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Course Description: 
We are constantly faced with different claims, questions, issues, and arguments dealing with everything from electing a political candidate to purchasing a car to understanding a doctor’s diagnosis to choosing a major. How do we sort out and evaluate different information? How do we form decisions and beliefs? What reasons do we have, or should we have, for our beliefs? The answers to these questions have consequences and so require a great deal of thought.

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Critical thinking is the capacity to identify, understand, evaluate, and assert different claims and the support and arguments for those claims. “Critical” often bears a negative connotation, but here it should mean careful analysis, observation, and curiosity about a subject. It means going beyond what seems to be readily apparent. In this course, we will hone the skills of critical thinking. We will ask questions such as, what does it mean to think critically? What is a good argument? What counts as a reason? Why should I hold a particular position? Students will learn how to formulate articulate, clear, and convincing positions on a variety of topics. Thinking critically is not a solitary activity. Students will also learn how to listen to, understand, reflect critically and charitably on, and engage with another person’s position. The goal of critical thinking is not to come to an absolute conclusion, but to learn how to ask the right questions and to determine what beliefs, presuppositions, or consequences might be at stake. We will begin by looking at different approaches to arguments and then will explore the different elements of arguments, including claims, support, warrants, and language. Next we will consider how to research, write, and present arguments. We will also spend some time evaluating different viewpoints. Assignments include quizzes, blog posts, writing assignments, debates, and group projects.

Course objectives:

At the end of the course, students should be able to

  • recognize claims, arguments, and warrants,
  • identify the structure of different types of arguments,
  • intelligently and charitably reconstruct another’s argument,
  • examine a position from different perspectives,
  • evaluate the strength of claims and arguments,
  • recognize formal and informal fallacies in speech and writing,
  • research and gather information on different topics,
  • construct, present, and defend clear and articulate positions on different topics, and
  • work collaboratively to present, evaluate, and construct arguments through oral presentations and writing assignments.

Required Textbooks, Articles, and Resources:

  • Rottenberg, Annette T. and Donna Haisty Winchell. Elements of Arguments: A Text and Reader, Tenth Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. ISBN 978-0312646998. *Be sure to purchase the Tenth Edition*

All other texts will be posted on Blackboard. Since laptops will not be permitted in class, you must print and bring these texts to class. Be sure to bring your textbook to every class. Failure to bring the texts to class will negatively affect your participation grade.


Accessibility Statement
It is the policy of Dillard University to provide accommodations for students with documented disabilities. In order to request services, please contact Dr. Kevin J. Bastian, Dean of Student Success for Support Services and TRiO programs, Dent Hall, 504-816-4714, If you require any particular accommodations, please meet with me by Sept. 10th so we can work together to make optimal arrangements. Please bring your letter of accommodation to our meeting. All information will be held in the strictest of confidence.

I aim to make the course as accessible to different backgrounds and learning styles as possible. There will be a variety of different activities and assignments that will hopefully accommodate as many different learning styles and needs as possible. If you are struggling or have concerns or challenges, please see me so we can work together to develop strategies to help you succeed. Also, if you have any ideas or suggestions for assignments, activities, or strategies, please do not hesitate to share them with me or the class.

In addition to formal assignments, there are a few other requirements.
1. Come to every class. Dillard University has a mandatory attendance policy. Attendance will be taken each class. There may be legitimate reasons to miss class, however there can be no more than three (3) absences, excused and unexcused, over the course of the semester without penalty of receiving the grade of AF for the course. Work missed due to an excused absence may be made up; work missed due to an unexcused absence will not. Please see Dillard’s Academic Catalog for more information. When you miss class, it is your responsibility to inquire about the material covered or assignments missed. Because we will be covering material in class that is not necessarily in the readings, it is to your definite advantage to attend each session. The community developed in our class depends a great deal on consistent attendance, preparation, and participation.

2. Come to class on time. Three late arrivals will count toward an absence. If you do arrive late, please be as unobtrusive as possible upon entering and wait until after class or during a break to inquire about material missed.

3. Come prepared. Reading must be completed before class. You should have your textbook, notes, and something to write with ready at the start of class. You should read the text carefully and take note of any questions or ideas about it you may have. Some of the material may be difficult, but it is up to you to meet the challenge. I will do my best to help you understand the material, but you must make a good faith effort to do the work.

4. Be respectful. Many of the topics we will be covering will be controversial. There is no excuse for rude, disruptive, aggressive, or dismissive behavior toward your classmates or me even if you have a differing opinion. Being respectful means listening attentively and making a good effort to engage with your classmates and me. There will be lots of opportunities for group discussions or small group work, so please wait for those opportunities instead of having side conversations. Other activities, such as texting, are extremely distracting and won’t be allowed. Cell phones should be out of sight during class.

