Thinking Socratically: Critical Thinking About Everyday Issues (2nd Edition)

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9780130281630: Thinking Socratically: Critical Thinking About Everyday Issues (2nd Edition)

This unique book is an exploration of critical thinking, rather than a text of informal logic. It emphasizes a philosophical reflection on real issues from everyday life, in order to teach readers the skills of critical thinking in a common-place context that is easy to understand and certain to be remembered. Critical thinking topics are assembled in readings taken from sources including newspapers, literature, magazines, and philosophy. These readings compliment the important concepts of critical thinking, and provide information on background knowledge, the web of belief, the limits of evidence, the nature of proof, and dogmatism and relativism. For critical thinkers who need something to think critically about, and are willing to see more than just two sides to every argument.

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From the Back Cover:

Thinking Socratically: Critical Thinking About Everyday Issues, Second Edition encourages students in a user-friendly way to improve their own natural reasoning skills. An enjoyable collection of readings presents students with real-life situations that raise questions about the basic assumptions of rationality, naturally engaging them in open dialogue—the hallmark of the rational person. The situations range from the problem of evidence at a trial to the absence of an explanation of why two children died in the same day-care center on the same day.

The text is distinctively different, both conceptually and pedagogically in its approach and critical thinking.

  • Teaches critical thinking in contexts of ordinary life issues
  • Shows how to be a critical thinker using Socrates as a model
  • Emphasizes open rational dialogue, especially among friends, but even among enemies
  • Is organized in short packets for ease of assignment and retention
  • Includes puzzles of rationality as well as standard items

Second edition includes:

  • Ten new readings
  • Expanded coverage of deduction, including Venn diagrams
  • More informal fallacies
  • Fully integrated readings and text

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface to the Second Edition

We had three purposes in mind when we wrote Thinking Socratically. The first was to help our students, and all college students, become better thinkers—which for us means to engage, like Socrates, willingly and patiently in open rational dialogue. Since most students who take a course in critical thinking are first or second year college students, they are often still at what the cognitive psychologists call black/white thinking. That is, they only see two sides to an argument, theirs, which they assume correct, and the other person's whom they assume to be wrong. We wanted to help them become open to the myriad other possibilities that exist between the two poles of an argument and to learn to engage in dialogue with others and themselves in ways that will help them find these other possibilities. When they finish this text, we hope they will have the ability and the "courage" that Jane Smiley speaks of in the last reading.

Second, we want our student readers to learn that critical thinking is not an esoteric discipline but an important everyday skill like using a computer or driving a car. It helps to get you where you want to go. Hence, we have tried to use everyday examples from stories, newspapers, magazines, even philosophy, to show them these skills in action. Critical thinking cannot be taught without something to think critically about! Yet some textbooks try to do precisely that. We do not. We give them commonplace contexts that exemplify the skill or the need for the skill we are teaching. We think that the skills will be learned more easily and will be remembered when they can be seen in context.

Finally, we seek to overcome the cynicism that many pseudosophisticated college students bring to the classroom. This is the cynicism that stems from the relatively little knowledge they have acquired, which has taught them, they think, that nothing can be proven correct or right. Therefore, they think, people can believe whatever they want to. No one can be proven wrong. We seek to overcome such cynicism with the pragmatic view that, even if no one "right way" can be proven to be the one true way, there is still a big difference among points of view and courses of action. Some beliefs and some actions are better than others. These are the beliefs and actions that make our lives healthier, happier, and more pleasant, and these can be demonstrated—through the kind of open rational argument that Socrates practiced. That Socratic model is very important to us. We start out with it and come back to it at the end. Of course, we prefer open rational dialogue with our friends but even open rational dialogue with our enemies is useful. After all, what is the alternative?

The second edition is distinguished from the first by the addition of a significant number of new readings and by the placement of the readings after the expository material, rather than before. We hope students will see the connections we are making more clearly that way. We have also greatly increased our discussion of the items that normally appear in critical thinking textbooks. For example, we have expanded the material on deductive reasoning and included Venn diagrams as well. We have increased the number of informal fallacies we cover. We have added summaries at the end of each chapter. Finally, we have adopted more standard terminology in order to conform to that which students hear in other classes; e.g., "reasoning with probability" has become the standard "inductive reasoning." While we still think our old terminology was more apt, we find that faculty tend to use the more familiar terms, thereby leaving students more confused than enlightened. We hope you will find the changes helpful.

