on April 24, 2006
This is a great book for the right audience. By design, it starts with the most basic concepts of logical thought in order to build a solid foundation. For a student beginning a study of philosophy, this will be very valuable.
If your interest in logical thought is more casual, however, you may find that about 2/3 of this book is so basic as to not hold your attention very well. In the final third of the book McInerny addresses the common pitfalls of logical thought and the book becomes interesting even if you are a non-academic reader.
For that reason, I'd recommend "Crimes Against Logic" by Jamie Whyte for the reader interested in day-to-day logical thought rather than this book. This is a great one, however, if you are beginning an academic study of philosophy.
on April 30, 2006
I'm on my way to grad school in the fall, and I picked up D.Q. McInerny's book with the thinking that since I never took an undergrad course in logic, it might be nice to learn the basics. Couldn't hurt to learn how to think in preparation for the most challenging time of your academic life, right?
As it turns out, I'm not sure this is the book that will help me do it. What I thought was going to be a primer on the ins and outs of rational thought read a lot more like the intro to a textbook. It's potentially interesting stuff, but the book ends too soon, before we get to the real meat of it all.
This is a short read -- 137 pages, including the index -- so it might not be a surprise that my main problem was McInerny trying to cover too much ground with too little space. There are issues with the format and pacing: Each chapter starts with a subject -- "The Basic Principles of Logic," for instance -- and moves through numbered subsections dealing with various aspects of that subject, like "Distinguish Among Causes" or "The Categorical Statement."
But the problem is twofold:
1) With usually only a page or less given to each subsection, the information itself is too brief to seriously mull over and usually simplistic enough as to border on the obvious (Example: One of McInerny's tips for effective communcation? "Speak in complete sentences."); and
2) Very often, there seems to be no correlation between subsections in a given chapter (or at the very least, the transitions need work).
What does this mean? Since the information is presented as it is (in list form), you're basically reading a glossary, only the terms in the glossary aren't specific enough to be of any real help to you. You might be just as well off reading about the concepts of logic on Wikipedia.
The bulk of the book is spent on the notion of argument, which McInerny says is the most basic and effective way that logic is disseminated. He spends a great deal of time and space on the terminology of argument, noting, for instance, the differences between the universal and particular (the former applies to everything, the latter only to some things; again, very intuitive), but never connects the importance of the terminology to the real world, as he promises he will. For example, I understand that "Every bird is a vertebrate" (80) is a universal affirmative statement, and I understand that you can't use two affirmative statements for your premises and come up with a negative conclusion. But that should be obvious to anyone who's given the subject even a little bit of thought. Understanding and using such terminology might allow me to put labels on premises or arguments, but does it help me make distinctions between the logical and the illogical any more so than I already could?
That's not to say that this book has nothing going for it. Some of McInerny's examples are very useful in helping to understand the structures that different arguments can take (conjunctive, disjunctive, conditional, syllogistic, etc.). In those cases, there was a bit of real-world application, because it helps you understand that all arguments are not -- and should not -- be similarly constructed. The author also points out a very necessary difference between an arugment's truth and its validity. (An argument is true or false based on the value of its premises; an argument is valid based on the structural soundness of its form. Arguments can be true but not valid, valid but untrue.) And it was fun reading through McInerny's list of logical fallacies, and connecting some (a little too easily) to arguments often used by prominent politicians and pundits.
"Being Logical" would probably best be used by people who are unfamiliar with logic as a formal area of study, and even then, only as a reference until they have a better grasp on the subject. I understand it's supposed to serve as an overview, but many overviews still delve a little more than surface-deep into a subject. In the end, I didn't feel this book provided even enough information to help you decide if you'd be interested in studying the subject further, to say nothing of providing no real insight into logical thought.
on May 20, 2005
"Being Logical" is a fine book for those who wish to communicate coherent arguments either in writing or in debates. It reminds me of another fine (but much older) work, namely "The Art of Controversy," by Arthur Schopenhauer.
McInerny starts right out with recommendations on how to communicate. Avoid evasive language! Pursue truth! And he explains that truth is divided into ontological (existence) and logical (valid statements).
