CRITICAL THINKING AND REASONING

PHI 102, Sec. 055: MW 10am-11:15am in WRI C311
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Fall 2007

Professor: James Woodbridge
email address:
Course Webpage: http://faculty.unlv.edu/jwood/unlv/Phil102.htm
Office Hours:  T 11am-12:30pm, W 3pm-4:30pm, and by appointment
Office: CDC 426
Office Phone: 895-4051
Dept. Phone: 895-3433


I. COURSE DESCRIPTION

This is a course about reasoning, one of the most definitive of human activities. When we reason about an issue we try to determine whether we should believe something by considering what reasons there are for believing it. We want to believe something only if it is true, so we want to know what justification there is for thinking it is true (i.e., for believing it). Giving reasons for believing something is offering support for it, that is, arguing a case or making an argument. In addition to considering arguments when deciding whether to believe something, we offer arguments to convince other people to believe things (and they give us arguments to convince us of things). An argument, then, is like a solidified reasoning session, so we can examine and assess reasoning by examining arguments. This is what we will focus on in this course: learning to examine arguments, to figure out how they are supposed to work and to learn how to assess them and determine whether they amount to good or bad pieces of reasoning. We will do this mainly by considering real arguments that have been given in attempts to convince people of various claims (political, economic, religious, philosophical) and applying a systematic method of argument analysis. We will also learn about the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, about some standard forms of these two types of reasoning, about the criteria of good reasoning for each, and about some common reasoning mistakes people make (fallacies). The overall aim is to provide students with a method for identifying, understanding, and evaluating any piece of reasoning they might be given (whether here, in another class, or out in the real world), and to teach them how to construct good arguments of their own.


II. REQUIRED CLASS MATERIALS

Books:

Fisher, Alec. The Logic of Real Arguments (Second Edition). Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press,
        2004.
Weston, Anthony. A Rulebook for Arguments (Third Edition). Indianapolis:  Hackett Publishing, 2000.

The books for the course are available at The UNLV Bookstore.

There is also a required computer program called Araucaria, available for free at http://araucaria.computing.dundee.ac.uk/version3_1/

III. CLASS REQUIREMENTS AND GRADING SCHEME

Requirements .............................................Percent of Final Grade

Participation................................................................10%
Homework..................................................................15%
Two Quizzes...............................................................20%
Midterm Exam............................................................25%
Final Exam..................................................................30%

About the Requirements:

Participation—This requirement is designed to take into account contributions during class (e.g., asking questions, suggesting moves in argument analyses done in class, etc.) and improvement throughout the term.

Homework—Every week there will be a homework assignment due by 3pm on Friday (early submission is always welcome). The homework serves to provide practice with the techniques presented in class, so it is crucial that you keep up with the assignments. They will mostly consist of argument analyses done on the computer with the Araucaria program, although you will also have to construct your own arguments later in the term. No late homework will be accepted.

The Two Quizzes—There will be a two in-class quizzes during the term, one before the Midterm and one between the Midterm and the Final.  The quiz questions will include problems like those on the homework assignments (but here written out by hand), as well as questions concerning definitions and concepts we have covered.

The Midterm Exam—There will be a timed, in-class Midterm in mid to late October.  The Exam questions will include problems like those on the homework assignments, as well as questions concerning definitions and concepts we have covered.

The Final Exam—There will be a timed, in-class Final Exam given during our scheduled exam time.  Because of the nature of the course material, the Final will essentially be cumulative, but it will emphasize the material from the latter half of the course.  Again, the Exam questions will include problems similar to those from the homework as well as some pertaining to definitions and concepts.

Note: All requirements must be satisfactorily completed in order to pass the course.

 



IV. CLASS FORMAT

The class will consist mostly of lectures, demonstrations of argument analysis and evaluation techniques, and sample exercises. However, I want to encourage student participation throughout the class--both in the form of questions and in the form of suggestions about how to approach problems we are considering. Class meetings will typically consist of two different (not necessarily equal) parts: one in which I will lecture on the material you have read about for the day and work some sample problems, and one in which I will answer questions about problems from homework or have students work through some analyses in class.


V. TOPICS

Almost all of the readings assignments will be from the textbooks by Fisher and Weston. The reading assignments will be listed on the course webpage by author and page numbers. Texts for homework assignments to be done on Araucaria will be linked there as well. There may also be some additional material distributed on handouts through the course webpage.

The general topics covered in the course will include the following: