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Logic of Every-Day Life

The public speaker requires to know something of the rudiments of reasoning, which we may call the logic of everyday life. Logic is the basis of oratory, for no sensible man is moved to action unless he sees a reason for it. Genius in argument consists in seeing relevancies and in enabling others to see them.

Natural pride in the distinction of learning and the passion for superiority, from which the learned are not exempt, lead them to decry all capacity outside their own, so that common sense is belittled and discouraged, and many never use or cultivate the natural power they have, and cease to have confidence in themselves. All the while, common sense is the natural sense of mankind. It is the product of common observation and experience. It is modest, plain and unsophisticated. It sees with everybody's eyes and hears with everybody's ears. It has no capricious distinction, no perplexities, and no mysteries. It never equivocates and never trifles. Its language is always intelligible. It is known by clearness of speech and singleness of purpose. The most prudent of all the children of fact, it never forsakes nature or reason. Some outline laws for its employment in reasoning—if they can be indicated—must be better than a distrustful, aimless and desultory use.

Why, in speaking, should not anyone express himself with grammatical coherence and a certain bold perspicuity, if not able to reach refinement and elegance? Why, in pronunciation, should ordinary persons not speak with a certain manly openness of vowel sound and a distinct articulation, if not with all elocutionary modulation? Why should not their discourse be expressed in brief, clear sentences? If their punctuation went no further than placing capital letters at the commencement of sentences and of proper names, and periods at the conclusion of sentences, it would render their writing more intelligible than are half the communications they now send to the press. If they mastered only brevity and abrupt directness, and learned to omit wearying prolixity, they would command a hearing in many cases where now they are denied one. If in logic they made a shrewd mastery of plain facts—being as sure as they could, when once set on surety, avoiding conjecture and suppositionif they followed the methods of nature and good sense, where the elaborate methods of art are hidden from them, who will not admit that they would be more intelligible than now, exercise power, and extort attention and esteem where now they excite compassion, or outrage plain taste? The people would be enabled to do these things, but that so many, who prepare treatises for their guidance, alarm them by the display of abstruse dissertation above their powers, their means, their time, and their wants.

There is less occasion to speak of the utility of logic than to show it to be easy of acquisition. John Stuart Mill observes:—' We need not seek far for a solution of the question so often agitated respecting the utility of logic. If a science of logic exists, or is capable of existing, it must be useful. If their be rules to which every mind conforms in every instance in which it judges rightly, there seems little necessity for discussing whether a person is more likely to observe those rules when he knows the rules, than when he is unacquainted with them.'

Certainly people are not so much prejudiced against logic on account of its supposed uselessness as on account of its supposed difficulties. Logic has always had a good reputation. The popular impression has uniformly been in its favor. It has been valued like the diamond—but considered, like that precious stone, to be of very uncertain access and difficult to polish, save by experts.

Common sense—the exercise of the judgment unaided by scholastic rule—being the best sense the untutored have, they wisely use it, and no wonder if they laud what they are constrained to employ. Doubtless they perceive that common sense would be the better for being made orderly, as a spirited horse is the fitter for use after it has been 'broken.' If common sense can be rendered disciplined sense, it will have all the advantage of the trained soldier over the raw recruit.

A few years ago, England was interested in an American teacher of equine rhetoric, Mr. Rarey, who won both money and renown by giving lessons in the art of persuading the minds of horses. Dean Swift, in his Gulliver's Travels, shows that the kingdom of horses is in many respects a more rational kingdom than the kingdom of men. The horse is simple in its taste, temperate in its habits, graceful in its movements, proud in spirit, and wary in conductwhich is much more than can be said of many men. Mr Rarey showed that he believed in the reasoning power of horses, and that it is possible to persuade their minds to good conduct. If horses can learn to reason, why not men?