We then get to principles of logic. These are identity (a=a), excluded middle (a either exists or it does not, not both or neither), and sufficient reason (everything has a cause).
The author tells us some of the causes of illogical thinking. These include overskepticism, evasion, cynicism, naivete, narrowmindedness, emotion, insincerity, and lack of respect for common sense. And, of course, as in "The Art of Controversy," there is a section on forms of illogical thinking. One of the more interesting ones involves precedents. Obviously it is a fallacy to say that just because there is a precedent of something having been done before, it is a good idea to do it again. But the author shows how this fits in with the dubious claim that "two wrongs make a right." Of course, to claim that because it was wrong to do something in the past, it is wrong to do it now would be yet another fallacy. I think the author could have expanded on the question of precedents here.
I recommend this book.
on August 16, 2004
Maybe it's because this is an extremely partisan election year. But these days, a seeker of truth knows that reason, clarity, and honesty are in short supply.
How wonderful, then, to find these virtues and more in one resource. I'm alluding to D.Q. McInerny and his mighty mite of a book, "Being Logical."
Be assured that McInerny deftly covers the positive principles and the tempting pitfalls governing everyone's attempts to think logically. And he accomplishes this with quiet humor, with the patience of the best kind of teacher.
Although I wish I'd encountered him much earlier, I'm happy to discover him now.
Yet there's more to this book. Simply put, it places the force of inspiration in the reader's mind. Every day, now, in his congenial way, McInerny is there, exhorting me to think straighter and better. And he makes me want to do this despite the prospect of failure, which (for me) is usually lurking just around the corner.
What more could be asked of an author than that?
Robert Graves and Alan Hodge have asserted that "the writing of good English is...a moral matter." So is the practice of effective logic, as successfully demonstrated by D.Q. McInerny in "Being Logical."
on June 21, 2010
Being Logical is both a manual on the basics of constructing arguments, and a book on critical thinking. It does a decent job at informing the reader about the fundamentals of arguments, though many examples in the book are more difficult than they should be. For "a guide to good thinking" or "thinking straight" as promoted on the cover, the book is sloppy, incomplete, and fails. For the latter, I'd recommend an introductory book on critical thinking, such as Thomas Kida's Don't Believe Everything You Think. Some parts of Being Logical are awkward, and I got the impression that the author was unable to keep his theology from leaking out into this book. D.Q. McInerny teachers at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, so maybe there's something to that impression.
Some of my criticisms are as follows:
The author commits the "argumentum ad logicam" throughout the book many times when he makes statements like: "If we start with a false premise, a valid argument will only allow us to proceed consistently to a false conclusion." What? A false premise does NOT necessarily produce a false conclusion. An example of an argument with false premises that leads to a true conclusion: All fish live in the sea. Dolphins are fish. Therefore dolphins live in the sea.
The author advocates accepting anecdotal evidence to establish factualness as an indirect means of evidence, if the eyewitness is "trustworthy." Fine, but as a book on being logical, advocating this without explicitly cautioning the unreliability of eyewitness testimony [even if trustworthy] is a huge failure. This is basic stuff that any sound introductory book on critical thinking would hammer away at. The devil is in the details here.
"Eyewitness testimony is, at best, evidence of what the witness believes to have occurred. It may or may not tell what actually happened. The familiar problems of perception, of gauging time, speed, height, weight, of accurate identification of persons accused of crime all contribute to making honest testimony something less than completely credible" -Elizabeth Loftus, Memory: Surprising New Insights into How We Remember and Why We Forget
The author's summarization of the principle of sufficient reason: "Consider the principle of sufficient reason. I cannot prove that everything that exists must have a cause, nor do I need to, since it is a truth self-evident to me simply by my observing the way the world works." Parts of the book, such as this presumptive Aristotelian metaphysical argument about the chain of causality felt like I was reading a book on dead theological arguments, and nobody clued in the author that they've been torn to shreds by real philosophers. This is definitely not a self-evident truth, it is only an assumption that shifts the burden of proof, and it is only valid from everyday causality. It cannot be used to explain "the physical universe," (as the author writes) such as at the quantum levels.
