The Virtue of Logic: Are You Logical?

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Beyond Good and Evil
By Friedrich Nietzsche
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Many months ago, I was walking past the lunch room at work and happened to overhear a discussion between two of my employees (at the time) about who had the more logical position on the topic of God’s existence.  The one who happened to be an atheist was suggesting that his was the more logical position, and the one who happened to be a member of a Baptist congregation was explaining why his position was equally logical.  Normally, I discourage anyone at work from discussing their religious beliefs or lack thereof in the workplace.  Most of the people at my place of employment aren’t very well-read in the area of theistic or non-theistic belief systems and still insist on holding wildly uninformed opinions on topics related to them, so you can imagine how well such discussions usually go.  The raised voices and sputtering are good signs that you have that sort of discussion starting.

Something in me decided to join the discussion that day.  As some people know, I don’t like to take sides.  I like to go in swinging at both parties if at all possible.  And so I did.  And I made a statement that even I didn’t expect to come out of my mouth.  Normally, I like to use the Socratic method to get at definitions first.  And I could have done that.  I could have asked them what they meant by “logical”?  After all, are they talking about being logical in the sense of utilizing a bivalent logic, a multivalent logic, or even fuzzy logic?  Are we using a modal or multi-modal logic?  Perhaps a hybrid logic or an epistemic logic?  Is it classical logic, intuitionistic logic, or a linear logic?  Suffice it to say that going that route with the discussion would have lead to a great deal of confusion on both their parts and frustration on my part.  I probably would have ended up telling them to actually learn what it means to be logical before bandying the term about like a passel of ninnies.  Ok, so I probably wouldn’t have used the passel of ninnies phrase anyway.  Who would?

Thankfully, I instinctively made a point that was probably more relevant to their discussion and more likely to get them thinking productively.  I suggested that before they started worrying about who was more logical, they might want to consider whether or not being logical is a moral imperative.  They were taken back, and understandably so.  But the discussion went in a different direction, and so did I.  I needed to buy my lunch, and they needed to finish theirs with a discussion somewhat less likely to cause indigestion.  It worked out well all the way around.

I’m glad that I didn’t start them on the path of considering the various logics that exist and their properties, because I doubt they’re ready for it.  Without the right background, such considerations can quickly lead to an unhealthy skepticism that is described beautifully by Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil.

“Thus a skeptic consoles himself; and it is true that he stands in some need of consolation.  For skepticism is the most spiritual expression of a certain complex physiological condition that in ordinary language is called nervous exhaustion and sickliness; it always develops when races or classes that have long been separated are crossed suddenly and decisively. … This disease enjoys the most beautiful pomp- and lie-costumes; and most of what today displays itself in the showcases, for example, as “objectivity,” “being scientific,” “l’art pour l’art,” “pure knowledge, free of will,” is merely dressed-up skepticism and paralysis of the will: for this diagnosis of the European sickness I vouch.”

But let’s get back to the central issue.  Why do so many people in our culture want to be logical?  What’s the value of being logical?  Is it a virtue to be logical, like being honest or charitable is virtuous? 

On a personal level, I see a great deal of practical value in the use of logics.  There are many wonderful applications of it in the field of computing, for example.  It can also help people filter out some unhealthy thought processes in which they are engaging, or aid critical thinking by eliminating some kinds of fallacies.  I don’t think using any logic leads to true conclusions about our world, which seems to be the assumption of many people these days.  In fact, I think the nature of logic precludes its use for such a purpose.  I see logic as an intellectual tool that can be used for good or evil, depending on our axioms.  I don’t see its use as intrinsically virtuous at all, just as I would not see the use of a hammer as intrinsically virtuous.  But enough about what I think.

Do you think that being logical is worthwhile?  If so, what does “logical” mean to you?  And…are you logical?

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10 Responses to The Virtue of Logic: Are You Logical?

  1. QuantumStorm says:

    I think that being logical is worthwhile, but I also consider it as something that is somewhat dependent upon the person and how he/she defines her purpose in life. While I’m aware of the different types of “logic” from an academic standpoint, in my everyday parlance I consider it as a part of a greater decision-making and agency process that involves the suspension of the emotions and instincts, or at least, a deprioritizing of them. Instead of doing something primarily because it “feels” good or because my “Gut” tells me so, I’d take a different approach. Not that my gut isn’t right on occasion, or that my feelings can’t line up with my decision, but… (And yes, sometimes I’ll do something b/c of instincts or b/c it feels good, but I’m not entirely hedonistic)And I always LOL @ fuzzy logic for its name. Granted, I think paraconsistent logic is a bit interesting. Heaven forbid we reconcile the irreconcilable! 

  2. Slightly off topic, because I have to be short, I’m using my phone right now and typing is a chore…Would you suppose a difference in logical, and rational thought?

