Jason Southworth and Chris Swoyer
Teaching critical reasoning is difficult. So is learning to reason more carefully and accurately. The greatest challenge is teaching (and learning) skills in such a way that students can spontaneously apply them outside the classroom once the course is over (teaching people to apply skills in the classroom can be hard enough, but clearly isn’t a worthwhile goal in itself).
We (the authors) have learned a good deal about these matters from the students who took courses using earlier drafts of this book, and from colleagues who’ve taught from it. But one key theme of this book is the importance of actually checking to see what the answers to complicated empirical questions are, rather than blithely assuming we know, and that applies to teaching critical reasoning as much as to anything else.
One lesson is clear, though. Reasoning is a skill, and there is strong evidence that (like any skill) it can only be acquired with practice. It is important that students work to apply the concepts and principles in a wide range of situations, including situations that matter to them. It is equally important that those teaching critical reasoning design their assessments to model situations and cases where these skills will be of use in real life.
Different routes through the book are possible. One of our colleagues covers virtually the entire book in a single semester. Most of us omit some chapters, however, and the book is designed to accommodate somewhat different courses. A more traditional course would spend a good deal of time on parts two and four (arguments and fallacies), whereas a less traditional course might omit fallacies altogether and focus more on cognitive biases or social aspects of reasoning. It is also possible to go into probability in more or less detail, although we are convinced that some familiarity with basic probabilistic and statistical concepts is extremely useful for much of the reasoning we commonly do. One can teach this without worrying about calculating a lot of probabilities; indeed, it is important for students to see how the basic concepts apply in cases where precise numbers are unavailable, i.e., in almost all cases they will encounter outside the classroom. Still, doing some calculations will deepen students’ grasp of the basic concepts. Sections at the end point interested students toward specific applications of the tools of this book to other areas of philosophical interest, and a brief introduction to formal logic is included to allow courses that combine both inductive and deductive logic to use a single text.
The Republic of Plato is one of the classic gateway texts into the study and practice of philosophy, and it is just the sort of book that has been able to arrest and redirect lives. How it has been able to do this, and whether or not it will be able to do this in your own case, is something you can only discover for yourself. The present guidebook aims to help a person get fairly deep, fairly quickly, into the project. It divides the dialogue into 96 sections and provides commentary on each section as well as questions for reflection and exploration. It is organized with a table of contents and is stitched together with a system of navigating bookmarks. Links to external sites such as the Perseus Classical Library are used throughout. This book is suitable for college courses or independent study.
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