Recurring Evidence of the Need for Logic Education

Logic was eliminated as a required subject in schools during the early 20th century because education reformers thought it was not necessary. But times have changed. No one today can deny the need for critical thinking, effective problem solving, and sound reasoning – all of which rely on logic, and all of which are in decline. An article in Wired warns: 

“The rationality of the world is what is at risk. Too many people are taken advantage of because of their lack of critical thinking, logic and deductive reasoning. These same people are raising children without these same skills, creating a whole new generation of clueless people.”

Basic logic literacy decreased during the first half of the 20th century, and computers were developed during the second half. This ironic turn of history is a source of many modern problems. Computers don't decrease the value of logic literacy, they increase it significantly, just as the printing press increased the value of general literacy. But this value cannot be achieved unless schools start teaching logic again. History is filled with evidence of the need for logic and the value of logic education:

Claude Shannon, the engineer who invented the information age, might have been the only engineer of his time to understand classical logic, which he learned in a philosophy class. His knowledge of logic, together with engineering, enabled him to unlock the secrets of digital electronics. In his own words, “it just happened that no one else was familiar with both fields at the same time.”   

Shannon’s discovery led to the development of electronic computers, but surprisingly it did not lead to greater demand for logic education. When the world’s first general-purpose digital computer, the ENIAC, was built, the lack of logic training among its engineers resulted in unnecessary complexity and inefficiency. The successor to the ENIAC, the EDVAC, was designed not by engineers, but by a logician, John von Neumann. His insights into the relationship between logic and computing made modern computers possible:

“Although an engineering tour de force, the ENIAC was a logical mess. It was von Neumann's expertise as a logician...that enabled him to understand that a computing machine is really a logic machine.”  The Universal Computer, p xii

Since then, people who understand the significance of logic have made other important contributions, such as programming languages, database software, and artificial intelligence.

Logic is not just important for computers, it is useful for reasoning about everything. For most of modern history, logic was taught as the starting point for all further learning. Every student in every school had to learn it, and no one could be considered an educated person without it. Today, it is difficult for most people to understand the importance of logic education because, through no fault of their own, most people do not even know what logic is.  

For the record, logic is a specific academic subject – one of the oldest, most important, and most intensely studied in human history. It has specific subject matter ranging from basic to advanced. Only the basics are needed for general education and subjects like business and computer engineering. The basics include principles such as validity, entailment, satisfaction, and proof. They include patterns of inference and logical operations for deductive reasoning. The basics are absolutely necessary for effective reasoning, and we need to start teaching them again. We cannot say a person is capable of critical thinking without skills relating to basic logic, which include the ability to: 

  • Draw valid inferences from evidence and recognize invalid inferences
  • Identify the unspoken assumptions of an argument
  • Recognize ambiguity and contradictions in ones own communication and that of others
  • Understand the difference between the validity of an argument and the truth of its claims
  • Determine what conditions satisfy a simple set of rules or constraints

A growing number of experts are coming to recognize the importance of logic and logic education. A professor at the University of Arizona has written about the importance of logic in information science. A professor at the University of Southern California understands the need for logic in business education. A senior scientist at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition wrote a paper to persuade his colleagues, many of whom have never taken a course in logic, that logic is useful in artificial intelligence. This is progress, but much more is needed. Most experts in most fields have never studied logic and have no frame of reference to understand its significance. This could not have been possible or even imagined in the past, but it is true today. 

Logic is useful in everyday life, for reasoning about things like political arguments, advertising claims, and even one's own assumptions. Philosophers have long recognized a connection between logic and ethics. After all, logic can influence the way we think, and the way we think influences the ways we behave and the things we choose to do.

The laws and principles of logic cannot be applied if they are not first understood. The decline of logic education is without a doubt a major factor, if not the primary factor, in the decline of human capital and dynamism. But there is cause for optimism. A professor at Stanford University is leading a movement to bring logic back as a basic requirement for every student, and he has published a free logic course for high schools. He believes logic education is necessary for effective citizenship and democracy, and that a logic-literate populace will know how to make decisions that truly align with their values. 

We at the Institute for Logic and the Public Interest support this goal and are working to promote it. We urge everyone to learn more about logic and to petition their local schools to start teaching it. Training for teachers is available at Stanford summer workshops, and the Institute offers on-site training for teachers and others on demand, at any location. 

Further reading:

"Philosophical problems can be compared to locks on safes, which can be opened by dialing a certain word or number, so that no force can open the door until just this word has been hit upon, and once it is hit upon any child can open it."    Ludwig Wittgenstein

Peter Cardon, Director of the Center for Logic and Business Communication

cardonDr. Peter Cardon brings world-leading expertise to our organization as the Vice President of the Institute and the Director of our Center for Logic and Business Communication.

Pete is also the Academic Director of the MBA for Professionals and Managers program at the USC Marshall School of Business, and one of only 3 full professors in the largest and oldest business communication department in the US. He is a former president of the Association for Business Communication, and the author of a leading textbook on business communication.

Welcome from the Director

The Institute for Logic and the Public Interest has filled a crucial need for today's business students by forming the Center for Logic and Business Communication to provide resources and direction on logic education in business. My work as a business communication professor, author, and MBA academic director convinces me that logic education is critically important for business students. Competency in logic underpins effective problem solving and successful communication. More broadly, logic education supports better learning in all disciplines, better decision making in professional and personal contexts, and better public discourse. I look forward to working with the Center and Institute to promote the study of logic at every level of business education.

