Monday, 3 November 2008

Crticial Thinking an introduction by Alec Fisher - opinions

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Critical Thinking – an introduction by Alec Fisher

This book is for all those who want to make and evaluate argument in a logical, dispassionate manner. This book aims to dispel the popular noting that “critical thinking” is a negative trait. The book in addition to being lucid in theory contains 220 questions to tackle, understand and appreciate the process of critical thinking. The book has been arranged into 11 chapters and contains an interesting add-on in the form of a glossary.

In the first chapter, the author introduces the flow of the book using the concept of a basketball coach at school level. In the next chapter, the author educates us that conclusion can come anytime during an argument i.e. either at the beginning, middle or ending. The language of reasoning given in the book is worth its weight in gold. The third chapter teaches us the various types of reasoning and how to draw more than one conclusion. The section in which he explains the difference between an argument and explanation is a good enough reason for everyone to read this book. A good understanding of this concept could avoid many disputes in our lives. The fourth chapter deals with understanding reasoning. In most arguments, facts vital to the issue are left out unsaid because they are assumed. This fact has been brought out in a comprehensive way through numerous examples and supporting analysis. A detailed “thinking map” has been presented which contains a list of key questions one should ask while evaluating an argument. The concept of a “thinking map” has been used in almost every succeeding chapter and is very refreshing. The fifth chapter deals with clarifying ideas skillfully. One of the interesting strategies put forward in this chapter is to understand who the audience to whom we are putting forward an argument to? The other day I attended a talk on “global warming” and the nature of audience was layman trying to understanding what the issue is all about. The expert who spoke presented material which would be apt for a research scholar. Within 5 minutes of his speech, 90% of the auditorium was empty (including me).

In the sixth chapter, the reader is explained how to decide whether reasons which are presented in support of a conclusion are acceptable. One of the parameters which impressed me the most is when the author asks the reader not to judge the strength of an argument where expertise in a field is required. I was reminded of a blog I read recently which irrationally questioned the need for “India’s Moon Mission”. The section on “credibility is different from truth” is mind blogging. For me the soul of this book lies in Chapter 7 – Judging the credibility of sources skillfully. If you can master this concept, the chances of anyone selling you a dummy would be greatly reduced. Chapter-8 dealing with evaluating inferences contains heavy theory went above my head. Chapter-9 deals with evaluating inferences and to assist this process, a thinking map has been given. Chapter 10 – reasoning about casual explanations is best understood in its thinking map. Chapter 11 deals with decision making. The section on common flaws in our thinking about decisions and how to weigh up which alternatives is best in the light of the consequences impressed me the most. A glossary is contained at the end of the book and worth having a copy.

The book at places is heavy in theory but then the book is meant for students who want to take up courses in critical thinking. If you can skip some of the theory, it makes a great self-study.

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