Thinking to Some Purpose  book cover
1st Edition

Thinking to Some Purpose

ISBN 9781032155951
Published June 30, 2022 by Routledge
294 Pages

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Book Description

"I am convinced of the urgent need for a democratic people to think clearly without the distortions due to unconscious bias and unrecognized ignorance. Our failures in thinking are in part due to faults which we could to some extent overcome were we to see clearly how these faults arise. It is the aim of this book to make a small effort in this direction." - Susan Stebbing, from the Preface

Despite huge advances in education, knowledge and communication, it can often seem we are neither well-trained nor well practised in the art of clear thinking. Our powers of reasoning and argument are less confident that they should be, we frequently ignore evidence and we are all too often swayed by rhetoric rather than reason. But what can you do to think and argue better?

First published in 1939 but unavailable for many years, Susan Stebbing's Thinking to Some Purpose is a classic first-aid manual of how to think clearly, and remains astonishingly fresh and insightful. Written against a background of the rise of dictatorships and the collapse of democracy in Europe, it is packed with useful tips and insights. Stebbing offers shrewd advice on how to think critically and clearly, how to spot illogical statements and slipshod thinking, and how to rely on reason rather than emotion. At a time when we are again faced with serious threats to democracy and freedom of thought, Stebbing’s advice remains as urgent and important as ever.

This Routledge edition of Thinking to Some Purpose includes a new Foreword by Nigel Warburton and a helpful Introduction by Peter West, who places Susan Stebbing’s classic book in historical and philosophical context.

Table of Contents

Foreword to the Routledge Edition Nigel Warburton

Introduction to the Routledge Edition Peter West

Preface to the 1939 Edition Susan Stebbing

1. Prologue: Are the English Illogical?

2. Thinking and Doing

3. A Mind in Blinkers

4. You and I: And You

5. Bad Language and Twisted Thinking

6. Potted Thinking

7. Propaganda: An Obstacle

8. Difficulties of an Audience

9. Illustration and Analogy

10. The Unpopularity of Being Moderate

11. On Being Misled by Half, and Other Fractions

12. Slipping Away from the Point

13. Taking Advantage of Our Stupidity

14. Testing our Beliefs

15. Epilogue: Democracy and Freedom of Mind.


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Susan Stebbing (1885–1943) was a leading figure in British philosophy between the First and Second World Wars. The first woman in the UK to be appointed to a full professorship in philosophy, in 1933, she taught at Bedford College (now Royal Holloway University). She was best known for her work on logic before turning more generally to the study of thinking and reasoning. At a time when analytic philosophy was largely confined to technical questions, her work stood out for engaging with contemporary issues and addressing a wider public audience. Philosophy and the Physicists (1937) and Thinking to Some Purpose (1939) were critiques of the language used in popular science communication and in everyday genres such as political speeches, advertisements and newspaper editorials.