Spring 2006

Welcome to Philosophy 17 at West Valley College!

The Web site, which uses the Angel interface, opens January 30, 2006.

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Disabled students: West Valley College makes reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. College materials will be available in alternate formats (Braille, audio, electronic format, or large print) upon request. Please contact the Disability and Educational Support Program at (408) 741-2010 (voice) or (408) 741-2658 (TTY) for assistance.

Please notify me immediately if you have a documented learning disability and require extra time on timed exams. I am happy to give you extra time if you (1) can document your disability; AND (2) notify me BEFORE you take the timed exam.

All Students: FREE TUTORING for this class is available on campus and online.



This course is an introduction to informal logic or critical thinking. I will teach techniques of practical reasoning and argumentation. I would like you to learn to distinguish correct and incorrect reasoning, using mostly informal methods. When you have acquired the skills taught in this class, you will be able to confidently assess whether or not, or to what extent, arguments are logically correct. Thus, all tasks and assignments in this class have the same end in view: to enable you to evaluate reasoning, both your own and that of others. Your own arguments will become more precise and persuasive, and you will develop greater resistance to incorrect arguments.

The class is also, in part, an introduction to critical thinking about knowledge itself. We will wrestle with questions such as: what is truth? What can be known? Are there limits to knowledge? Is everything a matter of opinion? Is there such a thing as complete objectivity?

The class investigates ambiguity and clarity, definition, common mistakes in reasoning, and formal and informal fallacies. Sample arguments for evaluation are drawn from philosophy and from everyday life.

This class emphasizes English composition skills. You must write a sequence of argumentative essays, which are evaluated according to standards of both logic and English composition. This course fulfills the IGETC and CSU requirements for Critical Thinking.



REQUIRED TEXTS (in WVC bookstore, or order online from your favorite vendor)

If you do not have regular reliable access to the Internet, you are welcome to use computers on the WVC campus. If you use the WVC Tech Center, there is a one-time $5 fee, which gives you access to the Tech Center all semester at any hour it is open. There is a very fast Internet connection, plus a free email account if you want one. The fee also allows you to use the printers in the Tech Center.


A few required readings and videos will be on reserve in the WVC library. Most of the reading for this class is either from required texts or online.

I recommend that you have at your disposal a reference text on the basics of English composition and standard English usage, such as you used in English 1A.

You are expected to understand and adhere to the FULL contents of this syllabus from the first week of class. This syllabus is our contract. It describes all assignments and special policies regarding attendance, grading and other matters relevant to this class. I would be happy to change anything you can convince me is unreasonable or unfair, but you may propose changes in the first week of class only. Please inform me of your objections, in writing, by February 3, 2006. If you do not object in writing by February 3, 2006, I will assume you understand and agree to the terms and conditions as presented here.



Click here for
DUE DATES for Phil 17 online Spring 2006



PART 1 (1 week)

Jan 30 What is Philosophy? What Is Philosophy?
Thinking Critically About the
"Subjective"/"Objective" Distinction
Clarity CM Ch 9-10,
Open and closed concepts Open and Closed Concepts


PART 2 (1 week)

Feb 6 Definition CM Ch 8,
Self Test on Definitions


PART 3 (2 weeks)

Feb 13 Fundamental concepts of logic CM Ch 1-4
- Feb 20 Steps in Argument Analysis
Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
Deductive and nondeductive arguments
Validity and logical form What is Bad Logic?
Common valid and invalid patterns
Formal vs informal fallacies
Refutation by logical analogy Refutation by
Logical Analogy
Complex arguments

PART 4 (2 weeks)

Feb 27 Writing well OC (all)
- March 6 Review English Grammar,
Usage, and Spelling
Avoiding common mistakes Self Tests on English
Examples of Bad Writing
Writing and diversity Guidelines for Non-Sexist
Use of Language

PART 5 (2 weeks)

March 13 Some common informal fallacies CM Ch 6-8,
Online Resources for
Informal Fallacies
- March 20 Accident / Appeal to a Saying SV Appendix
Ad Hominem / Genetic Fallacy
Appeal to Common Belief
Appeal to Common Practice
Appeal to Ignorance
Arguing from Questionable Premises
Begging the Question
Biased Generalization
Compatibility with All States of Affairs
Composition and Division Fallacies of Composition
and Division
Continuum Fallacy Open and Closed
Correlation Fallacy
False Dilemma
Gambler's Fallacy What Are the Odds?
Impromptu Definition
Irrelevant Emotional Appeal
Loaded Question
Objectionable Vagueness
Poisoning the Well
Post Hoc
Questionable Analogy
Questionable Cause
Questionable Statistics
Sample Too Small
Sample Unrepresentative
Slippery Slope
Smokescreen/Red Herring
Straw Man
Suppressed (Overlooked) Evidence
Two Wrongs Make a Right
Unfair Shifting of the Burden of Proof

