Critical Thinking Class Descriptions

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This course offers concepts basic to critical thinking (clear communication, persuasion, argument, fact and opinion, etc.) in a real-world, problem-solving context geared toward working adults. Students will learn how to approach issues and problems in a reasoned way, considering purpose, language, awareness of argument structure and other concepts. Students will be expected to apply critical thinking to real-world decision-making (e.g., cases dealing with different employee perspectives at work, managing a staff reduction plan, developing a small business strategy), and to cases that they are currently confronting in their own work, community and/or personal situations. Students will participate in discussions; define, recognize, analyze and evaluate sample arguments; apply critical thinking strategies to real-world situations; and write their own arguments, applying concepts and processes of critical thinking.

Note: this course is open to all students. Center for Distance Learning students taking this course for educational planning credit should obtain mentor/advisor permission. This course can be used towards CDL Educational Planning.

Other Areas: The Arts |Business, Management & Economics | Community & Human Services | Communications, Humanities & Cultural Studies | Educational Studies | Historical Studies | Human Development | Labor Studies | Nursing | Science, Math & Technology | Social Science

Liberal Study
Lower Level
Credits: 2
Term(s) Offered (Subject to Change) : Spring 1. Summer. Fall 1.

Philosophy Department –- San Francisco State University


(Section 7: MWF 10:10 AM-11:00 AM, HUM 113)

(Section 11: MWF 11:10 AM-12:00 PM, HUM 277)

(Section 19: MWF 1:10 PM-2:00 PM, HUM 129)

(Section 23: MWF 2:10 PM-3:00 PM, HUM 115)

1. Instructor: Robert Mutti

Office: HUM 445. Office Hours: MWF, 9:30-10:00 AM, 12:20-1:00 PM (or by appt.)

(email: 8-3138 [only during office hours, please])

2. SF State Safe Campus Policies:No student in this course will be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, or disability. Students with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations are encouraged to contact the course instructor. The Disability Programs and Resource Center (DPRC) is available to facilitate the provision of such accommodations. The DPRC is located in the Student Services Building, and can be reached by telephone (voice/TTY), 415-338-2472, or by email,

SF State fosters a campus free of sexual violence (including sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and any form of sex or gender discrimination). If you disclose a personal experience of sexual violence to a course instructor, that instructor is required to notify the Dean of Students. To disclose any such violence confidentially, contact: The SAFE Place, (415) 338-2208;, or Counseling and Psychological Services Center, (415) 338-2208; For more information on your rights and available resources, contact:

3. Course Description: This course is about the kind of thinking that enables us to make up our minds about what we should do—in personal matters (such as choosing a computer or a college), and in political matters (such as choosing a domestic law or a foreign policy). Passing this course with a grade of at least C- (or CR) satisfies the General Education Critical Thinking requirement. The course covers four main topics: (1) Assertions (emphasizing the logical relationships of implication and contradiction), (2) Arguments (emphasizing “indicator” terms, validity, and the proper form of arguments about action), (3) Relevance (emphasizing the proper role of emotion in argument), and (4) Evidence (emphasizing sources of evidence and causal arguments).

4. Student Learning Outcomes: Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

·        Identify the logical form of natural language assertions of all the main types (especially universal assertions), and contradict those assertions.

·        Offer suitable counter-examples to false universal assertions.

·        Identify the premises and conclusions of explanations and arguments that use “indicator” terms.

·        Distinguish basic formally valid explanations and arguments from formally invalid (fallacious) ones.

·        Distinguish basic deductive sets of premises from the main types of inductive ones.

·        Identify the “implicit” major premise of an incomplete syllogism, and put that premise into a suitable, general form.

·        Identify all the main informal fallacies (rhetorical irrelevance, irrelevant emotional appeal, causal fallacies, appeals to illegitimate authority, and faulty analogies).

·        Distinguish arguments about belief (matters of fact) from arguments about action (involving desires and value judgments).

·        Analyze and criticize complete arguments about action by understanding their form.

·        Write complete arguments about action, and make them inductively strong by (1) appealing to all relevant hopes and fears, (2) using legitimate, properly cited sources of evidence, and (3) offering strong supporting evidence (especially evidence based on causal reasoning).

5. Required Reading: Making Up Your Mind, Revised Edition, Broadview Press (2014), by Robert Mutti. (This book is available in the SFSU Bookstore, or you can purchase it online from Broadview Press []. You should not purchase the un-revised [2002] edition of the book.) All other required readings will be posted, as downloadable handouts, on iLearn. You are expected to be aware of the contents of each such iLearn handout, and make a copy of it to bring to class.

