Book 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).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?

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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.

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.

Once you’re familiar with the notion of a weak analogy, it’s a term that you can use to draw attention to a comparison between two things which aren’t actually alike in the respects that somebody is implying they are.

Then the next move of a critical thinker would be to point out the respects in which this analogy doesn’t hold, and so demonstrate how poor it is at supporting the conclusion provided.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.I suppose that would fall under rhetoric, the art of persuasion: persuading people that you are a deeper thinker than you are.Good reasoning isn’t necessarily the best way to persuade somebody of something, and there are many devious tricks that people use within discussion to persuade people of a particular position.There are also a huge number of resources online now which allow people to discover definitions of critical thinking terms.When I first wrote , there weren’t the same number of resources available.People are often looking for critical angles on things that people have said, and you’re limited in words.I suspect that labels are probably in use there as a form of shorthand.I included logic, some cognitive biases, some rhetorical moves, and also (for instance) the topic of pseudo-profundity, whereby people make seemingly deep statements that are in fact shallow.The classical example is to give a seeming paradox—to say, for example ‘knowledge is just a kind of ignorance,’ or ‘virtue is only achieved through vice.’ Actually, that’s just a rhetorical trick, and once you see it, you can generate any number of such ‘profundities’.


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