PHL101: Critical Thinking
Lanigan Hall 104, MWF 11:15 - 12:25 p.m.
Professor: Craig DeLancey
Office: Piez Hall 225
Office Hours: MW 1:45 -- 3:15 p.m., most Fridays 1:45 -- 3:15 p.m., and by appointment Email:

Past Assignments
26 August.Topic: Introduction; class structure; topics of the course; Plato's Cave; the goal of Critical Reasoning. Assignment: read, if you can: Jowett's translation of Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

29 August. Topic: Kinds of claims. Assignment: read Jowett's translation of Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

31 August. Topics: Kinds of claims; introduction to Observation and observation generalizations; observer bias. Assignment: due, at the beginning of class, on a single page, give one example of each kind of claim. Do not use an example from class, but try to find one in the newspaper or some other print publication. Label clearly the kind of claim it is, and then quote the claim, and list your source.

2 September. Topics: Observation and observation generalizations; mass observations and generalization.

7 September. Topics: Observation and observation generalizations; statistical sample; randomness; representativeness.

9 September. Topics: Observation and observation generalizations; probabilistic generalizations; gambler's fallacy.

12 September. Observation and observation generalizations. Other caveats with evaluation: witness examples. Memory fallibility. Interpretation.

14-16 September. Introduction to Arguments. Introduction to deduction, validity, soundness.

19 September. Argument. Basic connectives.

21 September. Argument. Connectives continued. Symbolizing arguments in English and basic proofs.

23 September. Argument. Connectives continued. Symbolizing arguments in English.

26 September. Quiz 1: observation and the notion of validity and soundness. Study questions include:
  • What kinds of claims are there?
  • What do we mean when we stipulate that we will be concerned primarily with determinate claims? That is, what is a determinate claim?
  • What are some of the sources of claims?
  • What kinds of observations are there?
  • Concerning generalizations made from observations: what is a sample? What is it to be representative? What is a random observation? What are the effects of sample size on our generalizations?
  • What are some of the biases and human failings that occur when we make or evaluate:
    • Particular occurent observation based claims
    • Particular remembered observation based claims
    • Generalization claims
    • Probabilistic claims
  • What is a valid argument? What is a sound argument?
  • What is the truth table for conditionals (if...then... statements)
For the exam, the mean was 37.4 and the standard deviation was 8.4.

28 September. Argument. Truth tables for other connectives.

30 September. Howework: symbolize and make a truth table for the following arguments. Say which one is valid and which invalid. Also, circle the relevant row of the truth table which shows if it is valid or invalid. You will need to use your own common sense to identify the premises and the conclusion.
  • If Katrina is a category five hurricane, then the levees will break. The levees will break. Katrina is a category five hurricane.
  • Either chocolate is good for you or it is bad for you. Chocolate is not good for you. Chocolate is bad for you.
  • Tom will go to London just in case he goes to Paris. Tom will go to Paris and Amsterdam. So, Tom will go to London. [Warning: this requires a table with eight rows!]
  • Congress can raise taxes if they can lower costs. Congress can either lower costs or raise costs. Congress cannot raise costs. Congress can raise taxes. [Warning: this requires a table with eight rows!]
Scale used in grading this assignment: for each problem, 1 point for correct symbolization, 2 points for a correct table, 1 point to saying whether the argument was valid or not, and 1 point for circling the row(s) that showed whether it was valid or not. Class grade: mean 12.6, standard deviation 4.8.
Class topic: review of arguments with truth tables. Example of inference rules.

3 October. Fallacies.

5 October. Fallacies. Also, here's an optional extra-credit assignment that will be due at the beginning of class. Try your hand at using inference rules. Try to prove the following two arguments using just inference rules. We forego the translation step.
Argument 1:
W v T
T --> P

R <--> S
R --> V
Grading was done on a scale of 6 points, 2 for the first and 4 for the second proof.

10 October. Fallacies. Homework: find at least three different examples, each of a different fallacy, in mass media publications. You can print and highlight, but it would be better to copy (cut and paste!) the relevant text and cite the source. Give the relevant text, name the fallacy, and explain briefly why this is an instance of the fallacy. To be handed in at the beginning of class. Class topic: review fallacies; start theory topic.

This was a tough assignment. It's clear that we could have used more time with fallacies -- but the advantage of homework is that we get to see where we are all most confused and can address the confusion. Here's how I graded the assignment. If you used sources on the web that were basically fallacy textbooks, I gave you a zero. That is obviously not what I asked, nor is a logic www site an example of mass media, and it really is tantamount to cheating (or, at the very least, E-worthy laziness). Otherwise, I gave 1 point for handing something in and 1 point per example for having an example. Then, I gave 1 point if I could through painful twists and turns of reason kind of sort of see how your example might be appropriate, or 2 points if it is a nice clear example and/or explained well. Mean was 5, standard deviation of 3. Here are some good examples of fallacies that some of you found.

12 October.Scientific Method. Deductive nomological method with falsificationism. Falsificationism.

14 October. No class.

17 October. Quiz on basics of deductive arguments. Topics will include: what is a valid argument? What is a sound argument? How should we define "and", "or", "if...then...", "...just in case..." and "not..."? That is, what are the truth tables of these connectives? Show an argument is valid or invalid using a truth table. Identify the kind of fallacy in several reading passages (all forms are fair questions: ad hominem, tu quoque, red herring, appeal to ignorance, inappropriate slippery slope, straw man, inconsistent or disputed definition, begging the question, false dilemma, ad populum, genetic fallacy). Please note, I waffled in class on whether I thought you should know the truth tables that define the connectives, or on whether I would include them on the test. I've decided I think you should know them, if only because it is hard to understand the arguments we have made if the meanings/definitions of the connectives are not clear to you already.

