“Many people would rather die than think; In fact, most do.”
Bertrand Russell, 20th Century C.E.

Logic is a branch of philosophy that formally studies arguments. By argument we do not mean a fist fight, but instead how ideas are defended through claims and the use of critical thinking. Everyone has opinions, but how do you present your ideas so that they are free from attack by those who may disagree with you? Use logic. Not only are philosophers interested in logic, but lawyers, writers, editors, and policy makers all are, as well - in sum, anyone who wants to construct strong arguments to defend a position.

Aristotle was the first philosopher to write about logic in a serious way. He is the one who coined the term "syllogism," which is a simple argument with two premises and a conclusion which we can then evaluate for its soundness and validity. Not all syllogisms of the Categorical Syllogisms - Complete List of 256 are valid. An example of a valid argument is: All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal. If you look closely you can see the argument follows a pattern. The term mortal belongs to both men and to Socrates, so it logically follows in the premises that if Socrates is a man and all men are mortal then the conclusion must be Socrates is mortal.

Logicians are interested in the form of an argument. Why? Because by pointing out valid logical forms we can construct arguments that are coherent and based on reason. In fact, the study of logic is the rigorous study of thinking. It assumes that we can use language to make reliable claims about the world. Logicians are interested in truth claims. In a logic class you will be introduced to an entirely different language - one you may not be familiar with at first. Not only will you study the syllogism, but you will also be exposed to many different kinds of argument forms. There is an entire symbolic language to learn which shows there is a close relationship between logic and math. For example, in symbolic logic, arguments are constructed with letters and symbols that resemble mathematical formulas.

In a logic class you will learn how to construct a valid argument as well as how to look at errors in thinking called logical fallacies. Editorials in the newspaper often use arguments to prove their points, but sometimes even the best writers use fallacious arguments that at first glance may seem convincing, but on closer inspection are bad arguments disguised to look like good ones. Thankfully, logicians have spent centuries cataloging egregious errors in argumentation that you should avoid. Want to win an argument? Don’t fall into logical fallacies.

Gearing up for your first course in logic? College students will find the Classical Logic entry of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to be a great free reputable source. And for understanding your college logic homework at all levels, don't forget to visit MIT's OpenCourseWare for the many online philosophy tutorials they offer such as the one called Logic I.

Online Resources in Logic

Deduction and Induction Learn the difference between deductive and inductive arguments.
Categorical Syllogisms Determine whether a syllogism is valid or not (with easy to understand examples).
Stephen’s Guide to the Logical Fallacies Study the most common logical fallacies compiled by a college professor, Stephen Downes.
Online Syllogism Solver Test whether a syllogism is valid or not with this useful online logic machine.
The Language of Symbolic Logic Introduce yourself to symbolic logic - for the beginner.
Truth Tables, Tautologies, and Logical Equivalence Help yourself to this primer on the concepts of sentential logic.
Venn Diagrams for Categorical Syllogisms Determine the validity of an argument using Venn diagrams - for the visually minded.

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