I had a tremendously positive response to the review of Asking the Right Questions, so I thought I’d give you a review of another book on critical thinking. The purpose of this book is to introduce to an educated, but non-specialized audience, strategies for reasoning as well as producing and evaluating arguments. The authors clearly believe that it is possible for a wide audience to be able to become better reasoners as well as better evaluators of arguments presented to them from a variety of sources. Throughout the book, the authors cite the ancient Greeks, because it was they who were the first to attempt to systematize the art of argumentation and reasoning. Another motivation for writing this book, as explained by Dr. Eberly, was to emphasize the value and the power of reasoning over violence. Some would say that our society has become more and more violent, and people are generally more apt to resort to violence than to reason. To confront this possibility, Dr. Eberly has offered a chapter on being a “citizen critic,” one who contributes to the life of the democracy in a positive and edifying way.
The book is divided into eight chapters. The first seven chapters deal with formal principles of reasoning and argumentation. At the outset, the authors state that reasoning is essential to the ability of humans to get along with each other. Rather than focusing on winning or losing, absolute certainty, or persuasion, reasoning is about thinking clearly through a particular issue. The first chapter focuses on clarifying what reasoning is, and it tries to help the audience come to a fuller and more helpful understanding of the terms reasoning, argument and rhetoric. The second chapter continues to offer definitions of some elements of reasoning, particularly invention. The purpose of this chapter is to give the reader some tools to become more effective reasoners, both internal and external.
Chapters three though seven deal with the questions of stasis in turn: conjecture (chapter 3), definition (chapter 4), cause and consequence (chapter 5), value (chapter 6) and procedure and proposal (chapter 7). According to the authors, every claim that is encountered can be understood in terms of one of these stases. Each chapter gives several examples of each stasis occurring in real-time situations, definitions of primary and secondary terms related to each stasis, and practice exercises at the end of each chapter so that the reader can begin to recognize and master each stasis question.
In chapter eight, the issue of becoming a citizen critic is raised and addressed. The authors continually stress the importance of becoming an effective critic, and Dr. Eberly is particularly interested in placing preference upon reasoning over violence. The book is a handy tool because it is a practical guide providing the reader with concrete examples and paradigms for effective reasoning. The last chapter seeks to provide further concrete ways to become a more effective and active citizen, using rhetoric as a tool. Much space is given to laying out examples of logical fallacies, in order that the reader may spot common tricks used in reasoning. The primary goal of the chapter is to make a plea to readers to refrain from simply sitting back and dumbly absorbing the waves of information that the mass media offers, but to critically evaluate that information, and become part of the solution.
The book is a valuable guide to becoming a better reasoner. It makes no assumptions on the audience, except that it is reasonably intelligent and motivated to think more critically. While the book is written to benefit a college rhetoric class, it is designed to appeal to a much broader audience. Rather than serving as simply an academic treatise, the authors hope to make a positive impact upon the general population.
Corbett, Edward P. J. and Rosa A. Eberly. The Elements of Reasoning, 2d. edition. Boston: Allynand Bacon, 2000.