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Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking by D.Q. McInerny

16 March 2008

I consider myself a fairly logical person on the whole, more used to reasoning out solutions and situations than using any intuitive parts of my brain. I studied some simple logic in my mathematics classes in school, and I used to love doing those grid-style logic problems they sell in large thick puzzle books. Yet I never studied ‘formal’ logic, the kind that they teach entire university-level courses about. So when I came upon a very slim book titled Being Logical, it seemed a worthwhile purchase.

Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking by D.Q. McInerny

Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking explains the origins and basics of formal logical thinking, along with common fallacies and logical failings that people tend to fall into, knowingly or unknowingly. McInerny is able to explain the logic process without using the often-confusing symbol shorthand, and breaks down different arguments — conditional arguments, syllogisms, the difference between statements of fact and statements of value — into easily readable, bize-sized pieces. And yet it’s not at all dumbed down. I had to go back through more than a few of the short sections and reread them to make sure I understood the points, but because the sections were so short it wasn’t very difficult to keep my train of thought going even when the arguments were fairly complex.

By far the best part of the book, in my opinion, is the section nearest the end where McInery goes through the sources and forms of illogical thinking. He draws a very good distinction between an ‘argument’ and a ‘quarrel’ — they’re often used interchangeably, but in the logical context they couldn’t be more different. As he puts it, an argument is meant to ‘get at’ the truth, while a quarrel is intended to ‘get at’ other people. Nicely said, I think. He also covers other forms of illogical thinking and poor reasoning like begging the question (actually used in the right context!), creating a straw man, and the conspiracy theorist’s favourite reply: ‘You can’t disprove it, so therefore it’s proved to be true!’ That section also points out common tricks used by clever and unscrupulous debaters to conceal shoddy logic or distract the listener from a poorly laid-out argument. So all in all, Being Logical is more than able to pack in a crash course in logic and logical thinking into just over 125 pages. Now that I’ve finally managed to get around to reading it, I wish I’d read it sooner.

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