1992, Books, Non-Fiction

A Practical Study of Argument (1992) by Trudy Govier

I’m still not quite sure this textbook found its way into my reading pile. My best guess is that it came from the trove from my former boss. (I can almost hear him quoting the book.) Regardless of where it came from, I really didn’t know what I was in for. I didn’t know, for example, that it was a textbook.

The first and final chapters feel written for high school students, which is a big problem for me but probably not for a intro university course. I really thought hard about giving up during the first chapter, as I felt like I was not the audience and I felt a little like I was being condescended to. Fortunately, I stuck with it.

I say fortunately because the rest of the book is a remarkably thorough and methodical examination of how human beings should argue. There are brief summaries of deductive logic, analogy and inductive reasoning/statistics (though the latter is presented with very little math because this is meant for social science students). What’s impressive is the breadth of the material, the practical approach to analysis and the refusal to get bogged down in theoretical issues that, say, logic textbook would dwell on.

I wish I had taken a class in high school that had used this book as its base and I think it should be more commonly taught. These are fundamental ideas that not everybody learns. And if you spend any time on the internet, you will see that very few people seem to have any idea how to argue properly. Something like this, made mandatory to teenagers, would help at least ease a major problem our society has. (You might say, well if we just teach these nuts how to argue, they’ll be harder to debunk. But I think the opposite is true: if people understand proper arguments at 16, they might not fall for bunk in the first place when they’re 30. Well, I can hope.


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