“What would it look like if we taught only the most useful skills from the toolkits of philosophy, cognitive psychology, and behavioral economics?”
That’s a question David Manley, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, asked himself after coming to think that the standard approach to critical thinking courses in philosophy departments was not as effective as it could or should be. His answer is in the form of a new, online textbook that brings philosophy together with other disciplinary approaches to take aim at more common reasoning errors using “the tools best suited to fix them.” In my opinion, this is an important, needed step in the development of critical thinking pedagogy.
In the following guest post*, Professor Manley describes the book, its motivation, and how it has worked out in the classroom.
A New Kind of Critical Thinking Text
by David Manley
- emphasizes acquiring a mindset that avoids systematic error, rather than persuading others.
- focuses on the logic of probability and decisions more than on the logic of deductive arguments.
- offers a unified picture of how evidence works in statistical, causal, and best-explanation inferences—rather than treating them as unrelated.
- There are embedded questions in each section that are auto-graded and ensure the students are doing the readings.
- It offers a really nice UI for students with search and note-taking capabilities, and they can read the text and answer questions on any device.
- It’s pretty cheap: TopHat charges $35 plus a $10 platform fee if the student isn’t using TopHat already.
- Most importantly, any prof who assigns the text can change it however they like. Want the students to skip a section? Just cut it out. Don’t like the wording of a question? Just change it. It’s hard to overestimate how useful this is in a text.
The text is ready for use right now, but I’ll be continuing to improve it, so I’d be very happy to get any feedback. For the next month or so I’ll be working on an additional chapter called “Sources”, about social epistemology in a world of information overload: navigating science reporting, expertise, consensus, conformity, polarization, and conditions for skilled intuition.