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Daily Assignments

Spring Semester, 2019

You'll find on this page all the preparatory work that needs to be completed prior to coming to class in order to be ready for our class work and discussions.


This assignments listed here are subject to change. Please bookmark this page and return to it prior to completing the work for the next class. I regularly revise and update the syllabus and course assignments based on our progress in class and whatever relevant material arises in the media. I don't recommend printing this page but you should return to it regularly and regularly refresh your browser to ensure you are viewing the most up-to-date page. 

 Introducing the Course: What is Critical Thinking

The Foundation for Critical Thinking operates a very good website with lots of material on critical thinking. I especially recommend that you read "Becoming a Critic of Your Own Thinking." It contains lots of useful advice.

Weds/Jan 22

  • Introduction to Critical Thinking: Pennsylvania and Cell Phone Bans

    • During the first two weeks of the semester we will exercise our critical thinking abilities by examining the issue whether the state of Pennsylvania should prohibit the use of cellphones while driving, including banning drivers from even holding mobile devices while driving.

  • READ: Cell Phone Ban

    • Take some time to familiarize yourself with some background material regarding cell phone bans for drivers. You might consider searching for more up-to-date information addressing the issue whether there should be a total ban on cellphone use while driving.

    • Be sure to come to class prepared with access to all relevant course material.

  • WATCH: Texting While Driving

  • THINK: Do you think all cell phone use should be banned for drivers? Does the PSA from the UK provide an argument for not texting while driving?

Fri/Jan 24

  • Discussion of Course Requirements and Syllabus

  • DISCUSSION: Cell phone bans for drivers.

  • READ: Student Arguments Addressing Cell Phone Ban

  • HOMEWORK FOR TODAY {This is your first homework assignment of the semester. You start out with a perfect 100 points at the beginning of the semester. If you complete all your homework assignments, you'll keep that perfect score at the end of the semester. You can either handwrite or type your homework. Be prepared to turn it in at the end of class.}: Review the two student arguments. Identify which argument you think is a stronger argument and some of the elements that make it a stronger argument.

CHAPTER 1: What Is an Argument? (And What Is Not?)

We begin to focus on identifying arguments and distinguishing between arguments and non-arguments. We will also work on identifying the underlying issue in a dispute. The most important ideas in this chapter are:

  • Arguments can be given for our beliefs, and the fact that we have opinions and 'have a right to our opinions' does not preclude giving such arguments.

  • These arguments can be better or worse and we can reach informed judgments about what makes them better or worse.

  • To offer an argument for a claim, C, is to put forward other claims, PI, P2, etc, as reasons supporting C.

  • The premises are supposed to support the conclusion; the idea is that one reasons from the premises to the conclusion.

Mon/Jan 27

Today we will work on developing some criteria for distinguishing between passages that do and do not contain arguments. 

Weds/Jan 29

In today's class, we'll focus on two things:

  • We'll begin to exercise our skill in composing arguments, keeping in mind the criteria we developed in the previous two classes. This might be a good time to confirm that you are taking good notes while in class. Do you have notes from Friday's and Monday's classes? Use them as you begin to think about developing your own argument.

  • We'll continue to talk about distinguishing arguments from non-arguments, focusing on distinguishing arguments and explanations.

  • READ:


    • Write a brief 250 word argument in which you address the issue whether the state of Pennsylvania should pass a law    prohibiting the use of cellphones while driving, such as recommended by the NTSB.

Fri/Jan 31

Our focus in today's class will be identifying and focusing on the correct issue in a controversy or debate. Remember to come to class prepared with access to all relevant course material. We'll also read our first extended argument today, an op-ed from The New York Times.

  • READ:


    • Read "Sell the Tiger and Save It" . What do you think is the primary issue of this op-ed? State it in the form of a whether statement: "Whether..." Does the author provide an argument in support of his position? Can you identify the main conclusion and the main supporting premises? The conclusion will look similar to the issue statement you identified.

