In week 3, the class turned to argumentation. This again left me a fair bit of freedom, since the skill is broad and will be useful for the whole quarter (and in general). On the other hand, I had to run this section six times (instead of my usual three) since two people were out of town, so I made it something fairly repeatable, and by the sixth time through it was pretty good.
The first half of the section was spent reviewing Deductive Arguments. Students were instructed to on a sheet of paper, write down a true, simple sentence, such as”40 million people live in California.” Then they constructed sound arguments for them. E.g.
- If the census data is reliable, then 40 million people live in California.
- The census data is reliable.
- So, 40 million peple live in California.
They wrote them, paired up and shared with each other, and then a few people shared with the whole group. In each section some people seemed to have trouble, so after a few minutes, I revealed the general form
- If X then Y.
- So, Y.
Then, I explain, the task is just to put in an appropriate X and Y. Understanding seemed nearly universal at this point, so I moved on to constructing valid arguments for false conclusions. I had them each write a false, simple sentence, such as “Skittles are made of chocolate.” Then I had them each construct a valid argument for it. E.g.
- If all round candies are made of chocolate, then Skittles are made of chocolate
- All round candies are made of chocolate.
- So, Skittles are made of chocolate.
They notice that 2 is false, but the argument itself is valid. Because 2 is false, the argument is unsound. They repeat the pairing and sharing exercise, this time a bit faster since the routine is established, and then we moved on since understanding seemed solid.
One of the readings was Linda Zagzebski’s “Caring and Epistemic Demands”. Of the several they had to read, it was short, simple, yet interesting and applicable. Here I made fuller use of my ability to put in quotes from the texts. For instance:
Caring about many things is not only natural, but is part of any life we would care to live. But if we care about anything, we must care about having true beliefs in the domains we care about. (69)
I ask, what does this mean? Is this true? Then I have them each write down something they care about, followed by the beliefs they must care about being true as a result. For instance, I offer, I care about my students understanding this material. As a result, I care about truly believing what LZ’s argument is, where and when section meets, etc.
I’ll call a belief that is governed by a concern for truth a conscientiously held belief. (69)
I asked what two demands does conscientious belief places on us. Admittedly, I overestimated how intuitive the argument is, and nobody quite figured out what I was going for. By section three or four I had learned to quickly move on to the next quote:
First, there is a demand to be conscientious in whatever beliefs we have in that domain, and second, there is a demand to acquire conscientious beliefs in the domain. (69)
Here I asked them to add to their papers what actions they have to take as a result about caring about certain beliefs of their being true. For instance, since I care about my belief in the time/location of class being true, I checked the university’s online portal for class information. It’s rather obvious stuff, but it forces students to get into the mindset of breaking things down into simpler parts.
Around this point I had still half the time left, but the next part of the argument turned to a generality, and used harder grammar in the process. That is, LZ argues that we all, in virtue of caring about things, care about being good informants to others. And to argue for this, she uses language difficult enough to put a paragraph on the wall and ask students to spend ten to fifteen minutes working together to break it down into an argument (in the style of the first half of the section) . This proved to be a very fruitful exercise. The quote:
Among the things we care about is caring that others care about what we care about, which means that we care about their having true beliefs about what we care about, and we also care to some extent about what they care about. So we care about being good informants to others. We want the ability to convey true beliefs and not false beliefs to others. (71)
I broke it down, in color:
- We care that others care about what we care about.
- If we care that others care about what we care about, then we care about their having true beliefs about what we care about, and we also care to some extent about what they care about.
- If we care about their having true beliefs about what we care about, and we also care to some extent about what they care about, then we care about being good informants to others.
- So, we care about being good informants to others.
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