I like logic. Quite a bit, actually. Four years ago, I took Introduction to Logic here at Luther. Last year, I had the opportunity to study Advanced Logic, at the University of Nottingham. This year, my dedication to the formal art of reasoning has given rise to a special opportunity. I get to be the Teacher’s Assistant! That’s right, I have risen through the ranks of aspiring logicians and achieved that pinnacle of rational success. I am Intro to Logic TA!
(Oh, alright, there weren’t exactly dozens of people lining up for the job.)
As work study positions go, it’s pretty glamorous. (Compared to Recycling, most things are.) My duties predominantly involve grading sets of logic homework. It’s not flashy, but needs to get done. I even enjoy the work. Whereas some might find reviewing answers to the same questions over and over again repetitive, I love the feeling of precision, particularly when I must attend to the intricacies of more complex responses.
I got to have an extra special experience, too. Professor Moore, the class instructor, was abroad for a philosophy conference as the semester opened. What did that mean for me? Well, for one day, and one day only, I got to be in charge. It would be presumptuous to call myself Professor, but it almost felt like I was, at least for one hour on a Monday afternoon.
So, what happened? Did I delve into the intricacies of intuitionistic logic? Did I drill the difference between de re and de dicto modal statements into them? Or did I go so far as to explain the divergence between the many-valued logics of Kleene and Łukasiewicz?
None of the above, in truth. (Although, at one point I jokingly said, “Well, at least it isn’t second-order logic.” No one, laughed, I’m afraid.)
Instead the class was hum-drum. It was the first meeting after all. I handed out the syllabus, went over the homework policy, and fielded some questions about the course. There was one thing, though, a little more exciting. In order to get the logical thoughts flowing, Professor Moore had left me with copies of a passage from Plato’s Phaedo that I could hand out in class for discussion.
Now, for those who don’t know, Plato rarely wrote about himself or his thoughts (at least not candidly) but put much of what he wanted to say into the mouth of his teacher Socrates. So, in the Phaedo dialogue we hear Socrates on the final day of his life arguing for the immortality of the soul. He’s in Athenian prison, of course, where he has been sent for impiety and corrupting local youths.
The bit we read in class is known as the misology section. In it, Socrates warns against becoming a hater of arguments (which one might do after getting exhausted of hearing people argue for every side of an issue). “No!” says Socrates (I’m paraphrasing), “Instead, we should love argument all the more because it is the only way to sort out the bad arguments from the good!”
Logic is hardly a cure-all, and it has bits that just don’t seem logical. The Liar’s Paradox has been around for thousands of years. Not to mention the trouble that Curry’s Paradox can get us into. And then, above it all, is Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, telling us that no matter how hard we try, our logic can never quite capture everything.
Still, though, it’s a fair sight better than having no formal reasoning at all.