Don't get discouraged! Critical Thinking is hard and takes lots of practice. That's why we do lots of homework in this course--it's a lot like learning a new skill such as riding a bike or pitching a ball. It takes lots of practice.  For an interesting take on struggling to master difficult material, listen to (or read--or both!) "Struggle for Smarts: How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning." Think about what we can learn as critical thinkers from this piece.

CHAPTER 2: Pinning Down Argument Structure

In the next week of our course, our focus will be on learning how to put arguments in standard form, identifying their premises and conclusion and placing them in a standard pattern. The most important ideas in this chapter are:

  1. Before evaluating an argument, we have to understand it.

  2. Standardizing arguments, representing their premises and conclusions in clear language and structured order, is fundamentally important for understanding them.

  3. Discourse that includes argument may also include material that is not part of the argument.

  4. Arguments may contain subarguments.

  5. Arguments may contain unstated premises and conclusions.

  6. Visual images may be accompanied by arguments, but a picture by itself may not constitute an argument.

Mon/Feb 3

The focus of today's class will be working on standardizing arguments, learning how to put arguments in standard form.

  • READ:

    • Govier: Pages 22 - 31. Govier works through several arguments and models for us how to standardize an argument. As you read, be sure to pay close attention to these examples from the textbook. They are very helpful. For instance, pay attention to the example on page 29 about science and the example on page 30 about Descartes, where Govier works through how to go from a passage to a standardized argument.

    • Supplementary material for chapter 2 pages 1 - 3


    • Exercise 1 (p. 32), #4, 7, 14 (Remember: when an exercise is starred in the textbook, it is answered in the back of the book and you do not need to complete it. You might want to test yourself against those exercises by completing them and then checking your work with the answers in the back of the book.)

    • READ "My Valuable, Cheap College Degree" and identify the author's core issue and standardize the core argument according to Govier's guidelines (page 31).

Intelligence Squared Debates

Over the course of the semester, we will be using material from the debate podcast IQ2US Debates to sharpen our own skills of critical thinking and debate. Check out their website and begin to read a bit about the site and the debates they have hosted. We'll select a topic to focus on for the next couple of weeks.

Weds/Feb 5

  • READ:

  • HOMEWORK: Standardize the arguments in the following passage, putting them into standard form according ot Govier's guidelines.

    • Exercise 2 (p. 39), #1, 6

    • Exercise 3 (p. 46), #4, 7

    • Exercise 4 (p. 50), #10, 11

Fri/Feb 7

  • READ: 

    • Pages 51 - 55

    • Review Chapter 2 and the strategies for standardizing arguments.

  • You should listen to or watch the IQ2 debate on "Swipe Left: Dating Apps Have Killed Romance" and begin to review some of the research collected on the website. Note that you can watch the full debate online and you can listen to an edited podcast. You can also access the full transcript of the debate online.


    • Exercise 5, (from the textbook) #8, 13

    • READ Paul Krugman's op-ed "Raise that Wage" and standardize his core argument. Remember, when standardizing the argument of an op-ed, we'll focus on the main or core argument and disregard any subarguments.

CHAPTER 4: When is an argument a good one?

Chapter 4 PPT Presentation

Fundamental themes in this chapter:

  1. The definition of a cogent argument in terms of the ARG conditions.

  2. The distinction between a cogent argument and one that is sound in the sense of having true premises that deductively entail the conclusion.

  3. A preliminary explanation of the ARG conditions.

  4. The R and G conditions can be satisfied in different ways: deductive validity, inductive strength, analogy, conductive reasons.

  5. The conception of the challenge of argument and how one may fail to meet it.

  6. The quality of much discourse is vastly improved if people meet the challenge of argument instead of dodging it.

Mon/Feb 10

​We'll begin to acquire an understanding of the basic elements of evaluating an argument, using Govier's ARG conditions. As you read the first section of Chapter 4, pay attention to Govier's discussion of different argument types.

  • READ:

    • Govier (p. 93): Exercise 1. Follow the instructions, but let's also exercise our skill at standardizing the arguments. In addition to identifying the type of argument, standardize the argument. Remember, you don't need to complete the exercises that have a *.

