PHL 276: Critical Thinking




Steven W. Patterson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Philosophy and Religious Studies Dept.,
Marygrove College

Contact Information

Office Phone: 313-927-1539
Departmental Phone: 313-927-1556
e-mail: Note: The best way to reach me is via e-mail. Remove the underscores before and after the '@' or just use this Contact form.
Office:346 Madame Cadillac Hall
Open Office Hours:Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:30-1:30 PM If you cannot make it to open office hours, e-mail me to schedule an appointment.

Course Information

Meeting Times: Meeting Times: Mondays and Wednesdays, 8:30 AM-12:00 PM in room LA 226
Credit Hours: 3, Satisfies General Education Requirements
Prerequisites: LS105 and ENG 107 (or equivalent)

Course Objectives

Critical thinking lies at the very heart of philosophy. Thus the principal aim of this course is to afford the student introductory exposure to philosophical methods of critical thinking. Together as colleagues we will practice techniques for identifying, analyzing and evaluating claims using the techniques and concepts of both formal and informal logic. These skills, once acquired, are easily and fruitfully transferred to nearly any problem requiring a thoughtful approach. A student who successfully completes the course requirements will thus advance his or her level of proficiency in some of the most important cognitive skills a person can have.

By approaching these questions through a diverse array of sources and media, and through focused attention to concepts such as relevance and expertise, the successful student will gain an appreciation for how good critical thinking skills can help to navigate through what is increasingly an overwhelming amount of information. This will afford the student with an enhanced ability not just to evaluate individual claims and their supporting reasons, but sources of claims. Hence the course has a secondary aim of enhancing students’ fundamental information literacy skills.

The ability to read, write, and think critically and carefully about difficult problems that resist easy solution is integral to leadership in any domain. Because they are so widely applicable to concrete problems, development of the sort of critical thinking skills that make up the philosophical method is a fundamental part of general education, and one of the chief benefits of a course of this nature. Students who successfully complete the course should find, as they carry the skills they learn forward in time, that their cognitive resourcefulness is enhanced as result.

Finally, because the techniques of critical thinking do take time and dedication to master, this course has been specifically designed to assist students in developing consistent routines and good habits for intellectual work. A student who completes the requirements will, in doing so, have cultivated not only these good work habits, but his or her intellectual discipline as well. Thus this course has the fourth objective of helping students become more effective, self-motivated and self-disciplined life-long learners.

Core Question

  1. What does it mean to think critically?

Student Responsibilities


Class Preparation Assignments

For many of our meetings there is required class preparation work. This usually involves answering questions or doing exercises associated with the material. All such assignments must be typed and printed out, and brought to class on the day given for them in the course schedule. Two such assignments may be missed without penalty. The purpose of these assignments is to provide students with an opportunity to exercise the skills they will need for the unit quizzes and to encourage the development of regular, disciplined study habits.


Expect, and be prepared to take a quiz every week. A variety of formats will be used. Though the quizzes will be focused on material covered since the last quiz, you should be aware that the nature of critical thinking entails that you will be exercising a skill set that builds cumulatively. We will be using the same skills repeatedly, but over time the way we use those skills will become more and more sophisticated as we build on them. Dates for quizzes are given in the course plan. The lowest two quiz grades will be dropped. The purpose of the quizzes is to give students a chance to receive credit for mastering the skills thy have learned, to provide transition points, and to assist students in focusing their preparation of the material, to provide both students and the instructor with important feedback on how well the material is being understood.

Attendance and Participation

Philosophy, by its nature, is a highly discursive subject that requires a great deal of intellectual discipline and individual engagement of students both with the instructor and with each other. Because a community of thinkers is necessary to the enterprise, informed, consistent participation is the single most important component of our class work. Merely coming to class is not enough. The Participation component of the grade is based on two factors: 1) timely attendance to every class meeting, and 2) competent preparation and participation.

Timely Attendance:

Quality participation is impossible if one is absent or habitually late. So regular and timely attendance is expected and attendance will be taken at every class meeting (excepting the first week) via a sign-in sheet that will be circulated by the instructor at the beginning of class. Students in this class shall be allowed two (2) unexcused absences. Unexcused absences exceeding two and excessive lateness in attendance to class shall warrant deductions from the day’s participation grade. Excessive lateness shall be defined for our purposes as arriving at class fifteen minutes or more after class has begun. Excessive lateness and any absences will be excused upon proof of sufficiently extenuating circumstances to the satisfaction of the instructor.

