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Critical Thinking Philosophy Textbook

Critical thinking textbooks are a particular genre of "improve your thinking" books. They are in many ways a distinctively North American phenomenon. These books are written with a specific academic audience in mind -- students in college and university classes that are devoted to teaching critical thinking.

That means that they're designed to be used in a classroom setting with an instructor, for students who have completed high school and have been accepted into a post-secondary academic institution.

One virtue of textbooks is that they're written for students with no previous background and they make an effort to teach the material and not just present it.

That's why I always recommend to anyone interested in improving their critical thinking skills to pick up one or two decent textbooks on Amazon and keep them on their bookshelf for reading and reference.

The main problem with textbooks is that they're often too narrow in their disciplinary focus. So they tend to be very strong in some areas and very weak, or entirely lacking, in other important areas.

For example, I make a big deal about the importance of learning about the psychology of human reason and judgment, including cognitive biases and their impact on critical thinking.

Yet very few critical thinking textbooks have good discussions of this subject, and many have NO discussion at all.

This is why I also recommend getting a separate book on cognitive biases.The stand-alone books are much more informative than anything I've encountered in a critical thinking textbook.

Critical Thinking Courses in North American Colleges and Universities

The texts themselves are usually authored by university academics, and in most cases -- especially if they actually have the words "critical thinking" in the title -- by academics whose professional training is in philosophy and who teach in philosophy departments. These textbooks usually feature principles of basic logic and argument analysis that are familiar to philosophers, and there is an expectation that these classes will be taught by philosophers.

This is indeed the case in the United States and Canada, but it is not necessarily the case elsewhere in the world.

There are in fact very few places in the world where you can find a class called "critical thinking", outside of North America. Many programs claim to teach critical thinking and writing skills to students, but they don't have particular classes dedicated to "critical thinking".

Critical thinking classes are an American innovation. They have several roots. One is the emergence of courses on "informal logic", an outgrowth of frustration among younger academic philosophers in the US during the 1960s over the perceived lack of relevance of what they were teaching to the growing social concerns of the day, such as the civil and women's rights movements, and the Vietnam War. These academics wanted to teach principles of good reasoning that were relevant to assessing real-world social and political debates.

Another source of influence in the 1980s was the growing interest in critical thinking across a range of distinct educational and practical contexts -- critical thinking and psychology, critical thinking and the media, critical social theory, critical thinking and education, and so on. Work in these areas was generally done by scholars in these respective fields, and often quite different from work being done by philosophers. On campuses it lead to a "critical thinking across the curriculum" movement, where colleges and universities began to embrace the rhetoric of critical thinking as an institutional objective.

Nevertheless, in most cases, these institutions only offer a single dedicated course on critical thinking, and most students aren't required to take it. Many institutions have a general education "critical thinking" requirement for the undergraduate degree, but it can be satisfied by some combination of ordinary courses (philosophy, english composition, science, math, etc.).

They're Part of a Larger Academic Textbook Industry

Still, there are enough dedicated critical thinking courses that there is a reliable audience to purchase critical thinking textbooks, and so we have seen the rise of a textbook industry within the North American market, with different publishers competing for dominance.

There is money to be made in this industry. Success has gone primarily to people who got into the game early, and who are comfortable working within the rules set by the large commercial publishers who have a virtual monopoly in the market.

It can be an immoral and exploitive industry, with inflated prices and mandatory new editions every few years with no justification and no meaningful changes between editions.

But it has produced some interesting critical thinking textbooks.

You Should Get One Or Two Critical Thinking Textbooks For Your Critical Thinking Bookshelf

I recommend to anyone interested in critical thinking to pick up one or more used or out-of-date editions of textbooks on Amazon. The latest editions of the most popular textbooks can be criminally expensive, but you'll get just as much value out of the earlier edition for a fraction of the price.

The most valuable feature of a dedicated critical thinking text is that you'll be exposed to a wide range of topics and principles between the covers of a single book. All of them will cover basic principles of logic and argument analysis. All of them will cover formal and informal fallacies. All of them will cover some set of applied topics -- scientific reasoning, critical thinking and the media, etc. I cover a lot of these topics in the video courses on the Academy site, but it's always helpful to see how different authors tackle these subjects.

I'll Give You My Thoughts On the Textbooks in This Section

One of the downsides of textbooks is that they often obscure the perspective and goals of the author's approach to the subject. And when they do share how their approach is different from others, students aren't in a position to really appreciate it since they have no context to really understand what's being said.

