Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Good and Bad Reasoning

That last post was the philosophical one; now we can step down from the soapbox and talk brass tacks (while mixing metaphors, obviously). The problem you are collaboratively solving is how a group of 70 teenagers in a college-level course in rhetoric takes on a deeply flawed and systemic kind of political rhetoric. To do this, you must be able to wield

  1. the basic components of logic and rational thinking; and
  2. the names and details of fallacies that occur when logic and rational thinking break down.

Your reading will be distributed in class for #1; then you will be resources on logical fallacies (more than you could possibly use) in class and through this website. Time is against us, so this process is being sped up through (here comes another list)

  1. socially distributed cognition; and
  2. an inquiry-based teaching model.

This basically means that you will work together to achieve a collective goal. Of course, this is still a high school, and that means we need carrots and sticks and other Pavlovian chicanery. When you are quizzed on logic and logical fallacies, it will be done in groups, and it will be done in a slightly different format each time; then we will put your learning to good use (instead of wasting it on 50-point pressure tests). The first quizzes will cover Chapter 1 of Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric. We’ll move on to more informational texts next week, after we’ve escaped the stupefying miasma of Spirit Week.

First, though, we need to talk about names. It might be enough for you to call out politicians who manipulate us through Aristotelian appeals and slippery language, but you are going to use the proper terms for their logical fallacies. And that is because names have power. You might know this better than anymore; you are the Harry Potter generation, raised on stories in which the main antagonist is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (to say nothing of the etymologically cool stuff happening in the books, like a cruel and domineering character whose name more or less means pain and outrage).

Confusion and ambiguity mask a lot of nasty elements of public discourse. When we use proper names, we clarify and illuminate and stagger those who benefit from shadows and thin veneers. And, as lofty as it is, that is our goal: to be able to do that every single day through the month of October.

Speaking of names: Name your group. Give it that formality and power, and then, when you write our presidential candidates to tell them to stop trading in false dilemmas and slippery slopes, you can sign your work.

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