Logic and Its Limits

Logic and Its Limits

Logic and Its Limits

Logic and Its Limits

Synopsis

`This book grew out of the conviction, not in itself strange or startling, that the ordinary person can and should think straight rather than crooked.' Patrick Shaw has written a commonsense introduction to the use of logic in everyday thought and argument. It explains some of the rules of good argument and some of the ways in which arguments can fail, drawing illustrations from a variety of contemporary and international sources, such as the press, radio, and television. Symbols and technicalities are kept to a minimum in this thorough and provocative investigation of the rational approach to thought - and its limitations. Logic and Its Limits emphasizes the use of logic in helping to settle and clarify disputes. It will help the reader to avoid bad arguments, to detect them in others, and so to think and argue more effectively. A wide range of thought-provoking examples and exercises concerned with contemporary social and political issues make this a readable and stimulating guide for the student and general reader alike.

Excerpt

This book grew out of the conviction, not in itself strange or startling, that the ordinary person can and should think straight rather than crooked.

Most of the time, the ordinary person does think straight. In countless ways social life depends on doing so. Balancing the housekeeping money, locating a fault in a wiring system, planning a day out--all involve, tacitly or otherwise, working out what is compatible with what. I cannot spend this pound and save it; if the bulb works in another socket then the fault does not lie in the bulb; either we catch the five o'clock train or we will not be able to get to the concert. These are the kind of commonplaces that underpin any sort of planned, purposive behaviour. They are largely taken for granted, and any mistakes in reasoning quickly run up against the harsh corrective of experience.

Problems arise when the test of experience is neither so immediate nor overwhelming. People speculate on what the facts might be when the facts are not obvious; and they disagree in their speculations. Also people pronounce upon, and disagree about, what ought to be the case, or whether one thing is better than another. They are not disagreeing about what is the case, so they cannot appeal straightforwardly to experience.

When these kinds of disagreement occur, when the competing claims cannot be easily and obviously tested, attention is bound to turn to the route by which a controversial conclusion was reached. We are forced to become self-conscious about the reasoning process. How far reasoning will take us remains to be seen, but so far as it leads we must be sure that it is sound.

In what follows, the aim is to expound some of the rules of good argument and to make the reader more aware of some of the ways in which arguments can fail. Sometimes a conclusion is drawn which straightforwardly does not follow, but sometimes the fault is more . . .

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