I recently came across a rather odd critical thinking book, Madsen Pirie's How To Win Every Argument. I was initially drawn to it because, like my own Thinking from A to Z, it is arranged alphabetically (from A to Y in his case - it turns out that his is based on an earlier book of his, The Book of the Fallacy, which pre-dates mine). Although superficially similar to Thinking from A to Z in some respects, How To Win Every Argument is very different in orientation. It reminded me of a line from David Hume's Enquiries:
'Nothing so like as eggs; yet no one, on account of this apparent similarity, expects the same taste and relish in all of them'
Pirie's book is offensive in at least two senses. First, it advocates critical thinking as a quasi-martial art - so it is offensive rather than defensive. Equipped with knowledge of bad moves in argument, he believes the reader can become less defensive and go out on the attack, winning every argument. This would be fine if the way of winning arguments recommended was by using the tools of critical thinking appropriately. But, perhaps as a marketing ploy, Pirie goes further and suggests in his Introduction that his book will give you the power 'to deceive with maximum effect' (p.x). He declares that in the hands of the wrong person 'this is more of a weapon than a book' and that he has written it with that sort of person in mind.
In other words, Pirie is all for using the language of critical thinking as a kind of rhetoric. The point is to win the argument by any means. This is completely against the spirit of critical thinking as I understand it. Pirie's offensive take is exemplified by his suggestion that readers should learn obfuscatory Latin names of fallacies because
'When an opponent is accused of perpretrating something with a Latin name it sounds as if he is suffering from a rare tropical disease. It has the added effect of making the accuser seem both erudite and authorative'
Pirie's advocacy of such smokescreens leaves a nasty taste. I find it offensive,though perhaps it is simply a defensive move designed to draw attention away from the archaic labels he gives to many of the moves. Of course Pirie might just be ironic in his suggestions throughout about how to be devious. But most readers of the book won't spot this. Despite this, there are some good entries in this curate's egg. It might make good raw material for an exercise in separating rhetoric from reasoning.