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PHL 101
 

 

CRITICAL THINKING

Instructor:

Dr. Bob Zunjic




Office Hours:
By Appointment

Phone: (401) 874-5499
E-mail: szunjic@uri.edu


Course Description:

Critical Thinking is an introductory course in the principles of good reasoning. It covers pretty much the same subject as what is usually taught in practical logic, informal reasoning or the study of argumentation. This means that the main focus of the course lies in arguments, their nature, their use and their import. In this regard, a course in Critical Thinking comes very close to the study of classical Logic as it pertains to our natural language.

However, there are two major differences. First, unlike Logic, which strives to spell out universal formal rules of correct reasoning which inevitably at one point leads to symbolic calculus and mathematics, Critical Thinking is more concerned with the unruly nature of real argumentation that does not allow unambiguous and definite formalization. Second, while Logic purports to be the most scientific discipline of philosophy that studies arguments as given results of reasoning no matter how do they arise in real communication, Critical Thinking is more of an art that seeks to evaluate our judgments and examine the process of making them in a particular historic and social context.

The above features make Critical Thinking at once less formal and more dynamic than Logic. While Logic prefers clear cut solutions, Critical Thinking should be more sensitive for the complexity of controversial issues and therefore more concerned to consider them from different points of view and aspects.

The present course is designed to serve as a methodical preparation for more effective reasoning and improved cognitive skills. Its ambition is to develop those intellectual dispositions that are essential for effective evaluation of truth claims as well as for making reasonable decisions based on what we know or believe to know. It is more about the quality of our beliefs and the reasons that support them than about their content. Thus conceived, it prepares students to tackle all kinds of problems including those important questions that do no allow an easy and definitive answer. What it offers comes down to the most rational way of resolving those problems for which all relevant information is not available but which need to be addressed here and now. In brief, this course is about the best available method of dealing with the complexity of life and language under the constraints of our limited knowledge and resources.

The course includes the following areas of study:

  1. Introductory: Concepts, Propositions.
  2. Language and Its Uses: Truth and Validity
  3. Definitions
  4. Recognizing Arguments: Premises and Conclusions
  5. Logical Analysis and Evaluation of Arguments.
  6. Fallacies and Methods of their Debunking.
  7. Categorical Propositions and Categorical Syllogisms
  8. Inductive Reasoning.
  9. Applications in Everyday Communications, Media and Science.

Course Texts:

(1) Greg Bassham, William Irwin, Carl, Henry Nardone, James M. Wallace, Critical Thinking, 2nd edition, McGraw Hill, Boston, Toronto 2004.
(2) Irving Copi, Carl Cohen, Introduction to Logic, 12th edition, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River 2005.

The course is based on these textbooks and their incorporated or accompanying materials. We cannot cover all the included topics nor do we intend to, but the books should be utilized as wider resources for additional exercises and various applications. There is an accompanying Web site that includes an Internet-based study guide for the first book. You can visit this site at http://www.mhhe.com/bassham2e. There you can find chapters outlines, glossaries, self-quizzes and links to some interesting readings. The second book also has an accompanying Web site located at http://www.prenhall.com/philosophy. It features an online tutorial and interactive exercises. In addition the latter book includes a CD-Rom tutorial (e-Logic) with a treasury of over 800 exercises (and solutions) that are ideal for both classroom work and for self-quizzing.

Format:

This course combines lectures, interpretive exercises in the assigned texts and practical logical exercises, classroom discussions, pop quizzes, tests, mind-teasers and exams. No matter what the form of a particular class may be, we shall be doing basically one and the same thing: careful analysis of arguments and their validity.

Objectives:

The main goal of this course is to enable participants to recognize both the need and the complexity of good reasoning, to teach them how to deal argumentatively with real dilemmas and ambiguities of human language, and finally, to provide intellectual tools for more rigorous self-reflection and critical assessment of other people's arguments. If this goal is achieved the participants should be in a much better position to provide convincing reasons in support of their conclusions and to identify personal prejudices and other impediments to an effective communication. More specifically, after completing this course participants should be able to recognize arguments, discern their components, arrange them in a standard logical form, identify their types, assess their evidentiary basis, detect potential fallacies and evaluate their strength.

Requirements:

(a) Students are expected to do all weekly assigned readings and exercises on time and as thorough as they can. By rule, the assigned exercises are taken from primary sources that are very complex and hence require both significant interpretive and critical skills in order to be properly done. A thorough logical analysis is a prerequisite for acquisition of these skills that, for their part, provide foundation for a good reading ability. We shall read and discuss a great number of exercises in class, but always as a continuation of your individual work, not as a substitute! Therefore, prepare for classes and always bring your book! You need also to visit the accompanying web-sites for additional exercises and self-assessment quizzes.

(b) Students are also expected to do home assignments dealing either with more complex or more general issues in good reasoning (suggested by the course text "for discussion" or "enrichment"). These assignments require the analysis and use of both quantitative and qualitative data to test the validity of given truth claims. The assessment of validity and soundness of arguments will rely mostly on qualitative procedures while doing different forms of calculation (truth-tables, predicate and probability calculus) makes use more of quantitative data. Doing these assignments shall demonstrate your ability to analyse selected arguments and to evaluate their upshot. They are due for the Midterm and Final exam respectively. The suggested scope is 2 pages but you can extend your analysis over that limit.

(c) Even though this course is more about correct thinking than good writing its ultimate goal is to assist participants in making good oral and written presentations. Hence practicing how to express arguments in writing is an inherent part of our course work and students are strongly encouraged to contact me either during my office hours or via email to get additional clarification on written assigments both before and after their submission.

Exams:

There will be two exams including one final. They will consist of multiple choice and short essay questions.

Grading:

First Exam: 25%
Second Exam: 25%
Home Assignments: 15%
Class Tests: 15%
Class Participation: 20%

Regular attendance and participation are extremely important in this class owing to many class exercises that cannot be made up individually at home. Working exercises and taking part in class discussions are included in the participation grade. Permission to be excused from a scheduled exam will be granted only for serious medical or personal reasons and must be properly documented. More than two unexcused absences may affect the student's final course grade.

Disabilities: Any student with a documented disability is welcome to contact me early in the semester so that we may work out reasonable accommodations to support your success in this course. One should also contact Disability Services for Students.

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