Sayers’ Helpful Summary of Logic

Sayers’ Vision for Logic

In her seminal essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” the author Dorothy Sayers describes her understanding of the medieval scheme of education, specifically the Trivium — the three liberal arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. She argues that students in the Middle Ages were taught the proper use of the tools of learning by means of these arts. Of logic she says,

dorothy[1]“Second, he learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument.”

As I have taught logic in the classroom, written logic texts (and blog posts), and spoken on logic and classical education around the world, I have regularly returned to this quote. It is for me perhaps the most useful sentence (of the 238 sentences) in the essay.

A Proper Pedagogical Progression

In this sentence Sayers explains what logic is for: logic teaches us how to use language. This reminds us that the liberal arts of the Trivium are language arts (whereas the Quadrivium are mathematical arts). Specifically, logic teaches us how to use the language of reasoning, of disputation and proof.

This sentence also describes a proper pedagogical progression of logic:

  1. We must start with terms: how to define them, relate them, and work with them, including understanding the value of defining terms.
  2. Terms are related in statements (categorical statements connect subject terms with the predicate terms). Logic teaches us “how to make accurate statements”; that is, how to make statements that are true and applicable, as well as understanding how we know that they are true, and how they relate to each other. It teaches how to do this with many different types of statements: simple and compound, categorical and hypothetical, immediate inferences, and so on. Terms are the building blocks of statements.
  3. Statements are the building blocks of arguments, as we connect premises together to draw conclusions. So logic teaches us “how to construct an argument”; that is, how to write a valid argument to establish a desired conclusion.  It teaches how to do this with many types of arguments: categorical and propositional, conditional and disjunctive, symbolic arguments and arguments in normal English.
  4. Finally, logic teaches us “how to detect fallacies in argument,” both the formal fallacies from the rules of validity for categorical syllogisms and propositional arguments, and the informal fallacies of ordinary discourse, like circular reasoning and ad hominem. Logic teaches us not only to detect them, but to name them, and to expose them by means of counterexamples to those untrained in logic.

Were I to add one element to Sayers’ list, it would be “to construct a proof in a step-by-step, justified manner.” With this addition, every page, every concept of both Introductory and Intermediate Logic is covered in Sayers’ helpful description of what is encompassed in learning logic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *