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Teaching Argument Evaluation in An Introductory Philosophy Course

Teaching Argument Evaluation in An Introductory Philosophy Course

ABSTRACT: One of the greatest challenges in teaching an introductory philosophy course is convincing students that there are, indeed, reliable standards for the evaluation of arguments. Too often introductory students criticize an argument simply by contesting the truth of one of its claims. And far too often, the only claim in an argument that meets serious objections is its conclusion. For many students, the idea that an argument displays a structure which can be evaluated on its own terms is not very difficult to grasp. Unfortunately, the idea is grasped only in an abstract way, with insufficient appreciation of how structural problems manifest themselves in concrete arguments, and without the vocabulary for formulating structural criticisms. But this paper is not simply about teaching logic, it is about pedagogy. Our task is to instill in the student the habit of clear thinking. When we send our students out into the world, we have to ensure that they are prepared for it.

Introduction

One of the greatest challenges in teaching an introductory philosophy course is convincing students that there are, indeed, reliable standards for the evaluation of arguments. Too often introductory students criticise an argument simply by contesting the truth of one of its claims. And far too often the only claim in an argument that meets serious objections is its conclusion. For many students, the idea that an argument displays a structure which can be evaluated on its own terms is not very difficult to grasp; unfortunately, the idea is grasped only in an abstract way, with insufficient appreciation of how structural problems manifest themselves in concrete arguments, ...

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... extended arguments can be explained in terms of sufficiency, a concept that the student can easily grasp by seeing how a proposition presented as belonging to one of the linked arguments may also be employed as a premise in another of the arguments.

Assignments: Several chain syllogisms.

Session 6

This session should be devoted to the examination of the limitations of term logic. It has proved useful to consider simple arguments that make use of very basic truth-functional logic (modus ponens, modus tollens, and the hypothetical syllogism are easily enough explained). While these can usually be translated without too much effort into the form of a categorical syllogism, the awkwardness of doing so is clearly prohibitive. At this point, however, the battle is already won. The students are actively engaged in the logical analysis and evaluation of arguments.

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