5. Strive for open communication. I will do my best to make the class engaging and educational, but I will count on you to help me figure out if or when things aren’t working. We have a joint responsibility to make the class the best it can be. If you’re having difficulties keeping up with the readings, participating in class, or have other concerns or recommendations, please come to my office hours or make an appointment with me as soon as possible.


  • Weekly Blog Posts & Summaries 15%
  • Weekly Quizzes 15%
  • Writing Assignments 30%
  • Group Projects and Presentations 25%
  • In-class Participation and Discussion 15%

1. Blog: 15%. The blog requirement has two parts: weekly 300 word posts and four (4) argument summaries written over the course of the semester. The blog is located at The blog provides you the opportunity to exercise the skills you’re developing and apply them to “real life” situations, as well as to foster a community that extends beyond the walls and time of our class.

Each student is responsible for writing 300 words per week in some combination of comments and posts. Students have from Monday until Sunday by 11:59 p.m. of each week to complete this requirement. Late posts will not be accepted unless with prior arrangements. Feel free to use the reading and discussion questions at the end of each section as a jumping off point.

You may:

  • write a post on some “found philosophy” or instance of critical thinking. This may be a newspaper article, blog post, tv interview, song, etc., that has some philosophical content. You may provide an analysis of the claims or employ some of the skills of critical thinking we’ve discussed so far
  • write a post that expands on a discussion that came up in class or on the blog, e.g., “Last week we talked about how Aristotle distinguishes among logos, pathos, and ethos, but I think that too much of an emphasis on pathos can distort an argument”
  • write long comments on posts, e.g., “I had a similar concern about Dershowitz’s views on a torture warrant. However, I think it might be solved in this way…”, or
  • write multiple comments on multiple posts

Remember that your contributions should be taken seriously and be seen just as that, contributions. Thus a comment such as “I liked this post” is not much of a contribution. Please also be aware that the same level of respect and consideration is expected online as in class. If you would not make a particular comment to a person’s face, do not make it on the blog. Outside of these requirements, students are welcome to post or comment as frequently as desired.

Four times during the semester, students must write a 300-word post that is a critical summary and response to one of the readings in the textbook. The summaries may be of any of the pieces under “Readings for Analysis” or “DEBATE:…”. They may not be of one of the sample annotated essays or of the basic textbook information. Remember that your post should only be about 300 words long, so be as straightforward and clear as possible. Your summary must
1. identify precisely what the thesis of the piece is
2. explain the reasoning, support, and warrants for the thesis
3. raise a possible objection
4. formulate replies to that objection, indicating how defenders of the positions can reply to the objections
5. relate the various topics of the essay to one another and other topics raised in the course
The first two summaries must be completed by 10/11 and the second two by 12/6.

Remember that your contributions should be taken seriously and be seen just as that, contributions. Thus a comment such as “I liked this post” is not much of a contribution. Outside of these requirements, students are welcome to post or comment as frequently as desired. Students may opt to make their posts private to be shared only with other member of the class or public for everyone to see. More details will be given in class. Please be aware that the same level of respect and consideration is expected online as in class. If you would not make a particular comment to a person’s face, do not make it on the blog.

2. Quizzes: 15%. There will be weekly ten-point quizzes over the material covered since the previous quiz. The quizzes are designed to assess your mastery of concepts, techniques, and content that is presented in lectures and in the book. The quiz may be given at any point on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday of a given week, so it’s to your definite advantage to come prepared to each class meeting. The lowest quiz grade may be dropped.

3. Papers: There will be three shorter critical analysis papers of 1000-1700 words, typed and double-spaced. Papers are worth 10% each. The papers allow you to demonstrate that you have mastered different techniques and concepts and can develop and support a position of your own. You will be asked to examine a piece of philosophy, literature, or non-verbal work that contains arguments. Your task will be to interpret the position of the philosopher, reconstruct part of (or one of) the argument(s) contained in the piece and give reasons for agreeing, disagreeing, doubting, etc. the argument you are focusing on. What is central to a successful paper is that it is written clearly and carefully, has in-depth and coherent arguments, and applies the skills of critical thinking developed during the semester.

We will discuss in class how to write a philosophical paper. You must cite sources for both direct quotations and paraphrases. Please use the MLA parenthetical style. A guide to this can be found in Elements of Argument pp. 419-28 or online OWL.

