Sunday, January 30, 2005

"Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans"

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
25. Ibid.
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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How dare you attempt to undermine society, hiding atheistic apologetics behind your elitist rant; after reading your article, I felt I need to weigh in with my personal opinions, which, although they don't come out of a book by some sheep-fucker, are still perfectly valid. Logic is not the be-all-and-end-all of an argument, man - cos, I mean, you proved it yourself: you quoted Spock in the subject line, and look at where logic got him. Sure he could play that weird future chess and he made a couple of robots explode by using logic at them, but man, Kirk could totally one-up him every time without logic, and he got laid 100% more often than Spock, guaranteed. And certain truths are self-evident; they are true simply because they must be, whether they are logically provable or not. Every Cretan knows that. Like, that God created Darwin to test our faith. And I know Jesus loves me. Even though I can't prove it, it's true. You can never understand that, being a pawn of the devil, and probably a terrorist. To sum up my arguements: Kirk rules, you suck.
P.S. My dad WAS in the war, how dare you disrespect his opinions just because he killed godless terrorists and cut off their ears, which he keeps in a jar under his bed.