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A Short Course in Intellectual Self-Defense Paperback – February 5, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press; 1st English-language Ed edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583227652
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583227657
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

NORMAND BAILLARGEON is Professor of Education Fundamentals at the University of Québec in Montreal, where he teaches on the history of pedagogy and the philosophy of education.

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Massimo Pigliucci on May 31, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Noam Chomsky famously said that citizens in a democracy ought to equip themselves with a course in intellectual self-defense, so not to be duped by politicians, the media, corporate interests and assorted demagogues. Normand Baillargeon's book does exactly that in a marvelously accessible fashion, managing to engage the reader while teaching the basics of critical thinking, from logical fallacies to ways of critically reading the news. Despite its brevity, the volume manages to cover basic numeracy and to provide enough understanding of statistics to add invaluably to readers' arsenal of intellectual self-defense weaponry. This and similar books should be a must read for anyone interested in playing a constructive part in the democratic discourse, or simply in avoiding to be made a fool by people who wield bad arguments and deploy questionable data. I will use it as reading material for an introductory level course in critical reasoning this coming Fall.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By David DN on November 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book is, among other things, a good place to turn after hearing one too many faulty or misleading arguments, or after being attacked by someone who is incapable of taking in new information. The author lists and exposes various categories of faulty reasoning and dishonest arguments such as circular logic, bait and switch, and false dilemma. There are some good reminders here for most of us to sharpen our own thinking.

Another reviewer here has a complaint that I can't completely follow but seems to revolve around the book's author recommending a publication known for strongly anti-Zionist views and which supposedly is unfairly biased toward tyrants, though it's unclear how these two things are connected. (The Zionist issue appears specifically in the back and forth comments section.) At any rate, the reviewer obviously believes that Counterpunch magazine or website should not be recommended and that they contain biased articles in which the actions of tyrants and monsters are forgiven, covered up or endorsed. I would invite any reader who thinks they have the strength to brave such a place to go there, read, cross check information, find out for themselves.

I feel lucky that I was brought up to understand that nothing is automatic and nothing is assumed. I don't think you can say "motherhood is good" or "families are good" without explaining yourself and logically defending that point of view with specificity. If you try you quickly find that these statements are only partly true--or only true under certain conditions. Black and white thinking is illogical and ultimately insane.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bazza on April 5, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the illuminating things that you discover when you study statistics and logic formally is that peoples' arguments are based on poor reasoning and/or dodgy math (particularly dodgy statistics). This is especially true of much of the arguments of so-called opinion-leaders that are communicated via the media. I suspect that, if you're reading this review, you already have a sense of this as an issue. The great thing about a book like this one is that it can give you the intellectual tools to unpack these arguments to identify their fatal flaws.

Part One of the book describes "some indispensable tools for critical thinking" which is really a discussion about how words themselves can be used to try to manipulate you into thinking one way or another about a subject without you realising it.

Part One then goes on to explain the basic construction of a logically valid argument and why some arguments are invalid purely by their construction (regardless of the merit of the issue being argued for). This is followed by an explanation of the common fallacies in argumentation and is great stuff because the author explains most of these fallacies very well.

After this, Part One deals with math (specifically probability, statistics and graphs, etc) and how it can be used to manipulate people. That said, let me rush to add that this isn't a math textbook so it's not heavy-duty. However, there is enough to give you a grasp of some of the basic issues that will help you to develop a healthy scepticism of the reported results of opinion polls and quasi-scientific research.

Part Two of the book is possibly more challenging.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Aritza on February 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
I can't believe the words frame and framing are nowhere to be found in this book. It is a well known fact in cognitive science that framing of the issues is the main way in which people's are manipulated in our society.
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