Phil 2003A: Critical Thinking/Optional Take–Home Assignment

Phil 2003A: Critical Thinking/Optional Take–Home Assignment
Note: As indicated above, this assignment is entirely optional. If you choose to submit it, it will be worth 10% of your overall grade for the course, and the final exam will then be worth 30% rather than 40%.

Date Due: The assignment is due on April 7.

Submitting your assignment: You may submit your assignment to the Philosophy Essay Box on level 3A Paterson Hall, or send it to my Carleton email as a Word document (


No title page please, just put your name and student number on first page
12 point font, 3-4 pages in length (about 1000 words)
Any Internet sources used must be cited, with complete address, as follows: <….
Choose one of the two topics described below:

Topic 1

Choose one of the conspiracy theories from the list given in the document on CuLearn entitled “Top Ten Conspiracy Theories” (or some other prominent conspiracy theory) and then do the following:

a) (2 points) State or describe the conspiracy theory as clearly as you can.

b) (1 point) Identify as clearly as you can the phenomena or events the theory is supposed to explain.

c) (1 point) What conventional, non-conspiratorial theory or hypothesis, if any, is usually or often accepted as the correct explanation of the phenomena

(6 points) Evaluate how plausible or convincing the conspiracy theory is. One thing you might do in your evaluation is to apply the criteria for evaluating explanations given in the lecture on explanation (especially consistency, simplicity, and coherence with background information) but you need not necessarily restrict yourself only to these criteria. (Your main goal in evaluating the conspiracy theory should be to assess as clearly and convincingly as you can how plausible it is in light of all available considerations and evidence.)
Topic 2

Choose an example of what is commonly regarded as a pseudo science and then do the following:

a) (1 point) Describe clearly, but concisely, in one paragraph the beliefs, theories or assumptions associated with the pseudo science.

b) (5 points) Discuss the extent to which the mistakes or fallacies of evidence described in the lectures on scientific reasoning and pseudoscience (slides 44-55) are applicable to the pseudoscience you have chosen.

c) (4 points) Describe a rigorous scientific test that could be applied to the pseudo science to evaluate its truth. In describing your test you must identify clearly:

i. The hypothesis being tested.
ii. The prediction you are using to test it.
iii. How the prediction is implied by the theory.
iv. The experimental conditions or observations that would determine whether the prediction is true or false

Some Common Mistakes to Avoid

Elaborate, artificial introductions – get to the point fairly quickly
Repetition, except very selectively for emphasis, and stating (or worse, defending) the obvious
Being too colloquial, although an informal writing style, including use of the 1st person, is permitted
Sentences that are too long or complicated to be clear, vagueness, ambiguity, and clichés
Grammatical mistakes (incorrect use of commas, or incomplete sentences, are common mistakes)
Using too many quotations (only quote when necessary)
Padding to get the required length – this is easy for graders to spot

Do not plagiarize: It is the responsibility of each student to understand the meaning of ‘plagiarism’ as defined in the Carleton University Calendar, and to avoid both committing plagiarism and aiding/abetting plagiarism by other students.
Philosophy 2003: Critical Thinking

List of Topics and Readings
I. Introduction

Barriers to Critical Thinking

Reading 1 (Text): Lewis Vaughn, “What is Critical Thinking ”, from The Power of Critical Thinking, (Oxford: Oxford University press, 2005) pp. 3-7
Reading 2 (online): Watch the movie “Twelve Angry Men”, starring Henry Fonda and directed by Sydney Lumet, available at: v=s0NlNOI5LG0
II. Analyzing and Reconstructing Arguments

(a) Reasoning and Argument: The Basics

Reading 3 (Text): Ronald Munson and Andrew Black, The Elements of Reasoning, 6th edition (New York: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2004) pp. 1-13
Reading 4 (CuLearn): More exercises on identifying premises and conclusions

(b) Recognizing Arguments

Reading 5 (Text): G. Bassham, W. Irwin, H. Nardone and J.M. Wallace, Critical Thinking: A Student’s Introduction, 3rd edition, (Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 2008) pp. 37-53
Reading 6 (CuLearn): More exercises on recognizing arguments

(c) Structure Diagrams for Arguments

Reading 7 (Text): Ronald Munson and Andrew Black, The Elements of Reasoning, 6th edition, (New York: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2012) pp. 24-27
Reading 8 (CuLearn): More exercises for structure diagrams

(d) Distinction between Deduction and Induction

Reading 9 (online): Deductive and Inductive Arguments”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at:
Reading 10 (Text): Lewis Vaughan and Chris MacDonald, The Power of Critical Thinking, 2nd Canadian Edition (Oxford, Oxford U. Press, 2010) pp. 75-77

III. Sources of Belief and Knowledge

(a) Trusting Experts

Reading 11 (Online): Watch the documentary “The Trouble With Experts”, by Josh Freed, available on YouTube
Reading 12 (Text): Bruce Waller, Critical Thinking: Consider the Verdict, 6th edition, (Toronto, Pearson, 2012) pp. 141-153

(b) Observation and Memory

Reading 13 (online): Douglas Starr, “False Eyewitness”, from Discover Magazine, November, 20 at:
Reading 14 (online): Elizabeth Loftus, “Creating False Memories”, Scientific American September 1997, vol. 277 #3 pages 70-75, at:
Reading 15 (online): “Eyewitness Testimony”, from Wikipedia website at:
Reading 16 (Text): Lewis Vaughan, The Power of Critical Thinking (Oxford U. P, 2005) pp. 144-149

