logic


Thinking hard is hard.

“The prejudice against careful analytic procedure is part of the human impatience with technique which arises from the fact that men are interested in results and would like to attain them without the painful toil which is the essence of our moral finitude.”  —Morris R. Cohen

“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”  —Sir Joshua Reynolds
“Logic has made me hated by the world.”  —Peter Abelard

“What is logic and what is it good for?”: Reasons to Study Logic—Part 12

13. Truth. Our last reason for studying logic is the simplest and most important of all. It is that logic helps us to find truth, and truth is its own end: it is worth knowing for its own sake.

Logic helps us to find truth, though it is not sufficient of itself to find truth. It helps us especially (1) by demanding that we define our terms so that we understand what we mean, and (2) by demanding that we give good reasons, arguments, proofs.

Truth is worth knowing just for the sake of knowing it because truth fulfills and perfects our minds, which are part of our very essence, our deep, distinctively human core, our very selves. Truth is to our minds what food is to our bodies. [Adapted from Kreeft, Socratic Logic]


“What is logic and what is it good for?”: Reasons to Study Logic—Part 11

11. Certainty. Logic has “outer limits”; thee are many things it can’t give you. But logic has no “inner limits”: like math, it never breaks down. Just as 2 plus 2 are unfailingly 4, so if A is B and B is C, then A is unfailingly C. Logic is timeless and unchangeable. It is certain. It is not certain that the sun will rise tomorrow (it is only very, very probable). But it is certain that it either will or won’t. And it is certain that if it’s true that it will, then it’s false that it won’t.

In our fast-moving world, much of what we learn goes quickly out of date. “He who weds the spirit of the times quickly becomes a widower,” says G.K. Chesterton. But logic never becomes obsolete. The principles of logic are timelessly true.

Our discovery of these principles, of course, changes and progresses through history. Aristotle knew more logic than Homer and we know more logic than Aristotle, as Einstein knew more physics than Newton and Newton knew more physics than Aristotle.

Our formulations of these changeless logical principles also change. This book is clearer and easier to read than Aristotle’s Organon 2350 years ago, but it teaches the same essential principles.

Our applications of the timeless principles of logic to changing things are also changing. The principles themselves are unchanging and rigid. They wouldn’t work unless they were rigid. When we hear a word like “rigid” or “inflexible,” we usually experience an automatic (“knee-jerk”) negative reaction. But a rigid a moment’s reflection should show us that, though people should not usually be rigid and inflexible, principles have to be. The wouldn’t work unless they were rigid. Unless the yardstick is rigid, you cannot use it to measure the non-rigid, changing things in the world, like the height of a growing child. Trying to measure our rapidly and confusingly changing world by a “flexible” and changing logic instead of an inflexible one is like trying to measure a squirming alligator with a squirming snake. [Adapted from Kreeft, Socratic Logic]


“What is logic and what is it good for?”: Reasons to Study Logic—Part 10

10. Recognizing contradictions. One of the things you will learn by studying logic is exactly what contradiction means, how to recognize it, and what to do with it. Logic teaches us which ideas contradict each other. If we are confused about that, we will be either too exclusive (that is, we will think beliefs logically exclude each other when they do not) or too inclusive (that is, we will believe two things that cannot both be true).

When we consider two different ideas which seem to contradict each other, we need to know three things;

  1. First of all, we need to know exactly what each one means. Only then can we know whether they really contradict each other or not.
  2. And if they do, we need to know which one is true and which is false.
  3. And we do this by finding reasons why one idea is true and another is false.