Plagiarism, even unintentional, is never acceptable or excusable. Plagiarism is ultimately lying by presenting someone else’s words, ideas, or work as your own by failing to cite, not paraphrasing properly, having someone else write your paper, downloading a paper from the internet, or anything else that is not your own independent work. All written work must be your own and must be original to this class. There is no excuse for plagiarism and you are responsible for knowing how to document sources and give proper credit. If you have questions, feel free to consult me or the Writing Center. When it comes to citation, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Correct grammar, style, and usage are important for expressing yourself clearly, so please see the Writing Center if you need help in these areas. If you have further questions, please consult me.

Wikipedia, Sparknotes, and other sources can be helpful for preliminary background research, but they will not help you significantly beyond this. You’ll need to demonstrate original thought and provide your own analysis of different arguments. Have confidence in your own abilities, and if you need more help, see me. If you do use any of these sources for background, you absolutely must cite them properly.

Papers should be submitted via email to by the start of class on the day it is due. Please be sure to include “PHI 208” in the subject line and your name in the body. Name your files with your last name and paper number in either .doc or .docx format, e.g. “Homan2.docx”. Late papers will be marked down one grade step for each day late, e.g. a “B” paper one day late will be a “B-,” unless prior arrangements have been made.

Grading Scale for Written Assignments
A+       99-100
A          93-98               clear, concise, excellent grasp of the material, free of errors
A-        90-92
B+       88-89
B         83-87               mostly clear, good understanding, mostly well-written
B-        80-82
C+       78-79
C         73-77               somewhat clear, basic understanding, several errors or issues
C-        70-72
D+       68-69
D         60-68               unclear, lack of understanding, significant number of errors
F        59 and below   very unclear, little to no grasp of the material, plagued by errors

4. Group Projects: 30%. The group projects afford you the opportunity to collaborate with your
peers to develop a research paper and presentation. Your paper and project will propose and defend a position on a particular topic. You will work as a group to research a topic, analyze arguments and positions, synthesize different positions, evaluate the arguments, and put forth your own, well-argued position. For example, if your group wants to argue that voter I.D. laws should be abolished, you would have to research in what such laws consist, what the arguments for and against the laws would be, what consequences of the laws have been and/or might be, and offer your own well-supported argument.

Each member of the group is responsible for writing a specific portion of the paper, and the different portions must fit together and follow logically as a whole. So, while you are ultimately responsible for your own portion, you must also keep in mind that the success of your group relies on you, too. There will be several opportunities over the course of the semester to work on your projects during class time, but you will also be expected to work together outside of class. At the end of the semester, each group will be responsible for presenting their projects to the class and leading a class discussion. Specific guidelines for the paper and presentation will be given in class.

Your individual grade will be determined by your individual contribution (65%) and the overall group score (35%). Your individual contribution is based on the grade you give yourself as well as your peers’ grades for you. A detailed rubric for peer assessment will be distributed. I will provide the overall group score. For example, if your individual contribution is 80% and your group score 95%, then your final score would be 85%, i.e. (80*.65)+(95*.35)=85%.

5. Participation and Discussion: 10%. Participation in class is important. I expect students to
come to class having completed the assigned readings and with the texts in hand. Participation means not simply speaking for the sake of speaking, but contributing to the development of class discussion on comments or questions. Sometimes a person who does not speak as often might participate better than someone who speaks frequently since she might provide more excellent contributions. As a fairly shy person, I understand that it can be difficult to participate verbally. I urge you to try anyway and I will also make a special note of active listening. Please also remember that participation includes respect, so disruptive behavior such as talking out of turn, arriving late or leaving early, and the use of cell phones will not be tolerated. Laptops are not permitted except with express consent.

Academic Integrity
All students are expected to comply with the Dillard University Student Handbook and Academic Catalog. You may consult your peers when working on papers or studying for exams, but all work and wording must be your own. All work that is not your own must be cited, as outlined above. Instances of academic misconduct will result in failure of the assignment or course.

Inclement Weather
This class will follow the official university closing and evacuation plan in case of a weather event or natural disaster. At times, I may also cancel an individual class if the weather is severe and I need to leave town. If we are evacuated, please check your Dillard email account for further instructions.

The best way to contact me is via email ( I try to be as prompt and thorough with emails as possible, but please understand that I am often not able to respond immediately. So, please do not wait until the last minute to try to get ahold of me. I will not respond to any email that is not from an account. My office hours are open. You do not need to make an appointment to come during office hours.

I reserve the right to make changes to this syllabus.