"Even though causality applies to the known world, it does not necessarily apply to the universe at large. In other words, it is unwise to draw conclusions from an extrapolation of causality beyond experience." (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). In fact there are alleged scientific examples in molecular physics where this principle fails, such as, "gas molecules may bounce against the walls of a container without requiring anything or anyone to get them moving." (Michio Kaku, Hyperspace)
"Part 4: The sources of illogical thinking" was the poorest section of the book. Any section on sources of illogical thinking is incomplete without a distinct clear discussion of cognitive biases. The human tendency to lead toward credulity was merely a subtle mention in a sentence on "cynicsm and naive optimism." There was no mention of major flaws in human thinking that lead to irrational thought, such as the human tendency to put too much emphasis on anecdotes; the dismissal and misunderstanding of statistics; tendency to draw epistemic conclusions based on personal experience/"subjective facts" alone; confirmation bias; wishful thinking; etc.
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." -Richard Feynman
For an introductory guide, the author didn't do a competent job deciphering between "selective skepticism" (scientific skepticism or a position of doubt when robust evidence proportional to a claim is lacking) and classic philosophical skepticism. It's sloppy to refer to the classical philosophical skepticism or post modernism as just "skepticism." Use their proper titles. This is an introductory guide, and sloppy usage of terms can lead to sloppy thinking and misinformation for the lay reader.
The author regurgitates a huge common canard when he writes, "atheists state categorically there is no God..." Straw man much? Someone who teaches philosophy and advocates effective and honest communication should know this is a patently false, unclear definition of the term. Atheism is a negation of belief in gods. There are agnostic (weak atheists) and gnostic (strong atheists) versions of atheism; only the latter state categorically there are no gods. He also writes that the agnostic does not deny the attainability of truth. But this is precisely what the agnosticism position does [depending on the context].
"Agnosticism is the position of believing that knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God is impossible. It is often [incorrectly] put forth as a middle ground between theism and atheism. Understood this way, agnosticism is skepticism regarding all things theological. The agnostic holds that human knowledge is limited to the natural world, that the mind is incapable of knowledge of the supernatural. Understood this way, an agnostic could also be a theist or an atheist." -Robert Carroll, "Agnosticism." The Skeptic's Dictionary
On common sense, "Common sense is that homey everyday-type of reasoning which is born out of an alert awareness of, and respect for, the obvious." You know, the kind of common sense that dictated the Earth was flat because it obviously looks flat from a human terrestrial perspective; that everything in the heavens revolves around the Earth for the same reason as the latter; that quantum physics and biological evolution are absurd because they're so counter-intuitive; or the over-simplistic pithy proverbs and aphorisms people rely on to explain human behavior. One can go on all day listing the failures of common sense. Appealing to common sense in a book about logic and critical thinking, really?
"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." -Albert Einstein
In the final part of the book common logical fallacies are explained, however three major common fallacies are missing. These are fallacies that I suspect one encounters almost daily if they're paying attention and should have been included: the argument from ignorance, bare assertions, and moving the goalposts.
on May 8, 2007
The subtitle to this slender volume (only 131 pages), is "A Guide to Good Thinking." Logic is not a subject only to be utilized and studied by philosophy professors and college students; it is a subject that should be pursued by all, in some measure, since we should all desire to think well. In the preface, McInereny writes, "Logic is about clear and effective thinking. It is a science and an art. This book is intended to introduce readers to the rudiments of the science as well as to the basic skills associated with the art...my aim here is very modest. This is neither a treatise in logical theory nor a textbook in logic...My governing purpose was to write a practical guidebook, presenting the basic principles of logic in a way that is accessible to those who are encountering the subject for the first time."
In my opinion, McInerny delivers what he promises in the preface. This book is very readable and accessible. In the first portion, he helps the reader 'prepare' his mind for logic. Someone who desires to think clearly should exercise attentiveness when listening to someone present an argument; they should seek to get all their facts straight and the should avoid vague and ambiguous language-just to name a few.
In part two, he lays down some foundational principles in logic like the principle of identity (a thing is what it is) and the principle of the excluded middle (between being and non-being there is no middle state), the principle of sufficient reason (there is sufficient reason for everything) and the principle of contradiction (it is impossible for something to be and not be at the same time and in the same respect). He also instructs his readers to be aware of generalizing and the importance of defining one's terms.
