- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (June 25, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0231161050
- ISBN-13: 978-0231161053
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #900,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic 1st Edition
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This is a fascinating story of one of our most abstract yet foundational disciplines. The result is an insightful and wonderfully readable exploration of an essential part of human rationality at work. Highly recommended. (Lloyd Carr, Rivier University)
Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White's new book is a risky undertaking and, I think, a valuable one. Their aim is to rescue logic from the mathematised corner of the classroom and put it squarely at the heart of philosophy - and indeed life. The risky part is the claim that reasoning, knowledge and rationality are first and foremost matters of logic. (Martin Cohen Times Higher Education)
This is a delightful book, both well written and highly informative. (Kenneth G. Lucey Teaching Philosophy)
If A, Then B provides a fascinating springboard for discussing how and why logic developed in various cultures.... The book provides a new resource for those interested in studying aspects of the history of mathematics and logic. (Calvin Jongsma MAA Reviews)
About the Author
Michael Shenefelt has a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University and began teaching logic after having worked previously as a newspaper reporter. He is also the author of The Questions of Moral Philosophy.
Heidi White has a doctorate in philosophy from the New School for Social Research and a master's degree in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas. She teaches philosophy and intellectual history and is a former U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer.
Both authors teach Great Books at New York University's Liberal Studies Program.
Top customer reviews
I am a book hoarder, but even I could not justify keeping my copy of this book from ending in my town recycling dump, so off it went.
The quality of the writing is high and the book is easy to read. There isn't any overcomplicated technical jargon to be found in the book anywhere. The word choice is simple and clear and mercifully isn't like the pretentious diction of certain more academic sources.
I did learn some interesting things about the history of logic that I didn't know, such as the role of the Stoics in early logic just to name one example. The coverage of the meat of logic itself is quite light and requires no technical knowledge from the reader whatsoever basically.
In all these respects the book was good and worth while. However, there are three essential problems with the book that detract from the good rating I would have otherwise have given it. They are as follows:
(1) One of the core marks of distinction of the book (one of its core selling points supposedly) is how it tries to connect the broader social conditions of the various times and places with why logic developed in that time period.
The problem is it doesn't actually do a convincing job. The vast majority of the authors' claims in this regard are essentially little more than "correlation is not causation" fallacies and historian fallacies and are not sufficiently justified. It may or may not be true that these social conditions caused logic to develop, but except for insofar as a higher quality of life gives society more free time, the connection felt weak and I was not convinced.
(2) While the breadth of the book is good, it's depth is shallow in some respects. It covers the ancient logics well, but while it does mention the non-classical logics it does so only briefly. It would have been interesting to see more coverage of the lesser known branches of logic. If you're looking for in depth history of the less popular branches of logic you will not find it here. The mainstream logics are well covered though.
(3) This book sometimes contains some light religious overtones (specifically Christian) that I found quite irritating in a book that is supposed to be about logic and history. For example, within the very first paragraph of the 1st chapter the authors say "The apostle Paul says three things last (faith, hope, and love)..." and by doing so implicitly assumes that the reader is a Christian (or at least the writing has that tone), as if somehow being Christian is the default assumption for all human beings.
If you pay close attention to the text and the reference notes you will notice a subtle pro-Christian bias in numerous places, even though the authors try to sound unbiased. None of it is in your face, but I still found it annoying. Religious pandering has no relevance to a book on logic nor any rightful place in it.
I found the final chapter (titled "Faith and the Limits of Logic") to be particularly cringeworthy. In it they basically try to argue in favor of the tired old epistemological "How can we know? Therefore blind faith" nonsense popular among many philosophers. They imply that logic, math, and science somehow rest ultimately on faith assumptions with respect to their axioms and premises. That is inaccurate.
Axioms and premises in the logical and scientific disciplines are based primarily on blatantly obvious empirical observation in the real world. For example, the axioms defining addition are defined as what they are because that is how addition empirically works. Contrary to the authors' assertions, there is virtually no "circularity" or "faith" in logic or science.
Modern logic and science simply refuse to deal with absurd epistemological questions like "Are we all a part of a computer simulation?" because such questions are unfalsifiable and hence always worthless to ask. No logic could ever answer impossible questions, but that is not the fault of logic but rather it is the fault of us flawed human beings for choosing to ask such pointless questions in the first place.
Furthermore, be aware that the authors are both philosophers. Neither are historians. Neither are mathematical logicians. As such, their authority on the subject matter is questionable. The book reads half like a history book and half like arbitrary arm chair philosophizing.
Since there aren't many books on this subject however, and the book still has redeeming value, you might still want to read it anyway. I would not advise taking everything the authors' say at face value though, however well intended they may be.