Logo Homeschool World ® Official Web Site of Practical Homeschooling Magazine Practical Homeschooling Magazine
Practical Homeschooling® :

How to Remain Logical in an Argument

By Douglas Wilson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #10, 1995.

Doug Wilson gives us specific ways to keep our wits about us in an argument.

   Pin It

Douglas Wilson

In a world of over-inflated balloon arguments, logic supplies the student with an array of sharp, ready-to-use pins. The study of formal logic enables the clear-minded student to distinguish a valid argument from an invalid one. Obviously not an abstract exercise, like a class in theoretical mathematics, logic is one of the most practical subjects your children will ever study.

In everyday life, all of us must distinguish the plausible from the preposterous. More than ever, I find it hard to throw a rock without denting somebody’s fallacy.

Counter That Example!

One good way to illustrate the invalidity (or the true nature) of an argument is through counter-example. A successful counter-example presents the same basic form as the first argument, but because the nouns have been changed, the ludicrous nature of the first argument becomes immediately apparent. The statement that seemed plausible when it involved the balance of trade between Japan and the United States loses its force when applied to Montana and Idaho. And that makes me wonder, what exactly is the trade deficit between North and South Dakota?

Around the dinner table one evening, our family discussed the retroactive aspect of President Clinton’s tax program. My son commented, in an off-hand way, that Clinton’s program was like the pizza delivery boy showing up a week later after his delivery to inform us that they raised their prices, and we owe him money. This was a good counter-example.

Name That Fallacy!

The ability to name the fallacy presents another good defense against modern logical puffery. When people disagree, there is a common temptation to chalk this up as a simple matter of “opinion.” Now, sometimes disagreements are just a matter of opinion (for example, whether or not mushrooms taste like erasers). But frequently, disagreements are the result of one person being . . . well, wrong. Training in logic will keep your children from membership in that great, growing multitude which constantly says, “Right? Wrong? That’s your opinion!”

Affirming the Consequent. For example, a common logical error is that of “Affirming the Consequent.” In symbolic form, it looks like this: “If p, then q. Q is true. Therefore p.” “If I study hard, then I will get an A on the test. I got an A on the test. Therefore, I must have studied hard.” This is a fallacy. When a student has learned to identify this error in reasoning, he will soon have the unexpected pleasure of seeing it manifested everywhere. (This is something like buying a yellow Volkswagen. The next day you see them all over town and begin to suspect a massive practical joke.)

Suppose a politician says, “All great statesmen were maligned in office—just as I was maligned yesterday by Senator Snortworst.” It would be a great delight to have your teenager point at the flickering shadow universe of “World News Tonight” and shout, “Affirming the Consequent!”

Or suppose that, at church, your children hear some people talking about a “Christian” seminar they attended for people who were abused in childhood. The counseling guru said that one of the prime indicators of past abuse is the fact that the abused cannot remember it. One of those who attended says, “Why, I can’t remember a thing.” Your kids say to each other, on their way to the parking lot, “Affirming the Consequent”!

The central reason many modern Christians have the doctrinal discernment of a vacuum cleaner is that they have not been trained to think. If we are diligent and careful, we can avoid this problem with our children. We can teach them to think carefully and properly about everything they encounter.

The Either/Or Fallacy. Of course, there are many more fallacies than just “Affirming the Consequent.” Suppose your church is considering a wild and crazy youth ministry, and one of the arguments is: “We have to do something to prevent the kids from being lured to drinking parties.” This is bifurcation or, as it is sometimes called, ”the either/or fallacy.” Are these the only two choices—getting drunk on your town’s back roads or acting drunk at your church? Of course not!

Bulverism. Ever-popular is the fallacy of Bulverism, named by C.S. Lewis. It is the idea that an argument can be refuted if a plausible reason can be presented explaining why and how the person came to their decision. Truth and validity disappear as the all-important matter of motives take their place.

Suppose your children are telling someone that it isn’t right to be entertained by questionable movies and they run into the retort, “Oh, you are saying that because you’re homeschooled.” On the outside your children may politely say, “Ummm . . . ” but on the inside, if taught well, they will be saying, “Bulverism.”

Many more over-inflated balloons exist than those listed here. But, if your child is well-trained in logic, he will always have more than enough pins.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Sadly, this is Douglas Wilson’s last column with us. His increased duties with Canon Press, his various school commitments, and his editorship of Credenda/Agenda no longer leave him time to write for PHS. We shall miss him!

However, classical education will not be left without a voice in PHS. Starting next issue, Fritz Hinrichs of Escondido Tutorial Service, founder of the Great Books Tutorial, will be our classical columnist. Our sons have been taking Fritz’s tutorial, and I can tell you, he knows the classics!

Was this article helpful to you?
Subscribe to Practical Homeschooling today, and you'll get this quality of information and encouragement five times per year, delivered to your door. To start, click on the link below that describes you:

USA Individual
USA Librarian (purchasing for a library)
Outside USA Individual
Outside USA Library

University of Nebraska High School
Free Email Newsletter!
Sign up to receive our free email newsletter, and up to three special offers from homeschool providers every week.

Articles by Douglas Wilson

Classical Education for Christians

"Question Authority"

Literature: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Columnists Face Off - Classical Education

Does History Have a Purpose?

Think Classical in High School

How to Remain Logical in an Argument

Popular Articles

Start a Nature Notebook

I Was an Accelerated Child

Character Matters for Kids

The History of Public Education

Discover Your Child's Learning Style

Why the Internet will Never Replace Books

Joyce Swann's Homeschool Tips

What We Can Learn from the Homeschooled 2002 National Geography Bee Winners

Who Needs the Prom?

Columbus and the Flat Earth...

Bears in the House

Getting Organized Part 3

How to "Bee" a Spelling Success

Montessori Math

Top Jobs for the College Graduate

Narration Beats Tests

University Model Schools

The Benefits of Cursive Writing

Art Appreciation the Charlotte Mason Way

The Charlotte Mason Method

The Benefits of Debate

Shakespeare Camp

A Homeschooler Wins the Heisman

AP Courses At Home

Don't Give Up on Your Late Bloomers

The Charlotte Mason Approach to Poetry

Interview with John Taylor Gatto

Myth of the Teenager

Getting Started in Homeschooling: The First Ten Steps

Can Homeschoolers Participate In Public School Programs?

Critical Thinking and Logic

Classical Education

Laptop Homeschool

A Reason for Reading

Top Tips for Teaching Toddlers

Montessori Language Arts at Home, Part 1

Give Yourself a "CLEP Scholarship"

How to Win the Geography Bee

Teach Your Children to Work

The Gift of a Mentor

Combining Work and Homeschool

Phonics the Montessori Way

What Does My Preschooler Need to Know?

Advanced Math: Trig, PreCalc, and more!

Patriarchy, Meet Matriarchy

The Equal Sign - Symbol, Name, Meaning

Getting Organized Part 1 - Tips & Tricks

Teaching Blends

Saxon Math: Facts vs. Rumors

Whole-Language Boondoggle

Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
Copyright ©1993-2021 Home Life, Inc.