In the following entries I offer some comments on a few of the critical thinking textbooks I have on my shelves. This is only a fraction of them -- I used to be sent new ones from publishers every year when I was teaching in the classroom, so you accumulate quite a variety -- but each of the ones I list here adopts a particular perspective on the topic of critical thinking, and I always learn something from trying to understand these different approaches.

Note: I'm not necessarily recommending any one text over another, they all have strengths and weaknesses. But I will tell you what I think of those strengths and weaknesses.

  • Coming Soon

    The Elements of Arguments: An Introduction to Critical Thinking and Logic

    The Elements of Arguments introduces such central critical thinking topics as informal fallacies, the difference between validity and truth, basic formal propositional logic, and how…

  • More Precisely: The Math You Need to Do Philosophy – Second Edition

    More Precisely is a rigorous and engaging introduction to the mathematics necessary to do philosophy. Eric Steinhart provides lucid explanations of many basic mathematical concepts…

  • Formal Logic

    Formal Logic is an undergraduate text suitable for introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses in symbolic logic. The book’s nine chapters offer thorough coverage of truth-functional…

  • An Introduction to Logic – Second Edition

    In lively and readable prose, Arthur presents a new approach to the study of logic, one that seeks to integrate methods of argument analysis developed…

  • For the Sake of Argument

    Academic philosophy can be puzzling to newcomers. The conventions, terms, and expectations entrenched among philosophers aren’t always clear from the outside. Why are philosophers so…

  • Is That a Fact? – Second Edition

    How much should we trust the polls on the latest electoral campaign? When a physician tells us that a diagnosis of cancer is 90% certain…

  • Critical Thinking – Concise Edition

    Critical Thinking is a comprehensive introduction to the essential skills of good reasoning, refined and updated through seven editions published over more than two decades.…

  • Critical Thinking: An Introduction to the Basic Skills – Canadian Seventh Edition

    Critical Thinking is a comprehensive and accessible introduction to the essential skills of good reasoning, written by Canadian authors for Canadian readers. The book includes…

  • Critical Thinking: An Introduction to the Basic Skills – American Seventh Edition

    Critical Thinking is a comprehensive and accessible introduction to the essential skills of good reasoning. The authors provide a thorough treatment of such central topics…

  • The Logic of Our Language

    The Logic of Our Language teaches the practical and everyday application of formal logic. Rather than overwhelming the reader with abstract theory, Jackson and McLeod…

  • An Introduction to Metalogic

    An Introduction to Metalogic is a uniquely accessible introduction to the metatheory of first-order predicate logic. No background knowledge of logic is presupposed, as the…

  • How to Think Critically

    Jeff McLaughlin’s How to Think Critically begins with the premise that we are all, every day, engaged in critical thinking. But as we may develop…

  • Arguing with People

    Arguing with People brings developments from the field of Argumentation Theory to bear on critical thinking in a clear and accessible way. This book expands…

  • Making Up Your Mind – Revised Edition

    Making Up Your Mind is oriented toward the writing of arguments. It gives students techniques that they can use to better understand, organize, and present…

  • An Introduction to Logical Theory

    This book reclaims logic as a branch of philosophy, offering a self-contained and complete introduction to the three traditional systems of classical logic (term, sentence,…

  • What Should I Believe?

    This book is unique in its treatment of critical thinking not as a body of knowledge but instead as a subject for critical reflection. The…

  • Essentials of Symbolic Logic – Third Edition

    The third edition of Essentials of Symbolic Logic is a concise and clearly written introduction to the topic. Based on years of use in colleges…

  • Proof and Consequence

    Proof and Consequence is a rigorous, elegant introduction to classical first-order natural deductive logic; it provides an accurate and accessible first course in the study…

  • Introducing Symbolic Logic

    This accessible, SHORT introduction to symbolic logic includes coverage of sentential and predicate logic, translations, truth tables, and derivations. The author’s engaging style makes this…

  • Deductive Logic in Natural Language

    This text offers an innovative approach to the teaching of logic, which is rigorous but entirely non-symbolic. By introducing students to deductive inferences in natural…

  • Logic With Added Reasoning

    This concise text treats logic as a tool, “generated so that half the work involved in thinking is done for you by somebody else (the…

  • Logical Options

    Logical Options introduces the extensions and alternatives to classical logic which are most discussed in the philosophical literature: many-sorted logic, second-order logic, modal logics, intuitionistic…

  • Scientific Thinking

    Scientific Thinking is a practical guide to inductive reasoning—the sort of reasoning that is commonly used in scientific activity, whether such activity is performed by…

  • Good Reasons for Better Arguments

    This text introduces university students to the philosophical ethos of critical thinking, as well as to the essential skills required to practice it. The authors…

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