Friday, March 15, 2013

Logical, Illogical and Non-logical

I have, from time to time, been accused of being “too logical”. I am reminded of this, having recently been watching a British comedian, by the name of David Mitchell, on TV. I think that he is very funny, but also, most noticeably, he is frighteningly clever and cuttingly logical. He is able to see immediately the logical flaws and inconsistencies in what others say.

I used two adjectives in the previous paragraph to describe David’s intellect. I said that he was frighteningly clever and cuttingly logical. Intelligence in another person frightens us. It intimidates us and makes us feel inferior. A defensive reaction in the face of this threat is often to belittle the importance of intelligence. “He is too clever by half.” “She is too smart for her own good.” If someone is gifted in a particular way in which I happen not to be, the safe tactic is to diminish the importance of that gift.

Logic is cutting in two senses. First, it cuts to the heart of the matter. Second, it cuts the ground from under us. Because of this it is also cutting in a third sense: it cuts through us. It can be very painful to have a cherished belief or idea sliced apart by logic.

Such cutting logic is sometimes appropriate and sometimes not. Statements are sometimes made that are not intended to be logical theses, and it is not appropriate to respond to them as if they were. The problem is, though, that some of these not-intended-to-be-logical statements are presented in the guise of logic. How is a logical person expected to know? Advice to logical person: assume a statement is not intended to be logical. In my experience, most statements are neither logical, nor intended to be, even when presented in the guise of logic. This includes my own oh-so-logical expositions too, by the way.

There is a difference between illogical statements and non-logical statements. This is an illogical statement: All criminals are human beings, therefore all human beings are criminals. Even if both claims in that statement were determined, empirically, to be true, the statement would remain illogical, because the “therefore” does not hold. This is a non-logical statement: I feel like shit today! I guess the difficulty arises when an illogical statement is made with a non-logical intent. No wonder communication is so difficult!

There is clearly a place in the word for quick, clean, logical thinking. Irrational beliefs and claims deserve to be challenged, although, perhaps, sensitively rather than cuttingly. More cuttingly if they claim to be rational. There is also clearly room in the world for the non-rational, which should never be challenged on rational grounds. The world is a richer place because of the abundance of the non-rational. My preference for one kind of food, or music or art is never rationally based. Any claim that it is should be challenged by rational logic.

As a final aside, I wish that I were half as clever, quick-witted and logical as David Mitchell.

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