Think Again: How to Reason and Argue

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Course Date: 25 August 2014 to 17 November 2014 (12 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

Reasoning is important.  This course will teach you how to do it well.  You will learn how to understand and assess arguments by other people and how to construct good arguments of your own about whatever matters to you.


Estimated Workload: 5-6 hours/week

Course Instructors

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong is Chauncey Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics in the Philosophy Department and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University and Core Faculty in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. He has served as vice-chair of the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association and co-director of the MacArthur Project on Law and Neuroscience. He has published books on moral theory, philosophy of religion, theory of knowledge, and informal logic. His current research focuses on ways that psychology and neuroscience can illuminate moral beliefs and moral responsibility. He has regularly taught a course on reasoning for three decades.

Ram Neta

Ram Neta is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published dozens of articles on various topics in epistemology, including the nature and extent of our knowledge, the constraints that rationality imposes of on our states of confidence, the sorts of considerations that can serve as evidence for us, and how arguments for skepticism can come to seem compelling. He has also edited a number of recent and forthcoming volumes in epistemology. His current research focuses on understanding how epistemic constraints on an animal’s representational states can be determined by the essential properties of the species to which the animal belongs.

Ram Neta

Ram Neta is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published dozens of articles on various topics in epistemology, including the nature and extent of our knowledge, the constraints that rationality imposes of on our states of confidence, the sorts of considerations that can serve as evidence for us, and how arguments for skepticism can come to seem compelling. He has also edited a number of recent and forthcoming volumes in epistemology. His current research focuses on understanding how epistemic constraints on an animal’s representational states can be determined by the essential properties of the species to which the animal belongs.

Course Description

Reasoning is important.  This course will teach you how to do it well.  You will learn some simple but vital rules to follow in thinking about any topic at all and some common and tempting mistakes to avoid in reasoning.  We will discuss how to identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments by other people (including politicians, used car salesmen, and teachers) and how to construct arguments of your own in order to help you decide what to believe or what to do. These skills will be useful in dealing with whatever matters most to you.

FAQ

  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

    Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • What resources will I need for this class?

    Only a working computer and internet connection.

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

    Nasty names (equivocator!) to call people who try to fool you with bad arguments.

  • What are people saying about this class?

    Here are some remarks from students that have taken the class: 

    “I'd like to thank both professors for the course. It was fun, instructive, and I loved the input from people from all over the world, with their different views and backgrounds.”

    “Somewhere in the first couple weeks of the course, I was ruminating over some concept or perhaps over one of the homework exercises and suddenly it occurred to me, "'Is this what thinking is?" Just to clarify, I come from a thinking family and have thought a lot about various concepts and issues throughout my life and career...but somehow I realized that, even though I seemed to be thinking all the time, I hadn't been doing this type of thinking for quite some time...so, thanks!”

    “The rapport between Dr. Sinott-Armstrong and Dr. Neta and their senses of humor made the lectures engaging and enjoyable. Their passion for the subject was apparent and they were patient and thorough in their explanations.”

    The course has also been featured in a number of news articles and news reports.  Here are links to some of these:

    Raleigh News and Observer Article - January 20, 2013

    "How Free Online Courses are Changing the Traditional Liberal Arts Education" PBS Newshour - January 8, 2013


Syllabus

PART I: HOW TO ANALYZE ARGUMENTS

Week 1: How to Spot an Argument
Week 2: How to Untangle an Argument 
Week 3: How to Reconstruct an Argument 
Quiz #1: At the end of Week 3, students will take their first quiz. 

PART II: HOW TO EVALUATE DEDUCTIVE ARGUMENTS

Week 4: Propositional Logic and Truth Tables 
Week 5: Categorical Logic and Syllogisms 
Week 6: Representing Information
Quiz #2: At the end of Week 6, students will take their second quiz. 

PART III: HOW TO EVALUATE INDUCTIVE ARGUMENTS

Week 7: Inductive Arguments 
Week 8: Causal Reasoning 
Week 9: Chance and Choice 
Quiz #3: At the end of Week 9, students will take their third quiz. 

PART IV: HOW TO MESS UP ARGUMENTS

Week 10: Fallacies of Unclarity 
Week 11: Fallacies of Relevance and of Vacuity 
Week 12: Refutation 
Quiz #4: At the end of Week 12, students will take their fourth quiz.

Format

Each week will be divided into multiple video segments that can be grouped as three lectures or viewed separately. There will be short exercises after each segment (to check comprehension) and several longer midterm quizzes.

Suggested Reading

Students who want more detailed explanations or additional exercises or who want to explore these topics in more depth should consult Understanding Arguments: An Introduction to Informal Logic

Course Workload

5-6 hours/week

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