6. Attendance: Classroom attendance (with phones off and out of sight, laptops used solely for note-taking, and private conversations ended) is encouraged and expected—and it is required in order to take quizzes, and to sign up for, and do, homework presentations. If you are late to class, you should come in quietly. If you know you will need to leave early, you should tell your instructor before class. If you suddenly need to leave early, you should give your instructor some indication of that fact, and then leave quietly.

7. Course Format and Requirements: The course will emphasize reading skills (worth 60% of the course grade), and writing skills (worth 40%). The reading skills are explained in the text, tested on exercises in the text (to be done as homework), explained further in class, and tested again on four quizzes, and a final exam. In addition, you are expected to do two homework presentations, which will further test your mastery of the reading skills, and help explain them to the class. The writing skills are discussed in the text, explained further in class, and tested on two written exercises (one with a library/research component).

8. Homework Presentations: It is impossible to master the reading skills in the course without being able to do the exercises in the text. For this reason, you are strongly encouraged to do all of those exercises, as homework, and you are required to do two sets of homework exercises showingyourwork (the steps you took in doing the exercises), and bring twocopies of the completed exercises to class on the day they are due and turn in one copy, and be able to explain the steps you took in doing the exercises. If you find that you cannot do the exercises, you must get sufficient help to enable you to complete them before the time of your presentation. Ideally, you will sign up in advance (once in September or early October, and then once later), because if too few students sign up for a day, some students who have not yet signed up—selected in alphabetical order—will be signed up for that day, whether they want to be or not. If you are signed up and fail to do all of the things required for your presentation (see above), you will be penalized (see below).

9. Tests: The quizzes and the final exam are in-class, open-book, open-note tests of the reading skills taught in the course. The final exam is comprehensive. Communication devices (including laptop computers) are not permitted during any test. All writing must be done on the test. (No scratch paper allowed.) Every test is timed, and will be penalized (two points for every ignored warning) if not surrendered when time is called. To leave classduring a test, youmust hand in your test. (If you intend to return to class to finish your test, just say so.)

10. Grades: Grades are based on the number of points earned. Each quiz is worth 15 points, and the final exam is worth 150 points. Each homework presentation is worth 5 points (which will be deducted from your lowest quiz score if, but only if, the presentation is not done.) The first written exercise and a draft of the first two parts of the second written exercise are worth 20 points each, and the second written exercise is worth 100 points (with the library/research component worth 50 of those points). Thewritten exercises must be done using theargumentoutline given in Chapter Seven (on 8-1/2 x 11 in. paper, stapled upper left [no covers, please], with your name and sectionnumber, upper left). Students must do their own work! If any two written assignments are substantially identical to each other, at least one of them will be given a grade of “F.” The grading scale for the course (in part) is: 298 = A–, 256 = B–, 214 = C– (out of 350 total points). To take this course on a Credit/No Credit basis, choose that option online. Work is not accepted late unless a good reason is given, no later than the day it is due. If a quiz is missed (or gets a low grade), it will be given 10% of the final exam score. Similarly, the 20-point written assignments may be given 20% of the second written exercise score. If the final exam is not taken, there will be a penalty of up to 105 points. If the second written exercise is turned in late, there will be a penalty of up to 10 points. If it is not turned in at all, there will be a further deduction of up to 55 points. Incomplete (“I”) grades are not given in this course. However, if you have scored at least 75 points on the final exam, and done both of your homework presentations, and asked for and received permission to do extra work on the second written exercise, and turned in the complete, re-written exercise within the first ten weeks of the following semester, and made sufficient improvements to the exercise (keeping in mind that any penalty for lateness [see above] is permanent), then you will receive a retroactive grade change, without having to re-take the course.

11. Course Outline: The following outline lists all of the readings and sub-topics and exercises that will be covered while studying the four main topics in the course. Four detailed schedules—one for each main topic—are postedon iLearn. Those schedules give the date of each class meeting, and the work to be completed for that meeting. (Feel free to add the dates from those schedules into this one.) Any notifications of changes to the content or the schedule of the course—as well as any other important notifications—will be sent to students at their SFSU email addresses. You are expected to check that mailbox regularly and be aware of the contents of any messages sent to it. Before each class meeting, you should review any reading that was assigned for the previous class and complete the exercises that are due. Next, you should read any new material and try to do some of the new exercises. Then, you should come to class (or to my office) and ask questions about the new material and the new exercises. Finally, before each quiz, you should review all relevant material.

