Belmont CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co. 1993
Pp. xiii + 404 + appendices 89
(paper: ISBN 0-534-17688-7)
Adopting the scoring values – one to four stars ["★"] – used by Leonard Maltin for assessing films, this textbook in critical thinking earns ★★★½, a scant half-point shy of the highest possible rating. The full four-point rating ("exceptional", "outstanding") is held in reserve for the next, the eventual second, edition.
Immediately in chapter 1, "Making Logical Choices", one sees that this book is different from an overabundance of virtually indistinguishable and undistinguished competitors. The very first example is not an argument to a truth-valued conclusion but a case of practical reasoning to the making of a choice between alternative courses of action. Far too many authors of contemporary texts in informal logic – keeping an eye on the sorts of arguments found in books on formal logic – forget, or underplay, how much of our daily reasoning is concerned not with arguments leading to truth-valued conclusions but with making choices, assessing reasons, seeking advice, etc. Dowden gets the balance and the emphasis right. The earlier part of the book (chapters 1-8) is situated squarely within the 'new' rhetoric, invoking the core concepts in reasoning conceived as a dialogical rather than a strictly logical (read "formal") exercise. This first half of the book is given over to developing such concepts as deception, persuasion, misleading reports, rules of discourse, ambiguity, vagueness, imprecision, pseudoprecision, burden of proof, description, explanation, argumentation, and (the tension between) principles of fidelity and charity, etc. The more traditional fare, with the introduction of familiar logical terminology – e.g. "premise", "consistency", "implication", "validity", etc. – is postponed until later in the book (chapters 9-11). The last part of the book (chapters 12-14) – which is, incidentally, a quantum jump in difficulty – introduces more technical notions, viz. concerning statistical reasoning, causal connections, and scientific theorizing. There is ample material in the first 11 chapters for a one-semester course; one can, if pressed for time, omit chapters 12-14. The apparatus of the sentential calculus is relegated to the appendices. Dowden clearly sees this as a book about reasoning, not as an introduction to formal logic or to symbol manipulation.
Dowden adopts a conversational style, a style fraught with hazard, and succeeds brilliantly. A year ago, in a wide-ranging Introduction to Philosophy course, I adopted a textbook also written in a conversational style. I thought the style of that earlier book entertaining; some of my students did not: they thought it condescending and banal. But there were no such complaints about Dowden's book which I have just used in a Critical Thinking course taught to more than 300 students. Their end-of-the-semester critiques of Logical Reasoning are laudatory to an extent that I have never before seen in nearly 30 years of teaching. Virtually without exception, every student in the course gave the text rave reviews, many of them writing that they read it in their spare time just for sheer pleasure!
There is, however, a downside to the conversational style. Students for whom English is a second language, more exactly, students whose grasp of oral prose is not that of native speakers, will find some of this book hard to understand. They are likely not to catch the irony of some sentences and the playfulness of others. Instructors should beware of this problem at the outset.
In one way the book is deceptive. Its relaxed style belies the breadth of its content. I was amazed at the end of chapter 1 where Dowden reviews the major points of the chapter: he has managed painlessly to introduce some 23 important concepts. By the way, the frequent "Concept Checks", "Reviews of Major Points", etc. are well done and a boon for students. (If, as the Reverend Colton claimed, imitation is the sincerest flattery, then the graphic designer of the third edition of Moore and Parker's Critical Thinking is complimented: Wadsworth has to a large extent mimicked his design. [One must suppose that copyright does not extend to layout.]) There are many aptly-chosen delightful cartoons throughout. I found the picture on p. 115 especially funny.
This book has been a long time in development. It was honed over a period of 18 semesters before being published. And what one gets when one adopts this text is not just a textbook; there are three bonuses: a Teacher's Manual (far better than most), an MSDOS software package for constructing multiple-choice examinations drawn from a database of questions provided (it should be relatively easy to move the database of questions to a Macintosh platform since the files are pure ASCII), and access to the author himself via the Internet. The latter proved especially valuable to me. Dowden and I engaged in numerous and lengthy discussions about the material in this book.
The exam-creating software, Trilogy, is handy but not essential. Indeed I found it easier to read the provided files of sample exam questions directly into my word-processor and to 'massage' them there into the format I favor for examinations. (Dowden promises to have greatly enlarged the database of sample questions by summer of '94.)
It should be possible to design several different styles of course around this text. Having so many students, I had to forgo assigning practically all of the longer 'writing- exercises' in the book and had to make do with the many multiple-choice homework assignments. Instructors with (enviably) smaller classes will be able to utilize the writing- exercises.
There is a perennial problem with treating the 'classical' fallacies. Discussing them and assigning homework exercises on them tends to give students a false sense of security and accomplishment. (The number of fallacies one runs across in newspapers, advertising, conversation, etc. defy our abilities to codify.) In chapter 6, Dowden has elected to discuss a sampling of fallacies (a sampling that strikes me as rather arbitrarily selected) while he consigns a residue to Appendix A. The division between the two lists is artificial and instructors will probably want to assign Appendix A if they assign chapter 6.
Assign chapter 7, "Argumentative Writing", with caution. My guess is (I haven't asked Dowden) that it was included because the publisher wanted to 'touch all bases'. While everything it says is alright, it is just too brief to do the job needed. When I next use this text, I will skip chapter 7.
Here and there in the text there are a few explications offered that some professional philosophers will surely dispute, viz. about the concepts of knowledge, presupposition and enthymematic arguments, logical necessity and impossibility, inductive arguments, and competing accounts of validity. Students, however, are unlikely to find any problems with the analyses offered, and indeed the analyses are not dissimilar to those in many other introductory books. However, they are slated for revision in the second edition which, then, will surely merit an unqualified ★★★★-rating. In the meantime, one should not forebear adopting this book. Even now, it sets a new high standard. Its US origin, with its preponderance of US examples, should not deter Canadian instructors. Its excellence in other ways offsets its lack of significant Canadian content.
Simon Fraser University