Free online course: How to Reason and Argue starting Mon. Any interest in study group?

by pinyaka3 min read10th Jan 201413 comments


Personal Blog

I am going to take the free Coursera class "Think Again: How to Reason and Argue" starting Monday, January 13 (three days from now) and I thought I'd to see if there was any interest in going through this as a group. This is one of the MIRI recommended courses under the "Heuristics and Biases" section. If you're interested and you will sign up if we get a group together, please leave a note in the comments (if you will only sign up if the group hits a specific size, please leave that requirement in the comments as well). If enough people are willing to sign up (5 or more? idk), I will start a group on Google (or somewhere else if that's preferred) so that we can have a forum to share thoughts, ask questions, etc. Otherwise, email may be a better way to maintain contact. 

EDIT: We hit five people willing to start, so I created a Google group here. If you're interested in taking the course with us, please sign up there.


The recommended text is fairly inexpensive on Amazon (<$20 USD) and can be found on for free if that's your thing. It's taught in English, lasts 12 weeks and predicts that it will take 5-6 hours/week. More info from the course website:



Think Again: How to Reason and Argue

Reasoning is important.  This course will teach you how to do it well.  You will learn how to understand and assess arguments by other people and how to construct good arguments of your own about whatever matters to you.


About the Course

Reasoning is important.  This course will teach you how to do it well.  You will learn some simple but vital rules to follow in thinking about any topic at all and some common and tempting mistakes to avoid in reasoning.  We will discuss how to identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments by other people (including politicians, used car salesmen, and teachers) and how to construct arguments of your own in order to help you decide what to believe or what to do. These skills will be useful in dealing with whatever matters most to you.

Course Syllabus


Week 1: How to Spot an Argument
Week 2: How to Untangle an Argument 
Week 3: How to Reconstruct an Argument 
Quiz #1: At the end of Week 3, students will take their first quiz. 


Week 4: Propositional Logic and Truth Tables 
Week 5: Categorical Logic and Syllogisms 
Week 6: Representing Information
Quiz #2: At the end of Week 6, students will take their second quiz. 


Week 7: Inductive Arguments 
Week 8: Causal Reasoning 
Week 9: Chance and Choice 
Quiz #3: At the end of Week 9, students will take their third quiz. 


Week 10: Fallacies of Unclarity 
Week 11: Fallacies of Relevance and of Vacuity 
Week 12: Refutation 
Quiz #4: At the end of Week 12, students will take their fourth quiz.

This material is appropriate for introductory college students or advanced high school students—or, indeed, anyone who is interested. No special background is required other than knowledge of English.

In-course Textbooks

As a student enrolled in this course, you will have free access to selected chapters and content for the duration of the course. All chapters were selected by the instructor specifically for this course. You will be able to access the Coursera edition of the e-textbook via an e-reader in the class site hosted by Chegg. If you click on “Buy this book”, you will be able to purchase the full version of the textbook, rather than the limited chapter selection in the Coursera edition. This initiative is made possible by Coursera’s collaboration with textbook publishers and Chegg.

Cengage Advantage Books: Understanding Arguments

Author: Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter, Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter (Walter Sinnott-Armstrong), Fogelin, Robert J.
Publisher: CENGAGE Learning

Suggested Readings

Students who want more detailed explanations or additional exercises or who want to explore these topics in more depth should consult Understanding Arguments: An Introduction to Informal Logic

Course Format

Each week will be divided into multiple video segments that can be grouped as three lectures or viewed separately. There will be short exercises after each segment (to check comprehension) and several longer midterm quizzes.


  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

    Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • What resources will I need for this class?

    Only a working computer and internet connection.

  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

    Nasty names (equivocator!) to call people who try to fool you with bad arguments.

  • What are people saying about this class?

    Here are some remarks from students that have taken the class: 

    “I'd like to thank both professors for the course. It was fun, instructive, and I loved the input from people from all over the world, with their different views and backgrounds.”

    “Somewhere in the first couple weeks of the course, I was ruminating over some concept or perhaps over one of the homework exercises and suddenly it occurred to me, "'Is this what thinking is?" Just to clarify, I come from a thinking family and have thought a lot about various concepts and issues throughout my life and career...but somehow I realized that, even though I seemed to be thinking all the time, I hadn't been doing this type of thinking for quite some, thanks!”

    “The rapport between Dr. Sinott-Armstrong and Dr. Neta and their senses of humor made the lectures engaging and enjoyable. Their passion for the subject was apparent and they were patient and thorough in their explanations.”

    The course has also been featured in a number of news articles and news reports.  Here are links to some of these:

    Raleigh News and Observer Article - January 20, 2013

    "How Free Online Courses are Changing the Traditional Liberal Arts Education" PBS Newshour - January 8, 2013


13 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:13 AM
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I had a look at this MOOC last year as part of an ignorance self-awareness project, and ended up being charmed into working through the whole thing. I would definitely recommend it for people who (a) like watching videos of charismatic philosophy professors, and (b) haven't had an equivalent introductory line of study. I doubt the median Less Wrong reader would find it remotely taxing, (I started it about six weeks into the presentation and still managed to complete it on time), but it's very useful for categorising and naming a lot of concepts you might only have nascent or patchy understanding of.

The two instructors are very entertaining and experienced educators. Both are reputable academics on LW-inclined subjects, such as epistemology and practical ethics. Maybe it's because I've been out of bricks-and-mortar universities for a long while, but I find it a bit strange when experts in a field sit down and teach introductory courses.

I ended up watching the videos at 1.5x speed, with the effect that I don't know what Ram Neta's voice actually sounds like. I found this to be "animated conversation" speed, and given the material isn't rocket science, you're unlikely to miss anything.

It is worth mentioning that the course is very much built around the first half of the specified textbook. I picked up the fourth edition (1991) on Abe Books for a couple of quid. It doesn't seem particularly out of date, (syllogisms haven't really changed much since 1991). If you prefer text, it may be worth your while to pick up a copy and work through that instead, or in addition.

Looks interesting - I've signed up. Definitely interested in a study group too, both as an external motivator and hopefully to get more value from the course.

Great to have you. We hit five people, so I went ahead and started a Google group here.

I've signed up, and I'm interested in a study group.

Awesome. The Google group is here.

I've signed up, and would be interested in a study group.

Sweet. Google group here.

I'd already signed up without knowing it was on the MIRI course list.

If you want to get in on the LW study group, the Google group is here.

I'm up for committing to the first week and then continuing if it seems useful. :)

Fair enough. Let us know what you think of the class at the Google group here.

I am signed up and I'd like to join the study group. Could you add me please?


If you haven't already, hit the link to the Google group up in the main article and join there.

ETA: Here's the link.