More guides needed: Ethics and intro philosophy

We probably need guides to choosing introductory philosophy textbooks of other types too (Maureen Linker suggests).  Some of the central problems facing CT instructors also plague general introductory philosophy courses and courses introducing ethics: the great range and overwhelming number of textbooks.

There is a bit of a difference given the general lack of training of philosophers in CT by contrast to the general training in ethics and the breadth of the discipline usually required of instructors for courses in those subjects.  At some point I hope that the academy (and maybe even philosophy) will produce people better trained to teach critical thinking.  One must dream! (The image at the top of this webpage is “hope” from the Stanford Cathedral.)

Some sort of consumer guide to these textbooks would still be valuable for CT instructors trained in the field, I think, and would be valuable now for ethics and introductory philosophy.  Instructors trained in a field probably don’t need so much to have the virtues of different contents and approaches broken down, but they might benefit from a database listing the different content and practical features of the available textbooks.

That sort of overview what I plan to develop for CT² next summer.  Publishers and authors are welcome to send me copies of texts so that I may include them.  See my contact page.  I will analyze the content of as many philosophy CT books as I can get my hands on.

Still thinking…

I wish to thank Candace Nast for her generous assistance in showing me around WordPress. The page launched just last night but I’ve already received a lot of valuable input and adjusted some elements of CT². I decided to include a blog too so I can give credit as it’s due and let people know when and what changes are made.

I especially appreciate you letting me know about small press and free on-line textbooks. I expect some of the most innovative textbooks come from those sources because big textbook publishers often press authors to appeal to the lowest common denominator rather than develop a specific pedagogical vision with a specific philosophical perspective, nevermind basing the approach in evidence and scholarship.  Critical thinking is no simple matter: it can mean a lot of different things and the forms of criticism are by no means uncontroversial, as Ralph H. Johnson & J. Anthony Blair argue in “Teaching the dog’s breakfast”.  This is why picking a text is so difficult, why the choice is very individual, and why so many textbooks are so unsatisfying.

The particular bee in my bonnet that inspired me to create this page is the number of textbooks written without support from scholarship.  The authors are not scholars in critical thinking generally, or the specific fields they cover in an attempt to teach critical thinking.  Further, there is a tacit presumption that explaining and practicing forms of analysis will aid students’ own thinking or at least their public practice of it.  This assumption needs interrogation and will get it, I suspect, as we learn more about cognition. Although no miracles will be performed in a single term of instruction, we need more accountable pedagogy. (I don’t think skills testing is the solution here, but basing pedagogy on research into effective learning strategies.)

So, I tend to prefer textbooks written by scholars in the subject matter — logic and informal logic, argumentation, cognition, rhetoric, media production, etc.  However, sometimes an author with pedagogical expertise, such as Judith Boss or Peg Tittle can offer us what we need.  Even these two books have quite distinct strengths:  Boss’s is glossy and dynamic in the presentation of the book, encouraging students to spend time with it; Tittle’s looks pretty ordinary but she offers a wealth of supporting material on-line to help the instructor engage students.

I hope in the future to be able to produce some sort of grid to help to identify textbook features at a glance.

black and white image of critical thinking textbooks packed tightly on a shelf