Course level: Undergraduate

Spring 2020
The American University of Paris

Often we disagree and each of us believes they are right and have good reasons for their belief. How can we resolve such conflicts? This course introduces you to important tools of reasoning, so that you can make better arguments, assess the arguments of others, and recognize typical mistakes in your own thinking and the thought of others.

We begin with a basic introduction to deductive reasoning, i.e. the ways in which we look for the information already contained in our existing knowledge, as it is formalized in propositional and predicate logic. In contrast to a purely mathematical logic course, we will connect the symbolic languages of logic to argumentation in natural language. You learn to spot and take apart the arguments – as well as argumentative fallacies – implied in everyday discourse or more elaborate arguments made by a philosopher. This, in turn, will improve your own ability to connect your ideas into coherent and consistent arguments.

As an introduction to inductive reasoning, by which we acquire new knowledge from the empirical study of the world around us, you will survey modern methods of causal reasoning as they are applied in the social and human sciences, in legal procedure, or in the design of policies intended to solve a problem. Working with many concrete examples but without requiring the maths of a statistics course, the course offers a wide-ranging introduction to causal reasoning itself, its conceptual implications, limitations, and problems.

Human beings, even the most modest and prudent, suffer from all kinds of cognitive biases, such as the “overconfidence effect” or a “knowledge illusion.” Whether intentionally or not, these and other such weaknesses are constantly used against you, and you yourself may be shooting yourself in your own foot right now just because you do not see the fallacy in your reasoning. We will therefore pay particular attention to such clunky mechanisms in our cognitive apparatus.

Last but not least, since this is a philosophy course, we will also question the terms and foundations of our own argumentative practice. What does logic do? Does it really provide any knowledge about the world? What does it mean when I say that a statement is true? What is truth? What is a cause? What are the consequences for our rational and empirical practice if there is no consistent answer to these questions, such that “truth” or “cause” might be empty terms?

More information:

PL 1300 How To Think: Formal Logic and Causal Reasoning (1.60 MB)