Critical Thinking
February 21, 2015 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know of some really good books on critical thinking? I have read some different books on the topic over the years but I find myself to be lacking in this area still. Are there excellent ones out there that anyone would care to recommend? Thank you in advance for your recommendations.
posted by nidora to Education (13 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 


I don't have any recommendations for books that are explicitly meant as guides to critical thinking - in fact, I feel like those types of guides have a perverse consequence of lessening, rather than strengthening, critical thinking skills.

But I think you should read Plato's Apology. It's a quick, fun read and good way to dip your toes into the philosophy world. (Because really, if you want to improve your critical thinking skills, you should read philosophy. Much of it is about teaching you how to think seriously about difficult concepts and issues.)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:14 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Daniel Kahnemann's Thinking, Fast and Slow, in no small part because it goes beyond the simplistic prescriptions one runs up against in historical treatments of rhetoric.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:24 AM on February 21, 2015


It might help if you could give us a bit more context — what do you want to get better at thinking about? Do you want to improve your everyday decision-making, or do you want to be able to spot weaknesses in the arguments made in an editorial, or what?

Anyway, The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli is a very readable and enlightening book — each of the 99 chapters points out how people often go wrong in their thinking and how to avoid those pitfalls. It's not as original or erudite as a book liked Daniel Kahnemann's Thinking, Fast and Slow; Dobelli basically takes the insights that have already been offered by people like Kahnemann and distills them into a very concise and engaging format. So I'd recommend starting with Dobelli, and then if you find yourself wanting a more in-depth treatment of one of his points, check the endnotes and go from there.

Also useful: Wikipedia's lists of cognitive biases and fallacies.
posted by John Cohen at 11:50 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]




Seconding that it would help if you could give us a bit more context.

For example, do you want to be able to dissect the logic of an argument? If so, books on academic writing can help you to analyze arguments as frameworks of claims, evidence, and warrants, and to identify their weak points.

Or do you want to be able to critique those beliefs and practices that seem like common sense, human nature, just the way the world works, etc., and show how these beliefs and practices are by no means inevitable, but rather contingent on certain historical formations, cultural logics, class positions, etc.? If so, books on cultural anthropology can help you to see the world from different perspectives and to marshal data contradicting hegemonic assumptions.
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:07 PM on February 21, 2015


Why Men Won't Ask for Directions: The Seductions of Sociobiology is great for this. Very well written, as well.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:42 PM on February 21, 2015


My apologies for not being more clear. I was looking to understand the logic of arguments and to understand when people are using tactics such as emotional appeal to try and persuade another person. Also would like to see if there is anyone who has written a critical thinking piece that has analyzed some of the arguments made in the bible and other religious arguments.
posted by nidora at 3:48 PM on February 21, 2015


Based on your update, you might try A Rulebook for Arguments (Fourth Edition). I found this book from a similar ask.me from a couple of years ago. As for arguments made in the bible and other religious arguments, I'll leave that for the theologians in the crowd.
posted by kovacs at 5:28 PM on February 21, 2015


I was looking to understand the logic of arguments and to understand when people are using tactics such as emotional appeal to try and persuade another person.

For that, I'd stick to my previous recommendation of Wikipedia's list of fallacies.

Also would like to see if there is anyone who has written a critical thinking piece that has analyzed some of the arguments made in the bible and other religious arguments.

Critical discussion of religion and the Bible is such a huge topic on its own, that I'd recommend asking a separate AskMe question specifically about that (in a week).
posted by John Cohen at 5:29 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bertrand Russell's essay "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish"
Christopher Hitchens' book "Letter to a Young Contrarian"
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2015


The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense has good stuff about some of what you're looking for. Less about the logical fallacies part and more of the how to listen part, but still pretty good.

How to Win an Argument might be good, too.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:42 PM on February 21, 2015


This might be over-kill for your purposes, but I'll throw in Toulmin's The Uses of Argument, just 'cause it is so excellent. It's actually more about the fallacies committed by those who have attempted to apply mathematical models to the analysis of real argument than the fallacies made in real arguments themselves, but along the way Toulmin outlines an positive approach to understanding what's happening in real arguments that is very useful. (Hint: arguments hinge on the showing of a warrant to assert whatever claims one is asserting.)

Toulmin focuses on the rational or logical structure of argument rather than the psychological angle. While psychology is often more important to 'winning' argumentative confrontations in real life, logical validity is crucial to being able to reach true conclusions, for instance. Which makes it handy if you care about whether what you are saying is true, or otherwise defensible.
posted by bertran at 12:24 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


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