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on 22 March 2012
A superb guide to straight thinking by D. Q. McInerny, short enough for an afternoon's diversion, significant enough for its lessons to last a lifetime. I'm pretty sure that few of us as children wanted to be logical when we grew up. We wanted to be liked, loved, to have a laugh - but logical? Even sensible grownups rarely include being logical on their list of aspirations. McInerny's direct and clear style of writing, his avoidance of jargon and appeal to simple examples all combine to draw the reader into a subject that may seem a million miles away from everyday concerns. His first success is to remind us that logical thinking is a normal part of ordinary thinking, something we do all the time and even take for granted (until it goes wrong). He then sharpens our skills and deepens our appreciation of the subject. His greatest achievement, perhaps, is to show how being logical is a good thing in itself, an essential part of being human: the "art of logic is like no other, for it goes to the very core of what we are".

It's not only mathematicians or rocket scientists who need logic in their working lives, and it's not just in our working lives where logical thinking is important. McInerny suggests that "the first principles of logic" and "the first principles of human reason" amount to the same thing. Indeed, for much of the time being logical comes perfectly naturally. We don't need to read a book on critical thinking to know that if Jim is in London he cannot also be in Oxford. Most of us would easily recognize and reject a contradictory statement that claimed that Jim was both in London and in Oxford at the same time. Where a book like McInerny's is important and fascinating is in sketching out the bigger picture, showing the connections between several familiar ideas.

Part One is "Preparing the Mind for Logic" but might as well be called "Preparing the Mind for the Day Ahead" so fundamental is its content. Words like "fact", "idea", "truth" and "word" itself are so commonplace that we can easily forget how deep are the assumptions that underpin them. That there is a world out there, existing independently of our minds; that this world contains things and events, which can both become facts corresponding to ideas in the mind; that these ideas can be described by words; that language can reliably communicate these ideas from one mind to another; that knowledge about the world can thereby be compiled and maintained over time.

A contradictory statement "in effect speaks against itself, for it is saying something that does not correspond to the objective facts". The avoidance of contradiction is therefore "simply the avoidance of falsehood". Objectivity, facts, truth, falsehood - almost without realizing it, suddenly we're dealing with that most basic and often elusive thing: human knowledge. McInerny keeps it simple (I don't think he even uses the word "epistemology"), and lists the three basic components: an objective fact (e.g. a cat), the idea of a cat, and the word we apply to the idea (e.g. "cat").

This shows how "logic and language are inseparable" and how being logical "presupposes our having a healthy respect for the firm factualness of the world". Language allows us to describe that world, and anyone who values language ought also to value logic. We should be wary of anyone who scorns logic while at the same time glorifying language as if it were the sole guide to truth. They may be trafficking in bad ideas, which have ceased to faithfully reflect the objective world. (Bad ideas can still be informative - "about the subjective state of the persons who nourish those ideas".)

While words are important in describing ideas, "it is the statement that logic starts with, for it is only at the level of the statement that the question of truth or falsity is introduced, and logic is all about establishing what is true and distinguishing it from what is false". It would be meaningless to enquire whether or not the words "dog" and "garage" are true or false, but if we combine them into a simple statement -- "the dog is in the garage" - then either "true" or "false" is the appropriate response.

More tricky is the evaluative statement - "that dog is ugly" - since "it combines both subjective and objective elements". Evaluative statements are open to argument, since they "do not lend themselves to a simple true-or-false response". (Statements of objective fact, so long as they are true, are not open to argument.)

The remaining parts of the book cover the basic principles of logic, argument, the sources of illogical thinking, and the principal forms of illogical thinking (a long list of fallacies). The delicious thing about stripping fallacies down to their bare essentials is that while you're wondering how on earth anyone could make such a blunder you're also remembering all those examples of when a politician or a businessman or you yourself did just that. As McInerny says of one particular fallacy, it's "a pretty obvious mistake to claim that something is necessarily true for a whole group because it happens to be true for a part of the group" - and yet it happens all the time, and easily qualifies as one of the human family's favourite fallacies.

