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What is Logic

Updated on December 1, 2010

What is Logic

You’re not being logical! Why don’t you try using some logic once in a while? You’re the most illogical person I know!

So…what are we talking about here? Logic. Ok. What is logic? Logic is the study of arguments. It’s what we use to evaluate correct reasoning from poor reasoning. Without logic, we have no way of evaluating truth from garbage.

Logic is not opinion. When we evaluate arguments, we are using specific principles and criteria in much the same way we would use a math formula. If we use those principles and criteria, then we are using logic; if we aren’t using those principles and criteria, then we are not justified in claiming to use logic or be logical. In an argument you will very often run into people that claim to be using logic, only to find that their claim is rooted in an emotional attachment to their argument as a result of perhaps defending a long held belief. They aren’t using logic at all. Logic doesn’t care about your beliefs. Logic is pretty cold when it comes to things like that. The person that says, “Obama hates America” or “Obama hates the constitution”, is not using logic. So when you see it, or you hear it, feel free to disembowel the person. Figuratively of course.

If we accept the fact of our own fallibility, then we know that our ability to use reasoning is far from perfect, but it is also our most reliable and successful means for developing sound judgments about the world around us. Other things enter into our tool kit of survival such as habits, and traditions and they often work for us with some degree of success, yet they aren’t reliable. Where we see a lot of difficulty with people in an argument, we can often point to their reliance upon the habits and traditions that form their theory of rationality. They are comfortable with those habits and traditions which provide a solid ground for them to function from. They don’t like having those habits challenged or those traditions threatened. The once solid ground now becomes “shaky ground” and that’s not comfortable terrain for people. And if you are the cause of their shaky ground…they are going to blame you for exposing those habits and traditions as being nothing more than irrational. They probably won’t like you very much.

However some people may be more open to new concepts that help them organize their thinking. In general, our ability to survive depends upon our ability to know what is true, or at least what is more likely true than not true. For that, we need to use reason and reason depends on logic. Poor reasoning is a result of poor logic. If you aren’t using logic, you can’t lay claim to being a reasonable person.

Logic examines general forms which arguments may take. It determines which forms are valid, and which are fallacies. It is a form of critical thinking. In philosophy, the study of logic falls in the area of epistemology which asks: “How do we know what we know?” In mathematics, it is the study of valid inferences within some formal language.

Logic has origins in several ancient civilizations including ancient India, China, and Greece. Logic was established as a discipline by Aristotle, who established its fundamental place in philosophy. Logic is often divided into two parts, inductive reasoning, and deductive reasoning. The first is drawing general conclusions from specific examples, the second drawing logical conclusions from definitions and axioms.

Deductive vs. Inductive Reasoning

Deductive Reasoning                                                      

 • Concerned with beliefs licensing or being logically required by other belief

Inductive Reasoning

• Concerned with beliefs supporting or being supported by other beliefs

Deductive Reasoning                                                      

• Considers all possible states of affairs

Inductive Reasoning

• Considers most relevant states of affairs

Deductive Reasoning                                                      

• Leads to conclusions that are necessary

Inductive Reasoning

• Leads to conclusions that are probable

Deductive Reasoning                                                      

• Infallible Conclusions (when premises true)

Inductive Reasoning

• Fallible Conclusions (even when premises true)

These two approaches to reasoning have an enormous impact on how we approach our political views as we will discover in this book. The clearest and most vivid example of the nature of argument is what you’ll find in the world of politics. Politicians argue for a living. Most of them are lawyers. They are professional arguers. Conservatives and Liberal, Republicans and Democrats are both arguing from different directions. The object here is to find the truth. Which side is arguing from logic and which isn’t? Which side is manipulating logic and reason, and what is to be gained by doing it? Perhaps both sides are doing it. By employing logic we can determine truth from bullshit. We can follow an argument to its logical conclusion if it’s allowed to proceed as planned.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle is generally regarded as the “father” of logic. Although others before him discussed the nature of arguments and how to evaluate them, he was the one who first created systematic criteria for doing it. His conception of syllogistic logic remains as the foundation of the study of logic even today. Others who have played important roles in the development of logic include Peter Abelard, William of Occam, Wilhelm Leibniz, Kurt Goedel, and Alfred Tarski.

All of this may seem to be an esoteric subject for academic philosophers, but the truth of the matter is that logic is applicable anywhere that reasoning and arguments are being used. Whether the actual subject matter is politics, ethics, social policies, raising children, or organizing a CD collection, we use reasoning and arguments to arrive at specific conclusions. If we don’t apply the criteria of logic to our arguments, we cannot trust that our reasoning is sound.