PART 6 (2 weeks)

April 3 Advertising and persuasion "Sex, Lies, and Advertising"
by Gloria Steinem
Marxism and Culture
Analyzing images Video "Affluenza"
Notes on Affluenza
April 10 News in commercial media Readings on Media
and Consumer Culture


PART 7 (2 weeks)

April 17 Epistemology: Philosophical views
about knowledge and truth
Theories of Truth (1),
Theories of Truth (2)
- April 24 Analyzing the claim
that truth is relative
    SV Ch 4
    Absolutism, Absolute
Relativism, and Relative
Relativism Compared
    Underlying Recurrent
Ideas in "Critical Theory"
("Post- Modernism,"
Peter Barry


PART 8 (3 weeks)

May 1 The "paranormal" SV Ch 1,2
Appealing to ignorance,
shifting the burden of proof
Logical impossibility
vs physical impossibility
Personal experience
as a test of truth
SV Ch 3
Video, "Secrets of
the Psychics"
Knowledge, belief, and evidence SV Ch 5
May 8 Science and pseudo-science SV Ch 6, 7, 8
Criteria for adequacy
of scientific theories
Summary of Kuhn's
The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions
Ten Myths About Science
"Miracle" cures
May 15 Religious and moral claims Fallacies of Egoism
"The Will to Believe"
(William James' essay)
May 22 Final Exam Week





My office hours in Spring 2006 are Monday and Wednesday 9:30 to 10:50 AM. Hours by arrangement are Tuesday and Thursday 12:30 - 1:30 PM. No appointment is needed for office hours. If you want to see me at some other time, please make an appointment.

ONLINE STUDENTS: After the semester begins, please contact me via email within Angel.

My West Valley College email address is . However, as stated above, the most reliable way to reach me is via email within Angel. Why? Emails sent to me via do not necessarily get sent on to my home machine or my portable. This could create problems for you if you need to reach me quickly. For example, if you send an email to me at on a Thursday, and I am not on-campus from Friday through Monday, I may not receive your email until the following Tuesday. If you send me email within Angel, however, I can get your email whenever I have Internet access, no matter what physical machine I happen to be using. I ordinarily connect to the Internet every day from some machine or other.

I will not return calls or email for information that is available on this syllabus.




This course is worth 3 units. "Units" means Carnegie units. By law, to earn 1 Carnegie unit, a student must spend at least 3 hours a week on a class. (A 1-unit class, in other words, requires 3 hours of student work per week in an 18-week semester.) Therefore, since this is a 3-unit class with two additional hours by arrangement (reflecting the increased workload for this class), you will be expected to spend, at minimum, 11 hours a week on this class. Please plan accordingly!

I will post general class announcements on the Angel Homepage or send out general class announcements via Angel email. You must log in to Angel at least twice a week. I will assume all posted announcements and emails will be read by all students within FOUR calendar days. Angel keeps a record of all your logins and page accesses. If you miss an important message simply because you did not log in to Angel, you are out of luck.

I will ordinarily NOT contact you outside Angel. In other words, I will not be using the external email address that you sent to notify me of your enrollment. Students often change their external email names and addresses in the course of the semester. As long as you are enrolled in the class, however, your Angel email address will be stable and I will use that.

I will expect you to read all Discussion postings within Angel, and use Discussions (NOT private email) to ask questions, unless there is some compelling reason your question needs to be handled privately.

If your ISP suddenly goes out of business, or your disk crashes, or your puppy chews up your modem, or you experience some other personal hardware issue, you are responsible for having an emergency alternative computer access plan. Know in advance where you can go (library, Internet cafe, friend's house, workplace) if your primary system fails!

All students are expected to know the rules regarding plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious violation of the academic code. It is cause for expulsion in many schools. Ignorance is not an excuse. Other teachers may not enforce the rules; that is also NOT an excuse. If you are unclear about what constitutes plagiarism, educate yourself! Look closely at all the eye-opening examples here. Students are often surprised to learn that what they consider standard practice is actually plagiarism.