Preparation and Participation:

Quality participation requires that you come to class prepared, and this entails doing the study questions provided for each reading on Blackboard. Although preparation is required, complete understanding is not a prerequisite for participation.

Some examples of how participation credit can be earned:
  • Thoughtful questions about the material
  • Thoughtful comments about the material
  • Philosophically relevant questions or comments, even if they’re not about the material
  • Respectful discussion with one’s colleagues at appropriate times
Some examples of how participation credit can be lost:
  • Being unprepared when called upon
  • Habitual/ Recurring Lateness
  • Inappropriate questions and comments
  • Any behavior that is disrespectful or that distracts from the learning of others.
  • Sleeping
  • Frequently departing from and returning to the classroom while class is in session
  • Text-messaging, web-surfing or otherwise manipulating small electronic devices while class is in session
  • Eating
  • Studying materials for other classes
  • Side discussions
  • Attending only half of the class

The basic rule is: Good participation moves class discussion forward; poor participation hinders it.

The participation component of the course is intended to measure students’ preparedness, ability to deploy critical thinking skills discursively, and willingness and ability to function collegially with one another and with the instructor for the common purpose of meeting the course objectives.

Final Grade Distribution

Quizzes 45%
Class Prep Assignments 30%
Attendance and Participation 25%
Total 100%

Honors Students

Honors students wishing to take this class for honors credit must submit a written plan for proposed honors project to the instructor before the end of the Add/Drop period. (You are encouraged to be creative in thinking up your proposal. Do not assume that the only possible vehicle for honors credit is a long research paper.) The instructor will consider each proposal, along with any others, and arrange a meeting with all persons taking the course for honors credit. At this meeting accepted proposals will be collaboratively developed and further planning for the honors aspects of the course will discussed.

Course Policies

Conduct Policy

It is expected that all persons in this class will comport themselves with the dignity and respect due to themselves and to their colleagues. This includes coming to class on time, refraining from having side-discussions while lecture is in progress, refraining from studying materials for other classes during lecture, refraining from bringing any food to class, refraining from texting during class, and leaving at home or turning off any and all items that make sudden, disruptive noises, especially cell phones. Please don’t bring children to class unless it is absolutely unavoidable, and if you must do so please notify me in advance as early as possible. Failure to observe these guidelines may result in deductions from the Participation grade.

Late and Make-up Work Policy

Students are accountable for turning in all assigned work on time. As in the "real world" late work is not accepted, ever, for any reason. Please don't ask. The answer is "no". You will be given sufficient time for the completion of all work assigned to you in this class. The opportunity to miss two sets of study questions and two days of class without penalty should compensate for the usual sort of absences. I will not even consider scheduling or accepting make-up assignments unless:

  1. more than two have been missed and
  2. highly unusual, severe, and sufficiently verifiable circumstances have been demonstrated to my satisfaction.

If you know, or suspect that you will be absent on the day that an assignment is due, please notify the instructor as far in advance as possible so that satisfactory alternative arrangements can be made. You cannot expect accommodation on short notice (i.e. phone messages left at 4 AM the morning of class).

Do not e-mail, FAX, or by any other means convey late or early assignments to the instructor without a prior arrangement to do so. Assignments received in such ways will be disregarded.

If you miss class for any reason, it is your responsibility to get the notes from a classmate and familiarize yourself with whatever material you may have missed. I do not give out my notes.

I highly recommend making at least one contact in class who can provide you with notes and assignments in the event that you miss class. In the interest of fairness to all, no make-up work of any

Withdrawal Policy

All withdrawal slips will be signed with no questions asked. Incompletes (grades of “I”) will not be given unless: 1) highly unusual and severe circumstances prevent a student from completing the work necessary to complete the class, 2) enough work has been done, in the instructor’s judgment, to leave only a minimal amount of work remaining for the student to complete, and 3) the student expressly requests a such a grade at least one week before the day scheduled by the College for the final exam.

Plagiarism and Cheating Policy

Plagiarism or cheating on any assignment will not be tolerated for any reason. Should you do either you will receive an “E” for the assignment on the first occasion, and the student’s adviser and the Dean will be informed in accord with Marygrove’s academic standards policy. Repeated offenses will merit stronger disciplinary measures, which the instructor will pursue. Students are encouraged to consult the Academic Honesty policy in the Undergraduate Catalog for more detailed information.

Required Texts

There are no required texts for this class. From time to time, however, you will be required to read webpages, view other online media, and perhaps read photocopied material on reserve in the library.

