lecture given at Christ Church Academy in Lafayette, LA
This occasion and this talk are perhaps even odder for me, because this evening I’d like to speak on the subject of logic, something that wasn’t even close to the sphere of my imagination when I studied here. It was not until I left undergrad, ironically, that I began to ask the real important questions, like “What is education? What is the relationship of faith and reason? What does it mean to love God with my mind?” I most certainly didn’t study logic during my college years. So, here I return to a city I thoroughly enjoy to talk about a topic I’ve come to love, a topic that has been integral in my maturation as a scholar, an educator, a father, a husband, and a Christian man.
This evening I’d like to talk about logic, a word which on the surface sounds far off, it sounds distant and unreachable. But it is perhaps one of the closest, most common, and most important words to our everyday lives, to how we may determine whether we are living the good life, whether an education is worth supporting, or whether we are making the right decisions for our families and our city.
Logic could be seen from three different angles. Logic may be seen as a necessary human endeavor, as in when we say that man is by implication of his intellect a logical or rational creature. What we mean by that is man’s nature is one which accords to the proper use of reason. We are indeed rational beings, and so logic is indeed a human endeavor. Logic may also be seen as an academic subject, as in if I tell you that I teach logic. That would mean I teach the academic subject of logic, in which, as an art and a science, there are certain rules and guidelines for understanding how our reasoning faculty works. For example, what would you do with this argument? God is love; love is blind; Ray Charles is blind; Therefore, Ray Charles is God. By studying the academic subject of logic we would be able to say why that syllogism is unsound. Logic may also be seen as a stage of human development, and not just human development but I’d like to put fort this evening that what we have called “the logic stage” in classical Christian education is also a stage of growth in a city, a family, a school, etc.
I would, however, before I begin to explain logic as a stage of development, like to explain briefly the first two angles by which we may see logic: the human endeavor and the academic subject. If we understand these two angles correctly and how we have neglected them in our own lives, we will see why my main thesis tonight is in fact the case: that we are a nation stuck in the Grammar stage; we are a people who in our everyday lives struggle to think well, to order our world well, and to make clear and true judgements.
Logic as a Human Endeavor
“The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty…Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human.” G.K. Chesterton [i]
Author and classicist Mortimer Adler once said, “It cannot be too often repeated that philosophy is everybody’s business. The be a human being is to be endowed with the proclivity to philosophize. To some degree we all engage in philosophical thought in the course of our daily lives.” (p. 3)
So there is something fundamental in our humanity about maturing our intellect and our souls by becoming good reasoners, good thinkers. And yet we in the modern world have said by our words and actions that human reason is perhaps just a survival mechanism, or worse perhaps as Christians we have believed the lie that reason is contrary to faith, that if you mature your reason you will shrink your faith. These are patently unchristian things to say. It is part of our being made in the image of God that we are endowed with certain intellectual faculties.
Logic as an Academic Subject
But logic is not only a necessary part of our human nature, one we all should endeavor to nurture. Logic is an academic subject, and studying it as a subject is one of the best ways to mature it in our human nature.
Define logic and its centrality in a good education
In his excellent textbook Socratic Logic, Peter Kreeft opens the introduction by asking “What good is logic?” He goes on to present thirteen answers to this question, which are worth giving here before I give my own:
- Order. “Logic builds the mental habit of thinking in an orderly way.”
- Power. “Logic has power: the power of proof and thus persuasion.”
- Reading. “Logic will help you with all your other courses, for logic will help you to read any book more clearly and effectively.”
- Writing. “Logic will also help you to write more clearly and effectively, for clear writing and clear thinking are a ‘package deal’: the presence or absence of either one brings the presence or absence of the other.”
- Happiness. “In a small but significant way, logic can even help you attain happiness.”
- Religious faith. “All religions require faith…Even religion, though it goes beyond logic, cannot go against it…logic can aid faith.”
- Wisdom. “Philosophy means ‘the love of wisdom’. Although logic alone cannot make you wise, it can help. For logic is one of philosophy’s main instruments.”
- Democracy. “There are even crucial social and political reasons for studying logic.”
