Syllabus:

Philosophy and Logic: A Self-Paced Course

Professor Austen Clark
Department of Philosophy
University of Connecticut


Overview

The goal of this course is to improve your ability to detect and avoid bunk: shoddy arguments, bad evidence, meaningless assertions, fallacies, and unsound reasoning found in common sources such as newspaper editorials, commentaries, and media reports. The course provides techniques that will improve your analytical skills: your abilities to analyze arguments, assess evidence, detect vagueness, pinpoint fallacies, and in general achieve a higher degree of correspondence between beliefs and evidence. We will study some formal techniques for taking apart and analyzing arguments, isolating their parts, and determining whether they are constructed soundly.

Required Texts:

Philosophy and Logic: A Self Paced Course. 5th Edition, by yours truly. Printed by the UConn Coop.

How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff. 46th (!) printing. Available at the COOP.

Recommended Text:

Patrick Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 1999 edition. This has additional explanations and exercises that are close enough to mine to be useful; some students in the past have asked for such a recommendation. The book also comes with a CD-ROM with software that might be useful in practicing for tests. The package costs $64, though.

Course structure

Mondays and Wednesdays we meet as a body. On Thursday or Friday you meet in a smaller section, run by a graduate student in philosophy, who serves as a teaching assistant (TA). Learn your section number and TAís name. All work you hand in should be identified with both.

Our Locations Virtual and Physical

Virtually at http://webct.uconn.edu/

Philosophy is physically located in Manchester Hall, the building closest to Mirror Lake. All the TAs have offices in that building. My office is 233 (2nd floor, at the end of the building towards Storrs Road). Although philosophers work all the time, and never sleep, it is best to visit during office hours (or at least call first to make sure the philosopher you want to see is physically present in the building before you truck over.) Our office hours are posted on the WebCT site.

Course Format, Requirements, etc.

This is a "self paced" course. It works as follows.

  1. Material for the course is organized in six units. On each unit you will take at least one test. If you do poorly on a given unit, you can take another test on it. You can keep on doing this until you either get the grade you want on that unit, you run out of time, or you run out of tests. Then you go on to the next unit.
  2. Your final grade in the course is determined solely by the average of your best grades over the six units. To get an "A" your best scores on the six units must add up to at least 540 points (i.e., 6 x 90). To get a "B" your best scores must add up to at least 480. And so on.
  3. The section meetings with your TA at the end of each week are devoted entirely to taking tests. It is up to you to decide when you are ready to take a test on a given unit, and to know which test you want to take. If you donít want to take any test that week, there is no need to go to the section meeting.
  4. No one will tell you when to go take a test. (Thatís what "self-paced" means!) Given that there are only 15 possible testing sessions, however, and 6 units, it is a good strategy to plan on taking a test every week. That would give you two or three chances on every unit.
  5. On Mondays and Wednesdays I will lecture on the material, at a pace designed to finish the course easily by the end of the semester. The topic for each day is laid out in advance (see the schedule). Most students will find attendance at lectures to be essential in learning the material. Past students have commented that it is easy to pass logic courses if you come to class, and stick with the recommended schedule.
  6. But if you can learn the material on your own, you have my encouragement to proceed as quickly as possible. You can go as fast as you like. Our record so far is an "A" in eight weeks, after taking seven tests.
  7. Although there are no limits on how fast you can go, there are deadlines on how slowly one can proceed. After all, we do need to finish by the end of the semester. (See deadlines, below; and see the schedule).

Assignments Summarized

Six units. Multiple one-hour tests available for each unit.

Your final grade = the average of your six best scores, one from each unit.

(If you have to take any tests during the Final Exam period, this equation is modified slightly. See below.)

