I don't teach logic or critical thinking, but do feel compelled to give students a foothold in logical reasoning in introductory level philosophy courses. So in my introduction to ethics courses, I introduce students to the concept of an argument and try to put them in a position to begin evaluating the arguments we confront in the course.
Since this is not a formal logic course, I try to keep things loose or informal, stating that arguments should have (a) good reasoning, and (b) premises that are true (or for which there is compelling evidence). And when they have (a) and (b), I direct them to call such arguments 'sound'. As I said, I'm pretty loose about all of this, particularly (a). I don't distinguish among inductive and deductive arguments, don't go into validity or fallacies, etc. The aim here is simply to get them to appreciate two dimensions of argumentative strength: the reasoning and the veracity of the premises.
So the frustration is this: (a) just seems to pass students by. When we begin to look at actual arguments, students rarely if ever ask questions about, or criticize arguments for, their reasoning. All of their attention is directed at assessing the truth of the premises. And this is so even though I underscore that both (a) and (b) are crucial to arguments; that criticizing an argument for its reasoning is in many respects a more effective form of critique, since often times whether a premise is true is more contentious than whether the reasoning is good; etc. But it seems like in my efforts to teach "reasoning," the students don't latch onto the importance of reasoning!
I'm not sure why (a) doesn't get a grip on the students. (One thought I had is that it requires them to think relationally rather than atomically, which is perhaps more challenging?) In any event, I have three questions for our readers:
- Does our experience echo mine — that students tend to evaluate arguments solely in terms of the veracity of their premises rather than the strength of the reasoning?
- And if so, what explains this tendency?
- How might we, as teachers of reasoning, counteract it?