Critical thinking textbooks are a particular genre of "improve your thinking" books. They are in many ways a distinctively North American phenomenon. These books are written with a specific academic audience in mind -- students in college and university classes that are devoted to teaching critical thinking.
That means that they're designed to be used in a classroom setting with an instructor, for students who have completed high school and have been accepted into a post-secondary academic institution.
One virtue of textbooks is that they're written for students with no previous background and they make an effort to teach the material and not just present it.
That's why I always recommend to anyone interested in improving their critical thinking skills to pick up one or two decent textbooks on Amazon and keep them on their bookshelf for reading and reference.
The main problem with textbooks is that they're often too narrow in their disciplinary focus. So they tend to be very strong in some areas and very weak, or entirely lacking, in other important areas.
For example, I make a big deal about the importance of learning about the psychology of human reason and judgment, including cognitive biases and their impact on critical thinking.
Yet very few critical thinking textbooks have good discussions of this subject, and many have NO discussion at all.
This is why I also recommend getting a separate book on cognitive biases.The stand-alone books are much more informative than anything I've encountered in a critical thinking textbook.
Critical Thinking Courses in North American Colleges and Universities
The texts themselves are usually authored by university academics, and in most cases -- especially if they actually have the words "critical thinking" in the title -- by academics whose professional training is in philosophy and who teach in philosophy departments. These textbooks usually feature principles of basic logic and argument analysis that are familiar to philosophers, and there is an expectation that these classes will be taught by philosophers.
This is indeed the case in the United States and Canada, but it is not necessarily the case elsewhere in the world.
There are in fact very few places in the world where you can find a class called "critical thinking", outside of North America. Many programs claim to teach critical thinking and writing skills to students, but they don't have particular classes dedicated to "critical thinking".
Critical thinking classes are an American innovation. They have several roots. One is the emergence of courses on "informal logic", an outgrowth of frustration among younger academic philosophers in the US during the 1960s over the perceived lack of relevance of what they were teaching to the growing social concerns of the day, such as the civil and women's rights movements, and the Vietnam War. These academics wanted to teach principles of good reasoning that were relevant to assessing real-world social and political debates.
Another source of influence in the 1980s was the growing interest in critical thinking across a range of distinct educational and practical contexts -- critical thinking and psychology, critical thinking and the media, critical social theory, critical thinking and education, and so on. Work in these areas was generally done by scholars in these respective fields, and often quite different from work being done by philosophers. On campuses it lead to a "critical thinking across the curriculum" movement, where colleges and universities began to embrace the rhetoric of critical thinking as an institutional objective.
Nevertheless, in most cases, these institutions only offer a single dedicated course on critical thinking, and most students aren't required to take it. Many institutions have a general education "critical thinking" requirement for the undergraduate degree, but it can be satisfied by some combination of ordinary courses (philosophy, english composition, science, math, etc.).
They're Part of a Larger Academic Textbook Industry
Still, there are enough dedicated critical thinking courses that there is a reliable audience to purchase critical thinking textbooks, and so we have seen the rise of a textbook industry within the North American market, with different publishers competing for dominance.
There is money to be made in this industry. Success has gone primarily to people who got into the game early, and who are comfortable working within the rules set by the large commercial publishers who have a virtual monopoly in the market.
It can be an immoral and exploitive industry, with inflated prices and mandatory new editions every few years with no justification and no meaningful changes between editions.
But it has produced some interesting critical thinking textbooks.
You Should Get One Or Two Critical Thinking Textbooks For Your Critical Thinking Bookshelf
I recommend to anyone interested in critical thinking to pick up one or more used or out-of-date editions of textbooks on Amazon. The latest editions of the most popular textbooks can be criminally expensive, but you'll get just as much value out of the earlier edition for a fraction of the price.
The most valuable feature of a dedicated critical thinking text is that you'll be exposed to a wide range of topics and principles between the covers of a single book. All of them will cover basic principles of logic and argument analysis. All of them will cover formal and informal fallacies. All of them will cover some set of applied topics -- scientific reasoning, critical thinking and the media, etc. I cover a lot of these topics in the video courses on the Academy site, but it's always helpful to see how different authors tackle these subjects.
I'll Give You My Thoughts On the Textbooks in This Section
One of the downsides of textbooks is that they often obscure the perspective and goals of the author's approach to the subject. And when they do share how their approach is different from others, students aren't in a position to really appreciate it since they have no context to really understand what's being said.
In the following entries I offer some comments on a few of the critical thinking textbooks I have on my shelves. This is only a fraction of them -- I used to be sent new ones from publishers every year when I was teaching in the classroom, so you accumulate quite a variety -- but each of the ones I list here adopts a particular perspective on the topic of critical thinking, and I always learn something from trying to understand these different approaches.
Note: I'm not necessarily recommending any one text over another, they all have strengths and weaknesses. But I will tell you what I think of those strengths and weaknesses.
Critical Thinking has to do with asking questions that are not prompted by a teacher, and solving problems that don't necessarily have a right answer. It involves taking a closer look, examining the truth in advertising, revealing the layers of ideas in politics, finding new interpretations in literature, exploring logic and philosophy. It is about learning to think for oneself, developing reasoning skills, being able to figure out problems and understand situations that are designed to deceive.
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- The Critical Thinking Community (the Foundation for Critical Thinking) has a lot of useful resources.
- The Critical Thinking Co.
One parent says, "Just about everything we've used from Critical Thinking Press has been superb. At younger ages, the Building Thinking Skills books are good; at older ages the Critical Thinking in U.S. History is fabulous, and a good friend raves about the Constitution book by CTP. One of the nice things about CTP is that they have a lot of applied critical thinking books, so that if your child particularly enjoys science (or math, or some other subject) you can find a book that teaches skills in that area. My kids all liked the MindBenders series, but they're pricy for the length of the book; find a friend to split the cost. Note that if you go to the CTP web site the homeschool prices are lower than the standard prices. You can also sometimes find the books used."
- Critical Thinking Web from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong.
- eIMACS (electronic Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science). The online EIMACS curriculum is very solid and self-paced for mathematical logic (which underpins a lot of higher-level math), and you can get high school honors credit for the classes.
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- The Fallacy Detective, 36 Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning, by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn
- Introductory Logic by Douglas Wilson and James Nance. Part of the Mars Hill Textbook Series.
- Lady or the Tiger? And Other Logic Puzzles Including a Mathematical Novel That Features Godel's Great Discovery by Raymond M. Smullyan (lfor math logic)
- Media Literacy: Thinking Critically About Advertising by Peyton Paxson is a high school-level book that can be adapted to younger ages. It takes an in-depth look at advertising tricks and techniques, and opens the eyes to what's going on in print, TV, and radio advertising. Homeschoolers who use mass transit will find lots of examples in real life for applying this!
The Mars Hill logic text and the Bluedorns' Fallacy Detective book are both done from a Christian perspective. One parent's opinion: both Mars Hill and Fallacy Detective are okay, not spectacular.
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Games & Puzzles
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