- Defining logic’s limits. “Does logic have limits? Yes, but we need logic to recognize and define logic’s limits.”
- Testing authority. “We need authority as well as logic. But we need logic to test our authorities.”
- Recognizing contradictions. “Logic teaches us which ideas contradict each other.”
- Certainty. “Logic has ‘outer limits’; there are many things it can’t give you. But logic has no ‘inner limits’: like math, it never breaks down.”
- Truth. “Our last reason for studying logic is the simplest and most important of all. It is that logic helps us to find truth, and truth is its own end: it is worth knowing for its own sake.”
How many schools in Lafayette, colleges included, offer a formal logic course this year to their students? (give Baton Rouge stats from 2013 census…)
“Once upon a time in Middle-Earth, two things were different: (1) most students learned ‘the old logic,’ and (2) they could think, read, write, organize, and argue much better than they can today. If you believe these two things are not connected, you probably believe storks bring babies.” Peter Kreeft[ii]
So Logic is a human endeavor and it is a necessary subject to academic maturity, and yet we have wholly neglected both of these truths. Therefore, we have neglected the third angle I mentioned earlier. We as a nation, as churches, as cities, and often times as individuals fail to move beyond the Grammar stage of our interaction with the world. We delight in the world. We have a thrill in the world. We memorize the things of the world. We explore the world. We try to simply apprehend the world, but then we stop short.
The Logic stage of development is most associated with judgements about the world, predicating certain things about the world, and determining whether those propositions are true. But we have lost our ability to do this with any degree of noteworthy strength and confidence, even as Christians. In biblical knowledge, in understanding our Western tradition, in our ability to discuss politics, in carrying on extended arguments, in our reading ability, in language, in asking and answering hard questions. In most things we are stuck in the Grammar stage, and in many other things we are not even in the grammar stage, for many of us in our own education have not moved beyond merely knowing that the subject exists. We do not even know the vocabulary of the subject, the history of it, the major works in it, etc. Let’s take the subject logic, for example…
For now, we are a country, and especially a state, stuck in the Grammar stage, in our thinking, speaking, reading, writing, wisdom, political discourse, view of education, and spiritual maturity. A failure to move beyond the Grammar stage is a failure to recognize the order of the universe. It is a failure to order our speech. It is a failure to order our wills. It is a failure to order our physical surroundings. It is therefore a failure to order our homes, our cities, our churches, and our nation. Consequently, an institution or organization stuck in the Grammar stage will live in a constant state of disorder, most often not recognizing the disorder for what it really is.
“The disrepute into which Formal Logic has fallen is entirely unjustified; and its neglect is the root cause of nearly all those disquieting symptoms which we may note in the modern intellectual constitution…to neglect the proper training of the reason is the best possible way to make it true, and to ensure the supremacy of the intuitive, irrational and unconscious elements in our make-up.” Dorothy Sayers[iii]
In C.S. Lewis’s famous Screwtape Letters, Screwtape in the second letter to Wormwood sees the sinister advantage to a man who doesn’t have a strong mind: “Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head…Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.” C.S. Lewis [iv]
If we do not study Logic in our schools, in our churches, in our homes, and in our private lives, it’s not that we won’t reason. We will simply reason poorly, and we will be susceptible to the bright lights of this age—the emotion, the jargon, the self-esteem, the political ramblings, and the fear of not progressing. Our mind’s eye will be made blind by the bright light of this age for we have thrown off the very protection our God has instructed us to fortify, and therefore in our perpetual childishness will be left with no protection at all. And lest we mistake perpetual childishness with childlike faith, I’d like to end with a quote from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: “He [Christ] wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.”[v]
[i] Chesterton, G K. The Collected Works of G.k. Chesterton. Charlottesville, Va: InteLex Corp, 2002. Print. Volume 1, 196.
[ii] Kreeft, Socratic Logic, ix.
[iii] Sayers, Dorothy L. The Lost Tools of Learning. New York: National Review, 1961. Print, 14.
[iv] Lewis, C S. The Complete C.s. Lewis Signature Classics. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2007. Print, 185.
[v] Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1943; rev. ed., 1952, 75.