Analysis without evaluation: I miss my fallacies

In order to include Michael Gilbert’s book on Arguing with People I have had to skip a few chapters in Bailin and Battersby’s Reason in the Balance.  So far it’s worked pretty well, Gilbert in fact provides a larger context for understand the B&B focus on inquiry, or knowledge driven argumentation. I believe it will help students relate the bulk of the class to the rest of their lives. However, skipping through a book brings problems.  B&B provide no suggested short routes, but I have designed this: skipping Chapters 4-9 with the exception of covering the discussion of types of judgment, as that is crucial for the latter part of the book.

I also wanted to skip the section on fallacies because I believe that they ought not to be taught in brief, but I’m now wondering if they are not essential in adding an element of evaluation to the analysis.  Students are learning ways to categorize and analyze arguments, but not how to evaluate them — or at least they are not gaining practice in that.  Fallacies are a quick way to bring that power to students.  Indeed that’s part of the problem: fallacies can seem to empower students too instantly and encourage the dismissal of other’s arguments.  Now, I know the B&B analysis is not so simple and problematic as it involves the notion of burden of proof. However, that is also why it takes five chapters — about five teaching weeks, almost half a term.

So, next time I’ll consider a different path.  I think the empowerment to evaluate and not just analyze ought to be part of one’s introductory reasoning course.  And it’s hard to do with a large group, which is one reason that I think fallacy-based approaches persist and remain valuable in pedagogy.

That may mean, however, that I miss out on one of the singular strengths of the B&B text, which is building their account of inquiry to apply it to different disciplines.  That, I believe will also empower students, and I’m excited to watch it play out later this term.  But I am palpably aware that the practice in evaluation is missing.

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