I wrote it in ‘A to Z’ form, partly just as a fun device that allows for lots of cross references, but partly because I wanted to draw attention to the names of things. “People seem to get a kick out of the idea of sharing irrelevant features—it might be a birthday or it might be a hometown—with somebody famous. ” The process of writing the book improved my critical thinking quite a lot, because I had to think more precisely about what particular terms meant and find examples of them that were unambiguous.That was the hardest thing, to find clear-cut examples of the various moves, to illustrate them.There are also a huge number of resources online now which allow people to discover definitions of critical thinking terms.
In recent years, it’s been very common to include discussion of cognitive biases—the psychological mistakes we make in reasoning and the tendencies we have to think in certain patterns which don’t give us reliably good results.
That’s another aspect: focussing on the cognitive biases is a part of what’s sometimes called ‘informal logic’, the sorts of reasoning errors that people make, which can be described as fallacious. Some of them are simply psychological tendencies that give us unreliable results.
But one of the ways of doing it is to have memorable labels, which can describe the kind of move that somebody’s making, or the kind of reasoning error, or the kind of persuasive technique they’re using.
For example, you can step back from a particular case and see that somebody’s using a ‘weak analogy’.
You can read all the interviews he's done here (not all are about philosophy). Before we discuss your book recommendations, I wonder if you would first explain: What exactly is critical thinking, and when should we be using it?
There’s a whole cluster of things that go under the label ‘critical thinking’.I coined some of the names myself: there’s one in there which is called the ‘Van Gogh fallacy,’ which is the pattern of thought when people say: ‘Well, Van Gogh had red hair, was a bit crazy, was left-handed, was born on the 30th of March, and, what do you know, I share all those things’—which I do happen to do—‘and I must be a great genius too.’ That’s an obviously erroneous way of thinking, but it’s very common.I was originally going to call it the ‘Mick Jagger fallacy,’ because I went to the same primary school as Mick Jagger (albeit not at the same time).The critical thinker is someone who recognises the moves, can anatomise the arguments, and call them to attention.So, in answer to your question: critical thinking is not just pure logic. But its aim is to be clear about what is being argued, what follows from the given evidence and arguments, and to detect any cognitive biases or rhetorical moves that may lead us astray.As long as they’re used in a precise way, this can be a good thing.But remember that responding to someone’s argument with ‘that’s a fallacy’, without actually spelling out what sort of fallacy it is supposed to be, is a form of dismissive rhetoric itself.That’s a kind of informal reasoning error that many of us make, and there are lots of examples like that.which was meant to name and explain a whole series of moves and mistakes in thinking.Or, to use the example of weasel words—once you know that concept, it’s easier to spot them and to speak about them.Social media, particularly Twitter, is quite combative.