talk about recognising invalid arguments, or give you a list of fallacies with odd names. Or perhaps read them later, when you can already recognise flawed arguments and want to know the traditional names like red herring and non sequitir.

    Then I would consider what I am calling 'context books', which would be books that stretch the mind and provide good context about which one can think critically. I'll only recommend books which I have read and helped me, rather than recommend stuff I haven't read.

    My suggestions for context books are:
    Enchiridion - Epictetus (online)
    The second sex - de Beauvoir (selected chapters online)
    Psychology of programming - Weinberg (really good book if you are technically inclined)
    The moral animal - Robert Wright (about evolution, some philosophical stuff)

    It's difficult to say why these books are good. I think it is because they don't try to sell you anything, you get to decide if you think what they say is rubbish or not, or in what way it applies.

    Of course, you must think critically about what I have said here and decide if you agree or not. Don't let me stop you from buying whatever books you feel are suitable.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2007
  7. Jan 7, 2007 #6
    One must first learn how to thinking critically wouldn't they? Thinking critically is a process so a method is needed?

    I think its good for subjects to contain methods because otherwise you can't do much 'solid stuff' in it. When you have mastered the basic methods for that subject and want to be creative than you could invent your own methods. Or you could discuss and debate about the methods in that subject.

    Critical thinking is a different type of subject to most subjects but it too needs methods so its users can know to some precision what to do in different situation and after applying those methods should see that they are truly getting more insight into the text or the essay they are writing. After they have practiced enough than they can review the methods they have been using.

    So I guess I am looking for methodology type books.
  8. Jan 8, 2007 #7


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    Pivoxa, am I correct in assuming that you mean this for someone else, perhaps a student or group of students?

    Especially if this is for someone/some people other than yourself (young or inexperienced), you might go for an informal logic book. Any of the ones by Raymond Smullyan would be suitable. For something more serious, I've looked around and "Introduction to logic" by Gensler looks good. Apparently that book has many exercises. You could possibly also get a psychological one that talks about bias, but I can't find any that look good.

    For something closer to skepticism, perhaps a book like "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" by Carl Sagan would be suitable.

    I haven't read these books so I can't say more about them.

    Of course, for yourself I'd skip all that and get a formal book on logic (which I should probably do myself).
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2007
  9. Jan 8, 2007 #8
    I was actually looking for a critical thinking book for my mum. As for me, I have learnt some logic but when it comes to thinking using everyday language, I get confused sometimes. I have never been good at English. So critical thinking for me would also be useful as well. Practice is what I need. I need to apply critical thinking methods to pieces of writings and write my own essays. However, its only an idea at the moment because I have too many other things to do like physics, maths ... which I can never get enough of.
  10. Jan 8, 2007 #9
  11. Jan 9, 2007 #10


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    I still think saying "this is critical thinking" is a contradiction because how can one be said to be thinking critically if one accepts what critical thinking is uncritically?
  12. Jan 9, 2007 #11
    "this is critical thinking" must be put into context.

    You could have

    "A is critical thinking because B" You have used critical thinking to debate what is critical thinking. So one has thought critically to argue what is critical thinking.

    But this structure of X is Y because Z where X,Y,Z are variables is a form in critical thinking. Hence to argue the validity of this structure (which is an axiom in critical thinking) one has to go into meta-critical thinking. One know has a establish a set of rules in this meta-critical thinking and argue for the validity of this structure.
  13. Jan 15, 2007 #12


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    I have changed my mind on this issue, or rather I have made a new distinction. I haven't read any more on critical thinking, but as I am reading an article by John Dewey I have come to a new realisation.

    I now recognise two 'habits' of critical thinking. I would call the first habit 'exclusion' and the second habit 'inclusion'. By exclusion I mean that not everything in a book is true and certainly not everything in a book is unbiased, so one should be on the lookout for bias and lack of relevance or lack of justification. This is all I had thought there was to critical thinking, separating the wheat from the chaff.

    However I have realised that one also needs to practice 'inclusion', by which I mean that once one has come to the wheat, that wheat must be processed, digested. It's no good once one has identified the good to just read it as though that is all that is required. To really benefit from that knowledge, one has to place it correctly, one must determine of one's knowledge that which it refutes and that which it supports, and moreover one must determine of one's knowledge that which, along with this new knowledge, forms a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts.

    Basically, gaining knowledge is not simply lumping things together, but rearranging the whole as one adds to it. In fact, the reason I felt to write this is because this essay ("The democratic conception in education") is strikingly similar to a mathematical one. Like when reading about Linear Algebra or some such, one must not simply read from page 1 to page x but must prove each theorem and think about all that is said, exactly the same is required in this case.

    Even though this concerns reading, it does also concern thinking because one is thinking about what one reads or hears or sees. These same habits are universally applicable. Mathematical maturity is probably nothing more than what I suppose might be called epistemological maturity, a mature approach to gaining knowledge of any sort.
  14. Jan 15, 2007 #13

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    We used a book called "A Guide to Good Reasoning" by David Wilson in a Principles of Critical Reasoning class. I thought it gave a pretty good introduction to argument structure, was very readable (quite humorous, too), and was helpful in that it included exercises at the end of each chapter. The only downside is that it was tremendously expensive for a small paperback. I think I paid $50 for it and ended up selling it back to the bookstore for $5. I wish I had hung on to it. I could have just mailed it to you, pivoxa.
  15. Jan 20, 2007 #14
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