Although this blog is not really active anymore, I know that people come here looking for free textbooks, and publicizing them is part of the central goal of this blog to undermine the textbook publishing racket in CT. So I’m pleased to learn of Critical Thinking by Example by Mark Walker at the New Mexico State University.
Somewhere along the way, I picked up the language of “argument repair.” I don’t think this is my term, but borrowed from others. Many people have found it the most interesting concept in my analysis of textbook treatments of fallacies. Some textbook authors have asked for sources, and some instructors have developed their own exercises.
I have only found one scholarly discussion of it, and no articles aside from mine, but in critical thinking and argumentation studies it’s quite common for innovative scholarship to be presented in textbook form. (A great recent example of this is Maureen Linker’s Intellectual Empathy: Critical Thinking for Social Justice — I plan to post on that soon.) Richard Epstein’s Critical Thinking (Thomson Wadsworth) devotes a chapter to the argument repair, and perhaps that’s where I picked up the term. It’s no longer in print, unfortunately, but you can find a discussion of it here.
What attracts me to the notion of argument repair is that it suggests a dialectical context. We may repair arguments in response to criticism, though we cannot in change our central reasoning (how to identify that central reasoning is the big question). That dialectical engagement distinguishes argument repair as a practice from simply charitable interpretation, which does not involve the arguer revising what is said but only an audience interpretation. (It may also include repairing one’s own argument, in an internal dialectic.) That dialectical element is present when “argument repair” appears in the one other place I’ve found the phrase, a poem “On the Immortality of the Soul” by Charles William Jones (of Islington):
In matters of such import, pith, and weight,
As the soul’s welfare and a future state,
Each should endeavour for himself to judge,
Invoke the contest, and refuse to budge:
Then to the field of argument repair,
Wisely engage in manly conflict there;
But should conviction’s force your breast assail,
Retire at once, nor your defeat bewail
This rich depiction of argument as war is far from what I want, and yet conflict is certainly part of the dialectical picture. What interests me is that the audience allows the speaker the opportunity for argument repair. The speaker can take “to the field” and “retire” in turns.
Although dialectical context distinguishes argument repair from simply charitable interpretation, each may follow the same guidelines. We don’t want to shoehorn all arguments into deductive form, and yet we want to allow for implied premises, and also “blunders” in Douglas Walton’s terms (see Tindale’s article here). Epstein in a later edition along with Carolyn Kernberger provide the following Guide to Repairing Arguments (206, 68):
Given an (implicit) argument that is apparently defective, we are justified in adding a premise or conclusion if it satisfies all three of the following:
- The argument becomes stronger or valid
- The premise is plausible and would seem plausible to the other person
- The premise is more plausible than the conclusion.
If the argument is valid or strong, we may delete a premise if doing so doesn’t make the argument worse.
The three criteria involve additions to the argument: the audience “putting words in the speaker’s mouth” in a non-pejorative sense, or the speaker making additions; but it’s also noted that an argument might be improved but trimming off extraneous information. Epstein and Kernberger also suggest the following limits to argument repair (206, 68):
There’s no argument here
The argument is so lacking in coherence that there’s nothing obvious to add
A premise it uses is false or dubious and cannot be deleted
Two of its premises are contradictory, and neither can be deleted
The obvious premise to add would make the argument weak
The obvious premise to add to make the argument strong or valid is is false
The conclusion is clearly false.
None of this indicates a dialectical context, so it’s interesting that they choose terminology different from the traditional “charity.” So, it seems that I need to look closer at my own past practice to see if I’m doing anything different, and have made explicit my interest in the dialectical context. I’ve also sent out some inquiries to people who might know better than I, and I’ll report back.
To help instructors make informed decisions about their critical thinking courses, my research assistant and I (see below) are developing a database of the current textbooks that analyzes their contents by topic. At the moment you will find that we have covered 16 textbooks, and we still have a lot to go, even though we aim to cover only those in the discipline of philosophy in the English language.
The database should assist with Step Two of the CT² steps for choosing a text. Once instructors have decided what sorts of things they’d like to teach, it will help them locate texts that cover those topics.
The analysis proceeds, left to right:
- The usual bibiographic details, plus the relevant expertise of the author, and our estimate of the country/culture to which the book is addressed
- General contexts for critical thinking
- The types of argument analysis provided
- Whether and how fallacies are covered
- Whether and how deductive and then inductive logic are covered
- Whether and how science is covered
- Whether and how language is covered
- Specialized forms of reasoning
- Developing one’s own thinking
- Special features distinguishing an individual text
- On-line resources
An “X” is used to fill the box, and where a topic receives only brief treatment only a single hash, “/,” is used. Any other keys can be found in the column header. We aim to limit the evaluative component of this analysis, and keep it descriptive. I confess that I hope the availability of information will help instructors find the textbooks written by scholars in the field. Providing better understanding of the range of textbooks available may discourage new instructors from simply reproducing outdated views of critical thinking and argumentation.
We began with Oxford University Press because they offered to provide review copies. (I don’t want to pretend I plan to teach with all these texts.) However, we aim to feature books by scholarly and liberatory authors. I will also continue with scholarly presses before going to more commercial publishers.
I am not doing all this by myself and am very ably assisted by Brigham Bartol, courtesy of the University of Windsor Outstanding Scholars Program. If you wish to be sure that your textbook is in our queue, please write to Brigham. If you wish to send us a copy of your text, it should come to Hundleby’s address.
