Summary of The Art of Logic by Eugenia Cheng

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of The Art of Logic by Eugenia Cheng

In this day and age, we are surrounded by fake news, clickbait and let’s not forget the fake people. It’s not easy trying to sift out the truth in these instances, we are only human after all. As humans, we sometimes tend to be led by our emotions and make rash decisions without thinking things through. However, the truth is we can actually see through all this deception and emotion if we have the right technique. 

You may think that this sounds like it is hard work but it really isn’t. That’s mostly because it is something that most people already possess, you just have to use it properly. What is it? Logic, of course. Are you ready to learn how to find answers in a sea of chaos?

In this book summary readers will discover:

  • Understanding logic and how it works
  • Using logic in arguments
  • When logic does not work
  • Using logic to find the truth
  • Combining emotion and logic is possible

Key lesson one: Understanding logic and how it works

Logic is defined as the process of investigating or constructing a complex argument by asking questions. From an early age, we start using logic to make connections. It is how we learn of the consequences or reactions to specific actions. If we don’t eat, we get hungry and if there’s a thunderstorm we can’t go to the beach. As we get older, we naturally begin to start asking questions when things are not as clear. We need to understand specific behaviours in order to use logic to clarify them.

To use logic correctly though, you have to first have an understanding of it. Logic allows you to ignore reality in a sense. It does this because you pull out facts and ignore all other irrelevant details. This may seem confusing but consider an argument between two people. In reality, they argue emotionally and without thought to what they saying. There are usually irrelevant details thrown in that are not part of the issue they are actually arguing about. Logic will allow you to ignore the ‘real-life’ argument and instead explore only the facts of what the argument is about.

The second thing you need to understand about logic is that it only works in one direction. This means that if A implies B, it does not mean that B implies A. This is a common mistake that everyone tends to make. Think of it this way, if someone says that an apple is a fruit does that mean that fruit is an apple? It is not always true as there are many fruits besides apples. And what if the apple they were referring to what actually in a pie? That’s not a fruit either. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the structure of the statement and never assume that the opposite is true. 

Key lesson two: Using logic in arguments

Using logic in arguments allows us to see the truth. Our emotions, on the other hand, can lead us astray in an argument. This is when the shouting, insults and threats kick in. It does not help in an argument at all. Therefore we need to replace this with logic in order to gain true insight into the problem at hand. 

Firstly, we need to recognize what happens when we get defensive in an argument. If we disagree with someone’s statement, simply stating the opposite is not going to change anyone’s opinion. If we use logic instead, then you can start questioning why the opposite could be true in some circumstances and why you disagreed with the statement to start off with. This is called negating whereby we play with the concept that there are more than two completely opposite possibilities. It’s looking at all the options and considering that not everything is black and white. It is a useful tool as most things in life fall within a grey area. 

Secondly, one should never make assumptions in an argument. There are multiple possibilities that could be ignored by just making assumptions. If your child failed an exam you cannot get angry with them and assume they did not study. What if there is more to the result? Maybe the majority of children in the class failed the exam, was it because they all didn’t study as well? Or maybe there is a different cause for the result. To overcome the limitations of assumptions you have to ask ‘why’ repeatedly. In fact, you ask why until you can’t think of any other questions. This gives you all the possibilities you need to consider to get to the root of the problem.

Lastly, if you want to argue logically you need to be as accurate as possible. To have a concrete, logical argument your position needs to come across clearly without any ambiguity. However, in order to do this, you need time and space to consider your argument. But the way we live now, we do not have the luxury of time or space. Arguments these days sometimes need to be condensed into a tweet or even a slogan to get the message across. This leads to straw man arguments because they can be easily picked apart if not thought out. Therefore one should try and avoid using social media as a battleground no matter how justified you think you may be in your argument. You need a calm and structured approach to communicate your point clearly.

