Student Review: Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The Use of Reason in Everyday Life

September 17, 2009

Authors: Nancy M. Cavender and Howard Kahane

Edition: Eleventh

Publisher: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Pages: 432

Price: £26.99

ISBN: 9780495804130

Good reasoning and critical thinking are essential for any philosophy student, both while studying and as a selling point to future employers. Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric attempts to "help students improve their ability to reason well about problems in everyday life and issues that are debated in the social/political arena". In this task, it partially succeeds.

The book is split roughly in two.

The first half covers the formal structure of arguments, whether arguments are inductive or deductive, and argumentative fallacies.

The second half focuses on practical advice for writing essays and understanding media and political rhetoric.

Both are clear and thorough in their exposition. It is good to see a practical element in philosophy textbooks to give an idea where the skills gained in philosophy can be applied outside academia.

Each chapter offers exercises on the relevant subject content. You are unlikely to leave any chapter without both "know-that" and "know-how".

The book is up to date, with frequent references to the recent US elections. This may be a false virtue, however, as such material dates quickly. Although the example material is current, it is unimaginative. Similar textbooks use examples ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Yugoslavian civil wars. The examples in this textbook are all from current American politics, which becomes tiresome after 30 pages. It is hard to focus when greeted with yet another "Obama said this" and "McCain said that".

Moreover, some of the subject content is irrelevant for philosophers. Collecting scientific data never occurs in philosophy, nor is a small sample a type of argumentative fallacy. The confidence in the scientific method is misplaced, as this is one method that philosophers attempt to undermine.

Who is it for? This is a book that may be worth buying for first-year philosophy students seeking to hone their argumentative skills - but only if there is no alternative.

Presentation: Generic.

Would you recommend it? Only in the absence of other textbooks covering this material. I would not recommend the book for course material, nor for more advanced philosophy students.

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