Instructor Responsibilities


Grading is the instructor's responsibility. Students have the right to grades given solely on the merit of the points achieved and weighted as described under the Assignments section of this syllabus. Accordingly, no curves, preset distributions, or other forms of manipulation will be used. All grades will be based solely on the quality of work as reflected in the points achieved. Remember that no one grade says anything about one’s overall intelligence, personal work ethic or personality. A grade (in this class at least) merely reflects performance on the assignments. Concentrate on developing your understanding of the material and the grades will follow.

Grading Scale

The grading scale below will be used to determine all letter grades in this class, including the final grade. It is completely and without exception a non-negotiable item.

A 100% - 94.5% A- 94.4% - 88.9% B+ 88.8% - 85.2%
B 85.1% - 81.5% B- 81.4% - 77.8% C+ 77.7% - 74.1%
C 74.0% - 70.4% C- 70.3% - 66.7% D+ 66.6% - 63.0%
D 62.9% - 59.3% D- 59.2% - 55.6% E 55.5% - 0%

Syllabus Revisions

The instructor bears the sole responsibility to revise any part of this syllabus should it become necessary to do so. Any such revision that takes place will be announced in class with as much advance notice as the circumstances permit. It is the student’s responsibility to remain abreast of any such changes and to alter his or her own workload accordingly. In the absence of any notification to the contrary, students should follow the course plan and reading schedule as given below, or the most recent set of revisions (if any have been made). The silence of this syllabus on any matter that may arise pertaining to this class shall not be construed to indicate that the matter is up for debate. The instructor’s interpretation of this syllabus shall be final and binding.


Students are welcome to stop by the instructor’s office anytime. Appointments are only necessary for meetings requested at times other than office hours. The most effective way to reach the instructor outside of office hours is by e-mail. Second best is by office phone. The instructor will make every effort to answer reasonable requests for help with class related matters so long as such requests are respectful. Students should be aware that e-mails sent before 9 AM, after 9 PM, or anytime on Sunday will generally not be answered right away. The same goes for phone calls placed during times other than office hours.

Disability Policy

The Instructor will, by arrangement with the student and Disability Support Services (DSS), offer reasonable accommodation for all properly documented, College-recognized disabilities. DSS offers a variety of services and accommodations to students with disabilities based on appropriate documentation, nature of disability, and academic need. In order to initiate services, students should meet with the Coordinator of DSS at the start of the semester to discuss reasonable accommodations. If a student does not request accommodations or provide documentation to DSS, the faculty member is under no obligation to provide academic accommodations. You may contact the Coordinator of DSS at 313-927-1427 or through e-mail at

Course Plan

Note: After the first couple of introductory meetings, the course moves in a trajectory along which the topics get more and more specific. New material builds upon and makes use of old material. Just because you have taken a quiz or no longer do assignments about a particular topic does not mean that you will not use that material again. You are likely to need to use it in almost every class after you have learned it, so make an effort to retain the material the whole way through the course. The topical map given below will help you keep track of where you are in the overall scheme of things:

Topical/Skill Map

1. How do I figure out what a person is trying to say?

Features of language pertinent to critical thinking: general facts about language, words, and meaning.

2. How do I figure out what a person is trying to do by saying something?

How we do things with language: an overview of speech acts

3. How does what a person says fit into larger conversations or exchanges with others?

How speech acts constitute dialogues.

4. How does the type of conversation or dialogue affect the way that make and evaluate claims?

How dialogues structure the way we give and respond to arguments.

5. What is an argument? How do I tell arguments from other kinds of informative language?

How to tell arguments from other kinds of linguistic items in dialogues.

6. How do I figure out exactly what a person is claiming in an argument?

How to prepare arguments for study and critical analysis.

7. How do I tell if an argument for a claim gives me good reason to believe that claim?

How to use clear criteria to evaluate arguments.

PART I: Prelude: A Little Epistemology

Week 1: Course Introduction

Mon. 5/17



  • Course Introduction

Required Reading:

  • Read this website thoroughly.

Required Work: none



  • Together, in class, we will discuss the Core Question:

1. What does it mean to think critically?

Required Reading: none
Required Work: none

Weds. 5/19



  • What is Critical Thinking?
  • Rationality, Truth, and Argumentation

Required Reading: none
Required Work: none



  • Biases and Heuristics

Required Reading:

PHL 276 Quiz 1

PART II: Language as the Medium of Argumentation

Week 2

Mon. 5/24



  • Uses of language
  • Features of words
  • Vagueness, ambiguity, and definitions
  • Close Reading

Required Reading:



  • Grice's Rules of Conversational Implicature

Required Reading: Speech Acts
Required Work: Exercise 1

Note: It is possible that I will give exercises in the form of photocopied sheets or problems written on the board. If you are not in class, you will miss these assignments.

