Christopher Chelpka

Review of Think Again: How to Reason and Argue by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Every so often I find it helpful to read a book about reasoning. It was about that time again when Alan Jacobs recommended Think Again: How to Reason and Argue in his newsletter, so I decided to get a copy.

Here’s what @ayjay said about the book:

“In my book How to Think, my goal was to encourage my readers towards a thoughtful disposition rather than give them methodical guidance. But since my book came out, Walter Sinnot-Armstrong has published Think Again, which provides a lot of that step-by-step direction, and does so very well indeed. When I was giving a talk at Duke last year I met with Walter and his students, and I was pleasantly surprised at how neatly our books converged.”

I had previously read and enjoyed Jacobs’ book, so this seemed like a great idea.

Sinnott-Armstrong’s book is an introduction to the principles of good reasoning. He teaches you how to identify, analyze, evaluate, and make arguments. He helped me remember things I had forgotten and understand some things I was unclear on.

In addition to addressing how to reason and argue, Sinnott-Armstrong explains why it’s important. One reason is that civil, reasoned discussion, “gives us more chance of arriving at mutual understanding and respect as well as true beliefs and good policies.” (46) It has the potential to reduce polarization.

“Most people see arguments as ways to persuade other people or to beat them in some kind of verbal fight, debate, or competition. That view is not all wrong, but it is limited and incomplete. Some people do present arguments as displays of prowess or power, but arguments can also play more constructive roles in social interactions.” (56)

Learning how to reason and argue can teach us how to “get beyond name-calling and figure out how strong an argument really is”; we aim to “reconstruct the argument as charitably as possible and then ask how strong it is in its best form.” (199) In this way, arguments can lead to good results like learning, humility, and compromise..

By teaching how to do more than merely assert, Think Again can help you reach those noble goals.