Review: Being Logical (Logical Thinking)

being-logicalBeing Logical
D. Q. McInerny

This review is a little off the beaten path for most engineering blogs, perhaps — but I consider logic to be one of those “must have skills” for engineers. Being able to pull an argument apart, to understand the concept of a syllogism and the flow of logic, along with the various logical fallacies, adds greatly to your ability to write and process arguments for and against technologies and solutions (as well as in larger life). For some time, I’ve been looking for a concise description of the formal logic system I’ve encountered in philosophy a number of times, and a description of the many logical fallacies I’ve encountered in everyday life. Being Logical comes as close to fulfilling my desire for such a book as any I’ve encountered in my search.

Although this book is a trim 129 pages, it covers logic on a wide scale. The problem space is divided into five part; part one is preparing the mind for logic, which includes learning to observe, matching ideas to facts, matching words to ideas, and being mindful of the origin of ideas. It’s fair to note, at this point, that this first section also includes a small introduction to the correspondence theory of truth, the foundation of formal logic. Much of the modern progressive/post-modern project is based on overturning the correspondence theory of truth. The second part covers the basic principles of logic, including the concept of tracing an effect back through a cause, and the various ways in which we fail in this simple task.

The third part focuses in on the various logical constructions. Here the reader will find an explanation of the different pieces of a syllogism (the primary construction of logical arguments), and the importance of the truth of the terms (which refers back to the correspondence theory of truth) and the validity of the formal construction. There is a good bit of material here on the difference between statements of fact and value, and the place of conditional arguments, as well as useful reflections on the quality and quantity of the premise. This section contains a few helpful diagrams that illustrate the layout of logical arguments, as well. The fourth part dives into illogic, focusing on its sources, and the fifth part defines and names a number of logical fallacies (or rather mistakes in reasoning that invalidate an argument).

There are two things readers might find difficult about this book. First is the terse presentation; while examples are provided, a lot of information is provided in a very compact form. It can be difficult reading. Second, some people might object to the underlying assumption of the correspondence theory of truth, or question it from a number of angles. From a philosophical perspective, I happen to stand with the virtue ethic, which is closely tied to the correspondence theory, so I didn’t struggle with this aspect of the book at all — but readers more attuned to the post-modern mind might.

Logical thinking is a crucial point of engineering and thinking like an engineer. This book serves as a great, compact, readable introduction.