Monday, August 20, 2012

Reader query: Teaching logic and the 'practice of reasoned argument'

A reader asks:

Is there a way to teach propositional logic that more directly ties the subject to the practice of reasoned argument than I am used to? I learned logic myself as an abstract formal set of operations, through practice exercises. (Sure, we interpreted symbols as propositions, but for all that the results were hardly less divorced from the actual practice of reasoning.) I intuited and later learned in more depth how to put these operations into practice in my own thinking as an aid both to conceptual and communicative clarity. But no one ever explicitly taught me that.  
Does anyone know of a textbook, teacher, teaching method, or anything along these lines which(/who) successfully injects the practice of logical thinking, and perhaps even rational dialogue, into the teaching of the formal operations? Or is that simply too much to ask for in a single class? 
I don't think there's anything wrong with a purely formal and abstract approach, by the way. I'm just looking around.
Those more versed in teaching logic: What do you suggest to this reader?


  1. Richard Feldman's Reason and Argument textbook might work for your purposes here.

  2. Encourage students to discover applications of the formal system in everyday discourse [sports (if team x wins and team y loses then...), other classes; local letters to the editor etc.].

  3. One thing I remember having to do as an undergrad is to create my own argument and then prove it. The instructor provided a sort of "word bank" of propositions, relations, and predicates. There were also restrictions on how many premises were allowed and how many of the rules we had to use. Extra credit was given for humor and for other things, though I can't remember all the details. This is actually more difficult than it sounds, and it's also a lot of fun.

  4. If you'll excuse the shameless self-promotion, I think that the Workbook for Arguments that Anthony Weston and I published with Hackett does a good job of this. (Well, really, it's that Weston's Rulebook for Arguments does a good job with it, and we built the Workbook on top of his Rulebook.)

    The Workbook doesn't introduce any of the technical apparatus (e.g., truth tables), although you can easily do that in class. (I do.) Instead, it focuses on training students to recognize and use some basic rules of deductive logic in natural language arguments. You can see some of the relevant chapter (Chapter VI) on Google Books.


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