    • Let's examine Eric Klinenberg's argument in his round one comments on dating apps. You can find a transcript of round one on our Moodle site. Let's assume his conclusion is "Dating apps have killed romance." For your homework, standardize his argument and determine what type of support Klinenberg develops for his conclusion. We will then evaluate the argument in class using Govier's ARG conditions.


  • READ:

    • Govier, pages 94 - 100

    • On these pages, Govier works through several examples of argument evaluation using the ARG conditions. You should study these examples carefully. They provide good models for the process of using the ARG conditions to evaluate arguments.

  • Review:


    • Exercise 2, #2, 8, 12

    • Think about how you are using the ARG conditions and the steps you are going through in the analysis or arguments. We'll analyze an argument step-by-step in class.

    • Standardize Tom Jacques' argument in "Swipe Left" and evaluate it using the ARG conditions. Do you think his argument is cogent?

Fri/Feb 14

  • READ: Govier, Chapter 4, pages 103 - 106. Pay attention to what Govier has to say about confirmation bias--a significant problem for critical thinking.


    • Use the ARG conditions to evaluate THIS ARGUMENT.

    • Standardize Manoush Zomorodi's argument in "Swipe Left" and evaluate it using the ARG conditions. Do you think her argument is cogent?

Mon/Feb 17

  • READ:  Finish reading Chapter 4 if you haven't already done so, paying close attention to Govier's discussion of the dialectical context (page 111) and her instructions for exercise 4 (page 112).

  • Homework:

    • Standardize Helen Fischer's argument in "Swipe Left" and evaluate it using the ARG conditions. Do you think her argument is cogent?

Weds/Feb 19

  • REVIEW: We'll continue to work on mastering the skill of using the ARG conditions to evaluate arguments. Review Govier's recommendations for using the ARG conditions and review some of the example arguments she assesses in chapter 4. These serve as good models for what your own work should look like. 

  • HOMEWORK: Write a brief 250 - 300 word argument in which you address the issue "Whether Dating Apps Are Killing Romance." Your essay should be typed. Make sure to bring a hardcopy of your essay to class.

Fri/Feb 21

Exam One: Covering Chapters 1, 2, and 4

Your first exam will be available online by Friday and will be a take home exam that will be due in class on Monday, Feb. 24.

CHAPTER 5: Premises: What to accept and why

Chapter 5 PPT Presentation

Some of the key ideas from this chapter we need to master include the following:

  1. The distinction between truth and acceptance, acceptance and acceptability.

  2. The notion of background knowledge and its role in determining whether a premise is acceptable.

  3. The role of credibility, testimony, and authority in determining whether a premise is acceptable.

  4. The conditions for deeming a premise unaccectable.

  5. Identifying fallacious appeals to authority. We need to rely on experts and yet should be cautiously skeptical about their claims.

  6. It is sometimes deemed worthwhile to provisionally accept premises "for the sake of argument."

Intelligence Squared Debates: TBD

Mon/Feb 24

Eye of the Beholder: In this section of the course, we have been examining how to determine whether claims are acceptable. One factor we discussed has to do with claims based on observation or eyewitness testimony. In 1953, these perceptual matters were explored in an episode of GE Theatre titled "Eye of the Beholder," now available on YouTube. It's a bit cheesy, but worth watching and thinking about.

Weds/Feb 26

Today we will discuss what makes claims unacceptable.

Are our perceptual claims credible? Is your memory a credible basis for believing a claim? Many of the claims we take to be true we do so on the basis of perception and memory. And yet both can be seriously faulty. For a fascinating take on the problems of perception and memory, check out the Frontline documentary: What Jennifer Saw. Frontline includes an interview with Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology who is a leading researcher on the fallibility of memory. Read her excellent article Creating False Memories.

Fri/FEB 28

Today we will focus on eyewitness testimony and credibility as we begin to develop standards for assessing unsupported claims.

