Learning to think rigorously for oneself is one of the most important intellectual duties in life. Critical thinking confers many benefits, including the ability to solve problems, to live independently, and to discover truth. Unfortunately, I am concerned that much of formal education today, especially in the social sciences, involves ever-increasing doses of indoctrination and sometimes even full-blown propaganda.1
I believe the way to successfully battle this growing ideological stronghold is to teach people to think critically for themselves. As a logic instructor I seldom, if ever, tell students what to think (what position to adopt as the conclusion of their argument). Instead, I attempt to help people learn how to think (to order their thinking according to principles of logic). Aristotle defined logic as “ordered thought”—that is, thinking and arguing in a manner consistent with the laws of logic and the rules of rational inference.
Studying logic and critical thinking is crucial for anyone preparing to pursue a genuine education because it empowers the learner to properly evaluate truth claims. Again, logic, of all academic disciplines, teaches a person how to think instead of what to think. It is similar to the saying of making people self-sufficient by teaching them how to fish rather than merely giving them a fish. The best education provides valuable tools for students to become sufficient and independent when facing questions and challenges.
I have been teaching college courses in logic and critical thinking for thirty-plus years. The textbook I use is Logic: The Essentials by Patrick J. Hurley. I used an earlier version of this book when I started studying logic as a college student back in the early 1980s, and I have since used Hurley’s logic texts for most of my teaching career.
Patrick J. Hurley has served as a professor of philosophy at the Catholic institution San Diego University for many years and now holds the position of emeritus professor of philosophy. With doctoral degrees in both philosophy of science and law, Hurley has written a couple of textbooks on logic and critical thinking.
As its title conveys, Logic: The Essentials presents the basics of studying the discipline of logic and critical thinking. Divided into multiple parts, Hurley’s text introduces the student-reader to informal, formal, and inductive logic. Informal logic involves basic principles in analyzing reasoning (arguments, definitions, fallacies). Formal logic reflects deductive reasoning that is characterized by deriving logically certain conclusions (categorical propositions and syllogisms). Inductive logic involves arguments that seek probably true conclusions (analogical, scientific, and legal reasoning).
What makes Hurley’s textbook worth reading and studying, especially for students new to logic, is the great clarity in which he presents the ideas. Logic: The Essentials explains logical reasoning in an accessible, organized, and lucid manner. Moreover, the examples, especially in the section on informal fallacies, present real-life scenarios and are popular enough for the student to develop skills distinguishing good arguments from fallacious ones. While other textbooks may be more rigorous, Hurley’s work is ideal for the student who is just beginning the study of logic and critical thinking. And while Hurley’s text may sometimes reflect an element of his own thinking on controversial issues, overall his work is fair and evenhanded.
A unique feature of Hurley’s textbook is what he has entitled “10 Eminent Logicians.” These are thinkers who have made great contributions to the development of logic. In one edition, six of the ten logicians were Christians or closely associated with theism.
In addition to all the qualities mentioned above, another advantage to using Hurley’s text is that the paperback version is reasonably priced at a time when textbooks are extremely expensive. Readers can also check with their local library to see if the book is available to borrow (in print or digitally).
As seekers of truth, it behooves all of us to become critical, discerning thinkers. To discover the truth, all of us must be able to weigh arguments and reject faulty reasoning in favor of sound reasoning. Logic: The Essentials can be a big help in that critical process.
Reflections: Your Turn Have you taken a class in logic and critical thinking or read a book on the topic?
Along with Hurley’s fine work, see my discussion on logic in my book A World of Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), chapters three and four.
- See my Reflections article, How to Discern Education vs. Propaganda.