  3. galadrial says:

    There are degrees, of course.Am I logical, as in “Spock of Star Trek” Logic-above-all-things-at-all -times?Not in the least.But logic has it’s uses.I just have been engaged too often by those who are arguing a point of religion, or belief—and there logic doesn’t work well. Belief is based upon something you can’t prove but strongly accept…for whatever reason. I believe in love, because i feel it…but I also can’t “prove” that love exists beyond chemistry. I’m stubborn enough to think there is more to it…but logic would never support that supposition.

  4. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @QuantumStorm – I’ve always liked the idea of a paraconsistent logic, myself.  And I could never take fuzzy logic completely seriously either.  But it is kinda awesome, in its way.@AgainstTheWind1 – I do think that there’s a difference in rational and logical thinking, though I would be inclined to describe logical thought as a subset of rational thought.  Rationality tends to be a quality of folks to think their decisions through (reason) rather than using their emotions to make decisions, which is essentially what QuantumStorm was describing.  Logic is sometimes a part of the process of exercising our reason, and sometimes it is not.  Pragmatic or strategic thought is another way of exercising our reason, for example.@galadrial – You’re quite right.  It’s difficult to use logic in a discussion about beliefs that are foundational for a person.  We need a certain set of beliefs before we can even begin using logic to organize and evaluate those beliefs, and if we have no foundational beliefs, then using logic is much like a nudist using a clothes hamper. 🙂

  5. Ok, that makes sense, and confirms my (less-educated) suspicions.

  6. nidan says:

    I seem to be arguing this a lot lately, but here it goes anyways: My opinion is it depends on what the ends are that you’re looking for. According to my experience using a workable reasoning process is a useful tool for solving practical problems we come up against. That’s why it’s a key tool that I give my students early on and throughout their training. When I first introduce them to this tool, I start them on the PAFI method. 1. Perceive the problem. 2. Analyze the variables. 3. Formulate the solution. 4. Initiate the action. After they get good at that I can later take it to a more advanced level. But my point is this is a practical use for basic logic.I think where a lot of people make their mistake is in thinking that logic is a synonym for truth. They think that if your logic can lead you to a certain place, that place must be the truth. One of my favorite history professors at SJF would often quote a line of Dr Jones from Raiders of the lost ark: “Archeology is the pursuit of facts, not truth. If you want truth philosophy classes are across the hall.”In the Star Trek episode: “Prime Factors” Tuvok (The resident Vulcan character) did something he knew was wrong and gave a logical response to the captain for why he did it. Captain Janeway’s response was thus: “You can use logic to justify almost anything. That’s its power, and its flaw.” Acknowledging the point Tuvok’s reply was: “My logic was not in error, but I was.”How any of this applies to the question of “Is there is a god” and “If so, which god” is highly dependent on the rules that apply outside our universe. For example there was one in our articles on revelife about causality. That is the belief that for every effect, there must be a cause. The reason that that’s what we observe here in our reality is because our reality is dominated by the arrow of time. If one were outside of time, then causality breaks down. The question is to what extent. For example let’s say our voyager makes it outside of time then reenters at a point before he is born. This would be logically impossible, but if it’s physically possible, then could he meet his own mother and then father himself?The above is a simple construct and of course has several other paradoxical problems associated with it, but it’s the base point I’m reaching to.As to the argument itself I like what CCCcourage had to say on your post: “I think the approach to the question is more fruitful if people stop looking at is as a battle and simply explain their own understanding and how they came to it. Presenting and idea and then deconstructing that of someone else keeps the focus on “winning” or “convincing” rather than on the actual question itself. It becomes a contests of wits, not unlike most court room situations these days. The truth matters less than winning. Neither side cares about the ultimate truth, they just want to bring others around to their perspective. “

  7. nidan says:

    @galadrial – Even Spock said that “logic is the begining of wisdom, not the end.” (Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country)

  8. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @nidan – Good points about the practical use of logic and its limitations.  I actually really enjoyed the comment from @ccccourage as well.  It seemed that they were one of the people who really understood the point I was trying to get across.  Which is that the battle of wits is often useless and/or destructive.@nidan – And that has always been my favorite Spock line.  One of the most valuable things I learned from taking too many philosophy courses while getting my first degree is that logic has some very stark limitations, and that at a certain point you come to an appreciation of logic without an unhealthy reliance on one intellectual tool as a panacea.Do you ever find it difficult to discuss the limitations of logic with atheists?

  9. nidan says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – When a Christian argues the limitations of logic to a Dogmatic-Atheist (Note the term “dogmatic” please) it is kin to an Atheist arguing to a Southern-Baptist that what they feel in their worship services could be a chemical reaction in their brain.

  10. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @nidan – Yeah, that’s what I’ve been finding as well.  I’ve had very limited success with my discussions on logic and belief formation.  Especially belief formation, given the staggering honesty it requires to really assess how we came to believe things.  Folks like to idealize their belief formation process rather than describe it, as I’m sure you’ve seen as well.  Not that I’m judging them for it.  I’m guilty of it as well, after all.

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