Topic 1: Assertions

Introduction (Defining critical thinking; Critical thinking scales [amounts of support, for assertions, by evidence]; Logic and meta-logic versus critical thinking; Introduction to the distinction between arguments about belief [“matters of fact”], and arguments about action [involving desires and value judgments]); [Review Questions].

Chap. One—Assertions (Types of sentences; Clarity, vagueness, and ambiguity [semantic and syntactic]; Logical form, and standard form, of assertions); [Ex. 1-1, 1-2].

Chap. Two—Implication (Implication, inference rules, and logical equivalence in natural language; Formal truths, truths of definition, and empirical truths); (Ex. 2-1, 2-2 [2-3]).

Chap. Three—Contradiction (Contradictories, contraries, and sub-contraries [of subject-predicate assertions; of conjunctions and disjunctions]; Squares of opposition, equivalence rules, and truth tables, with real-life examples; Introduction to logical relations in real-life arguments);

(Ex. 3-1, 3-2, 3-3 [3-4]).

Chap. Four—Conditionals and Universal Assertions (Antecedents and consequents of natural language conditionals; Particular and universal conditionals; Contradicting universal and particular conditionals; Contraries to universal conditionals; Counter-examples [uncontroversial versus controversial]; Universal assertions with complex predicates);

(Ex. 4-1, 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, 4-5, 4-6, 4-7).

Chap. Five—Prescriptive Assertions (Types of prescriptive assertions; Prescriptive and descriptive assertions; Contradicting simple and complex prescriptive assertions in natural language);

(Ex. 5-1, 5-2, 5-3).

Quiz #1:

Topic 2: Arguments

Chap. Six—Explanations (Premise and conclusion “indicator” terms; Causal explanations);

(Ex. 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, 6-5).

Chap. Seven—Arguments (Defining arguments; Simple arguments versus causal explanations; Arguments about belief and arguments about action; Writing, analyzing, and criticizing complex, real-life ethical arguments about action, using a standardized outline form; Controversial versus uncontroversial premises; Charitable attribution of relevant hopes and fears to opponents in arguments; Introduction to evidence and sources of evidence); (Ex. 7-1, 7-2).

Chap. Eight—Validity, Deduction, and Induction (Basic syllogistic forms; Valid syllogistic forms, inference rules, and Venn diagrams; Formally valid versus formally invalid [fallacious] syllogistic forms, with real-life examples; Inductive sets of premises versus deductive ones);

(Ex. 8-1, 8-2, 8-3, 8-4).

Quiz #2:

First Written Exercise:

Topic 3: Relevance

Chap. Nine—Unstated premises (Unstated premises [implicit and general]; Charitable reconstruction of arguments); (Ex. 9-1, 9-2, 9-3).

Chap. Ten—Relevance (Relevance [“direct” and “indirect”]; Necessary and sufficient conditions; Philosophical analysis); (Ex. 10-1 [10-2]).

Chap. Eleven—Basic Fallacies of Relevance (Fallacies of rhetorical irrelevance—begging the question, straw man, ad hominem, burden of proof); (Ex. 11-1, 11-2).

Chap. Twelve—Fallacies of Emotional Appeal (Emotion in argument; Fallacies of irrelevant emotional appeal—to anger, gratitude, fear, hope); (Ex. 12-1).

Quiz #3:

Draft of Parts I and II of Second Written Exercise:

Topic 4: Evidence

Chap. Thirteen—Sources of Evidence (Legitimate versus illegitimate sources of evidence; Fallacies of appeals to illegitimate authority; Primary and secondary sources of evidence; Adequate citations for legitimate sources of evidence); (Ex. 13-1).

Chap. Fourteen—Causal Arguments (Basic patterns of causal reasoning; Causes as necessary and sufficient conditions [counter-evidence]; Superstition and scientific progress; Statistically significant contributing factors as causes; Experiments versus studies; Causal fallacies, with real-life examples);

(Ex. 14-1, 14-2).

Chap. Fifteen—Arguments from Analogy (Sampling arguments versus basic analogical arguments; Fallacies of faulty analogy, with real-life examples); (Ex. 15-1, 15-2).

Quiz #4:

Second Written Exercise (All Three Parts [I, II, and III]):

Final Exam (See the University Final Exam Schedule):

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