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What Are the Liberal Arts and How Do We Teach Them? (3) – Logic

Imagine an aspiring baker. This young lady knows every fact about baking: she knows how many ounces are in a cup and how many tablespoons are in a quart; she knows how long it takes her oven to heat to 300 degrees and can even repair its lining and wiring. She knows all this, yet she doesn’t know how to bake a cake, how to use spices, or how to thicken up a runny frosting. Is she fully educated? By all means no! It is not enough to know facts; we need to know how to combine and apply facts as well as how to judge them. That is the purpose of the logic stage.

In the grammar stage students learn facts; in the logic stage they learn how to evaluate and apply them. It does a student no good to be able to read the words of an argument if they can’t follow the argument or if they can’t judge a clear term from an ambiguous one or a false premise from a true one. It is of little good to be literate if one cannot judge a hero from a villain or a work of beauty and wisdom from a work of folly and obscenity.

Logic, like grammar, is both a subject in and of itself as well as an approach. As a subject, students study formal logic wherein they learn how to understand and evaluate arguments.

But the study of logic does not end in that class. As students enter their adolescent years they develop a penchant for argument. Instead of shutting them down, we try to work with the grain by teaching them how to argue well. One of the main ways we do this is by discussing moral questions. Consider Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon. “Was Caesar justified in crossing into Roman territory to defend his honor? When is it ok to defend our honor? Do we have a duty to defend the honor of another? Do we have a duty to defend God’s honor? If so, how and when? Was the senate right to resist Caesar? Should we compromise with a bad person to oppose a worse person like the Senate did when they allied themselves with Pompey? Is it better to die like Cato when facing overwhelming force or should we compromise and surrender?”

These questions bring learning to life. They also show students that what they are studying is not dead and arbitrary, but rather living and of great importance. Moreover, they help to teach our students to think clearly and morally.

Logic is essential to clear thinking and forming wise judgments. Think of how different our economy, government, churches, etc. would look if people thought clearly and morally! The ability to think clearly and logically is the single greatest distinction that I have noticed between students educated classically and those that have not been.