Reasoning is a simple business. To reason is to state relevant facts in support of a proposition. Reason is the faculty of perceiving coherences. Effective reasoning is stating them so that others cannot but see them too. Reasoning on the abstrusest questions consists in arriving at a remote truth by discovering its coherence with the preceding facts in the same chain.

A syllogism is a peculiar form of expression, in which every argument may be stated. It consists of three propositions.
1. Whoever have their heads cut off ought to be allowed to ask the reason why.
2. Women have their heads cut off.
3. Therefore women ought to be allowed to ask (politically at least) the reason why.

This is an argument of Madame de Stael in the days of the first Napoleon, in allusion to the beheading of women in France, without allowing them any voice in making the laws which determine the offences for which they suffered.

A syllogism is constructed upon the principle (known as the Dictum of Aristotle) that whatever is affirmed or denied universally of a whole class of things, may be affirmed or denied of anything comprehended in that class. Thus, the first proposition introduces the class of persons who have their heads cut off. Of this class it is affirmed that they ought to be allowed to ask the reason why. But women are included in the class of persons who have their heads cut off, and consequently that may be affirmed of them which is affirmed of the whole class, when the conclusion isthat they should be allowed to ask the reason why.

Logic may be defined as the art of recognizing, stating and testing truth. To make a truth plain it is put in the form of a syllogism. All men have common sense. Peter Luton is a man. Therefore Peter Luton has common sense. Now Peter may be a known idiot, but the syllogism is true. The logic of the schools has nothing to do with the truth of the facts, opinions, or presumptions, from which an inference is derived; but simply takes care that the inference shall certainly he true if the premises be true. But the chief premise in the syllogism given is not truethat all men have common sense, and therefore the inference is not true that Peter Luton has common sense.

This is the point that the reader should consider. It was Sir James Mackintosh, I think, who said that 'men fall into a thousand errors -by reasoning from false premises to fifty they make by wrong inferences from premises they employ.' The late Professor Jowett is reported to have said that 'logic is neither an art nor a science, but a dodge.' It is little better than a 'dodge' when it is confined to making inferences from premises not known to be true. An assertion that represents things as they really are, is a truth—an assertion that represents things as in reality they are not, is a falsehood. Truth, in sculpture, means an exact similitude of some living form, chiseled in stone or marble. Truth, in painting, is a natural representation on canvas, or otherwise, of some person or object. In the same manner, moral truth is an exact image of things set forth in speech or writing. The logical definition of truth is given in these words:—'Truth is that which admits of proof,' that is, an assertion or denial which can be substantiated by facts.

Tyranny, says Cobbett, has no enemy so formidable as the pen. Why?' Because the pen pursues tyranny both in life and beyond the grave.' How is it proved to be the most formidable enemy of tyranny? From the fact that tyranny has no enemy so formidable as that which assails not only its existence, but its reputation, which may pursue it in life and beyond the grave. Such interrogatories and replies generate the syllogistic form thus:—
1. Tyranny has no enemy so formidable as that which may assail not only its existence, but its reputation, which may pursue it in life and beyond the grave.
2. The pen may pursue tyranny in life and beyond the grave.
3. Therefore, tyranny has no enemy so formidable as the pen.

Syllogism need not begin with a universal proposition. But care must be taken not to draw an infinite conclusion from finite premises.

In the following syllogism the chief proposition is limited:
Aristides was virtuous,
Aristides was a pagan,
Some pagan was virtuous.
The inference is limited. The proof is that some one pagan was virtuous.

