Once, during an online tutorial, I pointed out the poor logic of another student's argument. She replied that "logic is just another belief system" that only a narrow-minded bigot would demand others submit to. Several other students weighed in, claiming that opinion and "personal judgement" were just as valid as logical consistency and appeal to evidence. What was incredible was that these people were presumably in the process of writing third year history essays. What would their referencing look like? Perhaps something like this:
23. Me 2004, My Opinions and Personal Judgements, Melbourne, Australia
24. Some guy I heard on television last night, on that show, you know, that funny one
26. My Dad - he was in the war, you know
27. Look, I have the right to my opinion, so sod off!
The faulty reasoning of my fellow students was nothing unusual. In a society that prides itself on the rigour and openess of its public debates, most people lack even a basic understanding of the underlying principles of argument. Opinions are thrust forth without evidence, statistics are manipulated or misinterpreted, language is stripped of meaning, and thus fuzzy thinking flourishes, and with it bad faith.
If this kind of thing gets you down, you're not alone. New Zealand ex-pat Jamie Whyte's little book, Crimes Against Logic, is at once a primer in elementary logic and a full-frontal assault on fallacies, weasel words, prejudice, and other evils of modern discourse. While it might be tempting to dismiss the book as yet another in the seemingly endless cavalcade of radical-reactionary language books, Whyte's book is well worth a look. Whyte takes logic seriously, but that doesn't stop him throwing in a handful of good jokes and a lot of attitude, and his reasoning is razor sharp.
In twelve short chapters, Whyte tackles such fallacies as "the right to your opinion", inconsistency, equivocation, coincidence, statistics, and reasoning from morality. Much of it will be familiar to those who have studied logic at university, but if you don't know your modus ponens from your modus tollens, Crimes Against Logic may well be your first introduction to the subject, given its neglect at all levels of education. In any event, Whyte emphasises the practical applications of logic, writing in a clever, engaging manner that assumes no prior knowledge of logical principles. If you're interested in honing your own reasoning skills - and being able to spot the lack thereof in others - this book is a good place to start.