In the third section of the book, McInerny introduces his readers to the structures of good arguments, and in the fourth and final section of the book, he helps his readers identify forms of illogical thinking; otherwise known as logical fallacies.
Scattered throughout the book were some excellent quotes that I think would be immediately helpful:
Argumentation: "Argument is rational discourse. It is not to be confused with quarreling. The object of argument is to get at the truth. The object of quarreling is to get at other people. There are any number of folk who, though happy to quarrel with you, are either unwilling or unable to argue with you. Don't waste your time and energy trying to argue with people who will not or cannot argue" (97-98).
Right Reasons for Argumentation: "To use reasoning for any purpose other than attaining the truth is to misuse it...In the ideal debate, the primary purpose of the debaters is not to triumph over each other, but rather by their combined efforts to ferret out the truth as it pertains to the issues being debated" (97).
Rules for Forming a Good Argument: "The ideal argument allows people to see that something is true on the basis of evidence. The only force that an honest arguer wants to use is the force of reason. The alternative to moving people by force of reason is doing so by raw power. People can be forced to do what they do not want to do, but they cannot be forced to think what they want to think. They cannot be coerced into accepting what is true. In argument, coercion invariably backfires. People will accept the truth only when they can do so freely, having seen for themselves that what is presented as true is in fact true" (115-116).
Don't Use Easy Ridicule to Dismiss an Argument: "To be sure, there are arguments that are comically inept and therefore deserving of laughter. But even in those cases it is better, rather than dismissing an argument with easy ridicule, to take the time to show how and why it fails as an argument" (123).
Find Root Causes: "Sometimes our failure to find the root causes of things is attributable to simple laziness. We don't push the investigation far enough. Other times, it is impatience which works against us. We are so pressed by the need to 'do something' that we settle for quick-fixes, stop gap measures, while the basic problem remains essentially undisturbed" (35).
Use Clear and Truthful Language: "If we consistently use language that serves to distort reality, we can eventually come to believe our own twisted rhetoric" (19).
Avoid Contradictions by Being Truthful: "The avoidance of contradiction, therefore, is simply the avoidance of falsehood" (29).
Clear Communication:"It is impossible to have clear communication without clear thinking. How can I give you a clear idea of something if it is not first clear in my mind" (14)?
Overall, this was a very helpful book and I am happy to recommend it. It is readable, clear, and will prove, I trust, to be a benefit to anyone who desires to think well.
on December 26, 2005
All thinking persons need an advisor about HOW to think, and D.Q. McInerny is the best candidate for that position I can think of. McInerny, in Being Logical, becomes to thinking what Strunk and White have long been to writing. A voice of common sense, a voice reminding us what the essentials are.
Some poeple, of course, (and oh how many there are!) want to engage in discussion for the purpose of listening to themselves. Some expound on this or that without concern for genuine argument. For such persons this book will be worthless--even damaging.
Consider the following McInerny reminder: "The whole purpose of reasoning, of logic, is to arrive at the truth of things. This is often an arduous task, as truth can sometimes be painfully elusive. But not to pursue truth would be absurd, since it is the only thing that gives meaning to all of our endeavors."
What a breath of fresh air to read this! And to be reminded that argument is rational discourse, and not to be confused with mere quarreling. "There are," McInerny tells us, "any number of folk who, though happy to quarrel with you, are either unwilling or unable to ARGUE with you. Do not waste time and energy trying to argue with people who will or cannot argue."
So be it. And if you're looking for one of the best indexes of slipshod reasoning, half-baked arguments, weak ideas and fallacy--here, at last it all is in a usable, clear package.
This book is small enough that you can carry it around with you in your back pocket and quote from it to point out the fallacies and weaknesses in an opponent's argument--though I wouldn't recommend doing so on a crowded bus or subway, nor with your boss in the workplace. It might be better to read this book carefully and practice it on all your own arguments for a considerable period before using it as a weapon against an opponent in argument.