Any direct quote or close paraphrase without proper citation — any use of anybody else’s words without giving proper credit — is plagiarism. In addition to the usual kinds of plagiarism (stealing sentences, paragraphs, papers, etc. from books or journals or web sites), it is also plagiarism to “answer” an essay question by cutting and pasting sentences from the study guide for this class. Remember I wrote the study guide. If you cut and paste from the study guide, you are plagiarizing my own sentences back to me. I will notice.

Any student who violates the academic code (e.g., by cheating or plagiarism) will, at minimum, receive a final course grade of F. This rule is rigidly enforced.

According to the catalog, instructors may drop students “... when accumulated hours of absences exceed ten percent of the total number of hours the class meets during the semester.” I may exercise this option. But the main responsibility lies with you. If you want to drop the class, it is YOUR responsibility to do so.

The last day to drop with a W is usually about one month before the end of the semester. Check the Schedule of Classes for the exact date.

In summary,

  • Class requires at least 11 hours a week.
  • Log in to Angel at least twice a week to get announcements and follow Discussions.
  • Use Angel Discussions to ask questions.
  • Have a backup plan in case you have computer problems.
  • Be sure you know what plagiarism is.
  • Don't plagiarize.






Grades will be based on

  • Three exams.

    Exam 1 covers Parts 1-4 and is worth 20% of the final grade.

    Click to see sample exam 1.

    Exam2 covers Part 5 and is worth 12%. Click to see sample exam 2.

    Exam3 covers Part 6 and is worth 12%. Click to see sample exam 3.

  • Final exam (20%), comprehensive, but with special emphasis on Parts 7 and 8.

    The final will be objective, with optional extra-credit essay questions. The optional essay questions are available within Angel all semester.

    Click to see sample final exam.

  • Term paper (20%) — see below.

  • 8 short-essay assignments, worth 2% each, for a total of 16%. There are detailed descriptions of each assignment within Angel.

  • Extra credit opportunities may be given, at my discretion. I do not give special extra credit assignments to individual students. If extra credit is offered, it will be offered to all students in the class.

Objective exams must be taken on the appointed days. Angel must receive essay assignments by 11:00 PM on the appointed days. Angel does not allow you to submit assignments after 11:55 PM on the due dates. Be sure to plan your time accordingly. Except in cases of extreme, documented, emergency, no late assignments will be accepted and no makeup tests will be given.

Tests not taken or assignments not handed in receive a grade of 0 (no points — by contrast, even an F can be as much as 55% of assignment points). When averaged into your other grades, a 0 on the final or term paper will lower your grade at least two letters.

Some instructors permit you to hand in an assignment, receive comments, revise the assignment, and hand it in again for a higher grade. I do NOT do that.

Some instructors permit you to drop your lowest grade. I do NOT do that.

This class can be taken for credit/no credit. This means that if you get an A, B, or C, you get a final grade of "CR" and 3 units; otherwise, you get "NCR" and no units. You must declare your intention to take the class with this option during the first six weeks of class. Please let me know in writing by March 15, 2006.

Important deadlines:

Last day to get CR/NCR option March 15
Last day to drop with "W" See official schedule of classes
Term paper due May 18






Term papers must be argumentative essays, 10 pages minimum, typed double-spaced. You may write a standard prose essay or a dialog.

The page count refers to pages of text. Cover sheet, works cited, etc. do not count as text. Illustrations, cartoons, pictures, etc. do not count as text.

If your paper comes out too short, it is probably not detailed enough.

If your paper comes out longer than the minimum required, that’s not a problem: please continue to double-space and use a normal font size.

You must write your term paper on one of the following topics:

  1. Write an essay analyzing a disagreement that turns on definition. For example, analyze “Everyone who uses refined sugar is a drug abuser” or “Commander Data is not a person”. A good source for the latter is Can Animals and Machines Be Persons? by Justin Leiber. The “Measure of a Man” episode of Star Trek: Next Gen is also good, as well as various science fiction novels, including The Positronic Man by Asimov and Silverberg.

  2. Critically analyze: “What’s true for one person isn’t necessarily true for another. What’s moral for one person isn’t necessarily moral for another. Everything is just a matter of opinion.” (Sounds familiar? It’s Fred’s view in DR.)

  3. Critically analyze: “Science is just like religion, because both serve as mental filters to keep out unwanted data. You can’t convince a religious person that God doesn’t exist and you can’t convince a scientist to accept miracles. So both religion and science are equally prejudiced.” See Feyerabend, SV.