Since this book concerns politics, it’s important to understand that when a politician makes an argument for a particular course of action, how can that argument be properly evaluated if we don’t apply the principles of logic? In fact, any time somebody is making a claim, how do we know if the claims are true, if we aren’t familiar with what distinguishes a good argument from a poor one? There is no area of life where reasoning is completely irrelevant or wasted — to give up on reasoning would mean to give up on thinking itself. That in a sense, is what this book will point to. To what extent do we as Americans give up on thinking itself? The answer is pretty shocking. We seem to be more than willing to give up thinking if something satisfies a long held belief. Those beliefs are our theories of rationality that we use daily to establish our identities. “I’m a protestant”. “I’m a conservative”. I’m a Republican, or a Democrat. Often we don’t even know why we make those statements. All we know is that those labels represent a system of thought that we adopted. We “feel” comfortable. We don’t even take the time to examine whether they are logically sound. It feels good. That’s reason enough.

Every good salesman knows that each customer has an “emotional hot button” that if pushed will open the customer to what he’s selling. If he can “hit it”, the sale is made. Politicians are selling their ideas to the public all the time. One side says this is good for you. The other side says it’s bad. When an argument is made that something is good, they are selling benefits. When the argument is made that something is bad, they are generally selling fear. How do we know which is the best way to go? We should use logic to examine the arguments for and against something. Do the positives outweigh the negatives in trying to do something? What are the arguments against doing something based on? What justifies the negativity?

A good argument is supported by logic. Studying logic doesn’t guarantee that you will be a good logical person any more then studying music will make you a great musician. To be a good guitar player you need to practice. It’s no different when it comes to reason. To use reason well, you need to put it to practice. You need to study how logic is used to make a reasoned argument, and then put it into practice.

The study of logic introduces one to many common mistakes known as fallacies that most people make, and it also provides an opportunity for a person to practice what they learn. A good way to study this is through understanding what a logical fallacy is. You need to study what a logical fallacy is and why it’s a fallacy. And then examine arguments to see if a fallacy is being employed. When it is, you need to point it out. By doing so, you’re pointing out that the reasoning being used is weak and unreliable. Internet political forums are a great place to test yourself to see how your grasp of logic stands up against those that argue a different point.

There is a chapter in this book on logical fallacy’s, and there are numerous websites devoted to lists of the most common among them.

Although much of logic appears to be concerned solely with the process of reasoning and arguing, what our goal is ultimately, is the product of that reasoning process which is the purpose of the logic we use. That product takes its shape in the bill that is offered by congress, or the platform of a political candidate or party, or the reason we go to war. We want to analyze how an argument is constructed in order to help us evaluate whether an idea is sound and worthy of our time and perhaps our expense in money and even lives. It’s through this process that we examine our conclusions, our beliefs, and ideas. Some of us won’t go there. Some of us never want to examine our beliefs. Some of us might fear what we could learn. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. You can be the judge of that. Examine your own beliefs first and try taking them to their logical extremes to see what they are based on? Can you justify them? If you can, how? Are you employing some kind of circular reasoning when you do it? Do your beliefs lead you into an infinite regress in order to maintain them? This is where intellectual honesty comes in. How honest can you be with yourself? If you can’t do that, why would anybody think you could be honest with them?

Deductive and inductive reasoning

Deductive reasoning concerns what follows necessarily from given premises (if a, then b). However, inductive reasoning—the process of deriving a reliable generalization from observations—has sometimes been included in the study of logic. So, we must distinguish between deductive validity and inductive validity (called “cogency”). An inference is deductively valid if and only if there is no possible situation in which all the premises are true but the conclusion false. An inductive argument can be neither valid nor invalid; its premises give only some degree of probability, but not certainty, to its conclusion. You cannot prove a theory using inductive reasoning. It’s logically impossible. Does your party or candidate use inductive reasoning to sell his position as absolutely true? If he does, he’s full of crap. And you should know that.

Among the important properties that logical systems can have:

Consistency, which means that no theorem of the system contradicts another.

Validity, which means that the system’s rules of proof will never allow a false inference from true premises. A logical system has the property of soundness when the logical system has the property of validity and only uses premises that prove true (or, in the case of axioms, are true by definition).

Completeness, which means that if a theorem is true, it can be proven.

Soundness, which means that the premises are true and the argument is valid.


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    • adagio4639 profile image

      adagio4639 7 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

      Probably not based on some of what I've read so far. But thanks anyway.:)

    • Valentine Logar profile image

      Valentine Logar 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Very good .. though I suspect many will not follow this easily.