These are the “three acts of the mind”: understanding a meaning; judging what is true, and reasoning. These are the three parts of logic. [Adapted from Kreeft, Socratic Logic]


“What is logic and what is it good for?”: Reasons to Study Logic—Part 9

9. Testing authority. We need authority as well as logic. But we need logic to test our authorities.

We need authorities because no individual can discover everything autonomously. We all do in fact rely on the human community, and therefore on the authority of others—parents, teachers, textbooks, “experts,” friends, history, and tradition—for a surprisingly large portion of what we know—perhaps up to 99%, if it can be quantified. And that is another reason we need logic: we need to have good reasons for believing our authorities, for in the end it is you the individual who must decide which authorities to trust. It is obviously foolish to buy from every peddler of ideas that knocks on your mind’s door. In fact, it is impossible, because they often contradict each other. [Adapted from Kreeft, Socratic Logic]


“What is logic and what is it good for?”: Reasons to Study Logic—Part 8

8. Democracy. There are even crucial social and political reasons for studying logic. As a best-selling modern logic text says, “the success of democracy depends, in the end, on the reliability of the judgments we citizens make, and hence upon our capacity and determination to weigh arguments and evidence rationally.” As Thomas Jefferson said, “In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of the first importance.” (Copi & Cohen, Logic, 10th edition, Prentice-Hall, 1998) [Adapted from Kreeft, Socratic Logic]


“What is logic and what is it good for?”: Reasons to Study Logic—Part 7

7. Wisdom. “Philosophy means “the love of wisdom.” Although logic alone cannot make you wise, it can help. For logic is one of philosophy’s main instruments. Logic is to philosophy what telescopes are to astronomy or microscopes are to biology or math to physics. You can’t be very good at physics if you’re very bad at math, and you can’t be very good at philosophy if you’re very bad at logic. [Adapted from Kreeft, Socratic Logic]


“What is logic and what is it good for?”: Reasons to Study Logic—Part 6

6. Religious faith. All religions require faith. Is logic the ally or enemy of faith?

Even religion, though it goes beyond logic, cannot go against it; if it did, it would literally be unbelievable. Some wit defined “faith” as “believing what you know isn’t true.” But we simply cannot believe an idea to be true that we know has been proved to be false by a valid logical proof.

It is true that faith goes beyond what can be proved by logical reasoning alone. That is why believing in any religion is a free personal choice, and some make that choice while others do not, while logical reasoning is equally compelling for all. However, logic can aid faith in at least three ways.

  1. Logic can often clarify what is believed, and define it.
  2. Logic can deduce the necessary consequences of the belief, and apply it to difficult situations.
  3. Even if logical arguments cannot prove all that faith believes, they can give firmer reasons for faith than feeling, desire, mood, fashion, family, or social pressure, conformity, or inertia.

The point is not that logic can prove religious beliefs—that would dispense with the need for faith—but that it can strengthen them (and thus also the happiness that goes with them). And if it does not—if clear, honest, logical thinking leads you to disbelieve something you used to believe, like Santa Claus—then that is progress too, for truth should trump even happiness. If we are honest and sane, we want not just any happiness, but true happiness. [Adapted from Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic]


“What is logic and what is it good for?”: Reasons to Study Logic—Part 5

5. Happiness. In a small but significant way, logic can help you attain happiness.

We all seek happiness all the time because no matter what else we seek, we seek it because we think it will be a means to happiness, or a part of happiness, either for ourselves or for those we love. And no one seeks happiness for any other end; no one says he wants to be happy in order to be rich, or wise, or healthy. But we seek riches, or wisdom, or health, in order to be happier.

How can logic help us to attain happiness? Here is a very logical answer to that question:

  1. When we attain what we desire, we are happy.
  2. And whatever we desire, whether Heaven or a hamburger, it is more likely that we will attain it if we think more clearly.
  3. And logic helps us to think more clearly.
  4. Therefore logic helps us to be happy.

[Adapted from Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic]

 


“What is logic and what is it good for?”: Reasons to Study Logic—Part 4

4. Writing. Logic will also help you to write more clearly and effectively, for clear writing and clear thinking are a “package deal”: the presence or absence of either one brings the presence or absence of the other. Muddled writing fosters muddled thinking, and muddled thinking fosters muddled writing. Clear writing fosters clear thinking, and clear thinking fosters clear writing. Common sense expects this, and scientific studies confirm it.

There is nothing more effective than traditional logic in training you to be a clear, effective, and careful writer. It is simply impossible to communicate clearly and effectively without thinking clearly and effectively. And that means logic. [Adapted from Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic]