Preface to First Edition

The study and teaching of critical thinking (also known as informal logic) is relatively rare in Australia. There is little to guide the keen student or teacher in the development of skills for analysis and reasoning in everyday work and study The orientation of most of the available books on this subject is more traditionally logical, and this orientation further complicates the process of teaching and learning applied critical thinking skills, since it tends to remove the use of reasoning and logical analysis from even its most basic social contexts.

Smart Thinking is designed to provide a simple, but not simplistic, guide for the development of critical thinking and analytical skills. It combines the undoubted strengths of the informal logical approach with a newer—but often-overlooked— insight: that reasoning and analysis are always communicative acts. I would not pretend that one can easily resolve the epistemological tensions between, on the one hand, the commonly held commitments to objective judgment and truth that underpin 'logic' as a mode of analysis and, on the other, the social relativism and intersubjectivity that a communicative-theory approach demands. However, from a pragmatic point of view, there is considerable profit to be gained from letting these two distinct approaches jostle alongside one another. Moreover, for all my attempts to keep competing epistemological ideas to a minimum in Smart Thinking, the book cannot remain purely practical'. Simple advice on 'better thinking' rubs up against deep and important matters of philosophy in a way that, I hope, creates a constructive interaction between the ease with which one can begin to improve one's thinking and the complexity of thinking about smart thinking.

While I myself work theoretically within post-structuralist frameworks, Smart Thinkings bias towards communicative issues stems primarily from the very practical experiences I had in developing and teaching a critical thinking unit (Applied Reasoning 200) at Curtin University of Technology in Perth. On the basis of my experiences with many hundreds of students, I am confident in asserting that it is wrong to divorce analytical thinking from its communicative context. Outside the narrow confines of some academic disciplines, communication takes place on a viii mainp - softvnn.com vast scale, with far too little critical analysis to support it. It is precisely at the junction between 'knowledge as something one knows' and 'knowledge as a function of communication' that most of us need assistance in sharpening up our thinking skills.

My work in Applied Reasoning 200 has not only helped my own development as a critical thinker but has given me the opportunity to test ideas and approaches on a captive audience. So, my first debt of gratitude is to all the students who have, in so many ways, contributed to the writing of this book. Applied Reasoning 200 also became the focal point for a series of collegial relationships from which I have benefited enormously. For their assistance, insights (and perseverance with often impractical ideas), my thanks are extended to Patrick Bertola, Gina Koczberski, Des Thornton, and especially, Eamon Murphy, all of Curtin University. Thanks also to Will Christensen, Dennis Taylor, and Roy Jones for their positive encouragement as heads of academic departments. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Richard Bosworth, who some years ago, when I began to study at university, first taught me that critical enquiry involves asking about the 'who', 'when', 'why', and 'how', as well as the 'what' that was the staple of high school study. Michelle Forster and Emma Rooksby provided invaluable research assistance and general help; both are fine young philosophers. Thanks, as well, to my publisher, Jill Lane, and editor, Lucy Davison, of Oxford University Press. Finally, I could not have written this book without the unstinting support and reassurance of my wife Jane and stepdaughter Verity; most of all, they remind me that a person cannot live on logic alone and confirm in my mind that life must be lived, not just with analytical reserve, but also with passion and commitment.

Matthew Allen Perth

September 1996

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