Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Of Syllogisms and Fallacies: Studying Logic

"Logic!" said the Professor half to himself.  "Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"
-- from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

"Logic is the anatomy of thought."
-- John Locke

"Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end."
-- Mr. Spock, Star Trek

 We've begun the formal study of logic this year, and, I have to admit, it's a new one for me.  Which makes me feel a tad inadequate, given that there's an entire stage of the trivium with that designation.  So I pulled out my well-thumbed copy of Susan Wise Bauer's  The Well-Trained Mind and perused chapter 14, "Snow White Was Irrational: Logic for the Intuitive."  It was time well spent. 

So what is logic, anyway?  According to SWB (which is how a friend of mine and I fondly refer to Susan Wise Bauer), "logic is the study of the rules of reasoning."  This is good news for me.  I tend to make decisions based on my feelings about something, which is fine, that's how I'm programmed.  But where this preference becomes a hindrance is when I'm asked to support my position and I can't.  Some people don't understand the concept of "it feels like the right thing. . ."  They prefer reasoning to feeling.

But that's just me.  Why is the study of logic important?  SWB says it so much better than I ever could:
The systematic study of logic provides the beginning thinker with a set of rules that will help her to decide whether or not she can trust the information she's receiving.  This logic will help her ask appropriate questions: 'Does that conclusion follow the facts as I know them?' 'What does this word really mean? Am I using it accurately?' 'Is this speaker sticking to the point, or is he trying to distract me with irrelevant remarks?' 'Why is this person trying to convince me of this fact?' 'Why don't I believe this argument -- what do I have at stake?' 'What other points of view on this subject exist?'" (p. 235)
In other words, a middle-grades student can learn to use logic to disseminate information she takes in instead of merely taking it (or rejecting it) at face value.

I especially enjoyed SWB's definitions of logical fallacies, "statements that sound like valid arguments but aren't," which include:
  • anecdotal evidence fallacy: using a personal experience to prove a point
  • argumentum ad hominem: an attack on the speaker rather than on the argument itself
  • argumentum ad misericordiam: an appeal to pity
  • argumentum ad verecundiam: an appeal to authority by name-dropping to support a position
  • argumentum ad nauseam: if an assertion is repeated over and over again, it's likely to be accepted as true
 And my personal favorite:
  • argumentum ad populum: "If everyone's doing it, it must be okay."
 For my fifth grader (and the fourth grader joins in for fun -- she likes puzzles), I selected the Critical Thinking Company's Mind Benders books, as SWB suggests.  However, my children do not work on these puzzles for an hour, three days a week.  That's seems a bit excessive to me.  Not matter how enjoyable they may be, an hour of filling in yes/no grids to solve problems would get tiresome.  So we do a few puzzles a day.

I'm looking forward to studying logic with my children in the years to come.  While I'm not expecting to go all Mr. Spock-like in my decision-making, I hope to be able to formulate reasonable arguments to support my position.

If I feel like it, that is.


  1. That's one of my favorite subjects to study! Oh, and I'll add though, that however interesting, the world of logic or the world of objectivity is an ideal (oh, the facts, the facts, if you could just show me the facts my friend), most of the interesting arguments and the "meat" of life lies on those fallacies and the challenge to elevate them to logically founded arguments, ha ha ha.

  2. Very well put, Silvia! Then there's also the point that SWB makes (and it's a *logical* one to me!) that we can certainly reject valid conclusions if they conflict with our morals. And aren't morals often founded on beliefs rather than "provable" facts?

  3. Very interesting post :) I enjoyed it. We are using The Fallacy Detective right now for my dd (14) but...it'll need to be revisited I think. I appreciate the links to Mind Benders.

    Oh, this made me think: "argumentum ad nauseam: if an assertion is repeated over and over again, it's likely to be accepted as true"
    but not as you might think; I'm feeling nauseous right now and just reading something again and again wouldn't help one bit (nauseam- honestly I don't know what that means it just resembles nauseous so much...lol)

  4. I am *so* looking forward to doing logic. Gonna be a bit of a wait: Monkey just turned 4. But I persist in looking forward to it. And periodically ponder getting the books sooner, so I can fill in that particular hole in my own education. It would be so useful in looking at political stuff!

    This post would be a wonderful addition to the next edition of the Classical Homeschooling Carnival.

  5. SWB's Well Trained Mind is my nightstand staple! I started logic with my 5th grader last year and was surprised to find how good my first grader was at it! We are using Mind Benders A1 this year.


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