RA 101  Spring 2014 (Ezio Vailati)


Where to reach me: PH 2212; phone: 3376.

E-mail: evailat@siue.edu; if you email me, identify yourself as taking this class. 

Homepage: http://www.siue.edu/~evailat .  Click on "Courses" and then on "RA 101" to find this very syllabus.
Office Hours: T 5-6, W 2-3, and by appointment if needed.

Course objectives

The objectives of this course are two: first, to develop the ability to identify and evaluate arguments; second to apply these skills to the analysis of some controversial topics.  Hence, the first segment of the course will be spent studying and applying the notions of validity, strength, soundness, and cogency, and in mastering the logic of phrases such as “only if’ and “unless.”  This will be followed by the study of informal fallacies (bad arguments that look good).  Finally, we shall acquire skills for the determination of hidden premises and facts that strengthen or weaken arguments.  After learning the aforementioned skills, we shall identify and evaluate the arguments in the majority opinion of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court’s decision that legalized abortion, and discuss the morality of the death penalty and of assisted suicide.


1.      P.J. Hurley, A concise introduction to Logic 11th edition (H).  (Rental Text)

2.      Some handouts and material to be downloaded from my homepage.

Course Outline (only school weeks are counted; quizzes and midterm are on Wed.)

Week 1 (Jan. 13-15) Knowing that and knowing how; the basics: arguments and their components.  Reading: H 1.1

Jan 20  MLK Day: Holiday

Week 2 (Jan. 22) The basics: recognizing arguments. Reading: H 1.2.  Quiz 1

Week 3 (Jan. 27-29) The basics: types of arguments and their strength. Reading: H 1.3- 1.4

Week 4 (Feb. 3-5) Conditional statements, necessary and sufficient conditions, using “only if,” “if and only if,” and “unless.”  Quiz 2

Week 5 (Feb. 10-12) Checking the validity of simple arguments.

Week 6 (Feb. 17-19) Informal fallacies.  Reading: H 3.1-3.2. Quiz 3  

Week 7 (Feb 24-26) Informal fallacies.  Reading: H 3.3.

Week 8 (March 3-8) Informal fallacies.  Reading: 3.4. Midterm

March 10-16: Spring break

Week 9 (March 17-19) Arguments by analogy.  Reading: 9.1. 

Week 10 (March 24-26) Logical skills: additional facts that strengthen or weaken an argument or a position.  Reading: download 

Week 11 (March 31- April 2) Logical skills: inferences and conclusions. Reading: download. Quiz 4

Week 12 (April 7-9) Logical skills: hidden assumptions.  Reading: download.

Week 13 (April 14-16) Thinking about Roe v Wade, a US Supreme Court decision: Download Roe v. Wade  Quiz 5

Week 14 (April21-23) Thinking and constructing arguments about a controversial issue: the death penalty.  Reading: Download.

Week 15 (April 28-30) Thinking and constructing arguments about a controversial issue: suicide and the right to die.  Watch The Suicide Tourist.  Reading: Download.   Hidden mechanisms of thought: Watch Ariely’s lecture on irrationality in decision-making.  Quiz 6.


Course requirements and grades

1)      Class attendance.  Each totally or partially missed class will produce a loss of 1% of the course grade.

2)      Six scheduled quizzes, some take-home and some in-class, each worth 10 points. Their dates are given in the course outline.  No make-up quizzes will be given unless in extreme circumstances.

3)      Four pop (unannounced) in-class quizzes, each worth 10 points. 

4)      A midterm exam, worth 40 points.

5)      Participation in the discussion of the topics covered from week 13 onward.  This will be worth 10 points.  You start with 5 points; good participation will produce more points; lack of participation will lose them.

6)      A comprehensive final exam worth 50 points.

There are 200 possible points in this class. The correspondence between points and course grades is as follows: 200-180: A; 179-158: B; 157-136: C; 135-115: D; below 115: F.  There may be a minimal curving of grades.

An A indicates excellence; a B overall competency; a C competency in some areas and poor command in others, or low competence overall; a D a minimally acceptable competence overall; finally, an F indicates an unacceptable level of competence.


Calculating grades

I do not keep a running count of grades because I use points.  However, since points eventually turn into grades according to the above scale, here’s how to calculate your letter grade.  Let S be the sum of all the possible points up to a point in the course; let M be the total points you have; calculate P = (200 * M)/S; use P with the above scale to determine your present grade.  For example, suppose that just after the midterm you have 60 points.  Since S =70 (assuming no pop quizzes were administered), we have that P = (200 * 60)/70, which is about 171, a high B. 

Please, don’t ask me how you are doing; just do the calculation and find out for yourself.  Take charge.


Academic policies
Cheating of any kind will result in substantial point loss at my discretion depending on the severity of the transgression.  Serious case will be reported to the Dean.  (This means BIG trouble).

Students are responsible for knowing what has been said in class, including announcements.

The use in class of electronic devices such as phones, laptops, or tablets is not allowed.  If you use them, at my discretion you may be required to leave the class and will lose 5% of the course grade for every occurrence (that’s like getting zero points in a quiz). 

Chatting is strongly discouraged and strictly forbidden if, in my judgment, it disturbs me or other students.  At my discretion, you may be required to leave the class and will lose 5% of the course grade for every occurrence.  Egregious cases of misconduct shall be reported to the Dean. 


A piece of advice. 

As much of the material covered involves learning skills, actively doing the in-class exercises is essential.  If in spite of your efforts you are having difficulties, come and see me as soon as possible.  Although RA 101 is a 100 level course, many students find it difficult; hence, if you want a good grade, you need to spend enough time studying.  How much is enough time?  It depends, as some need to work more than others.  However, a good estimate is 5 to 6 outside-class hours per week.  If you cannot, or do not want, do that, consider dropping the class.