I interviewed Dr. Deborah Bennett, author of Logic Made Easy, via email. Our discussion follows.
1. How did you first become interested in logic, and why do many people find it difficult?
I first became interested in logic as a child, when my father used to bring logic puzzles to the dinner table. The whole family discussed them and tried to solve them. To this day, my brother, sister and I still love puzzles.
I believe that many people find logic difficult for several reasons. First, untangling a puzzle or argument like those found on the LSAT requires tenacity. Indeed, most people give up. Whereas some of us think it is fun, most people stop listening or reading the details, throwing up their hands in frustration. Secondly, being logical requires understanding a vocabulary in a certain way, and by certain rules. Yet, those rules do not necessarily follow the ordinary rules of language that we grew up learning and hear and use every day.
2. In your book, you clearly lay out several laws of logic and common fallacies that the LSAT tests. Did you write Logic Made Easy with LSAT preparation in mind?
I did not write Logic Made Easy with the LSAT in mind, but I did have the law in mind as one of those professions in which an understanding of logic was crucial. Attorneys need to be logical in reading and interpreting legal issues, but they may also have to educate a jury in logic when arguing a point.
3. Do we really need to be logical all the time? Can’t machines do that for us?
In the same way that we don’t need to use standard English all of the time, we need not be logical all of the time. Our friends and family know us in ways that others don’t, and we communicate with them in ways that are comfortable for us. However, with the wider world it is important to think logically and speak logically. Machines can’t be logical for us. In fact, we need logic to program and run the machines.
4. Why are people so imprecise with language in ordinary conversation? How can we improve our logic in everyday life?
Many people are imprecise in their use of ordinary language. The rules of conversation allow for the listener to supply information. In fact, it is a compliment to the listener for the speaker to assume that not all information is necessary. If we are conversing, the more information I assume you know the more flattered you will be. At the other extreme, if I explain every detail necessary to be perfectly unambiguous you might be insulted that I am patronizing or pedantic—even talking down to you.
I believe that we can improve our logic in everyday life. We can improve our language and logic by thinking critically about everything we hear, read, write, and say. We should ask ourselves what language means and try not to read our own meaning into it. We should ask not only what a sentence says but also what the sentence does not say. By thinking about the logic of the language of others, our own language should become more precise.
Deborah Bennett is the author of Logic Made Easy: How to Know When Language Deceives You (W. W. Norton 2004) and Randomness (Harvard University Press 1998). She is a Professor of Mathematics at New Jersey City University and loves bridge, crossword puzzles, and Su Doku, as well as logic puzzles of all types. Dr. Bennett is happily married to actor/composer, Michael Hirsch.