Over the break, take some time to watch or listen to the Intelligence Squared Debate: Smart Technology is Making us Dumb

A critical thinker needs to be aware and up-to-date regarding the day's news and events but also has to be a critical consumer of the news media. One of my favorite NPR's shows is "On The Media," which weekly analyzes and critically evaluates the news media and its coverage of the week's events, all the while being informative and entertaining. I highly recommend it. You can visit their web site here or subscribe to their podcast via iTunes.

Mon/Mar 9

Today we will continue our discussion of credibility, focusing on the news media and testimony from authorities.

The definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.

Emergent is a real-time rumor tracker. It's part of a research project with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University that focuses on how unverified information and rumor are reported in the media. It aims to develop and best practices for debunking misinformation. 

CHAPTER 3: Looking at Language


The most important ideas in this chapter are:

  1. People will sometimes seek to avoid the need for reasons and evidence when arguing by stating points in emotionally loaded language.

  2. The use of emotionally loaded language is not, in itself, any sort of mistake or rhetorical trick.

  3. It's useful to note the assumptions incorporated into the language one uses.

  4. It is important to recognize and distinguish between vagueness and ambiguity.

  5. Arguments appealing to what is or alleged to be natural are common in advertisements, in discussions of medicine and health, and in policy debates.

  6. Dictionaries are not the final word so far as definitions are concerned. They are the first word and they can be argued to be flawed if ordinary language counter-examples can be found. Philosophical points can rarely if ever be established by appealing to dictionary definitions

Weds/Mar 11

Today, we'll turn to some material from Chapter 3 to further understand what makes claims unacceptable: emotionally charged language, vagueness and ambiguity, and language that employs a variety of rhetorical devices called slanting devices.

Fri/Mar 13

We'll continue to work on identifying cases of vagueness, ambiguity, slanting devices and other problems that render claims unacceptable. You should also familiarize your self with the material in Internet sources and the news media included in Govier and the supplementary material from Chapter 5 

Mon/Mar 16

  • READ:

  • Relevance PPT Presentation


    • Govier, page 152: Exercise 1: Part A and Part B (remember you can skip those that are starred)

    • IQ2 Debate: Review the opening statement from David Weinberger on "Smart Technology is Making Us Dumb." Remember that I have posted a transcript to Moodle where you can read his opening argument. Can you standardize his core argument? Remember that in focusing on the CORE argument, we may need to do some editing. Your standardized argument should not include background knowledge and should focus on Weinberger's core claims. Consider his premises. Are they acceptable? What kind of argument does Weinberger develop? Can you apply the R condition to his argument?

Weds/Mar 18

Fri/Mar 20

  • Review material on fallacies. You might want to consult Logically Fallacious.

  • Homework:

    • Chapter 6, Exercise 2 (the entire exercise, except those answered in the back of the book), Exercise 3: #13, 15

    • IQ2 Debate: Review the opening statement from Andrew Keen on "Smart Technology is Making Us Dumb." Remember that I have posted a transcript to Moodle where you can read his opening argument. Can you standardize his core argument? Do you think his argument is cogent?

Fallacies on Video

If you fancy yourself a video learner, you might be interested in checking out some of the YouTube videos on some of the fallacies appearing in Chapter 6:


Learning Outcomes:

  • Identify and understand the distinction between deductive and inductive arguments

  • Make use of the terms logical entailment, deductive entailment, and validity in evaluating the relationship between premises and conclusion

  • Identify common valid and invalid argument patterns

  • Evaluate deductive arguments using the ARG conditions

Mon/Mar 23

Weds/Mar 25

READ: Deductive Arguments

Fri/Mar 27

  • Review the material on Deductive Arguments


Mon/Mar 30

  • Review the material on Deductive Arguments


    • Additional Deductive Argument Exercises

    • Write an approximately 250 word essay in which you address the issue "whether smart technology is making us dumb." In your essay, employ a deductive argument in support of your conclusion.

EXAM TWO: Covering Chapters 1 - 6 and deductive arguments

Your second exam will be available on Moodle and via e-mail prior to class on April 1. It will be a take-home exam and will be due on Tuesday, April 7.

