"Critical thinking" is a buzz word, and as with most buzz words, it means different things to different people. This results in a great wave of nodding heads that washes over the absence of any real agreement. This handbook is intended to address this absence. In particular, it is intended to supply a single, well-developed perspective on critical thinking, one that privileges clarity, systematicity, and rigor of thought. It is a perspective grounded in the analysis of the practice of argumentation, including both its rhetoric and its logic.
The primary audience for this handbook is the university-level instructor at the University of Idaho who wishes to teach critical thinking skills explicitly in the classroom. I will design and collect applications and exercises with the university classroom in mind, both in terms of the level of discourse and subject matter. However, the materials developed within can be used by teachers at any level who wish to emphasize systematic and careful thinking about arguments in any subject field. In addition, university students can find the discussion useful, especially those parts in Chapters 4 through 7 devoted to the identification, reconstruction, and analysis of arguments.
Except for the first, each chapter contains two sections. The first is a theory section in which elements of the conceptual framework developed in the handbook are described and motivated. These elements include standards of rationality and principles of argument analysis, essential parts of the ability to think critically. The theory section is supported by a dedicated applications section in each chapter. This section contains worked examples, pedagogical strategies, teaching tips, and links.
The target audience for this handbook is a heterogeneous group. Some of you are new to the subject and need to work through the subject in its entirety, those who need a refresher course in some aspects of the subject, and those who will want only to mine the handbook for new and different examples, strategies, and techniques. The handbook is written with this in mind. Those in the first group can read each chapter in its entirety, treating the book as a text on critical thinking and as a teaching resource. Those in the second group can move in and out of the theory sections they need and also draw from the applications sections, treating this as a review text. Finally, the handbook can work as a sourcebook for those in the third group. Each section is written as a self-contained module, allowing you to move about in a way that suits your needs, without losing the narrative thread.
The primary home for this handbook will be the World Wide Web, at http://www.ls.uidaho.edu/morourke/ct. This will permit regular revision and updating, and it will also enable the handbook to serve as a gateway to many other critical thinking resources. One of these resources is an archive of strategies, illustrations, exercises, etc. contributed by members of the University of Idaho campus community and beyond. This archive will be linked to the handbook and will be structured in a way that reflects the organization of the handbook. A hard-copy version of the handbook is available, however. For this, please contact Michael O'Rourke at firstname.lastname@example.org .