  4. Critically analyze: “Misunderstandings between races and sexes can never really be bridged. A white person can never really understand what life is like for a person of color, any more than a man can really understand what it’s like to be a woman.”

  5. Write an essay that critically analyzes a particular pseudo-science or field of the paranormal, e.g., scientology, feng shui, graphology, creationism, palm reading, “pyramid power,” the Gurdjieff movement, transcendental meditation, psychics, the Rosicrucian order, dowsing, ESP, Nostradamus, shamanism, homeopathy, the hollow earth theory, etc. Get ideas from SV Ch 8 and 9, Dr. Simanek's home page (many good links), The Skeptic's Dictionary, Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World, and/or check out the Skeptical Inquirer articles online, published by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

  6. Write an essay on the extent to which critical thinking, especially critical thinking about politics, is hampered by popular culture (e.g., TV) and commercial news media. Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is an excellent resource.

  7. Some people say that if a belief makes you feel good, you should go ahead and believe it, whether or not it’s rational. Others say you should strive to have only true or well-supported beliefs. Is there anything problematic maintaining beliefs you know to be irrational or questionable? Why or why not? The philosophy of William James, especially his essay The Will to Believe is relevant here.

  8. Daniel Harris, in his recent book Cute, Quaint, Hungry, and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumer Culture argues that popular notions of "cuteness," "quaintness," "zaniness," "naturalness," "cleanness," “deliciousness,” "glamorousness" and so on (in the words of Greg Villepique in his online review in “are artificial fabrications of the capitalist machine. What we think of as our unique tastes are rooted in how we are sold what we buy; movies, TV and magazines shape our ideals.” Read Harris’ book (it’s not long and it’s very funny, IMHO) and critically analyze Harris’ argument.




Please do not ask me “what I want” on written assignments until you have carefully read this section and the section Key to Paper Comments .

All take-home essays (including, of course, the term paper) must be typed double-spaced. Worry if any essay comes out too short. Each essay exam answer should be at least 2-3 typewritten pages long (500 words). That is the minimum required. Page counts here refer to pages of text. Cover sheets, works cited, illustrations, samples of advertisements, pictures, cartoons, or other visual aids do not count as text.

On all essays, I will be looking for the following 3 elements:

1. Clear statement of relevant arguments and counter- arguments

2. Demonstrated familiarity with techniques and vocabulary of argument analysis

3. Competent English skills

Clear statement of relevant arguments and counter-arguments

One primary purpose of essays for this class is to clearly state the main arguments and counter-arguments. Do not merely summarize class notes. Do not vent your unanalyzed personal feelings or relate your autobiography — although you can certainly argue for positions that accord with your personal feelings.

Demonstrating familiarity with assigned readings means, at minimum, naming all the relevant assigned authors and giving them credit for the arguments they gave. The more precisely and accurately you state and analyze someone's argument, the better.

Demonstrated familiarity with techniques and vocabulary of argument analysis.

Essays should also demonstrate familiarity with the techniques and vocabulary of argument analysis. In other words, you must appropriately analyze and critique the arguments and counterarguments in the reading, using, for example, the Critical Thinking Checklist. You must note and explain logical and factual errors and obvious fallacies. The dialog format (like DR) is always acceptable for essays in this class.

I assign essays so you can demonstrate skill and clarity in marshaling, presenting, and criticizing arguments. You are not expected to present original arguments or break any new ground. You are not required to “state your own personal views.” Please do not feel compelled to make one author or position come out “the winner”; the issues we will be discussing are often complicated, and every contributor may say at least some worthwhile things.

Competent English skills

All assignments must demonstrate competent English writing skills, though these count somewhat less than clear presentation and analysis. You get up to 9 obvious technical errors (#1-20) per assignment with no penalty. However, if there are more than 10 obvious grammar or spelling errors, your grade will be lowered one letter; more than 20 errors, two letters; more than 30 errors, three letters, etc. Each instance of a misspelling counts as one error.

It is possible you have never had an English teacher as picky as I am. You may have passed all your previous English classes; that is no guarantee you will succeed here. In their effort to engage you in writing, English teachers — especially in California — often ignore elementary errors in English grammar and spelling; and as a result, students often are unaware of their mistakes. I urge you not to blow off the time allocated for basic English skills! Please use the English skills links, which contain many explanations and drills. And read the paper comments carefully, please, so you can correct your mistakes next time!

To see just how detailed the scrutiny of your work in this class will be, look at the sample graded papers.

Please be especially about the following:

Click for

I have saved many samples of student papers, from very bad to most excellent. If you would like to see samples of student papers, with my comments, please come see me during my office hours.