And how about "Laughter as a Diversionary Tactic," being listed under principal forms of illogical thinking? This is priceless--and oh, so accurate, so reflective of the kind of arguments one gets into nowadays--about politics in particular (I don't even remember reading this one in my undergraduate logic textbook years ago where all the logical fallacies were categorized and discussed). And then there's "Tears as a diversionary tactic."
I do believe all of this was covered somewhere in Cicero ("If you can't defeat your opponent's argument--then ridicule your opponent").
One big reason few people can distinguish between argument and polemics is that the core knowledge about how to think straight contained in McInerny's little book--a knowledge which goes back to the Greeks--is seldom taught, seldom learned, and seldom applied when it has been learned. If Being Logical can make even one small dent in the armor of irrationality, then it does a great service.
McInerny's advice is the same as Emily Dickinson's:
Opinion is a flitting thing
But Truth outlasts the Sun
If then we cannot own them both
Possess the Oldest one.
on September 20, 2005
A beautifully written book. It illustrates well the luminosity and simplicity of the principles of human rationality in both its form (the style is elegantly straightforward) and content (clear, finely argued, principled ideas). Reading this book is like drinking a fine cup of tea.
This book serves as an introductory guide to the principles of reasoning with the purpose of the application of logic to life. Through a brief study of the tenets of logical thinking McInerny elucidates the essence of logic and its concrete expression in argumentation. The final section of the book helpfully covers many of the fallacies of logic with clear examples.
McInerny's prose is itself the strongest case for the validity and exigency of rational thinking and moral rhetoric. Though I do not accept without qualification the core of McInerny's all too modern presuppositions (universality of the laws of reason, correspondence and coherence theories of truth etc.), this book, and what it graciously argues for, is a much needed corrective to the excessive postmodern rejection of rationality as such.
Before you pick up any other book on logic, read this one first. Or, if you want a simple guide to help hone your reasoning skills, this may be the best book out there. It can also serve as a handy reference on your shelf. Once you read it, you may find yourself reading it again. I am.
on April 2, 2009
This qualifies as one of my favorite kinds of books, which I call "Short Books of Profound Meaning." Prof. McInerny's work here is one of distillment, of boiling down to bare essentials a discipline which is often absurdly over-theoretized. McInerny's insights into logic, reason, and the objectivity of truth are hard-won and presuppose an ontology of realism. Moreover, this book, unlike books, say, on symbolic logic (which completely ignores the facticity of things), actually gives reasons; it explains WHY untruthful statements are untruthful, how validity "works", why and how logical fallacies are logically fallacious.
In short, this is one of those rare books that should be read and re-read, considered and absorbed, and, ultimately, applied.
on May 24, 2008
Buy A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston instead of this book. Reasons are below.
Both Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking by D.Q. Mcinerny (this book), and A Rulebook for Arguments, by Anthony Weston site the same exact book as their inspiration. Both books are of similar structure, focused on the topic of logic. They both reference The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. (and E. B. White) as their source of inspiration.
As a result, both books attempt to be a short book, easy to read, with the goal of explaining the basic rules of logic to anyone. This book only meets two of the three goals. The other meets all three.
This book is short, and does review the basic rules of logic and critical thinking. However, while someone can breeze through A Rulebook for Arguments with almost no effort, this book (Being Logical) is a bit tough to read at times by comparison.
For example, there is a passage in Negative Statements section of the Language of Logic chapter where the author spends a paragraph or two concluding that it is always clearer to your audience to use the positive phrasing of a statement whenever possible. The very next paragraph begins with an unnecessary use of a negative statement (middle of page 54). Not only does it dawn on the reader that the author violated their own rule, but the book is full of language that is slightly more complex than it needs to be.
Some of the examples that use science can bother someone with a science background. The author occasionally trys to emphasize how concrete something can be by using a "hard science" as an example. When doing so it became even more mixed up. In one passage the author used molecules and elements as though they were interchangeable terms with identical meaning. If you don't know, maybe it doesn't bother you that molecules are composed of the elements, in a higher more ordered complex structure, and the terms don't have the same meaning. The point of logic trying to be made was still there, but it just got muddied a bit when you get bogged down in "huh? but..."