A sample syllabus

One of the things I hope to add to this page over the long run is a series of best practices and models: syllabi, exercises, etc.  I don’t expect these all to come from me and if you have something you’d like to share please send it along.

I am teaching a course (module) on fallacies this term, and in case you are interested, here is my syllabus.  It is based on the way the textbook author, Chris Tindale, designs his own course, but has my own spin.  In particular, I plan this time to have some discussion and assignments addressing constructive failure, a notion popular in business and creative thinking and that has many adherents in pedagogy too. I have also developed a youtube playlist to play at the beginning of class to pick up on the particular themes as we progress through the syllabus.

My technique for using the book is to leave all the case studies/exercises in the book for student practice, and to bring my own examples for in-class analysis.  This book adopts the “critical questions” approach associated especially with Doug Walton, according to which fallacies are deviations from argumentation or inference schemes that may often (or in certain cases) be acceptable.  The questions are used to devise the strength or weakness of a particular employment of an inference scheme, such as appeal to the person.

The critical questions/inference schemes approach gets past the problem that many putative cases of fallacy can be given positive interpretation.  Thus interpretation plays a central role in the course/module, which might seem to open a messy can of worms but I find it a useful way to teach students how to justify their analysis.  And to teach the value of changing their interpretations as they reflect more deeply on the reasoning they encounter, and recognize they can improve on their initial impressions.  Pressing students to be accountable for their interpretations (along with their evaluations) is one reason that I think fallacies can be a valuable way to teach argumentation.