The book is designed as a whole so that the lessons of epistemology learned in the beginning connect very closely with the lessons regarding morality at the end. It is a bit much, however, to accomplish the whole book in a semester. Part II on deductive reasoning can be skipped, if desired, and Chapters 10 and 11 on scientific reasoning and pseudoscience can be passed over to skip to Part IV on morality. We have tried to break the text into pieces that will work well from a pedagogical point of view, providing short daily assignments.

A Teacher's Manual that contains the answers to the exercises and additional questions is available from Prentice Hall. It also contains our motivation and rationale for each chapter. We hope you find it useful.

Preface to the First Edition

Two things strike anyone who encounters the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. First, he is willing to question all assumptions underlying any discussion—even his own. Second, he is determined to make sense of whatever is being discussed. It is this commitment to open rational dialogue that we call thinking Socratically. The Socratic critical thinker is someone willing to test her assumptions in open rational discourse, who does not blindly accept the dictates of authority or dismiss ideas as "mere opinions." The Socratic thinker also pays attention to the logic of ideas in context and is interested in more than the acquisition of a few isolated logical tricks. The goal of this text is to supply the skills and contexts likely to foster this kind of Socratic thinking.

Thinking Socratically differs from other critical thinking texts in that it is not simply a book on informal logic or a watered-down version of a formal logic text. It is a book that asks you, the reader, to think critically about specific, "real life" issues that are significant and important in your everyday life. By reading and thinking about these issues, you will gain insight into how to distinguish warranted beliefs from unwarranted beliefs and acquire some specific tools that can be helpful in making this distinction. Our goal is to help you form lifelong habits of critical thinking, not simply to pass on a few course-related skills that are soon forgotten.

We believe a rational person is someone who is committed to rational action and who wants to make the best decisions she can make. The key to making the best decision—on this Socratic model-is to engage in open dialogue that is democratic and pragmatic. This is a dialogue that considers alternative points of view and that is directed toward the end or goal of human wellbeing and happiness. Our belief in the worth of the open dialogue informs the style of the discussions in each chapter, which are intended as an informal dialogue with you, our reader.

This philosophical approach to critical thinking—which makes Thinking Socratically unique—stresses important concepts generally ignored in most critical thinking texts. One of these is the concept of background knowledge. Background knowledge plays a very important and increasingly acknowledged role in rational or critical thinking. Most everyday reasoning consists of judgments of the likelihood or probability of what will happen or what did happen. The larger the store of background knowledge one brings to this kind of reasoning, the better decisions one can make. The background knowledge we have forms a web of connected beliefs, some more important than others. This web of belief figures prominently in our judgments of whether a statement is warranted or not warranted. Thinking Socratically will encourage you to examine your web of belief and to weed out unwarranted assumptions from that web.

The logical techniques helpful to good critical thinking are also included in Thinking Socratically, but they are always discussed in context. You will see that these techniques can be very useful, but you will also realize that they have limitations. When all is said and done, you will see that there is no such thing as absolute proof or absolute certainty. Decisions have to be made on less than perfect knowledge. In this sense all decisions are pragmatic.

Another distinctive feature of Thinking Socratically is that it treats rational thinking and decision making in a variety of human contexts: the everyday, the scientific, and the moral. The fundamental concepts of rationality—the open-ended dialogue and an expanding store of background knowledge—are shown to characterize all three of these human reasoning contexts. These contexts are presented through an entertaining collection of readings that come from a variety of sources: short stories, newspaper articles, magazine articles, novels, and philosophy. The discussion always follows the readings and develops one or more fundamental themes of critical thinking. The reader develops her own appreciation of the web of belief that informs human reasoning. She begins to see critical thinking as a way of looking at the world and not just a set of techniques to apply in time of doubt or confusion. Thinking Socratically, if it is successful, becomes the way of thinking, not a book title or a class on critical thinking.

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