PHIL XX1 Critical Thinking

Fall Semester 2013 | Day | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR: J. McIntosh, WMC 5606 (jillmc at


This course is designed to improve your natural ability to reason. It is a course in the critical, thoughtful assessment of arguments. Arguments consist, in this context, of the presentation of reasons to accept a conclusion. They are what you should consult when trying to answer a variety of questions: Should you vote for candidate X? Should you change your behaviour in light of scientific study Y? Should you buy my used van?

In this course, we focus on two things. One, we try to improve our ability to understand an argument (what conclusion does the writer or speaker intend us to believe?, what claims is he or she making and how are they supposed to provide support for the conclusion?). Two, we try to improve our ability to evaluate an argument (does the argument offered give us good grounds for believing its conclusion?). Somewhat more specifically, we will learn to distinguish arguments from other forms of persuasion, to understand deductive and inductive reasoning, to appreciate the appropriate use of statistical claims and claims about probability, to recognize types of informal fallacies, and to evaluate non-technical reports of scientific studies.

This is, in summary, a practical course, a course in applied logic. It should help you to be a better reader and listener, thereby helping you to be a better writer and speaker. It should give you some of the tools you will need to pursue your chosen interests and fulfill your capacity to be rational. What it cannot do is hone those tools or delve deeply into the subjects that make their acquisition worthwhile. Reflection and practice are required for those tasks; they must be left to the rest of your university career and other of your intellectual pursuits. Our goal is lofty enough – to learn to reason well.


  1. Reason and Argument Custom Edition for SFU. Richard Feldman, Pearson/Prentice Hall, ISBN: 0-536-38233-6 or 978-0-536-38233-7. (Also acceptable is Reason and Argument, 2nd ed. Richard Feldman, Prentice Hall. ISBN: 0-13-624602-8. Do not buy both.)
  2. 2. i>clicker*

     As you may know, i>clickers can be used in different classes. If you already have one, don’t buy another. If you don't already have one, buy one knowing that you can use it in other courses, or just borrow one if you can bring it to every lecture. I>clicker 1 is fine for this course, as I ask only multiple-choice questions. Later versions, such as i>clicker 2 should work fine, too, but Web-clicker will not. Details available in the first two weeks of class. Bring your clicker to the very first lecture if you have it, but don’t fret (until Week 3).


  1. Assignments - 10%
  2. Lecture participation (clickers) - 10%
  3. First midterm - 20%
  4. Second midterm - 25%
  5. Final exam - 35%

Prerequisites: Philosophy XX1 has no prerequisites. 
Note: Philosophy XX1 may be applied toward the Certificate in Liberal Arts and the Q-requirement.