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How to Encourage Responsible and Meaningful Engagement in Public Discourse
I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of -CLARENCE D ARROW To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know. That is true knowledge. -HENRY DAVID THOREAU We have met the enemy and he is us. -WALT KELLY’S “PoGo” Education […]

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Francis Roberts

First Published

August 21, 2018

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I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of -CLARENCE D ARROW

To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know. That is true knowledge. -HENRY DAVID THOREAU

We have met the enemy and he is us. -WALT KELLY’S “PoGo”

Education is not simply the work of abstract verbalized knowledge. -ALDOUS HUXLEY

Many people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do. -BERTRAND RUSSELL

You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.-JAMES THURBER

Our Goal is to encourage responsible and meaningful engagement in public discourse.

Responsible engagement requires reason above all else, and so much of the text is devoted to introducing proper methods of identifying, analyzing, evaluating, and making arguments.

Meaningful engagement requires an understanding of the actual state of rhetoric today, and so the text also focuses on some of the primary contexts of persuasion and argument in our daily lives.

The need is great and the moment is critical. We are faced with seemingly constant changes to the technology and norms of mass communication, just as social and political life is becoming more divided, more vitriolic, and less constrained by reason.

We offer our Learning Community as both a guide and an antidote to this condition.

All this is done to sharpen the Communities abilities to think critically so that they can avoid being manipulated by the media, the advertisers, the political system, and a host of con artists and ultimately to help them function independently and responsibly in our increasingly complex, challenging society.

This class is also accompanied by an iBook:  …..  personalized, online digital learning platform providing students with an immersive learning experience that builds critical thinking skills.

Through a carefully designed chapter-based learning path, Atlantis LMS allows students to easily identify the key learning objectives; draw connections and improve skills.

New to the Thirteenth Edition The principal changes in this edition are these:

  1. Two entirely new chapters: one on changes to public discourse brought about by the emergence of cyberculture and new media (Chapter 12), and another on the argumentative and rhetorical function of fictional narratives (Chapter 13). The primary goal of both of these chapters (along with those on advertising and the news) is to capture and have students confront the contexts of argument and other modes of persuasion with which they are most familiar.
  2. Ten new sections in existing chapters:
    1. Arguments vs. Explanations (Chapter 1) •
    2. What Does “Winning an Argument” Mean? (Chapter 1) •
    3. Conditional Statements (Chapter 2) •
    4. Guilt by Association (Chapter 4) •
    5. Appeal to Tradition or Popularity (Chapter 4) •
    6. Appeal to Pity or Fear (Chapter 4) •
    7. Vagueness and Ambiguity (Chapter 7) •
    8. Some Subtle Issues (concerning language, Chapter 7) •
    9. Are Advertisements Arguments? Examples of Rhetoric? (Chapter 10) •
    10. Criteria for Theory Selection (Appendix)
  3. Numerous new subsections, case studies, and expanded discussions throughout the text, including: •
    1. The “reproducibility crisis” in social psychology (Chapter 1) •
    2. High-profile cases of concocted and fabricated news stories (Chapter 3) •
    3. Domains where appeals to authority are never permissible (Chapter 3) •
    4. The significance of new evidence to appeals to ignorance (Chapter 4) •
    5. Criteria for determining an adequate sample size (Chapter 5) •
    6. The practical dangers of scapegoating, denial, and partisan mindsets (Chapter 6) •
    7. Cultural insensitivity versus politically correct overreaction regarding sports teams’ names and mascots (Chapter 7) •
    8. Analyzing arguments with claims that serve as both premises and conclusions (Chapter 8) •
    9. Diagramming argument structure (Chapter 8) •
    10. The role of generalizations and rules in moral argumentation (Chapter 8)
    11. Overcoming the difficulty of starting essays (Chapter 9) •
    12. Choosing claims that are neither too weak nor too strong (Chapter 9) •
    13. The challenges and art of rewriting well (Chapter 9) •
    14. Ads that create and exacerbate consumers’ fears (Chapter 10) •
    15. Ads that rely upon and promote stereotypes (Chapter 10) •
    16. Push polls as advertisements (Chapter 10) •
    17. The decline of both local and international news coverage (Chapter 11) •
    18. The emergence of nonprofit newsrooms (Chapter 11)
  4. Taking account of this insight has resulted in a book that divides into eight parts, as follows:
    1. Good and Bad Reasoning: Chapter 1 introduces students to some basic ideas about good and bad reasoning, the importance of having good background beliefs, in particular of having well-pruned worldviews, as well as some very rudimentary remarks about deduction and induction and the three overarching fallacy categories employed in Chapters 3, 4, and 5. 2.
    2. Deduction and Induction: Chapter 2 contains more detailed material on deductive and inductive validity and invalidity.
    3. Fallacious Reasoning: Chapters 3, 4, and 5 discuss fallacious reasoning, concentrating on how to avoid fallacies by becoming familiar with the types most frequently encountered in everyday life. The point is to help students increase their ability to spot fallacious reasoning by discussing the most common types of fallacious argument and by providing students with everyday life examples on which to practice.
    4. Impediments to Cogent Reasoning: Chapter 6 discusses wishful thinking, rationalization, provincialism, denial, and so on, and how to overcome them. It explains the attraction and mistaken nature of belief in the paranormal and other pseudosciences. In some ways, this is the most important chapter in the FAC xiii book, because these skewers of rational thought so severely infect the thinking of all of us. (Some instructors may argue that the topic is more appropriately taught in psychology classes, not in classes primarily concerned with critical reasoning. But the reality here is that many students do not take the relevant psychology classes and that those who do often are provided with a purely theoretical account divorced from the students’ own reasoning in everyday life, not with a “how-to” discussion designed to help them overcome th ese obstacles to rational thought.)
    5. Language: Chapter 7 discusses the ways in which language itself can be used to manipulate meaning, for instance, via doubletalk and long-winded locutions. (This chapter also contains a section, not common in critical-thinking texts, on the linguistic revolution that has tremendously reduced the use of sexist, racist, and other pejorative locutions in everyday discourse; and it also has a few things to say about the use of politically correct [PC] locutions.)
    6. Evaluating and Writing Cogent Essays: Chapter 8 deals with the evaluation of extended argumentative passages-essays, editorials, political speeches, and so on. Chapter 9 addresses the writing of these kinds of argumentative passages. (Instructors are urged not to pass over Chapter 9 and urged to have students write at least two argumentative papers during the semester. Writing is very likely the best way in which we all can learn to sharpen our ability to reason well. Writing is indeed nature’s way of letting us know how sloppy our thinking often is. But it also is the best way to learn how to sharpen our ability to think straight.)
    7. Important Sources of Information, Argument, and Rhetoric: Chapter 10 discusses advertising (singling out political ads for special scrutiny); Chapter 11, the news media; Chapter 12, the Internet and new media; and Chapter 13, fiction.
    8. More on Cogent Reasoning: The appendix provides additional material on deduction and induction; cause and effect; scientific method; theory selection; and so on.