Key lesson three: When logic does not work

No matter how useful logic is, there are some times when it just doesn’t make a difference if you use it or not. Like choosing a meal at a restaurant – maybe you can use logic to determine that you cannot afford the lobster on the menu but other than that, whatever you choose is not dependent on logic. 

Time is also an important point to consider. In emergency situations, you may not have time to completely analyze everything to make a decision. This is where instinct usually kicks in. The last situation is not one in which logic does not work but instead, it is rather situations where goodwill plays a role irrespective of logic. Take climate change agreements for example. All countries agree to lower their emissions in a bid to save the planet. However, logically, a small country could argue that their emissions have little to no effect on the planet compared to other bigger countries. So, if they continue to burn fossil fuels but other, larger countries continue to lower their emissions, the results would still lead to a healthier planet with all countries benefitting including the one that continues to burn fossil fuels. This would logically work, but morally, it undermines the trust between the countries that signed the agreement. In such situations, logic is overruled by humanity. Self-serving agendas need to be put aside to achieve the desired outcomes.

Key lesson four: Using logic to find the truth

Growing up, we develop something called axioms. Axioms refer to statements that we have learned that are true. They are shaped by our experiences, how we were raised, our education and the society we live in. As you can imagine, everyone has their own set of unique axioms. These axioms are the points where individuals start asking why. If they come across an opinion or statement that does not meet their truth, they start to question it. 

This is extremely handy when you are trying to understand someone else’s beliefs or truths. Instead of completely disregarding it because it disagrees with your axiom, you begin to ask why do they have a different belief. As much as humans, in general, are not comfortable with grey areas, we have to learn how to deal with them. Logic helps guide us through these areas which do not match our truths as we have come to know them. It is only natural that people will have differences in opinions because of their unique set of axioms, so you have to be willing to be logical and meet them in a grey area in order to be productive in your debate or conversation. 

It is therefore important to consider the words you are using when speaking. If you use words like never, everyone and always, you leave no room for discussion. Once again the question you need to ask is ‘Why?’. 

Key lesson five: Combining emotion and logic is possible

As much as emotions lead us astray in arguments, we can use them in combination with logic. In mastering this skill, we find that we can argue persuasively when logic alone does not suffice. 

Emotions are usually linked to fear. This is why we react so strongly to them. But certain emotions can be used together with logic to get people to start seeing things from a different perspective. For example, consider trying to get a white person to care more about racial equality. This person has strong views about gender equality. Knowing this you can break down gender equality as it being about people mistreating other people. Men mistreating women, women mistreating men and then also, people in power mistreating people without power. Then, logically, once you have their attention, you can start introducing the fact that people with power could actually be used to describe white people and the people they mistreat without power are actually people of colour. Since you have drawn comparisons to gender equality which the person is passionate about, their empathy may allow them to see your argument as well. 

Emotions will always be a stronger force than logic. Therefore, it is important to know how to use emotions to reinforce logic and strengthen our arguments or ideas. In doing so, we can give others a new perspective or view of things that they would not otherwise think about. It expands everyone’s thinking which is an excellent benefit to everyone.

The key takeaway from The Art of Logic is:

In this day and age, it is imperative that we use logic to clarify the ideas that surround us. We need to be able to ask questions to get to the truth. It is easy to get caught up in emotion as we are human but the trick is to remain logical. Arguments can always go in the wrong direction if we are too caught up in emotion. That’s why it’s sometimes very easy to forget why you were fighting about something in the first place. By using logic, you get to dissect arguments carefully and only hold on to the real issue, forgetting the irrelevant stuff. Logic will expand your thinking by pushing you to consider others viewpoints. You just have to always remember to take a step back and ask ‘why?’.

How can I implement the lessons learned in The Art of Logic:

Never be afraid to ask why. The more you question, the more possibilities you have to make a logical deduction and expand your understanding of a person. The other thing which you can implement is changing the way you speak to avoid making sweeping statements without considering anyone else. Use words that allow room for movement, like ‘probably’ and ‘in my opinion’. This will allow others to be more receptive to your views and less defensive.

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