Wherever we tread, frontiers new and old are often beset with numerous arguments all vying to persuade us to give up our time and money for various causes. For the untrained mind, the inability to differentiate the structure of one argument from another can have dangerous consequences. Some arguments, no matter how you salvage them simply do not hold up, even if you wished otherwise. And studying logic, of which both critical and good thinking are a part of, is a first step for calming a modern mind that’s susceptible to very predictable fallacies and rhetorical tricks. Knowledge of fallacies and the structure of arguments allow us to take apart the lies of politicians, the shaky framework of the religious and supernatural, and commit to higher quality life decisions.
There are some psychological phenomenons that are particularly important to be aware of. For example, while teamwork is rightfully encouraged in every situation, it’s too easily accompanied by group think, a cognitive behaviour that results in sacrificing critical thought and personal identity in order to adopt a group belief. And in a recent study, our brain can become attuned to repeated acts of dishonesty such that it’s possible to no longer feel any discomfort even when partaking in criminal activity. Knowledge about the inner workings and hidden rationalisations of our brain are extremely useful to know but they must be tempered with the realistic expectations that we are still likely to easily fall into the same traps we’ve learned about.
Even among friends and family, we should still recognise that casual conversations often follow some structure of an argument. That is to say that people are always persuading us to do, adopt or respond to something, and we are similarly doing the same to them.
Here’s a simple example in the context of trying to figure out if a student is lying. Which answer is correct?
If John overslept, John will be late.
John didn’t oversleep. Therefore:
(a) John is late
(b) John isn’t late
(c) John overslept
(d) None of the these follows.
The only logical answer is the last one. A majority of people attempting this will often pick (b). If John didn’t oversleep, anything could have happened, and not necessarily that he would be punctual.
Our untrained gut feeling is often wrong, and learning how to pay attention to arguments in a rapid-fire discussion is incredibly challenging but necessary. In addition, there are circular arguments that go around in an endless loop. It may seem easy to pick them out, but they can be especially difficult to detect.
For example, someone might say ‘There’s no greater argument for the existence of God than this beautiful world being the truth of his Existence’
On the surface, it sounds like an inspiring and meaningful quote. Yet, after some analysis, it’s really saying this:
(1) This world is proof of God’s work.
(2) Therefore, God Exists.
(Repeats indefinitely) God exists because this world is proof.
And here’s another one:
(1) The Bible says it is the word of God
(2) The word of God cannot be wrong
(3) Therefore the Bible cannot be wrong
(Repeats indefinitely) The Bible is the word of God.
Logic endows us with necessary intellectual self-defense. If we can make a case for instructing children on why they should learn to read maps and develop independence, the acquisition of logic should be a compulsory modern-day survival tool. And for that, no one will need to delve deeply into the intricacies of logic. Only an introductory course will be enough to yield modest results.
So have you thought about (HYTA) whether logic is an important tool to have?