Tag Archives: Formal proofs

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.

Logic: A Science and Art

Is logic a science or an art? Of course, a logician would answer Yes, and here is why.

A science is a systematic study of some aspect of the natural world that seeks to discover laws (regularities, principles) by which God governs His creation. Whereas botany studies plants, astronomy studies the sky, and anatomy studies the body, logic studies the mind as it reasons, as it draws conclusions from other information. Logic as a science seeks to discover rules that distinguish good reasoning from poor reasoning, rules that are then simplified and systematized. These would include the rules for validity, of inference and replacement, and so on.

For example, logic as a science could study the apostle Paul’s reasoning in 1 Cor. 15, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised… But Christ has been raised, and is therefore the first fruits from among the dead.” It then simplifies this into a standard pattern: If not R then not C, C, therefore R. This rule can be further simplified, named, and organized in relation to other rules of logic.

An art is a creative application of the principles of nature for the production of works of beauty, skill, and practical use. The visual arts apply their principles to the production of paintings, sculptures, and pottery. The literary arts produce poems and stories. The performing arts produce operas, plays, and ballets.

Logic is one of the seven liberal arts, which include the Trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These arts are the skills which are essential for a free person (liberalis, “worthy of a free person”) to take an active part in daily life, for the benefit of others. Specifically, logic as an art seeks to apply the principles of reasoning to analyze and create arguments, proofs, and other chains of reasoning.

In summary:

Logic is the science and art of reasoning well. Logic as a science seeks to discover rules of reasoning; logic as an art seeks to apply those rules to rational discourse.

Formal Proof Challenge!

Several years ago I was teaching a logic course, and we were learning about formal proofs of validity. I enjoy proofs, and to keep myself sharp I was working through a practice quiz in David Kelley’s The Art of Reasoning, when I came across this argument:

D ⊃ (E ⊃ F)
D ⊃ (F ⊃ G)
∴ D ⊃ (E ⊃ G)

I was in a quiet library with plenty of time, but despite all my efforts I could not solve this (without using the Conditional Proof). The next day in class some students were finishing their assignment early, so I  challenged them with this proof, thinking to myself, “That ought to keep them busy,” but not really expecting anyone to succeed. Before the end of class, Caroline Jones came forward and said, “I solved it, Mr. Nance.” I scoffed inwardly at first, only to be pleasantly surprised by her correct solution.

Since that time I have called this “The Caroline Jones” proof, and have challenged my logic students to solve it using only the regular rules of inference and replacement. The most elegant proof I have seen requires twelve total steps.

Anyone up to the challenge?

Reductio Challenge

In formal proofs of validity, the reductio ad absurdum method can be used to make some proofs easier, and even some shorter. For example, consider this argument:

(~P ⊃ R) • (~Q ⊃ S)    ~(R S)    ∴ P • Q

The proof for this valid argument is 14 steps without the reductio (which I will let you try to solve on your own), but only 7 steps with the reductio, as shown here:

  1. (~P ⊃ R) • (~Q ⊃ S)
  2. ~(R ∨ S)   /  ∴  P • Q
  3. ~(P • Q)                     R.A.A.
  4. ~P ∨ ~Q                    3 De M.
  5. R ∨ S                         1, 4 C.D.
  6. (R ∨ S) • ~(R ∨ S)   5, 2 Conj.
  7. P • Q                          3-6 R.A.

The reasoning behind the reductio method is this: If assuming that a proposition is false leads to a self-contradiction, then the proposition must be true. This reasoning can itself be written as a propositional argument:

~P ⊃ (Q • ~Q)   ∴  P

This is a valid argument, as a shorter truth table will show. But the proof for this argument (if you are not allowed to use reductio) requires 13 steps, and it is rather difficult to solve. Any takers?

Two Strange Proofs

Mr. Nance,

Could you give real-world examples of the arguments to prove in Intermediate Logic Lesson 18, number 7) U / ∴ W ⊃ W, and number 8) X / ∴ Y ⊃ X, showing how they would be used, or explain them a bit? Thank you.

Thanks for the great question! These two arguments are unusual, so I am not surprised that you are asking about them.

A real-world example for #7 might be Esther 4:16, “I will go to the king which is against the law; if I perish, then I perish!” This argument form basically shows that any proposition implies a tautology.

An example for #8 could be, “God created all things. So even if evolution can be used to explain some fossils, it’s still true that God created all things.” The form of this argument shows that if a proposition is given, any other proposition implies it.

To be honest, my purposes for including those two problems were: 1) to show how very strange the conditional proof is, and 2) to show how this method can be used to simplify otherwise difficult proofs.


Conditional Proof Assumption

With the nine rules of inference and the ten rules of replacement taught in Lessons 13-17 of Intermediate Logic, any valid propositional argument can be proven. But for the benefit of the logic student, I introduce an additional rule in Lesson 18: the conditional proof. The conditional proof will often simplify a proof, especially one that has a conditional in the conclusion, making the proof shorter or easier to solve. Conditional proof starts with making an assumption. I want to clarify what happens with that assumption.

To use conditional proof, you start by assuming the antecedent of a conditional. If by using that assumption along with the other premises you are able to deduce the consequent, you can conclude the entire conditional using conditional proof. More briefly, if an assumed proposition p implies the proposition q, we can conclude if p then q.

One misconception new logic students often make is thinking that the assumption actually “comes from” some previous step in the proof. They think that the assumption must appear somewhere else in order to make it. This is not the case. The assumed antecedent doesn’t come from anywhere; it is quite simply assumed. I tell my students we get the antecedent from our imagination; from Narnia, Middle Earth, Badon Hill. With conditional proof, you are allowed to assume any antecedent you wish, as long as you use conditional proof correctly from that point on.


May Proofs Use the Same Line Twice?

Mr. Nance,

In the answer to Exercise 17a, problem #12, is there a typo? It has row 5 twice.

There is no mistake there. A given line may be used more than once in a proof, as I say at the end of Lesson 15, “Usually, though by no means always, every step in a proof is used and used once.” Line 5 is used twice, once to simplify to get ~L, and once to commute and simplify to get ~M. 


Logic with James B Nance

Audit Intermediate Logic

Would you like to be a fly on the wall in my logic class? Want to improve your understanding and/or teaching of logic by watching me teach and interact with my students, discussing the lesson after the class, and having the recorded class sessions available? If so, click HERE to audit Intermediate Logic for the 2017 school year!

What’s included for Auditors? First, you have access to all the live classes. During the discussion, you will not be called upon as I do with my regular students. You are free to watch in the background by muting your mic and camera, but you also have the option of appearing to ask a question or make a comment if you’d like.

After the regular class time has ended, students leave the virtual classroom while auditors are invited to stick around for a few minutes to ask “Teacher Questions”! This is when you would have me all to yourselves as teachers. Turn on your webcams and mics, and discuss the lesson, teaching logic in general, or whatever questions you might have.

We will meet together live for online recitations Monday/Thursday from 8:00-9:30 AM (PST), or Tuesday/Friday from 8:00-9:30 AM (PST). The spring semester starts January 5/6, 2017, and goes to May 18/19, with a Winter Break in mid-February and an Easter Break in mid-April.

I hope to see you there!