Test procedure

  1. Be sure to go to your first section meeting, to learn who your TA is, where you meet, what his or her office hours are, where the office is, how to contact the TA outside of class, etc. You might also want to take a test on unit 1!
  2. The only section meeting you are allowed to attend is the one in which you are officially enrolled, and that is the only time you can take tests.
  3. Tests may take up to 50 minutes, but many will take less time. You can take only one test on a given unit during any given test session. It is OK, however, to take tests on two different units in the same test session, as long as you have enough time: you must finish the first one and ask for the second one before the half hour is up.
  4. You will need to know which tests on a given unit you have already taken. Obviously enough, you will get no credit for taking the same test twice. Donít expect the TA to remember which tests you have taken!
  5. To take a test on unit 1, show up at the session in enough time to finish, pick a seat and put your stuff away, then go up and ask the TA for a test on unit 1. By a few weeks into the semester, the TA will be carrying tests on multiple units to each weekly session.
  6. Basically the TA will "shuffle the deck" of tests on a given unit, so which one you get in a given session will be totally unpredictable. If test 1.2 happens to be at the top of the deck, and you have already taken test 1.2, just tell the TA. Youíll get the next one in the pile that is not test 1.2. It might be 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, etc.: the selection is random.
  7. All tests must be returned with your name and the date. Even if you merely look at a test and do no work on it, you still must sign and return the test.
  8. Tests will be graded and results posted by the following Monday morning. We will be using WebCT to post results on the internet, securely and anonymously.
  9. TAís will set aside office hours for several hours early in the week. You should plan on visiting your TA each week after you take a test, so that you can review the test briefly and see what you did wrong.

Use of WebCT

  1. If you are a registered UConn student, you already have a WebCT account. Your user name is your UConn email ID, all in lower case. Your password starts as your student ID (nine digits, no dashes), but once you logon the first time, change it to something you like (and can remember).
  2. To logon, go to http://webct.uconn.edu and click "logon to myWebCT". If your logon is successful you should see Philosophy 102, and any other of your courses that use WebCT.
  3. Grades posted on WebCT are anonymous and secure; no one else can see your grades unless you give away your password. Keep it private! Other course materials will also be posted there. You should check WebCT on a regular basis.

Deadlines

  1. Deadlines are noted on the schedule. Typically, after I have finished lecturing on a given unit, you have a maximum of one more week during which you can take your first test on that unit.
  2. If you miss that deadline, and have not taken a test on that unit, the only way you can do it thereafter is during the Final Exam testing session. For reasons noted below, this is a Very Bad Idea.
  3. After the deadline, even if you scored low or totally missed an earlier unit, you can (and should) start work on the next one. You are not required to pass earlier units before going on. If you leave too much to do at the end, however, it will be impossible to do very well in the course.
  4. Please note that there are no test sessions in the last week of classes!

Rewind option

  1. Once you have completed a test from each of the six units, you then (and only then) get rewind privileges. You can go back and take tests on any unit, in any order you like. But you have to get to the end of the tape before you can rewind.
  2. So here is one reason why missing deadlines is a Very Bad Idea: if you miss a single unit, you never get rewind privileges. You must come to the Final Exam to take a test on that unit.

Final Exam Period

  1. The Final Exam period is used as a special testing session, beyond the deadlines. During it you may take at most two tests, on any two units. (You may want to take only one test, on one unit; or you may take two tests, from two different units. As always, you cannot take more than one test from a given unit.)
  2. The final exam testing period is special in another way: the scores from tests you take during the final exam period will replace whatever other score you have earned on the given unit, even if the final exam score is lower. Tests taken in the final exam period can hurt your average.
  3. The best use of the final exam period is to avoid it altogether: finish early. Second best is to use it to pull up your scores on just one unit, after you've taken several tests on that unit, reviewed them all with your TA, and then studied that material so thoroughly that you are sure you can do better. The worst idea is to put off taking tests so long that you have to come to the final exam and take tests on two units. Plan ahead and avoid this unpleasantness!
  4. Notice that the unpleasantness here is exactly the norm in other classes: you must come to the Final Exam, and your score during the Final Exam irrevocably becomes part of your final grade. This seems a fitting penalty for those who procrastinate while the course was self-paced.

