Logic 101: Four Critical Questions, Part 3 (of 12)

Logic is to the philosopher what mathematics is to the physicist.

When I’m confronted with a controversial topic my training in logic compels me to think the subject through carefully and to arrive at a rational conclusion. This is the benefit of studying logic. Rather than teaching you to think (something humans do naturally and intuitively), logic trains you on how to think—that is, deliberately, carefully, and according to consistent patterns. This is what I meant when I said in part 1 of this series that logic “helps a person order their thinking.”

Also in part 1, I explained the discipline of logic and identified four reasons why Christians should pursue the study of logic. Critical thinking, discussed in this article, is considered to be the practical application of the formal principles of logic.

Think It Through

But what does thinking through a topic in a rational manner actually involve? Philosopher and logician Ed L. Miller states in his highly-recommended primer, Questions That Matter:

Careful thinkers strive to make their arguments, positions, and pronouncements rational, that is, well conceived, well evidenced, well stated, and persuasive.

Let’s explore in the four aspects that Miller says make ideas and arguments rational.

1. Is the idea or argument well conceived?
In thinking about a particular subject a person should ask whether the very foundation of the idea is sound. Well conceived ideas are logically coherent, possessing internal consistency or harmony. Sound ideas avoid self-stultification or being self-defeating in nature (contradictory by both affirming and denying the very essence of the idea or argument).

2. Is the idea or argument well evidenced?
An “opinion” (a person’s belief about a given topic at a particular time) becomes an “argument” when a person attempts to buttress that opinion with facts, evidence, or reasons. An argument involves two things: (1) a claim (or conclusion); and (2) support (premises) for the claim. Solid ideas or arguments possess genuine support for the claims they make. Something is well evidenced when it possesses sufficient proof and backing—adequate in number, kind, and weight.

3. Is the idea or argument well stated?
Clarity and conciseness of thought and expression are hallmarks of good arguments. They avoid problems, like vagueness (blurred or fuzzy), ambiguity (multiple meanings), and grammatical error. Thinking, speaking, and writing reflect a critical logical unity.

4. Is the idea or argument persuasive?
Rhetoric (the persuasive use of language) is closely tied to logic. Ideas and arguments that are articulated in a clear, concise, and cogent (logically constructed) manner also tend to be forceful and compelling in terms of personal persuasion. When a person’s thoughts are shaped and ordered according to the principles of logic, that person tends to convince others. People intuitively sense the force of well crafted ideas and arguments.

For more about the importance of logic and critical thinking, see my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

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