Integrating medieval logicians into Introduction to Logic

Term starts next week, and I am so pleased to be teaching again what is probably my favorite course ever, Introduction to Logic. Most of it is going to be a pretty standard Intro Logic course: syntax and semantics of propositional and predicate logic, derivations, and meta-results (soundness/completeness). But I’m planning to liberally sprinkle in historical material, because I can — and because I want to normalize the idea that the tradition of logic developed continuously from Aristotle (and even outside of Aristotle) and that one should expect to learn something of the history of one’s subject in an introductory class. This means that the first formal system that we look at will be the syllogistic (Informal poll: Should I assign them portions from the Prior Analytics for the first week’s reading? Or is that too mean to freshmen?). They’ll get the syllogism mnemonics and the associated proof-theory, and the system provides an excellent introduction to meta-theory.

I also want to get them to think about the question of “what is logic?” In our first lecture, on Monday, I’m planning to share with them this definition from Roger Bacon’s Art and Science of Logic:

Logic, as a science, is the habit of distinguishing what is true from what is false by means of rules or maxims or dignities by which we can comprehend the truth of a locution through our own efforts or with the help of others. And logic is so-called from logos, which means discourse, and lexis, which means reason or understanding — as it were, the science either of reason joined to discourse or of discourse joined to reason.

I love this definition, because of the way it highlights four important features about the discipline of logic:

  • It is aimed at distinguishing truth from falsehood.
  • It is rule-governed.
  • It can be a joint venture.
  • It involves discourse.

I’m going to point out to them that modern logicians generally would stop after the first two bullets, but that, in my opinion, the second two bullets should not be discounted. Among other things, I want to encourage them to work on their exercise sets in groups, to realize that the best way to understand the material is via helping other people to understand it, and I will be arguing that there are certain aspects of the development of logic which can be understood only through a dialogical/discursive lens. Throughout the rest of the year, I hope to have them read Avicenna, Sherwood, Buridan, Ockham, Burley, and others, as well as some of the medieval Indian Buddhist debate treatises.

The first lecture is on Monday, but I won’t be covering quite enough material to assign any technical homework for the next week’s tutorials. However, last night I had the traditional “first lecture of the year” dream (in which Dream Sara was nowhere near as efficient at getting through the material as Real Sara, who is planning to cover twice as much…), in which Dream Sara came up with an awesome assignment for them, to get them (a) into the library (or at least onto the internet), (b) writing, and (c) used to the idea that there was logic throughout history. I will be asking them to name (1) three logicians who lived before 1000, (2) three logicians who lived and died between 1000 and 2000, and (3) three logicians lived after 2000. Then, they need to pick one from each category and write 150 words (with references) on what is distinctive about this person’s works/views.

I can’t wait to see who they all choose to write about!

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