Foundations of Western Logic


Logic, as any clear-thinking person will tell you, is essential to clear thinking.  With the use of logic, you can get to the bottom of just about any thorny problem that may present itself to you in the course of a day, or until 5:00 p.m. when logic goes off its shift and says hello to illogic, who arrives on the scene with a fifth of gin, tonic water and a can of honey-roasted peanuts.

How do you know when you’re being logical?  Simple.  You begin to speak in “syllogisms”, or arguments involving a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion which follows ineluctably from them.  Here’s an example:

1.         All men are mortal.

2.         Socrates is a man.

3.         Pick up dry cleaning and cat litter.

No, wait.  That’s my “to-do” list.  Let me try again.

1.         All men are mortal.

2.         Socrates is a man.

3.         Socrates is cat litter.

That’s better.


The principal brick in the foundation of Western logic is the “Principle of Contradiction.”  The way it works is that you can’t say “A is B” and “A is not B” at the same time-not even if you’re a ventriloquist.  You can only say one thing at a time.

The main function of the Principle of Contradiction is to make women cry.  If, in the heat of an argument, you say to a woman “You ask me to pick a restaurant, but if I do, you tell me the one I pick is out of the question. You’re always contradicting yourself!”

There follows an emotional scene in which the woman begins to sob, then tells the man he’s a big, stupid logical bully.  The man says he’s sorry, abandons logic and agrees to go to the woman’s sentimental favorite.  Which is where they were going to end up anyway.


With the advent of “modernism” came a retreat from the realm of logic in favor of the illogical.  The watershed point at which human thought ended its long, arduous climb into the sunlight atop the mountain of pure reason and began its slow descent into the swamp of unreason can be traced to a night on which Antonin Artaud, an important figure in the Theatre of the Absurd, slapped a fifty-franc piece down on the bar of Les Deux Maggots and jammed his beret down on his head.

“You leaving?” Tristin Tzara asked.

“Yeah, I’ve had enough.  My parrot is your sister’s armpit, though.”

Once you understand syllogisms, you begin to see them everywhere.  After a while, it will seem like you can’t throw a brick without hitting one.

Take, for example, the term “bohemian.”  Did you know it is based on a syllogism whose major and minor premises are commonly-held beliefs, as follows:

1.         All artists are gypsies.

2.         All gypsies are from Bohemia.

3.         All artists are Socrates.

You can’t argue with logic like that.

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Let’s Get Philosophical!”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s