The table below indicates how a preponderance of textbooks (twenty-four out of thirty surveyed in June 2010) employ at least three techniques involved in “The Adversary Method” identified by Janice Moulton (1983). The table is reprinted from “The authority of the fallacies approach to argument evaluation” by Catherine E. Hundleby (2010) from Informal Logic 30(3), by permission, where further analysis and explanation can be found. The surveyed textbooks are written by authors and designed for courses within the discipline of philosophy, have at least one chapter devoted to fallacies, and are all of those that could be obtained as examination copies over a period of several years. The only systematic effort was to consider texts by established scholars in the field. (Parallel texts in rhetoric and composition do not seem to share the same problems.)
The aspects of fallacies presentation that support the Adversary Method, in increasing order of concern, are as follows.
(a) Ignore the possibility of argument repair
(b) 50% or more very short or decontextualized examples.
(c) 50% or more manufactured examples
(d) A “taxonomic technique” for exercises that provides a range of arguments as mistaken and asks students to indicate which fallacy creates the mistake; or presents a range of arguments that may or may not be mistaken but does not include discussion of acceptable counterparts of fallacies.
Those textbooks not on the table because they do not exhibit three or more aspects of the Adversary Method include those by Bickenbach and Davies (1997), Epstein (2006), Govier (2010), Johnson and Blair (2006), Tindale (2007b), all who have significant bodies of scholarship in argumentation and informal logic. Boss (2010) is another exception, a scholar of moral reasoning who engages feminist issues.
Almost all authors on the table have no publications in informal logic or argumentation. (To assess the authors’ scholarly areas I consulted the current on-line edition of The Philosopher’s Index and the authors’ academic webpages). Only three philosophy textbooks—Walton, Woods, and Irvine (2004), Copi and Cohen (2005), and Engel (2000)—that my analysis reveals to employ the Adversary Method (and so that appear on the Table) have authors who are scholars in the field; and even these are borderline cases. The worst practice, the taxonomic technique, does not appear in Walton, Woods, and Irvine (2004), and many longer, contextualized, and authentic examples can be found in Engel (2000). Engel’s (2000) and Copi and Cohen’s (2005) belong to an early generation of textbooks, which accounts for their failure to reflect recent scholarship.
Bassham, G., Irwin, W., Nardone, H., and Wallace, J.M. (2005). Critical thinking: A student’s introduction. Toronto: McGraw-Hill.
Bickenbach, J.E. and Davies, J.M. (1997). Good reasons for better arguments: As introduction to the skills and values of critical thinking. Orchard Park, NY: Broadview.
Boss, J.A. (2010) Think: Critical thinking and logic skills for everyday life. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Burton (2002). The voice of reason: Fundamentals of critical thinking. New York: Oxford University Press.
Carey, S.S. (2000). The uses and abuses of argument: Critical thinking and the fallacies. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.
Copi, I.M., and Cohen, C. (2005). Introduction to logic, 12th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ:Prentice Hall.
Copi, I.M., Cohen, C., and Flage, D.E. (2007). Essentials of logic, 2nd edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Damer, T.E. (2005). Attacking faulty reasoning: A practical guide to fallacy-free arguments, sixth edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Dayton (2010) Critical thinking, logic, and argument. Pearson Education Canada.
Engel, S.M. (2000). With good reason: An introduction to informal fallacies, 6th edition. Boston: St. Martin’s Press.
Flage, D.E. (2004). The art of questioning: An introduction to critical thinking. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Govier, T. (2010). A practical study of argument. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Gula, R.J. (2002). Nonsense: A handbook of logical fallacies. Mount Jackson, VA: Axios Press.
Hughes, W. and Lavery, J. (2008). Critical thinking: An introduction to the basic skills, 5th edition. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview.
Johnson, R. H. and Blair, J.A. (2006). Logical self-defense. New York: International debate education association.
Kenyon, T. (2008). Clear thinking in a blurry world. Toronto: Nelson.
Leblanc, J. (1998). Thinking clearly: A guide to critical reasoning. W.W. Norton & Co.
Lee, Stephen P. (2002). What is the argument? Critical thinking in the real world. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Moore, B.N. and Parker, R. (2007). Critical thinking, 8th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Reichenbach, B.R. (2001). Introduction to critical thinking. New York: McGraw Hill.
Rudinow, J., Barry, V.E., Letteri, M. (2008). Invitation to critical thinking, 1st Canadian edition. Toronto: Thomson.
Saindon, J. (2008). Argument and argumentation. Toronto: Nelson.
Schick, T., Jr. and Vaughn, L. (2005). How to think about weird things, 4th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Schwarze, S. and Lape, H. (2000). Thinking Socratically. Prentice Hall.
Teays, W. (2006). Second thoughts: Critical thinking for a diverse society, 3rd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Tindale, Christopher. (2007b). Fallacies and argument appraisal. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press: 155-170.
Vaughn, L. and MacDonald, C. (2008). The power of critical thinking, Canadian edition. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, D.C. (1999). A guide to good reasoning. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Woods, J., Irvine, A. and Walton, D. (2004). Argument: Critical thinking, logic and the fallacies, second edition. Toronto: Prentice Hall.