In Praise of Logic

Sometime in the last few generations, logic started getting short shrift. I don’t mean logic as a concept; plenty of people can, and do, invoke “logic” as a defense for completely absurd arguments. No, I mean LOGIC, the formal subject of study, the one involving formal concepts like “and,” “or,” and “xor,” as well as fancy Latin words for various fallacies. Logic has gone missing, and we’re all of us the worse off for its absence.

When I was young, I had to do lots of logic games. These were the type involving a grid (or several grids) and a bunch of Xs and Os as the problem solver tried to determine which statements or pairings of entities were correct and which were not. For example, a problem might center on allocating livestock to farmers or favorite subjects to school students, given sufficient but incomplete facts. There were a lot of variants, but these are the ones I remember most.

My complaint is not that I did this and “kids these days” don’t. My complaint is that most kids didn’t do problems like that, then, either. See, I only did those games because I was assigned to the school’s “academically gifted” or “gifted and talented” programs (the name changed at some point for political correctness reasons). The rest of my classmates got the chance to do exactly one of these problems during my elementary school years, as I recall. Only a few of us did them regularly.

The non-“AG/GT” population did not get regular exposure to formal logic at least until they took a logic or computer science elective in middle or high school – and that was only even possible because of Wake County’s excellent magnet school program (and only at those schools). Never was there formal, mandatory education in basic logical reasoning, until geometry. For most students, that was tenth grade – far too late, in the humble opinion of this math major – and was the first introduction they had received in the art of proofs. They probably had some fleeting exposure in, say, first-year algebra the year before, in the form of deriving the quadratic formula, for example. But, and this is key, in my experience earlier exposures were almost always teacher-led (not independent), fleeting, and solution-oriented, not method-oriented.

Real logic – the method itself – is something students need to learn and learn well if they are to succeed in the real world. Whether one is an attorney, a mechanic, a doctor, a waitress, an accountant, a teacher, or a receptionist, one has to be able to function rationally. One needs to be able to tell the difference between the fact that one’s neighbors haven’t suffered foreclosure and a proof that the banks have gotten lenient, for example. And for heaven’s sake, people need to understand when the people they vote for are speaking garbage with silver tongues and when they’re not.

Just earlier today, I heard somebody refer to a candidate’s statement as a “bold-faced lie” (or should that be bald-faced?) because it could not be proven true, even though it also could not be proven false (in fact, in the case in question, the accused liar would have been able to win a no-evidence summary judgment, had he been trying his veracity before a court). The rant in question, of course, is a form of argument from ignorance and fallacious. The speaker, however, in a righteous lather of a political frenzy, was clearly convinced he was making a powerful argument that one candidate is a liar and the other was treated unfairly. It’s really too bad nobody ever made him take a logic class in between presidential fitness tests.

2 Replies to “In Praise of Logic”

  1. Just wanted to say hello. I enjoyed your article. It brought back found memories of being in gifted and doing those puzzles. Do you know if they make hard ones for adults? I have grown tired of Sudoku.

    Cheers!
    Emily Soverel

  2. Hi Emily! You know, I don’t know if they do make them for adults. The closest thing I know of would have to be random IQ tests or something. You could try the “logic games” part of the LSAT, but plenty of law students will tell you how fun that is…

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