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PHILOS 2CT3 Critical Thinking

Academic Year: Fall 2017

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. James Sikkema

Email: sikkej@mcmaster.ca

Office: University Hall 314A

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 26465


Office Hours: By Appointment

Course Objectives:

Course Description

Critical thinking essentially distinguishes between the capacity and quality of human thought.  That is, it essentially denies that thought is merely the ability to process information and to make judgments with respect to it.  Rather, critical thinking attests that there are certain modes of thinking that we can cultivate to clearly and carefully understand, evaluate, and communicate information.  This course introduces students to such modes of thought.

In order to facilitate such an introduction the course will be guided by four intellectual virtues that critical thinking fundamentally involves: 1) humility (the ability to admit limitations, ignorance, or confusion, etc.), 2) carefulness (the ability to identify and avoid mistakes and errors in reasoning), 3) thoroughness (the ability to think clearly and distinctly, providing sufficient justification for claims), and 4) open-mindedness (the ability judge fairly, empathetically, and with sensitivity to alternative beliefs).  Within these guidelines course topics will include the nature, limitations and justifications of knowledge, cognitive errors, formal and informal fallacies of reasoning, the structure of arguments, deductive and inductive reasoning, basic propositional and categorical logic, and socio-cultural criticism.


Course Objectives

By the end of the course students will:

  • Have a basic understanding of the concepts and strategies associated with critical thinking
  • Have the ability to employ such concepts and strategies in concrete situations
  • An appreciation for, and increased facility with, philosophical modes of inquiry more generally

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

The Critical Thinking Toolkit.  Galen A. Foresman, et al.  Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017.  *Available in the Campus Bookstore

Method of Assessment:

  • Tutorial Attendance & Participation – 15%
  • 1st Exam – 15% (In Class Wednesday, October 4)
  • Case Study 1 – 15% (Due Wednesday, October 25)
  • 2nd Exam – 15% (In Class Wednesday, November 15)
  • Case Study 2 – 15% (Due Wednesday, November 29)
  • Final Exam – 25% (TBA)


Note on Tutorial Attendance & Participation

While being physically present in your tutorial section is a necessary condition for your tutorial grade it is not, in itself, sufficient.  Given that, i) the purpose of tutorials is to provide you with a forum for deepening your understanding of the ideas we will be investigating in the lectures, and ii) tutorials largely involve a dialogical format, you are required to come to tutorial prepared to participate.  This requires that you have attended the lectures and have done the readings on which they will be based.

In order to better facilitate participation and to ensure the completion of readings you will be required to complete a prescribed number of the Exercises and Study Questions located at the end of each chapter in the class text, The Critical Thinking Toolkit.  Not only will this help you retain information, it will serve to deepen your understanding and foster your ability to practically apply it. 

Assignments will be graded on a pass/fail basis.  A ‘pass’ will be awarded only if the assignment is i) physically submitted in the tutorial corresponding with that week’s reading and ii) makes a sincere attempt to complete the exercises and/or questions.  Unless legitimate reasons can be provided, there will not be an opportunity for the retroactive submission of these assignments.


Note on Case Studies

Critical thinking is a practical activity applying to all spheres of life.  Because case studies involve real-life situations (or approximations of them), it is a great way to both enlist and test the quality of your critical thinking skills.  You will, therefore, be required to complete 2 case studies during the course of the term.

For both assignments you will be provided with 5 possible case studies to choose from.  Once you have chosen your case study you will be required to, i) identify the essential facts of the case as presented and raise 3-5 critical questions with respect to it (2 paragraphs), ii) identify and explain the claims, arguments, and errors/fallacies present in the case (2 paragraphs), iii) respond to your critical questions by providing a counter-argument to the claims/arguments made in the case  (2-3 paragraphs).

Case studies will be graded according to a criteria provided on Avenue to Learn.


Note on Exams

There will be two exams that will be written during class time.  Each will consist of 15 multiple choice questions and 2 short-answer questions.  The final exam will consist of 20 multiple choice questions and 5 short-answer questions.  The final will be cumulative.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

All extension requests must be communicated with the instructor and your TA via email at least one day prior to the due date of the assignment.  Should you fail to perform such a communication your assignment will not be protected from late penalties.

The late penalty for any assignment not submitted on time will be 2% per day.

If you must use MSAF for any assignment please be sure to send the instructor an email stating that you have used MSAF for X assignment.  Once the instructor receives word he will then work out an alternate date for you to submit the missed coursework.  Should you fail to communicate your use of MSAF and fail to work out an alternate deadline for the missed assignment with the instructor you may be liable to receive no credit for the missed coursework. Any late submissions after that time will be subject to late penalties. 

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.