In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Professor Kirke listens to Susan and Peter as they wrestle with a conundrum: is their sister Lucy telling the truth about visiting a world called Narnia. Finally, the professor exclaims, “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic in these schools?”
He’s right. Most schools today don’t teach logic, which is simply the art and science of argument. And this is puzzling, for no subject is more foundational or practical. As the Christian Philosopher, Peter Kreeft, notes, “no matter what you are thinking about, you are thinking, and logic orders and clarifies your thinking.”
If you’ve ever read a newspaper article and wished that the journalist had defined his terms more clearly…or worried that friends or neighbours accept the truth of what they hear on TV too easily…or desired that arguments made during committee meetings were more precise, then you’ve felt the likely implications of no longer teaching logic in schools.
Logic studies the common structures of human reasoning, especially the movement of the mind from premises to a conclusion. To see the importance of this, we need only look to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
To watch the 3.5 minute "Witch Scene," click on the image above.
Vladimir [to a mob of peasants]: How do you know she is a witch?
Peasant: She looks like one! …
Vladimir: Tell me... what do you do with witches?
Peasant: Burn 'em!
Vladimir: What do you burn apart from witches? …
Vladimir: So, why do witches burn?
Peasant: Cuz they're made of wood ...
Vladimir: Does wood sink in water?
Peasant: No. It floats! ...
Vladimir: What also floats in water? …
King Arthur: A duck!
Vladimir: Exactly! So, logically...
Peasant (thinking): If she weighs the same as a duck, she's made of wood!
Vladimir: And therefore?
Peasant: A witch!
The habit of asking whether an assertion necessarily follows from its prior assumptions can be a matter of life and death! This habit is cultivated through the study of logic.
Such training helps students to see more clearly what is true and what is false. It also helps them to read and write more effectively. As I mentioned in the last Pillar issue, writing well and thinking well are a package deal. According to Kreeft, “It is simply impossible to communicate clearly and effectively without thinking clearly and effectively.”
To be sure, logical reasoning cannot prove everything that’s important to know, including insights of faith. But logic can aid faith in several ways: it can clarify and define what we believe, deduce the necessary consequences of our beliefs, and give firmer reasons for holding them than mere feeling, fashion, or family pressure. (Just think about how our trust in someone’s testimony can be strengthened by sound reasoning, or how our interpretation of a tragic event can differ through the logical application of certain claims—e.g. that “all things work together for good for those who love God.”)
For all of these reasons, we advocate a recovery of formal logic. Most students today immerse themselves in studying the content of subjects. What would happen if they were taught with equal intentionality to construct sound arguments and detect fallacies of reason?
The Millis Institute is with Professor Kirke. We teach a unit in formal logic as part of an effort to shape a generation of critical thinkers—the kind of thinkers who can correctly assess and respond to testimony about realms like Narnia!