Prof. Michael Kagan

Office Hours in RH-228 (445-4489)

MWF 9am-9:45am; and by appointment.

PHL 310, Critical Reasoning – An Introduction to Informal Logic and Critical Thinking

Syllabus for Spring 2019

Web page for course information:





COURSE OBJECTIVE The main aim of this course is to help students to:

                 develop their abilities to detect and defend themselves from deceptive arguments and attempts to persuade;

                 evaluate arguments and attempts to persuade

                 construct better arguments of their own.


Departmental SLO (Student learning objective) for this course:

·     Students will be able to evaluate arguments.



                 Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (available in many editions).

                 Gavin de Becker. The Gift of Fear (1997, Dell 1998 edition).

                 Deborah Tannen, Talking from 9 to 5 (1994, Quill/HarperCollins edition/or the ).

                 Michael Kagan. Working draft chapters from "Informal Logic as a Martial Art," photocopy (2001; revised and expanded, 2004) referred to as ILMA in assignments). These will be made available on line.

                 Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments, Hackett, 2018.

                 I also recommend you buy a copy of Elgin's The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense and her Genderspeak: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, as well as H. Anthony Medley’s Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed (the 1992 or the 2005 edition; later editions should also be okay).



                 Amdur, Ellis. Dueling with O-Sensei: Grappling with the Myth of the Warrior Sage. Available from

                 Nicholas Capaldi. The Art of Deception, second edition. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1979 [new revised edition, 1987], Prometheus Books; Revised edition (2007).

                 Robert B. Cialdini. Influence: The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion, revised edition. New York: Quill, 1991, Harper Business; Revised edition (2006),  HarperCollins Publishers  2009. 

                 Suzette Haden Elgin. The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. First published in the USA by Prentice-Hall in 1980.

                 Suzette Haden Elgin, Genderspeak: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993).

                 Darrell Huff. How to Lie with Statistics (with pictures by Irving Geis). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1954.

                 R.H. Johnson and J.A. Blair. Logical Self-Defense, second edition. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 1983.

                 Michael Kagan. Educating Heroes. Durango, Colorado: Hollowbrook, 1994.

                 Machiavelli. The Prince and The Discourses, edited with an introduction by Max Lerner. Modern Library College Edition. New York: Random House Modern Library Edition, 1950 (available in many editions).

                 Miyamoto Musashi. A Book of Five Rings, translated by Victor Harris. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1974.

                  Sun Tzu. The Art of War, edited with a forward by James Clavell. New York: Delacourte Press, 1983.

                  Carl Wellman. Challenge and Response: Justification in Ethics. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971.


We will introduce and examine the techniques of informal logic as answers to the general question, "When ought one accept a given conclusion on the basis of argument?" To do this, we will consider the classical sources of logic in the analysis of debates, and what is now called "informal logic." This will be the focus of the earlier lectures and the readings.


We will apply these skills to attempts at persuasion addressed to general audiences as well as to other encounters. A major focus of our study will be defense against fallacies and frequently used types of attack and illegitimate persuasion. We will consider these techniques as used in a wide variety of fields (psychology, ethics, politics, and advertising among them) as well as in our own argument experiences. Students will be required to find examples of arguments addressed to the public, and to relate or create examples of their own debates on issues of their own choosing.


1.                 Final Project and optional in-class exam (50%)

2.                 Seven short writing assignments (50%)

Grading is done on the following scale: 94-100 = A RANGE; 90-93 = A-; 87-89 = B+ ; 84-86=B; 80-83=B-. C (70-79) and D (60-69) ranges are subdivided like the B range. Failure to complete any of (1)-(4) can result in a failing grade. Plagiarism will result in a failing grade.

Students are expected to be familiar with the material in the lectures, discussions, and the required text.

Final Projects and other assignments will be determined on the basis of each student's goals. Possibilities include the following:

1.                 A report or creation of a dialogue between the student and another person containing an argument, with the student's analysis and recommendations.

2.                 An investigation of how some aspect(s) of race, class, culture, class, gender and/ or religion may affect some range or type of persuading or convincing.