Note also that a section at the back of the book provides answers to selected exercise items. It should be remembered, however, that most of the exercise items in this text are drawn from everyday life, where shades of gray outnumber blacks and whites. The answers provided thus constitute author responses rather than definitive pronouncements. Similar remarks apply to the answers to the exercise items provided in MindTap. The Unique Nature of Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric.

This book is unique among critical reasoning texts in bringing together all of these apparently diverse elements, in particular in stressing the importance of overcoming natural impediments to cogent reasoning; in bringing to bear good background information when dealing with everyday problems; and in so extensively discussing the most important information sources.

In this complicated modern world, all of us are laypersons most of the time with respect to most topics; the ability to deal effectively with the “expert” information available to us via the media, textbooks, the Internet, and periodicals to separate wheat from chaff-thus is crucial to our ability to reason well about everyday problems, whether of a personal or of a social-political nature. Although the text contains much discussion of theory, this is not a treatise on the theory of cogent and fallacious reasoning. Rather, it is designed to help students learn how to reason well and how to avoid fallacious reasoning. That is why so many examples and exercise items have been included-arranged so as to increase student sophistication as they progress through the book-and why exercises and examples have been drawn primarily from everyday life. Learning how to reason well and how to evaluate the rhetoric of others is a skill that, like most others, requires practice, in this case practice on the genuine article-actual examples drawn from everyday life. This text provides students with a good deal more than the usual supply of exercise items, but perhaps the most important are those requiring them to do things on their own: find examples from the mass media, write letters to elected officials, do research on specified topics. A true critical reasoning course, or textbook, is unthinkable in a closed or authoritarian society and antithetical to the indoctrination practiced in that kind of culture. The authors of this text take very seriously the admonition that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Citizens who think for themselves, rather than uncritically ingesting what their leaders and others with power tell them, are the absolutely necessary ingredient of a society that is to remain free.