Peter Cardon, PhD
Professor, Department of Business Communication
Academic Director, MBA.PM Program
Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California

What Business Leaders Should Know About Logic

Aristotle Logic education can reduce or eliminate the most costly and difficult challenges facing modern organizations. Here are 7 things every business leader should know about logic:

  1. Logic is not the opposite of emotion. People use the same patterns of reasoning when they follow their heads as when they follow their hearts. Logic helps people make better decisions regardless of their objectives and motivations. Learning logic may even increase emotional intelligence and self awareness by enabling people to reason more clearly.
  2. Logic can and should be used as a common language to communicate requirements between business organizations and IT. Logic allows business professionals to express ideas clearly and in their simplest meaningful form. Ambiguity and imprecision are not possible with logic. When requirements are expressed using the classical rules of inference and standard operators, every stage of the system development life cycle is improved, leading to lower costs and superior outcomes.
  3. Business schools and employers report significant deficiencies of critical-thinking skills among students and employees, despite a prolonged focus on critical thinking in business education. We believe this is due to the decline of logic education during the 20th century. Effective reasoning is necessary for critical thinking, and logic is necessary for effective reasoning. Critical thinking is impaired without logic, and most schools, including most business schools, do not require any courses in logic.
  4. Logic literacy among educated adults is at a 900-year low. For most of modern history, logic was considered the starting point for all further learning. In fact, teaching logic was one of the main reasons universities were created in the first place. Unfortunately, logic today is seen as a niche, specialized subject that only a small fraction of educated people know anything about. The standard of logic as a required subject for everyone ended with the education reforms of the late 19th and early 20th century. It is obvious now that this was a mistake.
  5. Logic is not only important for human reasoning, it also provides the basic operating principles of computers. Computers don't decrease the value of logic literacy, they increase it -- just as the printing press increased the value of standard literacy.
  6. Logic, like reading, is easy to learn but it does not come naturally, or even from experience. It must be taught and practiced. It can be self-taught, but many aspects of logic are non-intuitive and for most people are easier to learn with an instructor.
  7. The Center for Logic and Business Communication offers business-focused logic training from highly-rated instructors with university teaching experience. Contact us for more information on logic training for business professionals and managers.

Logic and the Organization of Information

frickeAuthor: Martin Frické
Publisher:  Springer (2012)

This book is not for everyone, but everyone should know why it is important. The author believes that logic is fundamental to the field of information science, but other scholars in his field do not understand this important fact. He opens with a quote from 1929: “That the study of classification extends into logic… should not deter the educated librarian…”, and he discusses how Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz envisioned the use of logic to organize information in the 17th century. But Frické notes that "The monumental and authoritative Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, Third Edition, 2009, does not have an entry for logic in its 6,856 pages" (p 121).

Modern information scientists do not recognize the value of logic in their field because few of them have ever studied it. Information managers should be able to rely on information scientists for guidance on how to use logic to organize information, but they cannot. Deficiency of logic education is the root cause of many difficult and costly challenges facing modern enterprise organizations.

With the decline of logic education during the 20th century it has become possible to earn a degree in almost any subject, including a PhD in information science, information management, or even computer science, without taking even a single introductory course in logic. This incredible fact highlights the irony of an advanced society that could not have developed without logic as the cornerstone of its education, but that now no longer expects it to be studied or understood.

The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric

triviumAuthor: Miriam Joseph
Publisher: Paul Dry Books; Reissue edition (2002)

This book was written by an English teacher and it is recommended by the distinguished artificial intelligence expert John Sowa. Sowa shared a story about teaching a graduate course in the computer science department at Stanford University. He said: "On the first day, I handed out the first homework assignment: Ten sentences in English, which the students were asked to translate to first-order logic (FOL). The sentences did not contain any problematical words or constructions. FOL was sufficient ... But only one person translated all ten sentences correctly. And he happened to be a recent PhD who was just auditing the course. The others were graduate students in either computer science or linguistics."

Knowledge of first-order logic was a prerequisite for this course. Sowa said any student who had gotten an A in the author's English class could have completed the assignment successfully. For most of modern history the trivium of logic, grammar and rhetoric was considered the starting point for education at every level, even grammar school. This centuries-long tradition came to an end with the education reforms of the early 20th century.

Applied Mathematics for Database Professionals

AM4DPAuthor: Lex de Haan and Toon Koppelaars
Publisher:  Apress (2007)

The title of this book is misleading. It is not about mathematics, it is about classical logic, which is usually taught as introductory material in philosophy departments at universities and and even most community colleges. It is not difficult. This book teaches how to apply the simple principles of logic to the complex process of database design.

Logic provides the basic underlying principles behind the millions of databases that form the nervous system of modern commerce and management. But unfortunately the vast majority of database professionals have never studied logic, an ironic fact that co-author Toon Koppelaars discusses in his blog. Knowledge of logic does not come naturally or even from experience. It must be taught.

Logic was eliminated as a required subject in schools during the first half of the 20th century and computers were developed during the second half. But computers do not reduce the value of logic education, they increase it. And no activity relies more heavily on the practical application of logic than designing and querying databases. Deficiency of logic education is without doubt the primary root cause of the most difficult and costly information management challenges facing modern organizations. These challenges could be reduced or eliminated by teaching basic principles of classical logic and how to apply them, which is what this book does.

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