Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: The Art of Critical Thinking

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

Learn about philosophy the smart way with Philosophy courses at the University of Sydney.

This philosophy course aims to develop critical thinking skills through practical sessions and the study of informal logic techniques. We will learn the basics of a good argument and evaluate the problems which make an argument go wrong. We will work through practical exercises and evaluate examples from everyday life. The aim of the course is to give the student a better understanding of how to construct a clear and persuasive argument and to assess the clarity of the arguments of others.

Outcomes

Upon completion of this philosophy course, it is expected that participants will:

  1. Have a better understanding of the structure of arguments.
  2. Be better able to construct a good argument themselves.
  3. Be better able to critically assess the arguments of others.

Content

This philosophy course will cover the following topics:

Introduction to Critical Thinking

Concepts and Ideas.

Elements of an Argument

An argument may be very simple with only a single premise and a conclusion, or may be composed of a convoluted series of premises and sub conclusions, one technique for working out the relationship between the different elements in an argument is to reconstruct it in the form of a structure diagram. We will take a variety of examples to learn this technique.

Language & Definitions

Many of the problem in arguments occur because of lack of clarity or precision in defining the terms in the argument. We will discuss Stipulative and Operational Definitions.

Appeals to Authority

Why do we accept the truth of some arguments as reliable and others as unacceptable? We will look at the ways in which arguments appeal to different authority sources for their justification and consider the merits of these appeals to truth.

Problems of Relevance

Many bad arguments work by diverting attention from the main issues of the argument. For example by attacking the personality of the opposition rather than debating his or her claims. We will discuss a number of these divisional fallacies including the Straw person fallacy; Ad Hominem; Tu Quoque; Appeals to Ignorance; The Gambler’s Fallacy.

Arguments from Analogy

Good persuasive arguments can be made through the use of analogies. For example the use of precedent in the legal system is a form of argument from analogy to a previous case. However in making these arguments one must be careful that the analogy supports the primary case.

Arguments from Experience

Arguments from experience use information about things we have experienced to draw conclusions about outcomes in the future, or they generalise the experiences of a few individuals to make claims about many others. We will evaluate the reliability of these forms of argumentation.

Statistical arguments

How reliable are statistics in arguments. What are the rules of statistical usage.

Application of techniques

In this last session, we will apply the techniques we have learnt to a number of complex arguments.

Contemporary debates

In this last session we will discuss some contemporary debates from the media and assess the quality of their argumentation.

Intended Audience

This philosophy course is suitable for personal interest learners: school, university students, adult and active retirees.

Delivery Style

This philosophy course will be delivered as an interactive lecture where questions and discussions are facilitated wherever possible.

Features

  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

What others say.

  • The presenter was outstanding in this course, a sharp mind is the best demonstration of critical thinking. The explanations raised everyone’s thinking capabilities. Very thought-provoking and entertaining.

  • A very interesting and informative course with lots of interaction, most enjoyable!