When we first started teaching critical thinking over twenty-five years ago the available textbooks fell into two camps: some were simplified "introduction to logic" texts, while others were little more than rhetoric handbooks fortified with a section on informal fallacies. The first group offered models for critical thinking but provided no material to think critically about. The second analyzed devious ways of persuasion used in everything from advertising to politics. We soon began constructing our own materials for critical thinking, using the stories, news events, and issues that our students encountered in their daily lives. We believed then, and we believe now, that students need to learn critical thinking skills in a variety of contexts and from actual instances, not from concocted textbook examples.
Our approach to critical thinking also has a strong philosophical underpinning. This helps students understand how their own beliefs are formed and how they fit together into webs of belief and ultimately into a view of the world which is shaped by their experience and which shapes their experience. Having this philosophical understanding helps them to monitor their own critical thinking in a new way, and it helps them to understand why we sometimes have arguments with each other. All of this points to our definition of critical thinking which is open rational dialogue with our friends – and with ourselves.
We include the usual topics found in critical thinking texts such as deductive and inductive reasoning and the fallacies, but we also present critical thinking as anchored in a much broader philosophical context. Thus we include excerpts from Plato, Descartes, and Kant, among others. Moreover, we show how critical thinking applies in such diverse disciplines as history and science. Finally, we conclude Thinking Socratically with a whole section on ethics because, like Socrates, we think critical thinking can help people be better people, not just better critical thinkers.
We have found that students at every level enjoy and benefit from Thinking Socratically. It has been used around the country by students from the undergraduate to the graduate level.
Even teachers in K-12 programs have used earlier editions to teach themselves how to teach critical thinking to their pre-college students. We hope that you will consider using this text if you are not using it already.
Please do not hesitate to contact us at Cabrini College with your comments, questions, and suggestions. We began this text with the desire to make our students better critical thinkers and that is still our goal – to make students everywhere more able to use critical thinking skills in their everyday lives. Our email addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Schwarze and Harvey Lape