Learning Logic

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Question: I’d like to start my 12 yo son in logic. Should I begin with Introductory Logic by James Nance or would something else be better?

Answer: When you learned how to swim, how did you go about it? First, you waded into the shallowest part of the pool and got your feet wet. Then you went in up to your waist and began to move your arms and legs around and tried floating. When you became more confident, you moved out into deeper water and paddled around, perhaps even submerging your head. It was only after you became confident in the shallows that you moved into the deep water or attempted to jump off the diving board. This sequence is followed no matter if the student is 6 or 66, of average intelligence or accelerated — we all learned to swim in the same way.

Learning logic is like learning how to swim. To get the most out of your logic studies, we suggest that you get comfortable in the shallows before moving into deep water — and this applies across the board to students of all intelligence levels. Beginning Introductory Logic by Nance at age twelve would be like learning how to swim by jumping in the deep end.

There are many branches to the study of logic and you won’t have time to cover it all, but what follows are our suggestions.

Before Age Ten

You don’t need to study logic before the age of ten, but you do need to help your child develop his mind. In the same way that a carpenter first builds a good foundation for his house, you need to help your child in these early years develop a strong, sharp mind. Elsewhere on our web page and in our book Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style we discuss this topic.

Pre-logic for Ages 10 through 12

Students ages ten through twelve can benefit from working through some pre-logic workbooks. These are optional and not necessary to begin studying real logic, but they can be useful. Here is the sequence we suggest:

Building Thinking Skills Book (teachers manual not needed) — age 10
Building Thinking Skills Book 3 Figural (teachers manual needed) — age 11
Building Thinking Skills Book 3 Verbal (teachers manual needed) — age 12

Logic for Ages 13 and Up

It is at about age thirteen that the student seems ready for a real course in logic. We suggest beginning with informal logic and then progressing to formal logic.

The Fallacy Detective — age 13
The Thinking Toolbox — age 13
Critical Thinking Book 2 (teachers manual needed) — age 14-15
Introductory Logic Video Course by James Nance (formal logic)– age 15-16
The Art of Reasoning by David Kelley (formal logic) — age 16-17

I have included the ages here, but it is not so much an age requirement for each book as it is a progression. We suggest you progress from Building Thinking Skills to The Fallacy Detective to The Thinking Toolbox to Critical Thinking to Introductory Logic to The Art of Reasoning. There are other books which could replace The Art of Reasoning (Intermediate Logic by James Nance, Traditional Logic by Martin Cothran, Material Logic by Martin Cothran, Introduction to Logic by Irving Copi, A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston, or With Good Reason by S. Morris Engel) as you see fit. You won’t be able to do them all, though. There’s only so much time in the day.

Question: I have an 18 yr old son who has been through the Critical Thinking logic texts that you recommend along with two years of formal debate. I am looking for a logic course for him for the next 6 months. In your book you mention many logic courses. What would you recommend for his situation?

Answer: Any of the above mentioned books would work in your situation. If he wants to study formal logic, he should choose one of the books by Nance, Kelley, Cothran, or Copi. If he wants to study informal logic, he should choose one of the others. A Rulebook for Arguments by Weston is an application of formal logic to writing and might be a good choice for your son.

Another series of books of which we have recently become aware is The Thinker’s Guide to…. Series by The Foundation for Critical Thinking. These are short booklets, 50 pages or so each, with titles such as How to Study and Learn, How to Write a Paragraph, How to Read a Paragraph, The Art of Asking Essential Questions, Analytic Thinking, How to Detect Media Bias & Propaganda, Scientific Thinking, and others. I’m not recommending them at this time, but only mentioning them for your consideration. Perhaps others can comment on their usefulness.