3.                 Students may present and analyze an argument addressed to a general audience.

4.                 The final project described below.

This version of the final project consists of a written presentation and analysis of both sides of a debate on some controversial moral, political, religious, philosophical or other issue (please check with the instructor). This project may take a variety of forms. For example, the student may write a dialogue or story presenting arguments for both sides of an issue, or comment on and analyze a series of letters to the editor or editorials on the chosen issue. If the argument is presented [e.g., from the editorial page], the student will be obliged to show how the weaker arguments might be strengthened. If a clear loser emerges in the debate, the grade will be weighted in terms of the performance of the loser [as augmented by the student's suggestions for improvements in the case of a presented debate].


In coordination with the Academic Support Center (ASC), reasonable accommodations are provided for qualified students with disabilities. Please register with the ASC Office for disability verification and determination of reasonable accommodations. After receiving your accommodation form from the ASC, you will need to make an appointment with me to review the form and discuss your needs. Please make every attempt to meet with me within the first week of class so your accommodations can be provided in a timely manner. You can either stop by the ASC, Library, 1st floor, or call (445-4118-voice or 445-4104-TDD) to make an appointment.


No classes on the following dates: Mar. 11-15 (Spring Break), Apr. 18-22 (Easter Weekend Break).

PROJECT PROPOSALS DUE MON., MAR. 4. WRITTEN PROJECTS DUE:  WED., APR. 17.  Optional in-class quiz, Wednesday, Apr. 17 or TBA.


LAST DAY OF CLASS - May 6.TENTATIVE COURSE SCHEDULE AND ASSIGNMENTS: The course is divided into 15 weekly divisions; assignments are due as indicated (dates are approximate):

·     Week #1 (of Jan. 23) Formal and informal logic, classical and medieval origins, the nature of dialogues, possible uses, philosophical importance. Informal logic as self-defense; basic principles. What is an Argument? What is persuasion? Non-argumentative persuasion and attacks. Required reading: ILMA, Ch. 1. Be prepared to discuss exercises. Preliminary discussion of the three basics of audience, opponents/partners, and issue.  Supplementary reading: Weston, front matter including table of contents and “Introduction.”

·     Weeks #2 & 3 (of Jan. 28 and Feb. 4) Short writing assignment #1 is the ESSAY DUE MONDAY FEB. 4, ON YOUR GOALS FOR THIS COURSE. Turn in two copies so I have one available for the end of semester evaluation. (Note, if your goals change as a result of what you learn during the course of this semester, this will NOT in itself hurt your grade - it may even reflect the kind of progress that could help you accomplish more in the course). Look over the materials for the course, consider your goals. Explain why you want to achieve them, how you intend to achieve them, and how this class can help you towards them (or how your work for this class could be modified to help you towards them).

      Read ILMA, Ch. 2 and Ch. 3. Be prepared to discuss exercises. Goals and training. Discussion of the method of training: the distinction between formal exercises, free exercises, competition, and contests with more severe stakes. "What is an Argument?" (continued): premises, presupposition, and enthymemes; implication and inference; induction, conduction, and deduction; validity, soundness and truth; persuasion and conviction. Basic questions in evaluating arguments. Is there an argument? Who is the audience? Who the proponent? Is an attack involved? What is the field or subject? The tactics of the Topics.

      Week #4 (of Feb.11) "When and how do we challenge arguments?" The basics: Is there an opponent? Knowing your opponent, knowing the field or subject, knowing yourself. The issue of emergencies and when not to challenge. Optional: Sun Tzu and Musashi. Detecting and defending against fallacy. What is a fallacy? Read ILMA, Ch. 4. Be prepared to discuss exercises. You should have started reading Gift of Fear (also recommended here is Sweaty Palms) Short writing assignment #2 due Friday: How do Sun Tzu's three kinds of knowledge apply to the work of Medley and/or de Becker? Extra credit assignment: How might they bear on some of the tasks of the philosopher, and how might they be irrelevant or interfere with doing philosophy?

      Week #5 (of Feb. 18) Diversionary tactics and how to reply. Ad hominem fallacies, types and tactics. Diversionary tactics continued. Fallacies of straw, guilt by association, red herring. Read ILMA, Ch. 5. Read de Becker through ch. 4. Be prepared to discuss exercises. Short writing assignment #3 due Friday: In what ways do these diversionary tactics resemble de Becker's list of criminals' confidence techniques (forced teaming, too many details, type casting, etc.)? How do they differ?

