Tag Archives: Defining terms

Do You Smangle?

The first lesson in Introductory Logic discusses several different purposes for defining terms, one of which is to “increase vocabulary.” This is meant in two or three senses.

First, when a student first learns the meaning of a word, such as learning that apiary means ‘a bee house’, his vocabulary has been increased. He has added a new word to the thousands he has access to. Increasing a child’s vocabulary like this is an essential part of his education, in every subject he studies.

Second, when a new word (or a new meaning to an existing word) is added to a language it is given a stipulative definition, until such a word gets generally adopted. This can happen in many ways, such as when an author introduces a new word in his book, and stipulates a definition for it. For example, in his book The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis takes the Chinese word Tao and gives it this stipulative definition: “The doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false.” This word has become part of the vocabulary of many people who have read and discussed Lewis’s book.

Here are ten new words that have recently been added into English (and perhaps into your own personal vocabulary):

Afterparty : Social gathering which takes place after a party, concert, or other event
App : Computer program designed for use on a mobile digital device
Brexit : Departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union
CrowdfundingRaising money by getting many people to make a small contribution
EmojiSmall digital image used to express an idea or emotion
MehInterjection used to express indifference
PhotobombIntrude into the background of a photograph just before it is taken
Selfie : Photograph that one has taken of oneself
Troll : Person who is provocatively rude or insulting on the Internet
Unfriend : Remove (someone) from a list of friends or contacts on a social networking site.

It can be fun for students to invent their own words and definitions, or to share words that are used within the confines of their immediately family. In our house, a “ninker” is a small, difficult to remove item that prevents the opening of a drawer.

My favorite stipulated word from a student is “to smangle,” meaning to rub the top of someone’s head with an open palm (especially if they have a crew cut). This would mean that smangle and noogie are species of the genus, “to rub someone’s head”!

Do you have any stipulated words to share from your students or your family? Share in the comments!


Knowing the Truth of Statements

Mr. Nance,

Introductory Logic Exercise 8, Question # 9 asks what type of statement this is:

“Jesus is God, and He is man.”

The answer key says “supported, by authority.” Could definition also be a possible answer?

I see what you are thinking. Jesus is both God and man by nature, and definitions are (to a certain extent) trying to get at the nature of the term. But the question is basically asking, “How would you know that this statement is true?” Ask anyone how they know that Jesus is both God and man, and they will point to some authority: the Bible, or a creed, or their pastor tells them, etc. Besides, we don’t really define people.


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.

What will I learn in Fitting Words – 2nd half?

Fitting Words: Classical Rhetoric for the Christian Student is arranged around the five canons of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. In the first half of this course, after laying the Christian philosophical and historical foundation of the subject, we concentrated on constructing the first two canons: invention, and arrangement (primarily the six parts of a discourse). We also studied the three artistic modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos (including the special lines of argument: forensic, political, and ceremonial oratory).

In the second half of this course, we will continue to learn about logos by constructing general lines of argument. In Unit 5 we will review the applicable parts of logic: defining terms, determining truth, employing maxims, and using inductive and deductive arguments. We will also considering the destruction of our opponents’ arguments in refutation, including identifying informal fallacies.

In Unit 6 we will learn about Style: understanding the nature of the soul, speaking with clarity and elegance, the levels of style, and figures of speech and thought. In Unit 7 we will learn the essential skills of memory and delivery.

We will continue to see examples of all of these concepts in historical and biblical speeches and other discourse. Click HERE to learn more.


Shakespeare’s Use of the Liberal Arts: Logic

81Few4FQ9cL[1]The classical Christian school movement is seeking to revive a form of education that helped shape some the greatest minds of western civilization. But how do we know that our father’s were trained according to the Trivium? One delightful demonstration of this is William Shakespeare’s frequent and detailed use of the liberal arts of grammar, logic and rhetoric in his plays and poems,  a use thoroughly identified by Sister Miriam Joseph in her book Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language. In this well-researched book, she argues that Shakespeare’s application of formal logic is evidenced in his use of definition, genus and species, syllogistic vocabulary, applied syllogisms, enthymemes, and more. Let me give some of her clearer examples. Continue reading Shakespeare’s Use of the Liberal Arts: Logic

Defining Terms from Birmingham Jail

A good introductory logic course will discuss the importance of defining terms in any argument. One clear demonstration of using definition in argument is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a letter which King directed at Christian pastors in Alabama in 1963 defending his campaign of nonviolent direct action. Continue reading Defining Terms from Birmingham Jail

#3 – On Truth

“Truth carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation, but confrontation nevertheless.” – Francis Schaeffer

“Liars are experts in chopping logic and missing the truth slightly – ‘Did God say not to eat from any tree?’ In order to pin a liar down, words must be defined in the most careful manner available.” – Douglas Wilson

“You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.” – G. K. Chesterton