5 Good Reasons to Study Logic

Why Analyzing Arguments Is Good for You

A first-year college student found himself repeatedly impressed by the wit and wisdom of the philosophy majors he'd met. One day he plucked up the nerve to ask one of them, "So how come all you philosophy majors are so smart?" 

"Oh, that's no mystery," the philosophy major answered. "We've all studied logic."

"Really?" said the freshman. "That's all it takes? So, if I study logic, I'll become super smart, too?"

"Sure," the philosophy major replied. "Too bad it's too late to sign up for a class now...but, hey, I'll tell you what, you can use my old logic textbook and study it yourself. Here, I've got it with me," he said, offering the book. "I'll let you have it for $20."

"Wow, thanks!" the freshman enthused.

The deal was done and the freshman went off with the textbook determined to ramp up his I.Q. Later that day he ran into the philosophy major again.

"Hey," he shouted, "that logic book you sold me for $20?"

"What about it?" philosophy major asked.

"I came across it in the bookstore for $10. All that crap about logic making me smart? I see through it now. You were just ripping me off!"

"See?" said the philosophy major. "It's already starting to work."

Okay, so the benefits of studying logic might not kick in quite that quickly but there really are good reasons to take a logic class or to study it yourself using a book or an online resource—even if you're not a philosophy major.

01
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Symbolic Logic Is Fun

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Studying basic symbolic logic is like learning a new language, albeit one with a small vocabulary and just a few rules of grammar. You learn to do all sorts of things with these new symbols: use them to analyze the logic of ordinary sentences, test arguments for validity, and construct proofs for complex arguments for which the validity isn't obvious. The exercises that help you become adept at these things are like puzzles, so if you like Futoshiki or sudoku, you'll probably love logic. 

02
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Knowing if an Argument Is Valid Is a Valuable Skill

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Logic is essentially the study of reasoning or argumentation. We use reason all the time to draw inferences that are useful to us. If our car won't start, we reason that the battery may be dead—so we test the battery. If the battery isn't dead, then we deduce the problem must lie elsewhere, perhaps with the starter motor—so we check the starter motor, and so on. The reasoning here is simple, but sometimes chains of reasoning can become quite complex. Training ourselves to construct effective arguments and to spot weak ones is a skill that is useful in just about every field of endeavor, as well as in everyday life. It helps steer us in the direction of truth and away from falsehood.

03
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Good Logic Is an Effective Tool of Persuasion

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The art of persuasion is called rhetoric. Rhetoric, like logic, used to be an essential part of the liberal arts curriculum. Sadly, neither is generally required any longer, and rhetoric has given way to Composition 101. Rhetoric can encompass just about any means of persuasion—short of bribery, blackmail, or physical violence. It includes, for instance, appeals to emotion, provocative images, or clever wordplay. There's no doubt that all of these can be persuasive; however, so can cogent reasoning. We're not saying that a good argument will always win the day over clever rhetoric. After all, human beings are not Vulcans like Mr. Spock. In the long run, though, good arguments usually come out on top.

04
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Logic Is a Foundational Discipline

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Logic is foundational to any field that makes use of arguments. It has especially close connections to mathematics, computer science, and philosophy. Both Aristotelian logic and modern symbolic logic are impressive bodies of knowledge that constitute major intellectual achievements.

05
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Logic Helps You Spot Fallacies & Makes You a Better Citizen

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Fallacious thinking—in the form of propaganda, exaggeration, misdirection, and even outright lies—abounds in our culture. Politicians, pundits, advertisers, and corporate spokespersons attack straw men, appeal to the majority opinion, promote red herrings, or oppose a view simply because they dislike the person who holds it. Familiarity with common fallacies of this sort helps make you a more critical reader, listener, and thinker.

Dubious techniques of persuasion, such as "criticizing" a candidate's views by showing an unflattering image of them, once used most often during election campaigns have become the norm of news and social media. These tactics are no doubt sometimes effective, however, that's no reason for preferring them to a sound clear argument. On the contrary, this trend toward believing everything you hear is why the need for logical thinking is more crucial than ever.