In the first of this two-part series, Lori Watson, Ph.D., professor of philosophy and chair of the Department of Philosophy at University of San Diego, provides insight into “A Concise Introduction to Logic, 13th Edition” by Patrick J. Hurley, co-authored by Watson. As you begin using this text in your course, utilize Watson’s best practices in your own classroom.
Arguments are Everywhere!
When teaching Chapter One, I find it really helps to have students look for arguments in the news media or blogs that they frequent—an assignment asking them to locate an argument on a topic they’re interested in and outline its premises and conclusion—is an effective early assignment. Students start to see arguments everywhere. They’ll often excitedly report to me they discovered an argument—given in another class or as reported in the news—was flawed in some particular way as we work through Chapter One.
As a second iteration of this assignment, I like to ask students to develop a short argument to support some conclusion they believe to be true. Again, this ties the material to their individual interests. It also helps them distinguish between validity and soundness—something many students find challenging.
Every semester I tell my students the following before their first in-class quiz: the final question of the quiz will ask you to define a valid and sound argument and ask you to give an example of an argument that is both valid and sound. I then tell them I’ve asked this question on the first quiz every semester I have taught logic over the last 15 years—and yet, I’ve never had a class where 100% of the students correctly answer the question, despite telling them in advance the question will be on the quiz. I challenge the class as a whole to be the first class in which every student gets this question correct—that challenge has never been met.
Students typically err in one of three ways: 1) They give an incomplete definition of a valid and sound argument—either only defining validity or giving a definition that emphasizes true premises without also emphasizing the relationship between the premises and conclusion; 2) They give an example of a valid but unsound argument; and 3) They give an “argument” consisting of three true sentences but the “argument” isn’t valid.
I’ve found that the second iteration of the assignment concerning arguments, as detailed above, has brought the class as a whole much closer to that 100% goal.