The average was a 30, with a standard deviation of 11. Please note the following: among those who did all 3 homeworks, the average was 34; those who did just 2 averaged 29; those who did just 1 averaged 24; and those who did no homeworks averaged 13. Please note that these numbers do not count those people who were too busy to come take the quiz (their zero will count, however, against the final grade calculation, and greatly benefit the curve for those who can wake up before 10:20).

19 October. Scientific Method. Falsificationism clarified.

21 October. Randi! While watching, consider the following questions: what are the cases of unfalsifiable claims that others make to Randi? What are the cases where it seems likely that observer expectation is shaping particular occurent observations? Extra credit: identify and write on a sheet of paper three instances of implicit unfalsifiable claims in the Randi video. The claims will be implicit because they are unlikely to have been stated clearly but are likely to be obvious (e.g., Palm reading can predict your past and future). Explain clearly enough what the implicit claim is, and why it cannot be falsified. Due Wednesday 26 October at the beginning of class.

24 October. Scientific Method. Theory comparison. Discussion of mistakes and observation. Review of the meaning of falsificationism. Complicating the case: the Duhem thesis.

26 October. Scientific Method. Review of examples in Randi. Duhem thesis.

28 October. Scientific Method. Duhem principle. Review.

31 October. Quiz on scientific method. Questions will cover such topics as: Describing the steps of the deductive nomological method (e.g., as a series of steps); Duhem's addition to the method; consequences for a hypothesis when predictions it entails are found false, or when they are found true; criteria of theory comparison, their order of importance, and what the criteria mean; falsifiability; examples of unfalsifiable statements and why they are a problem. Mean was 28.8, standard deviation was 15.

2 November. Reports. The difference between evaluating reports and our other evaluations (especially of arguments). A series of observations and hypotheses: media consolidation, cost cutting and the effects on information recycling; silent consent to editing.

4 November. Reports. Observations and hypotheses continued. Introduction to Herman and Chomsky's analysis.

7 November. Read Herman and Chomsky, pages 1-36. There will be a short quiz at the beginning of class on this chapter. Topic for lecture: introduction to Chomsky's analysis. You will also find it helpful, although it is not required, to read the introduction to Herman and Chomsky's book. While reading chapter 1, ask yourself, according to Herman and Chomsky:
  • What is the purpose of mass media (corporate media)?
  • What are the five filters of the propoganda model?
  • Do the reporters, editors, and so on who make media products believe that they are producing propoganda?
Reading quiz
Topic for lecture: Chomsky's analysis.

9 November. Read Herman and Chomsky, pages 37-86. There will be a short quiz at the beginning of class on this chapter. While reading chapter 2, ask yourself, according to Herman and Chomsky:
  • What does their model predict about victims that are harmed by the nation or clients of the nation of the media, versus those harmed by nations opposed by the nation of the media. That is, what are "worthy" and "unworthy" victims?
  • Describe the cases of Jerzy Popieluszko and religious figures in Latin America. Summarize the difference in coverage, both quantitative and qualitative. Compare Popieluszko's coverage to that of Rutilio Grande and Oscar Romero, or the murder of Nuns in El Salvador, or religious murders in Guatemala, or Human Rights commissions murders in Guatemala.
  • What are the quantitative differences in coverage seen in these cases? What are the qualitative differences in coverage? (For example, compare Popieluszko to Romero coverage, and describe the differences in how the cases and information is described, what is included in descriptions, etc.)
Topic for lecture: Chomsky's analysis.

11 November. Read Herman and Chomsky, pages 87-142. There will be a short quiz at the beginning of class on this chapter. Topic for lecture: Chomsky's analysis.


14 November. Reports. PR. Summary.

16 November. Beneath reason. Introduction to a random set of concerns: bullshit, propaganda and emotion, the insinuated inference, and comfortable assumptions and the mere exposure effect. We start with bullshit. Please read Harry Frankfurt "On Bullshit" pages 1-35. While reading, ask yourself:
  • What is Frankfurt trying to do?
  • What is humbug? What does it mean to be misrepresenting but not a lie? What is misrepresented?
  • What is the example of the Fourth of July speech meant to illustrate?
  • What is the analogy between shoddy products and bullshit?

18 November. Bullshit, continued. Please read Harry Frankfurt, pages 35-67. Quiz on Herman and Chomsky's model, and on Frankfurt's theory. Topics include any and all the reading questions for H & C and Frankfurt's books. This is our last of our four main quizes before the final.

21 November. Bullshit conclusion.

28 November. Beneath reason. Propaganda and emotive control. Triumph of the Will.

2 December. Beneath reason. Discussion of Triumph of the Will. Other influences: mere exposure effect. Analysis of ethical statements.

5 December. Ethical reasoning: separating fact from value. See our class notes.

7 December. Due at the beginning of class is a brief homework on our last topic. Class topic will be what we left out of critical thinking: what goes unsaid, and what you know and do not know. As part of this, we will be discussing the contemporary explosion of information. (Recognizing that the explosion of information is accompanied by an explosion of misinformation, we will also have an extra credit assignment: working in teams of 1-5 people, create a fake web site that convincingly misinforms on some issue. For example, you might make a web site that explains how the seasons happen as a result of the Earth moving farther and closer to the sun. Or the history of Oswego as it was settled by Swedish moslems escaping the Inquisition, and so on. Your goal is to make it as convincing as you possibly can. Email me before class, or come to class with a page for me, listing all who worked on it and the URL.)