Induction—a mode of logic which Bacon established—means reasoning from facts. A proposition is concluded to be true when the number of facts relevant to it and in favor of it greatly exceed all the known facts against it. But the quality of the facts as well as the number must be carefully weighed. When a lady once consulted Dr Johnson on the degree of turpitude to be attached to her son's robbing an orchard—'Madam,' said Johnson, 'it all depends upon the weight of the boy. I remember my schoolfellow, Davy Garrick, who was always a little fellow, robbing a dozen orchards with impunity, but the very first time I climbed up an apple tree, for I was always a heavy boy, the bough broke with me, and it was called a judgment. I suppose that is why Justice is represented with a pair of scales.' This may not be the precise reason why Justice has a pair of scales, but the point goes to the root of the matter. Without weighing there can be neither justice nor fair induction. When Ali Pacha was at Janina, the case of a poor woman, who accused a man of the theft of all her property, was brought before him; but the woman having no witnesses, the case was discharged, as the man asserted his innocence, and insisted, as a proof, that he had not a farthing in the world. On their leaving his presence, Ali ordered both to be weighed, and then released them without further notice. A fortnight afterwards he commanded both into his presence, and again weighed them; the woman had lost as much as the man had gained in weight, and Ali decided that the accusation was just. Ali Pacha was the Burlamiqui of justice; Burlainiqui was a writer on logic, who insisted on attention being given to the preponderance of relevant facts.

In the case of the Leigh Peerage a number of witnesses were examined in the House of Lords as to the existence of a certain monument in Stonely Church—'The first witness described the monument as being black; the second spoke of it as a kind of dove-color; the third said it was black and white; the fourth said it was originally white, but dirty, when he saw it; the fifth, differing from the others, said it was blue; the next witness described it as a light marble, but said it had a dark appearance as if it had been bronzed; and the last witness spoke of it as being of a light grey color. Then, as to the form of the monument, the first witness said it was oblong; the next said it was square at the top, and came down narrower to the bottom, and there rested on a single truss; the third witness described it as being square at the bottom, resting upon two trusses, and went up narrower and narrower to a point at the top; the fourth witness said it was angular at the top; the next said it was square at the bottom, was brought to a point in the middle, and was then curved into a sort, of festoon; the sixth witness stated that it was square at the top and bottom, and had a curve; and the last said it was square at the top and bottom. As to the language of the inscriptions, the first witness stated that the names of Thomas and Christopher Leigh were in English; the next said the inscription was not in English; the third said there was a great deal in English; the fourth witness said the whole (with the exception of the name Christopher Leigh) was in a language which he did not understand; the next witness stated that the inscription was all in English, except the words Anno Domini; and the last witness said it was not in English.'

All these witnesses agree as to the fact in dispute, but their variances in testimony illustrate the common inattention of observation and indistinctness of memory; and this case further admonishes us that if such differences may exist as to a question of fact, little wonder that differences exist as to matters of opinion, where intellectual capacity and information are so various.

If a man looks well to the truth of the premises from which he reasons, he will never go far wrong. When Pope, in a moment of aberration, wrote,—
Be not the first by whom the new is tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside,
it only wants common sense—and not much of that—to see that if all men act on this advice, no one will ever try a new thing or leave off an old one, and the world would stand still.

A few years ago, a distinguished clergyman of the Universalist denomination was accused, while in Lowell, of 'violently dragging his wife from a revival meeting, and compelling her to go home with him.' He replied: 'Firstly, I have never attempted to influence my wife in her views, nor her choice of a meeting; secondly, my wife has not attended any of the revival meetings for any purpose whatever; thirdly, I never on any occasion forbade my wife to attend a revival meeting; fourthly, neither my wife nor myself have any inclination to attend those meetings; and fifthly, I never had a wife.'

This is a fair example of confutation without creating satisfaction. The clergyman gave a technical answer. The questioner assumed that the lady they had in their minds was his wife. She may have been his sister, or niece, or housekeeper, or relative in his house, over whom he had control—and used it. He would have been more instructive and given more satisfaction had he denied having interfered or sought to control anyone attending the meeting in question. Though he had 'no desire to attend' such place, he may have been there all the same. He merely fenced with his reply, which is clever but not creditable.

