Elements of Logic

Elements of Logic

Elements of Logic

Elements of Logic


"This classical text was once dismissed as a mere reaffirmation of Aristotle's doctrine of syllogistic reasoning, standing in opposition to the new logic of scientific induction that dominated the modern era of logic and rhetoric. Yet today Elements of Logic again offers a number of useful principles for teaching reasoning and critical thinking to undergraduates, helping them to understand that common reasoning patterns are a constant across subjects and contexts. As the linear reasoning patterns of the inductive scientific method are fading, students are constantly exposed to, and seek out, information that comes in short bursts and is dominated by visual and aural stimuli. Those who must create new models of reasoning to fit ever-evolving forms of electronic media may find guidance and inspiration in Whately's work."


Most of us first encountered Richard Whately’s Elements of Logic as a passing mention in an undergraduate survey of rhetorical theory or an argumentation and debate course. Graduate level coverage of Whately’s work frequently attaches little significance to the Logic. Following the lead of Wilbur Samuel Howell, Whately has been dismissed as someone who merely reaffirmed Aristotle’s doctrine of syllogistic reasoning. Whately’s treatment of logic and reasoning is cast as standing in opposition to the new logic of scientific induction that dominated the modern era of logic and rhetoric. By the twentieth century, the new logic of the scientific method was the standard for teaching reasoning and critical thinking. Richard Whately’s adaptation of Aristotle’s system of logic seemed nothing more than an antiquarian view, simply one more treatise from the past.

Why, then, preserve a work based on a seemingly long-discarded reasoning process? Richard Whately’s Elements of Logic has great utility for twenty-first century scholars and teachers as we face the daunting need to adapt and create models of reasoning that respond to the ways information is now encountered and processed. the Logic has much to offer those who will write the new textbooks for argumentation and critical thinking and for those who must find viable methods of teaching students whose thought patterns are increasingly becoming non-linear.

Richard Whately possessed an instinct and natural talent for teaching, a quality that underlies his work in logic and rhetoric. His use of Aristotle’s syllogistic reasoning is more appropriately understood as neo-Aristotlean and reflects his talent for teach-

1. Wilbur Samuel Howell, Eighteenth-Century British Logic and Rhetoric (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), 700–702.

2. Ray E. McKerrow, “Richard Whately’s Theory of Rhetoric,” in Explorations in Rhetoric: Studies in Honor of Douglas Ehninger, ed. Ray E. McKerrow (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1982), 138–139.

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