Philosophy 201: Logic (Wilson)

Do you want to win intellectual arguments? To learn how to provide convincing evidence for your beliefs? To sharpen your critical-thinking skills, avoid gullibility, and come to reason with precision and rigor?
Logic is the branch of philosophy that cultivates precisely these skills. It does so by exploring the structure of argumentation and by considering what it means to provide evidence for a conclusion. Logical symbols and techniques lay bare the argumentative structure of everyday discussions, making it easy to distinguish valid from invalid reasoning.

As in language, practice is the key to achieving fluency in logic, especially given the lamentable evolutionary fact that our brains seem hard-wired for illogical reasoning on a wide range of subjects. Thus, the course involves lots of practice: daily homework assignments cultivate the basic skills and inculcate the basic techniques; daily quizzes provide invigorating intellectual exercise, while stimulating a deeper application of the basics. Tests are designed to be both fair and challenging. All of these tasks and evaluative tools serve the course¹s major goal of refining mental acuity.

The course covers two major branches of logic. The first and most venerable dates back to Aristotle and deals with the relationships among sets, their members, and other sets. (What follows, for example, from the facts that all men are mortal and that Socrates is a man?) Among the things you¹ll learn about the other branch, symbolic logic, is why it¹s wrong to conclude that it¹s raining, given that your friend brought an umbrella and that he always brings an umbrella if it¹s raining. You¹ll learn symbolism that makes analyzing such logical arguments easy.

When Aristotle said that rationality distinguishes humans from other animals, he was, in effect, arguing for the study of logic‹at least by those who think it desirable to rise above our baser instincts and to cultivate the intellect, indeed to cultivate it by attending to the nature of reasoning itself. Logic is far more than an excellent preparation for a career in business or law or virtually any other field; it is preparation for the ³life of the mind² that is uniquely human.