Excerpt from course description

Critical Thinking, Argumentation and Manipulation AUTUMN 2021



Arguing is a fundamental human activity that occurs round-the-clock, as for e.g. arguing with ourselves to figure out what we want, or reasoning proactively to defend our opinions. Yet, since experienced arguers use arguments that support their views and use innumerable methods to persuade, individuals – including groups and organizations – are vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation. Fake news, pseudo news, propaganda and mixture of good and fallible arguments are often hard to detect. This course provides insight in argumentation biases – resulting in misinformation, along with tactical moves and cover – resulting in disinformation.

This course is not a curriculum in rhetoric, influence and persuasion. It refers though to rhetoric for elucidating that argumentation theory is another field, and to Cialdini’s persuasion techniques as short cuts implying that they go straight to conclusions without time and interest for a lengthy and thoughtful analytical process.  The persuasion technique of e.g. authority is connected to appeal to expert opinion to support an argument (cf. argumentum ad verecundiam), while social proof appeals to popular opinion (cf. argumentum ad populum). Without hard evidence the method might be powerful thinking techniques of presumption and even more so as traditional fallacies. To figure out when e.g. an expert is manipulated to guide our acceptance of a proposition we can ask questions as: Is the expert identified based on popularity or celebrity status. Is the expert unbiased and trustworthy etc?

In persuasion theory and rhetoric, normative or cognitive components may not support argumentation to a specific audience, it sooner diverts attention from the main point: Great, as long as it works. Argumentation theory focuses on messages aimed at resolving a difference of opinion between two parties, or changing a belief by use of informal logic and reasoning, whereas Cialdini does not have interest in the everyday use and abuse of persuasion, including whether his techniques are reasonable and exploit errors in reasoning to get the person to do what you want. Indeed, as to rhetoric/persuasion ethics seems like alien substance, whereas for argumentation theory and ethics, norms are basic.     

Argumentation theory accentuates both a descriptive perspective when characterizing specific arguments, and a normative perspective while taking position on good, weak and fallible arguments. Argument production as well as argument evaluation will be covered, more by groups than individually. If you as graduate student have insight in how to reveal weaknesses in your own arguments but lack training of speaking before an audience or how to handle pressure and feelings of argumentative chaos in an organization or even in a group, improved argumentation skills might help you out. If you on the other hand know how to sway an audience, while lack insight in basic rules for good argumentation and evaluating your own arguments critically, better insight in argumentation theory might help out.

Course content

  • Argumentation theory, another area than rhetoric
  • The psychology of argumentation
  • The philosophy of argumentation
  • Argumentation in business and organizations
  • Argumentation theory and ethical theory
  • Term paper presentations


This is an excerpt from the complete course description for the course. If you are an active student at BI, you can find the complete course descriptions with information on eg. learning goals, learning process, curriculum and exam at portal.bi.no. We reserve the right to make changes to this description.