Critical Thinking ²

Critical thinking about critical thinking pedagogy in philosophy

This set of pages can aid philosophy instructors (and perhaps others) in considering critical thinking textbooks. Do you need a textbook? This guide can help you sort out the options that textbooks provide. You can select your sources by considering specific pedagogical goals, types of analysis, and forms of exercise, which together suggest a 3-step process for choosing a text.  To help with step two, I’ve put together a fieldguide to textbooks, a sort of consumer report for instructors, accompanied by a database that breaks down textbook contents.  Together these elements provide a critical approach to critical thinking pedagogy in philosophy that amounts to critical thinking squared: CT².

The difficulties that philosophy instructors face in selecting critical thinking sources revolve first around the extraordinary number (easily 100) and apparent range of such textbooks available from publishers.  Troubles also arise from the gulf between the demand for such teaching and the appropriate training among professional philosophers.

Both instructors and a surprising number of authors of philosophy textbooks for CT courses (UK modules) have no more and often less training than one critical thinking undergraduate course/module themselves, and do no scholarship of their own in the field.  If you are one such instructor, I hope the fieldguide will improve your lay of the land so that you can navigate it more effectively to meet the goals you have as an instructor and the needs of your students.  Critical thinking can involve many different forms of analysis having various forms of significance. For a crash course in critical thinking scholarship, read Ralph H. Johnson and J. Anthony Blair’s  “Teaching the dog’s breakfast” from the APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 1 (2009); that will prepare you to explore your pick of the publications they survey at the end.

My approach is partial in two senses, being both opinionated and incomplete, but I try to make transparent my biases and the extent of my familiarity with particular textbooks (which may be minimal); I promise only the benefit of my own experience as an instructor and as a (somewhat new) scholar in the field.  I will update this page yearly  (at least) as I have a chance to consider more texts, and as more emerge. I receive no compensation for CT², except insofar as contribution to the academic community is part of my job as a professor. Some aspects of my choices and evaluations are justified in my scholarly publications, especially here.  I will give priority to the sources that seem to have the best textbooks, less driven by market demand than by good scholarship: academic presses and independent scholarly presses.

Constructive suggestions from you regarding the steps and the fieldguide are welcome, as are review copies of philosophy critical thinking texts to be included in the database which you’ll find explained here. (Understand that I may postpone correspondence till the end of a teaching term or even year.) I’ll discuss the ongoing development and provide further resources by blogging on Thought in Progress.

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

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