CHAPTER 9: Inductive Arguments and Statistical Reasoning

Textbook PPT Presentation

The key topics treated in this chapter are:

  1. The nature of induction.

  2. The distinction between the sample and the population and the importance of identifying what the population is supposed to be in reports of studies.

  3. The notion of a random sample and the fact that in actual practice, samples never are random in this technical sense.

  4. The notion of a representative sample; the fact that a representative sample offers some approximation of what randomness would provide (but only an approximation); the fact that to determine what would constitute a representative sample one needs to rely on one's background knowledge.

  5. The notion of a biased sample; students sometimes think the sample should be chosen with the conclusion in mind and may, for that reason, come to think that (eg.) a sample to see how interested people are in literature should be taken from literature students. This might be one of the few topics in the chapter that would pose difficulties.

  6. The qualifications that need to be introduced when a statistical generalization is applied to an individual case.

  7. The various fallacies.

We need to select a final issue from the Intelligence Squared Debates to analyze in this third part of the course. Take a look at their website and be prepared to recommend and vote on a final issue.

Weds/Apr 1

Today's class will focus on an introduction to inductive generalizations.

Fri/Apr 3

  • READ: There's no reading assignment today. Review the material on evaluating inductive generalizations.

  • HOMEWORK: There is no homework today.  We'll work on inductive generalizations exercises in class, page 9 from the supplementary material, # 1 - 5.

Mon/Apr 6

Polls are commonly used in the context of inductive generalizations, so today we will focus on learning how to critically review polls.

Weds/Apr 8

We'll add to our list of fallacies a series of fallacies common to inductive reasoning.

Fri/Apr 10: BREAK​​

CHAPTER 10: Causal Inductive Arguments

Chapter 10 Textbook PPT Presentation

Key themes:

  1. Picking out causal claims and understanding that they require justification and that giving an adequate argument to support them is a challenge.

  2. The distinction between correlation and cause.

  3. The prevalence, in media reports of studies, of the inference from correlation to cause or the confusion of correlation and cause through the use of such words as "linked" and "associated."

  4. The  idea of Inference-to-the-Best-Explanation.

  5. The idea that in IBE arguments and thus in causal arguments, one needs a basis for ruling out alternative explanations.

  6. The ideas of falsifiability and plausibility.

  7. The various fallacies with regard to causal reasoning.

Mon/Apr 13: Break

Weds/Apr 15

Today we will work on some basic aspects of critical thinking about statistics.

Fri/Apr 17

Today we will focus on developing and testing causal hypotheses using a series of methods first developed by the philosopher John Stuart Mill.

Mon/Apr 20

We'll turn to experimental studies in science to establish causal hypotheses and review some basic procedures for evaluating such experimental studies and the critical examining scientific studies and reports.

  • READ:​

  • WATCH: Ben GoldacreBattling Bad Science: Every day there are news reports of new health advice, but how can you know if they're right? Doctor and epidemiologist Ben Goldacre shows us, at high speed, the ways evidence can be distorted, from the blindingly obvious nutrition claims to the very subtle tricks of the pharmaceutical industry.  Ben Goldacre unpicks dodgy scientific claims made by scaremongering journalists, dubious government reports, pharmaceutical corporations, PR companies and quacks.


    • Write a brief paragraph (approximately 250 words) in which you identify three lessons a critical thinker can take away from Goldacre's lecture on battling bad science.

    • Can prayer heal? Turn to pages 15 and 16 of the Chapter 10 Supplementary Material and review the two reports on prayer and healing. Write a brief paragraph in which you compare and contrast their strengths and weaknesses (which argument is stronger and better supports its conclusion?) and address the issue whether prayer can heal.

Weds/Apr 22

Today we will add to our list of fallacies those fallacies that deal with causal arguments.

CHAPTER 11: Analogies: Reasoning from case to case

Chapter 11 Textbook PPT Presentation

Key themes of this chapter are:

  1. Identifying what an analogy is.

  2. Analogies serve as the basis of a distinct type of argument, but not all analogies are the basis for argument; some are expository devices and others serve in explanations, for instance.

