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Humanities LibreTexts

1.1: What is Logic?

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  • In Logic, the object of study is reasoning. This is an activity that humans engage in—when we make claims and back them up with reasons, or when we make inferences about what follows from a set of statements.

    Like many human activities, reasoning can be done well, or it can be done badly. The goal of logic is to distinguish good reasoning from bad. Good reasoning is not necessarily effective reasoning; in fact, as we shall see, bad reasoning is pervasive and often extremely effective—in the sense that people are often persuaded by it. In Logic, the standard of goodness is not effectiveness in the sense of persuasiveness, but rather correctness according to logical rules.

    In logic, we study the rules and techniques that allow us to distinguish good, correct reasoning from bad, incorrect reasoning.

    Since there is a variety of different types of reasoning, since it’s possible to develop various methods for evaluating each of those types, and since there are different views on what constitutes correct reasoning, there are many approaches to the logical enterprise. We talk of logic, but also of logics. A logic is just a set of rules and techniques for distinguishing good reasoning from bad. There are many logics; the purpose of this book is to give an overview of some of the most basic ones.

    So, the object of study in logic is human reasoning, with the goal of distinguishing the good from the bad. It is important to note that this approach sets logic apart from an alternative way of studying human reasoning, one more proper to a different discipline: psychology. It is possible to study human reasoning in a merely descriptive mode: to identify common patterns of reasoning and explore their psychological causes, for example. This is not logic. Logic takes up reasoning in a prescriptive mode: it tells how we ought to reason, not merely how we in fact typically do. (Psychologists have determined, for example, that most people are subject to what is called “confirmation bias”—a tendency to seek out information to confirm one’s pre-existing beliefs, and ignore contradictory evidence. There are lots of studies on this effect, including even brain-scans of people engaged in evaluating evidence. All of this is very interesting, but it’s psychology, not logic; it’s a mere descriptive study of reasoning. From a logical, prescriptive point of view, we simply say that people should try to avoid confirmation bias, because it can lead to bad reasoning.)