(c) Cognitive Biases

Reading 17 (online): Listen to the lecture on cognitive biases by Kevin deLaplante from the website, at: v=dTJLchCHsrc
Reading 18 (online): Jim Holt, “Two Brains Running”, (A review of Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011) at: pagewanted=all

IV. Informal Fallacies and Rhetorical Devices

(a) Informal Fallacies

Reading 19 (Optional online): Useful website on fallacies: The Fallacy Files, by Gary Curtis, available at:
Reading 20 (Optional online): Max Schulman, “Love Is A Fallacy”, available at:
Reading 21 (Text): Lewis Vaughan, The Power of Critical Thinking … pp. 177-183
Reading 22 (CuLearn): Additional exercises for informal fallacies

(b) Illicit Rhetorical Devices

Reading 23 (online): “Writing and Rhetorical Devices”, (Note the brief video clip by psychologist Steven Pinker which is included in this reading) at:
Reading 24 (Text): Brook Moore and Richard Parker, Critical Thinking, 7th edition (Toronto: McGraw Hill, 2004) pp. 141-149

V. Advertising and the Media
Reading 25 (CuLearn): Jeffrey Schrank, “The Language of Advertising Claims”, at:
Reading 26 (Text): Nancy Cavender and Howard Kahane, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: the use of reason in everyday life, 11th ed (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 2010) pp. 317-321
Reading 27 (online): Dr. Andrew R. Cline (Professor of Journalism, Missouri State University), “Media/Political Bias”, from the website “The Rhetorica Network”, at:

VI. Deductive Reasoning

(a) Deductive Reasoning: Sentential Logic

Reading 28 (Text): William Hughes and Jonathan Lavery, Critical Thinking: An Introduction to the Basic Skills, 4th edition (Peterborough” Broadview Press, 2004) pp. 179-196
Reading 29 (CuLearn): Exercises on deductions

(b) Deductive Reasoning: Categorical Syllogisms

Reading 30 (online): “Categorical Propositions”, From the website, at:
Reading 31 (online): “Categorical Syllogisms”, From the website, at:
Reading 32 (CuLearn): Exercises for Categorical Syllogisms

VII. Pseudoscience, Explanation and Conspiracy Theories

(a) Explanation and Conspiracy Theories

Reading 33 (online): “Top 10 Conspiracy Theories”, at:
Reading 34 (online): Kurt Eichenwald, “The Plots to Destroy America: Conspiracy Theories are a Clear and Present Danger”, from Newsweek, May 15, 2014, available online at:
Reading 35 (online): “Conspiracy Theories: Who Believes Them and Why, and How to Determine if a Conspiracy Theory is True”, By Michael Shermer and Pat Linse, from the Skeptics Society, at:
Reading 36 (Optional online): Fred Clark, “The Full Scope of the Climate Change Conspiracy”,

The full scope of the ‘climate-change’ conspiracy

Reading 37 (CuLearn): Explanation Exercises.
Reading 38 (Text): Lewis Vaughan and Chris MacDonald, (Toronto: Oxford U. Press, 2008) … pp. 341-344, 360, 369-370, and 377

(a) Science and Pseudoscience

Reading 39 (online): Carl Hempel, The Philosophy of Natural Science, Chapter 2, “Invention and Test”, pp. 3-9, at:
Reading 40 (online): Frank Wolfs, “Introduction to the Scientific Method”, at:
Reading 41 (online): Watch the documentary “Here be Dragons”, written and presented by Brian Dunning, at:
Reading 42 (online): Rory Coker, Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience”, at:
Reading 43: Harriet Hall, “Answering Our Critics” (A Defense of Conventional Medicine) from the website Science-Based Medicine, available at:
Reading 44 (Text): Lewis Vaughan and Chris MacDonald, The Power of Critical Thinking, 2nd Canadian Edition … pp. 392-393 and 415-419

(b) Creative Thinking: Is There a Method for Discovering New Ideas and Theories

Reading 45 (online): Debra Kidd, “In Defense of the Six Thinking Hats”, Sept. 20, 2013, from Debra Kidd’s bog Love Learning, at:
Reading 46 (Optional online): Steven Harnad, “Creativity: Method or Magic ”, available online at:
VIII. Induction and Causal Reasoning

(a) Inductive Reasoning

Reading 47 (online): Wesley Salmon, Logic, Section 26: “Induction by Enumeration”, at:
Reading 48 (Text): Lewis Vaughan and Chris MacDonald, The Power of Critical Thinking, 2nd Canadian Edition … pp. 283-285, 298-300, 317-319, and 326-328
Reading 49 (online): Wesley Salmon, Logic, Section 26: “Analogy”, at:
Reading 50 (CuLearn): “Famous Examples of Arguments from Analogy”

(b) Causal Reasoning and Mill’s Methods

Reading 51 (online): Garth Kemmerling, “Causal Reasoning”, The Philosophy Pages website, available at:
Reading 52 (online): “Causal Arguments and Causal Fallacies”, from the California State University at Sacramento website, at
Reading 53 (online exercises): “Causal Fallacy Worksheet”, from the California State University at Sacramento website, at:
Reading 54 (CuLearn Exercises): “Causal Reasoning Exercises”
Reading 55 (Text): Merilee Salmon, Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking, (Belmont, California: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2007) pp. 181-186

IX. Normative Reasoning

(a) Moral Reasoning

Reading 56 (online): Peter Singer, “Should We Trust Our Moral Intuitions ”, at:–.htm
Reading 57 (online): Mark Oppenheimer, “Who Lives Who Dies The Utility of Peter Singer”, at title=2659

(b) Legal Reasoning

Reading 58: Julie Dickson, “Interpretation and Coherence in Legal Reasoning”, 2010, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at:

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