Imagine a tramcar director, waited upon by persons who want to know whether the new car would leave at the usual time, and take up passengers at the usual places, who should answer:—Firstly, we have no 'new car,' and never had; secondly, we do not leave at the 'usual time'; thirdly, we do not 'take up passengers,' that is the business of the police; fourthly, we have no 'usual places.' This would be a good technical reply of the official type. But having regard to the interests of the company, he would explain that they had taken over the rolling stock of another company, and had built no 'new car' themselves; the 'usual time' was now a quarter of an hour earlier; that passengers 'step up' into the car, are not 'taken up'; and that they now stop for passengers wherever hailed. The representative of an interest is communicative and explanatory, why not the representative of truth?

The schoolmen, by teaching that logic has only to do with inferences, and that if the inference is true, the thing reasoned upon has to be accepted, have caused great superstitions to have long life in the world. He who begins to reason without knowing what from, is trying to get a living inference out of dead premises. Be sure your premises are alive, or your inferences will smell like stale fish when brought into the market of debate.

Man should begin with himself. He loves truth—it is the first impulse of his nature. He loves justice—the bandit on the throne, as well as the bandit in the forest, respects justice in some form or other. Man loves cheerfulness—it is the attribute of innocence and courage. He loves fraternity—it knits society together in brotherhood. These are standards in the mind of him who thinks. His codes of life and judgment arise therefrom. That which accords with these principles is reasonable. Whatever develops these principles in conduct is moral. These sentiments are to be confirmed by his own observations. His experience in connection with these rules is the light with which he may examine religions, creeds, books, systems, opinions. Pope, one of the few poets who had logic in his bones, writes:—
Say first of God above or man below,
What can we reason but from what we know?
Definition is the soul of argument, and therefore attention must be paid to it. Definition originates in accurate and comprehensive observation. 'There cannot be,' says Mill, 'agreement about the definition of a thing, until there is agreement about the thing itself. To define a thing is to select from among the whole of its properties those which shall be understood to be designated and declared by its name; and the properties must be very well known to us before we can be competent to determine which of them are fittest to be chosen for this purpose.'

To define a thing, says Dr. Watts, we must 'ascertain with what it agrees, then note the most remarkable attribute of difference, and join the two together.' In fact, a valid definition selects that particular in which the thing in question differs from every other. So that it cannot be confounded with any other.

Every man of common sense can tell upon reflection what course of conduct would be useful if all men followed it. At least, in affairs of daily life men can tell this, and in affairs of public life considering the effect of a thing upon society is a good guide. Dumont puts this very clearly in the following questions:—

'What is it to give a good reason for a law? It is to show the good and the evil which that law tends to produce; so much good, so much argument in its favor; so much evil, so much argument against it.'

'What is it to give a bad reason? It is to allege for or against a law, any other thing than its effects, whether good or evil.'

'Nothing more simple; yet nothing more new. It is not the principle of utility which is new; on the contrary, it is of necessity as ancient as the race of man. Whatever there is of truth in morals, whatever there is of good in law, proceeds from this principle.'

There are five things which young logicians mistake for reasons:—(1) Antiquity of a thing is not a reason, because mankind were never infallible. (2) Religious authority is not a reason, for in every nation it has often been in the wrong. (3) Disowning innovation is not a reason, for to reject all innovation is to reject all improvement. (4) Arbitrary definition is not a reason, for using a word in a sense it has not been used in before, it bewilders the reader or hearer by an appearance of depth and subtlety which is unreal. (5) Metaphor or analogy is not a reason, they illustrate an argument but do not make one.

There are three maxims in law which may be usefully remembered in reasoning:—(1) Words spoken of one thing ought not to be perverted to another. (2) He who does not truly speak the truth is a betrayer of truth. (3) Contradictions cannot be brought into being.

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George Jacob Holyoake

  • Born April 13, 1817 in Birmingham, UK and died on January 22nd, 1906.
  • Was a British secularist, co-operator (The English Leader), and newspaper editor (Reasoner).

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