Technical errors/Style issues

1 Incorrect use of apostrophe

2 Missing apostrophe

3 Singular-plural mismatch

4 Run-on sentence

5 Sentence fragment

6 Spelling error

7 Use parallel construction

8 Sentence or ¶ too long

9 Referent of pronoun or pointer not clear

10 Wordy, “fat,” redundant

11 Capitalization error

12 Word order confusing

13 Punctuation error

14 Quote marks beginning and end

15 Avoid dictionary definitions; philosophical usage is often different from ordinary language.

16 Underline or italicize book titles.

17 No space before punctuation; space after.

18 Bad word break

19 Must have a space before an open quote, but no space after one.

20 Direct quotes require quotation marks and citations.

21 This is an odd (and perhaps unintentionally humorous) choice of words, evoking irrelevant associations or mental images.

22 Active voice would be clearer and more vigorous here.

23 Don’t say someone “feels” when you mean “thinks” or “believes” or “argues”.

24 I know what you mean, but this is not a standard English word or idiom.

25 Sloppy imprecise word choice

Problems in presentation of content

30 Biographical information about the author is usually not relevant to evaluation of philosophical argument. Students often include it as “padding”. But soundness of argument depends only on correct logic and facts.

31 Speculationspsychological influence of author’s childhood, background, etc., are usually not relevant to evaluation of philosophical argument.

32 HUH? Vague. This is either “word salad” (I haven’t a clue), or I can think of more than one thing this could mean. Ask me if you can’t imagine why I found it unclear.

33 It is more respectable among scholars to cite from the original text if available, rather than a commentator’s introduction or paraphrase. Also, citing a commentator’s paraphrase or introduction does not demonstrate the required familiarity with assigned reading.

34 This quote does not seem related to what comes before or after it.

35 Quote is out of context. The author is arguing against this view. (Did you read all the pages?)

36 You need to explain this more fully.

37 So? I don’t see the relevance of this to the paper.

38 To a philosopher this would be a perfectly reasonable question!

39 For maximum clarity, use grammatical statements — not questions — to state premises and conclusion of an argument.

40 This seems a great deal of fuss over nothing much. No one disputes your claim.

41 A claim isn’t more true just because it’s strongly felt or believed.

42 You don’t need to be so tentative here.

43 Watch the weasel words.

44 Your account of this argument is oversimplified and/or distorted. (Perhaps you do not yet fully understand it.) Remember the principle of charity.

45 This reads like a first draft. Organization needs work.

46 I don’t see the analogy here.

47 I don’t see how this follows.

48 I see alternatives besides the ones mentioned.

49 This seems overstated.

50 Why? This is a conclusion. You need to support it.

51 Avoid vague relational claims. More specific statement of the connection is needed here.

52 This seems simply untrue.

Extremely serious problems

60 Your words? Please be prepared to show me your sources.

61 Your paper does not demonstrate sufficient familiarity with lecture content and/or the assigned reading.

62 Your paper doesn’t show sufficient argument and counter-argument.

63 A paper must be more than a string of quotes or a “quote-quilt”.




Predict Your Essay Grade

Step 1: Give yourself points:

Are all philosophical concepts explained in non-technical language? (0-10)


Is this paper or dialog well organized and easy to read? Do ideas flow in a natural way? Does anything seem irrelevant? (0-10) _____
Does this paper/dialog discuss all authors assigned, and link the right authors with the right arguments? (0-10)


Does the paper/dialog demonstrate familiarity with the vocabulary and techniques of argument analysis? (0-10)


Does the paper/dialog state clearly and accurately all the relevant arguments and counterarguments? (0-60)


TOTAL Points (100 maximum)


Step 2: Now DEDUCT:

1 point for every occurrence of every misspelling _____
1 point for every run-on _____
1 point for every fragment _____
1 point for every misused or missing apostrophe _____
1 point for every quotation without citation _____
1 point for each miscellaneous punctuation error _____
1 point for every capitalization error _____
1 point for every singular-plural mismatch _____
Grand Total (Points minus deductions)


Use your Grand Total as an approximate percentage value. For example, if the assignment is worth 200 points, and your Grand Total is 75, you are estimating that you will receive 75% of the points, or 150.

Beware! Your estimate may be wildly inaccurate, especially if you are unable to recognize sloppy writing and technical errors!

For help in writing and grammar, see the following online resources:

Sandy's Home Page | WVC Philosophy Home Page | WVC Home Page
Questions or comments?