This course is designed to bring students to a critical awareness of the function of argumentation in the various forms it takes, both in the academic realm as well as in the everyday world of communication media. Students examine how arguments are constructed and the means that are used to make an argument convincing. They learn to critically analyze arguments in order to detect various uses of language and common fallacies in argumentation.
I like to use Fogelin and Sinnot-Armstrong’s Understanding Arguments to help students develop a method for close reading and analysis of texts of various kinds and learn to apply this method to arguments that occur within different areas of discourse. The method they develop involves: identification and consideration of rhetorical strategies (speech acts, conversational acts); careful reconstruction of the main line of deductive argument; and evaluation of the inductive support offered to establish the truth of crucial premises (common forms of inductive argument, common standards for evaluation, common informal fallacies).
With this method for close reading in place, we then look at texts that exemplify legal reasoning, moral reasoning, scientific reasoning, religious reasoning, and philosophical reasoning. As we do this, we draw attention to the importance of the different standards informing each are of discourse, and of the ways in which certain topics encourage or require us to cross over from one area of discourse to another.
I tend to also add ‘fun’ exercises here and there in the form of logical puzzles, paradoxes, and GRE (LSAT, MCAT) style word problems.