Critical Thinking

Department: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Instructor: Tanya Hall
Instructor Email:
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

“A course in critical thinking is a course in self-improvement. It is a chance to look inside yourself and examine your own ability to think. It is a place where you can learn about the difference between good thinking and bad thinking. It is an opportunity to acquire reasoning skills that should serve you well in whatever pursuit you engage in.” (Michael O’Rourke) In this course we will study good thinking and bad thinking from the perspectives of both psychology and philosophy. We will learn about (1) our brains and the psychology of reasoning and decision making, (2) how identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments by other people (including politicians, used car salesmen, and teachers), and (3) how to construct arguments in order to decide what to believe or what to do. The instructional format will be exercise-centered, with interactive lectures, discussion, and group activities.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

The goals of the course give all students the opportunity to:

  • Gain a thorough and varied insight into issues, concepts, and writings that constitute the central themes of youth subculture
  • Develop an ability to utilize various research methods and writing techniques in order to conduct sociological research
  • Draw on different media and textual resources for written and oral work
  • Contrast personal experience with existing research and connect those experiences with wider sociological debates

Course Goals and Expectations

The overall goal of this course is to develop and hone reasoning and critical thinking skills. More specific course goals include: • Developing active reading skills, especially with regard to identifying, reconstructing, and evaluating arguments • Developing writing skills, such as crafting arguments and writing with logical precision • Understanding the sources and appeal of bad reasoning • Learning formal and informal methods for evaluating deductive and inductive arguments • Developing intellectual virtues, including humility, empathy, integrity, courage, and justice.

Course Outline

1. Identifying Arguments

  • Define what an argument is

  • Identify arguments in context

  • Identify and explain purposes of arguments

  • Explain how conventions and context are relevant to identifying and understanding arguments

  • Identify conversational implicatures

2. Analyzing and Reconstructing Arguments

  • Identify argument markers

  • Reconstruct arguments in standard form

  • Define “Inferential Relationship”

  • Understand standards of evaluation

  • Explain the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning

  • Define validity, soundness, strength, and cogency

  • Discriminate between valid and invalid arguments

  • Identify argument forms

  • Diagram extended arguments

  • Clarify vague or ambiguous premises

  • Complete arguments by adding suppressed premises

  • Explain the principle of charity

3.Propositional Logic and the Truth Table Method

  • Identify atomic statements, compound statements, and logical operators

  • Translate sentences of English into symbolic notation

  • Define “truth-functionality”

  • Construct truth tables for compound statements

  • Construct truth tables for sets of statements

  • Use truth tables to demonstrate logical relationships between statements

  • Identify formal fallacies

  • Explain limitations of the truth table method

4. Propositional Logic and the Proof Method

  • Define “truth-preservation”

  • Construct proofs using inference rules and replacement rules

  • Explain limitations of the proof method

  • Explain the difference between the truth table and proof methods

5. Informal Fallacies and Cognitive Biases

  • Define “fallacy”, “cognitive bias”, and “cognitive heuristic”

  • Define a variety of important fallacies and cognitive biases

  • Distinguish between good and fallacious reasoning

  • Analyze case studies for cognitive bias

  • Reflect on the role of cognitive biases and heuristics in personal experience

  • Identify strategies for mitigating the effects of cognitive bias

6. Engaging in Argument: Intellectual Virtues

  • Elements of thought

  • Perfections and imperfections of thought

  • Active listening

  • Perspective Taking

  • Critical Discussion

  • Analytical Writing