Public health initiatives and the owners of private gyms are forever encouraging us to exercise our bodies. Some exercise is essential, of course, although no one seems to agree on just how much. When it comes to exercise for the mind, I would recommend McInerny's "Being Logical" over puzzles or mental arithmetic. While few of us will ever do much more than jog around the park, most of us are more than capable of being logical, especially with the help of books like this.
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on 5 January 2006
The book 'Elements of Style' by Struck and White is one of my favourite 'go-to' books on grammar, language use, and generally 'making sense'. Author D.Q. McInerny pays tribute to this earlier work by consciously emulating it in this book - 'Being Logical'. So much in our society is dependent upon reasoning and interpretation (much more than we might ever realistically think) and yet so often our reasoning is fault.
All dogs have four legs.
My cat has four legs.
Therefore, my cat is a dog.
This is the kind of reasoning that, when put in concrete examples such as this, makes little sense. But when it is applied to business, political, military and other types of situations, it becomes less clear, because the substance of the argument is less clear.
All military objectives require White House approval.
The education budget requires White House approval.
Therefore, the education budget is a military objective.
McInerny writes with good prose and good style in presenting in gentle and humourous form the elements of making sense. Being logical is about good communication, and this requires first and foremost clear, unambiguous and direct speech (given these criteria, I wonder why political speech often suffers from logic problems?).
McInerny develops a long section on argumentation - problems and situations about comparison, conditionals, moving from universals to particulars and vice versa, truth, value, fact, inductive and deductive argumentation and more. From this basic format (which really hinges on the simplest of platforms, that an argument contains a premise and a conclusion), McInerny proceeds to examining the sources and forms of illogical thinking (bad reasoning). Some of these are common sensical - evasiveness, cynicism, skeptism, emotionalism: any of these taken to extremes (or sometimes just a bit beyond moderation) can cause flaws with argumentation. According to McInerny, common sense is 'characterised by the unfailing capacity consistently to distinguish between a cat and a kangaroo.' Logic, common sense and good reasoning rely upon language that reveals, not conceals, and 'is suspicious of words that dazzle more than denote.'
McInerny presents a long litany of typical faulty-logic types that nonetheless are commonplace. These include very familiar types (straw man arguments, begging the question, ad hominem fallacies) as well as less familiar but more insidious types (misclassification, affirming the consequent, denying the antecedent, reductionism). He also looks at problems that are less 'logical' as they are problematic for continuing argumentation and debate - laughter and tears (both unlike to show up in logical constructions on paper) can both be used as diversionary tactics in the process of logical discussion.
'Important though it is to avoid the pitfalls of poor reasoning, it is more important to concentrate our energies on mastering those positive principles that make for its happy opposite - sound reasoning.' McInerny appeals to philosophers such as Aristotle in his constructions, but does not present dry and dusty prose - his writing is fresh and accessible, interesting to follow and helpful for people in all walks of life.
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on 18 January 2012
This book may not be long but don't let that deceive, what it lacks in size it makes up for in clarity. That is without a doubt one of, if not the outstanding feature of this book, its sheer clarity, whilst it takes a while to get used to the 'lingo' it uses once you do its easy to grasp what is being said.

The cynic might say that much of this book is 'common sense' and whilst that's true, its also true that 'common sense' is not always common. D.Q McInerny will not only show you how to express you ideas clearly and succinctly, how to avoid logical errors and how to spot those errors in others but most importantly he will show you how to think clearly.

This book will serve as a good introduction to logic for people from all walks of life but be warned after you've read it you'll never be able to think of arguments in the same way again!
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on 12 May 2014
This book starts with the simplest forms of argument which is fine but I had hoped to get a bit further than a pedantic breakdown of
'Every squirrel is a mammal
Every Chipmunk is a mammal
Therefore every Chipmunk is a squirrel'
by page 73 (of 129 pages), particularly as on page 88 the book stops discussing arguments altogether and starts a breakdown of 'illogical thinking'
The trouble with this book is if you can understand it you dont need it
And its a shame Amazon still avoid their taxes
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on 16 January 2015
I found the book very good for the purpose for which I required it. Very satisfied.
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on 29 December 2012
Essential read for anyone wishing to learn to think logically. Being very simple book is well written and is a pleasure to read.
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on 30 November 2012
Short, simple, accessible and to the point. Why didn't anyone give me this to read when I was an undergrad?
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on 21 June 2012
This is a perfectly decent book. It's written in good, simple prose. It's nice and short. I learned a few things from it. But to quote no less an authority than Sebastian Faulks, "what use is logic when faced with the power of truth?"
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