      Week #6 (of Feb. 25)Disguise and deception. Read ILMA, Ch. 6, disguise and deception: masks, misrepresentation, and secret writing. Be prepared to discuss exercises. Read de Becker, ch. 5; also recommended is Medley, Chs. 5-7.  Optional reading: Huff, Chapter 8, "Post Hoc Rides Again," pp. 87­ 99; and Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter XVIII, "In What Way Princes Must Keep Faith." Disguise and deception continued. Optional reading: Machiavelli, The Discourses, Chapter XL, "Deceit in the Conduct of a War is Meritorious," and Chapter XLVIII, "Any Manifest Error on the Part of an Enemy Should Make us Suspect some Stratagem." Short writing assignment #4 due Friday: On the basis of your experience, including other studies, and the readings in this course, write a 2-3 page essay on plagiarism and how it can be understood in the context of a persuasion situation.

·         Week #7 (of Mon., Mar. 4, PROJECT PROPOSALS DUE MARCH 4) (Fakes and feints. Loaded terms, ambiguity, equivocation, vagueness. Read ILMA, Chapter 7, "Oldies but Goodies: Equivocation and some other Appealing Strategies." Be prepared to discuss exercises. Bluffs and threats. Read de Becker, Chs. 6 and 7; also recommended is Medley, Ch. 10.  Short writing assignment #5 due Friday: Discuss three kinds of intimidation from the readings. Try to explain what they presuppose, and what you can learn from them.

Mar. 11-15 (Spring Break)

      Week #8 (of Mar. 18) - Fallacies in retrospect. Why do fallacies work? Weston, “Appendix I:  Some Common Fallacies.”  Optional: JB, Chapter 7, "The Causes of Fallacious Reasoning"; and Cialdini, "Epilogue." Other techniques of the classical rhetorician. The art of memory; these techniques applied to test taking and public debate.

      Weeks #9 & 10 (weeks of Mar. 25 and Apr. 1). Introductory Lectures on Carnegie and Tannen. Read all of Carnegie and read Tannen's chs. 1-4. Gender and informal logic as a martial art. Wing Chun, Ng Mui, Brurria. Optional reading, Genderspeak, Chs. 1-2. Gender, semantics, and body language. Optional assignment: read Genderspeak Chs. 3­ 4.

      Week #11 (of Apr. 8) Of rank, status, and power. Read Tannen, chs. 5-7. Elgin's basic forms, Satir modes and defusing hostility; sensory modes and enhancing communication. Optional Genderspeak, Chs. 5-6. Optional in-class quiz, Wednesday, Apr. 17 or TBA.

Apr. 18-22 (Easter Weekend Break).

      Week #12 & 13: (of Apr. 15 & Apr. 24): Metaphors and traffic - the healthy conversation and how it works and. Verbal abuse and violence, the problem of sexual harassment. Read Tannen, Ch. 8, (optional reading from Elgin, Chs. 8-11). Optional reading, Medley, ch. 11. Locate a Le Moyne policy; read and print a copy. Short writing #6 due Friday: What do these discussions have in common? How do they differ? Which is most valuable to you? Why?

      Week 14 (of Apr. 29) Who gets heard, conversational styles, spatio-temporal breakdowns in communication - inside and out. Bridge building. Read Tannen ch. 9. Optional assignment, read Genderspeak, Chs. 12-14. Review Carnegie. Discussion: What do Tannen, Carnegie and/or Elgin teach us about informal logic as self-defense? How can we practice what we have learned?

      Week 15 (Mon., May 6). Last day of classes. As time permits: An extra lecture on the use of stories in arguments, some connections between rhetoric and poetics.

      Optional short writing assignment #i - List the five required or recommended texts for this course. Give a brief description of each one. What do you think each author thinks is the most important issue s/he presents? Why? (Make an extra copy of this if you want to do the next optional assignment.)

      Optional short writing assignment #ii. Of the issues discussed in class, the texts, and in student discussion (so far, including your own contributions), what do you think is the most important thing you learned in this class? Why?

      Short writing assignment #7 due Mon., May 6: What progress have you made with respect to the goals you described in the first short writing assignment? Support your answer.

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