PART III: Rhetoric and Dialectic

Weds. 5/26



  • Rhetoric and Critical Thinking

Required Reading: An overview of rhetoric
Required Work: Exercise 2



  • Types and Features of Dialogues
  • Terminology for Analyzing Dialogues

Required Reading: Read the first two sections (roughly the first 8 pages) of Douglas Walton, "Types of Dialogue, Dialectical Shifts, and Fallacies" (pdf)
Required Work:

PHL 276 Quiz 2

Week 3

Mon. 5/31

No class meeting, Memorial Day Holiday.

Weds. 6/2



  • Rules of Dialogue

Required Reading: The Pragma-Dialectic Framework
Required Work: Exercise 3



  • Moves in Dialogue
  • The Concept of Commitment in Dialogue

Required Reading: Commitment in Dialogue
Required Work: Exercise 4

PHL 276 Quiz 3

PART IV: Arguments

Week 4

Mon. 6/7



  • Identifying Arguments

Required Reading: Identifying Arguments
Required Work: Exercise 5



  • Preparing Arguments for Analysis
  • What to do with Objections
  • What to do with Missing Parts

Required Reading: Preparing Arguments for Analysis
Required Work: Exercise 6

PHL 276 Quiz 4

Weds. 6/9



  • The Concept of Argument Structure
  • Types of Argument Structure
  • Diagramming Arguments

Required Reading: TBA
Required Work: Exercise 7



  • Introduction to Evaluating Arguments

Required Reading:

PHL 276 Quiz 5

Week 5

Mon. 6/14



  • The Concept of Relevance

Required Reading: Relevance
Required Work: Exercise 8



  • Fallacies of Irrelevance

Required Reading: Relevance
Required Work:

Weds. 6/16



  • The Concept of Sufficiency
  • Arguments from Popularity
  • Arguments from Ignorance

Required Reading: Sufficiency
Required Work: Exercise 9



  • Sufficiency I: Deductive Arguments

Required Reading:
Common Deductive Forms of Argument
Supplement: Handout on the Basic Logical Types of Statement
Required Work: Exercise 10

PHL 276 Quiz 6

Week 6

Mon. 6/21



  • Sufficiency II: Inductive Arguments
  • Statistical Arguments
  • Causal Arguments

Required Reading: TBA
Required Work: Exercise 11



  • Sufficiency III: Defeasible Arguments
  • Argument Schemes and Critical Questions
  • Arguments from Analogy
  • Arguments Against the Person

Required Reading: none
Required Work: none

Weds. 6/23



  • The Concept of Premise Acceptability
  • Arguments From Authority

Required Reading:

Required Work: none


There will be a practice session on evaluating arguments.

  • Required Work: none

PHL 276 Quiz 7


  1. Robert J. Fogelin and Walter Sinnott-ArmstrongUnderstanding Arguments: An Introduction to Informal Logic, (Wadsworth-Thompson) 2009.
  2. Trudy Govier, A Practical Study of Argument, (Wadsworth-Thompson) 2009.
  3. Leo Groarke, Christopher Tindale and Linda Fisher Good Reasoning Matters! A Constructive Approach to Critical Thinking, (Oxford University Press) 1997.
  4. Ralph H. Johnson and J. Anthony Blair, Logical Self-Defense, (International Debate Education Association Press) 2006.
  5. Harvey Siegel, Rationality Redeemed: Further Dialogues on an Educational Ideal, (Routledge) 1997.
  6. Frans van Eemeren, Rob Grootendorst, and Francisca Snoeck Henkemans, Argumentation: Analysis, Evaluation, Presentation, (Routledge) 2002.
  7. Frans H. VanEemeren, Rob Grootendorst, Francisca Snoeck Henkemans, J. Anthony Blair, Ralph H. Johnson, Erik C. W. Krabbe, Christian Plantin, Douglas N. Walton, Charles A. Willard, John Woods, David Zarefsky, Fundamentals of Argumentation Theory: A Handbook of Historical Backgrounds and Contemporary Developments, (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers) 1996.
  8. Douglas N. Walton and Erik C. W. Krabbe, Commitment in Dialogue (SUNY Press) 1995.
  9. Douglas N. Walton, Informal Logic: A Pragmatic Approach, Second Edition, (Cambridge University Press) 2008.
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