Some final implications of being "self paced"

  1. No incompletes will be given.
  2. No one will be allowed to switch to auditing the course.
  3. Since you are never required to come to any test session, you never need an excuse for missing one. But, for the same reason, no extra test sessions will be scheduled for "make ups".
  4. Likewise, no "ABS" grades will be given for the final exam. The fourteen section meetings and final exam period are your only opportunities to take tests.
  5. If you are unlucky enough to become so ill or incapacitated that you miss many weeks of test sessions, you should come talk to me. The best idea for someone that ill is to withdraw from all your courses, and I will help you to do so. (Itís not worth wasting tuition money if you canít study. The Dean of Students can also help.)
  6. Anyone cheating on any test or found to have given or received any information on the questions asked in any test will receive an F for the course and notification will be sent to the Dean. Those convicted have a permanent notation made in their academic record. (Itís not worth it!)

Some Strategic Suggestions

  1. Come to class. Somehow in spring 2000 the rumor got out that "self paced" means "there is no reason to come to class". This is not entirely accurate! Lectures can help you learn things. It helps to hear ideas put in a different way, to view more examples, to see some pretty pictures, to hear an enthusiastic voice, crooning about the joys of logic, and to have a chance to ask questions. The vast majority of students find attendance at lectures to be very helpful in learning the material. (A large number in spring 2000 began showing up again around unit 4, noting with some surprise that the lectures were actually, well, like, you know, a little bit helpful, sort of. Gosh, thanks!)
  2. Don't fall behind! The course will not be overly difficult if you keep up. It is impossible, however, if you try to leave it all to the last few weeks of the semester. Falling behind is the main reason for most failures in the course.
  3. Plan on taking a test every week. At worst this discipline will help you finish the class early.
  4. Use the study guides religiously. You will need to do practice problems from the book to study for each test. Logic requires a certain amount of practice and trial and error. But most text books donít bother to give you the correct answers, which is the main reason I decided to prepare my own.
  5. Don't waste test sessions just to see "what a test looks like". The study guide will tell you: it describes the material to be covered, the sorts of problems on the test, the weightings for each section, and suggested exercises for each type of problem. If you use the study guides you should never be surprised by what is on a test. That's our goal. It is simply a waste to take a test for which you haven't studied.
  6. Schedule a regular weekly five minute appointment with your TA, for some day early in the week. The appointment can be during the TAs office hours, but if those hours are not convenient for you, you and the TA should keep on talking until you agree on some other time convenient to both of you. During that appointment, review the test you took last week to see where you made mistakes.
  7. We were absolutely amazed at the number of students in spring 2000 who took test after test on unit 1, repeating the same mistake again and again. The reason: they never came in to see the TA to see what mistake they made on the first test 1 they took. This wasted hours and hours of their time, and used up far too many test sessions early on. Often it was just some tiny little misunderstanding which caused massive point loss until it was cleared up. On some tests 2 we saw grades jump from the 20s into the 90s with just one TA visit. By definition you don't know where your own misunderstandings lie. If you did know you would have aced the test!
  8. Emphasizing this point now will probably make no difference, but I will try anyway. Every failure I have seen in self paced courses so far has been due to missed units. It simply cannot be done if it is all left to the last few weeks. The procrastinator syndrome is: time slippage starting around unit 2, spotty appearances in class thereafter, invisibility by unit 4, sudden reappearance two weeks before the final, crash and burn in finals. You may think this exaggerated, but just watch the WebCT discussions.

A final note

The process of turning Philosophy 102 into a self-paced course has benefited from comments and suggestions from many students. I would like particularly to acknowledge the help and suggestions of Virgil Whitmyer, Greg Gale, Keya Maitra, and Jim Phelps, who helped improve both the text and the course.

By the same token I invite your suggestions and comments on how the course could be improved. Send me email or stop by my office if any comments, suggestions, or ideas occur to you.


The Self-paced Logic Project homepage.

Austen Clark's homepage.

The Philosophy Department homepage.