  3. The difference between a priori (or logical) and inductive analogies.

  4. The importance of identifying the primary subject (the main topic/what the conclusion is about) and the analogue in order to understand the analogy.

  5. The need to use the notion of relevance when examining similarities and differences between the primary subject and the analogue.

  6. The fact that for inductive analogies, the facts about the cases are important and tend to cumulate in significance.

Fri/Apr 24

We turn to our third type of inductive argument: arguments from analogy. There are two general types of arguments from analogy and in today's class we will focus on developing critical strategies for evaluating a priori analogies.

Mon/April 27

Today we will review the basics of the second class of arguments from analogy: inductive analogies.

Weds/APR 29

More fallacies! Yes, we need to familiarize ourselves with fallacies that are peculiar to arguments from analogy.

Final Writing Assignment

Instructions for your final writing assignment have been e-mailed to you and are available on our Moodle course site,

CHAPTER 12: Conductive Arguments and Counterconsiderations

Chapter 12 Textbook PPT Presentation

Key themes:

  1. Development of the conception of conductive argument and convergent support, and of relevant methods of evaluation.

  2. Development of the notion of counterconsideration.

  3. Counterconsiderations explained as frequently occurring within conductive arguments in which ‘pros’ or reasons for are cited and the question of whether there are ‘cons’ or reasons against very readily arises.

  4. Counterconsiderations as, in effect, an objection to an argument; this idea as applying not only to conductive arguments but to all the other types.

  5. You do not weaken your case by acknowledging one or more counterconsiderations or objections to it.

  6. If you acknowledge such objections and are able to address them effectively, you strengthen your case and your own credibility.

  7. Learning to think in terms of positions, objections, responses to objections and (when appropriate) amended positions can improve one's mental flexibility.

  8. Confirmation bias.

  9. Sensitivity to the fact that there are degrees of merit in arguments; it is not a matter of perfection or no support whatever.

Fri/May 1

Mon/May 4

Final Essay and Exam Three

Your Final Exam and Final Essay are both due by XXX

Exam Three and Final Essay: Due as a hard copy in my office HUM 154 by XXX. No late exams will be accepted.

Thinking Like Sherlock Holmes

What does Sherlock Holmes have to do with critical thinking? According to Maria Konnikova, quite a bit actually. Konnikova is the author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes and her lessons on Holmes' habits of mind parallel many of the best features of the spirit of inquiry. For a brief outline of Konnikova's account of Holmes' methodology, see How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. Konnikova's book started out as a series of blog posts for Scientific American and you can still read many of her posts. I encourage you to check out a few that may be of interest to you:

CHAPTER 6: Relevance

Textbook PPT Presentation

  1. While the notion of relevance may be hard to explain and grasp, it is indispensable in argument interpretation and evaluation and, indeed, in all of thought.

  2. The R condition in ARG requires positive relevance.

  3. When disputes arise about whether or not X is relevant to Y, you should be able to give reasons in support of your judgments about that matter, i.e. 'X is positively relevant to Y because...' or 'X is not positively relevant to Y because...'.

  4. When examining arguments with regard to possible fallacies, the labels are not the most important thing. It is convenient to have these labels, and they serve to put a person on the alert. However, the crucial issues about argument evaluation are elsewhere. What are the premises? What is the conclusion? Are the premises positively relevant to the conclusion? Why or why not? You should learn to give some basis for their judgment, and that basis should not simply be the application of a label.

  5. Differences about relevance are sometimes due to differences in the interpretation of a passage (i.e. different assumptions about what key terms mean, or different understandings of which statements constitute premises and which constitute conclusions)

Chapters 5 and 6 include a lot of information on fallacies and bad arguments. For an inventive take on identifying bad arguments, check out An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi. Here, for instance, is the fallacy Straw Man:
Fallacies on the Web

There are a number of excellent websites on fallacies and if you are interested in more information on any of the fallacies we are studying in this course, you might check out one or more of the following:

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