Logic for Philosophy

July 1, 2008

I’ve just stumbled across this this very promising draft book from Ted Sider.

I was reading the preface, and it got me thinking how little logic gets taught in the average undergraduate course. What struck me as really crazy, though, is the kind of logic that gets taught. Sure, propositional and predicate logic is usually mandatory. But other than that, there is generally very little logic offered that go further than that, and if there is, it will generally be in mathematical logic (that is, model theory, proof theory, set theory, recursion theory.)

For example, my undergraduate degree was in maths and philosophy – a degree, one would have thought, that would have a better chance than most of offering further philosophical logic courses. But by the time I had finished, I hadn’t once been formally taught modal logic, intuitionistic logic, second order logic… even a bit type theory or lambda calculus would have been useful for doing philosophical semantics. If I did come across them, it would be in papers where it was expected that the reader was familiar with such things. Contrast this with computer science, on the other hand, where all of these topics are covered in dedicated courses. (They’re obviously not all mandatory, but at least they have the option of taking them!) They even have a course solely on epistemic logic! How is it the computer scientists are doing more philosophical logic than us?



  1. Maybe things are different where you did your undergrad, but it seemed like most philosophy undergrads aren’t that interested in taking courses in the various areas of logic you mentioned. Computer scientists and linguists, on the other hand, have a lot of use for epistemic logic or the lambda calculus. It would do some of the philosophy undergrads good to learn some of these things depending on their interests, but the ones that are interested can usually pick it up from the departments that teach it. Grad students need more usually and from my experience there are a few more logic classes taught at the graduate level.

    In many of the logic classes I took as an undergrad, a fair few of the students were from the computer science department. One of my previous logic teachers, a big name in modal logic, said that if you really wanted to do logic, go into computer science because they are doing the really interesting stuff and are getting lots of money to do it.

  2. […] glance through the draft yet but the idea is good. Logic is something I hear a lot of philosophers complaining about not being taught […]

  3. It is pretty key to being able to read a lot of philosophical papers. It’s a shame how often I hear folks groaning about poor logic training in their undergrad degrees.

    I’ve only glanced through the book but it looks quite good and concise. No mention of Peirce sadly, although I can completely understand why. Sider is one of my favorite philosophers and it’s nice to see him doing something this useful.

  4. I’ve read through it a bit. As a textbook I think it has some big problems. The first is not having enough examples, solved problems or questions. Maybe that comes from thinking of it as a traditional philosophy text? It really ought be written more akin to a good undergraduate math or physics text in my opinion. I think with this kind of abstraction and symbolic manipulation you really need to provide multiple ways of learning the stuff. Otherwise it is a real struggle for students to pick up on it. (Based upon doing a lot of TA work in both physics and philosophy)

    It’s pretty thorough and as a brief introduction is good. I’m not sure I could use it as a text though.

  5. Hi Shawn,

    I think there are usually a fair few undergrads who are into that kind of thing. But even if there aren’t, that may probably be a symptom of undergrads not being interested in logic in general. Does that mean we shouldn’t offer logic courses at all? I don’t think you decide which courses to offer based on what undergrads think they need to know.

    But my main point is that when further logic is offered it isn’t in philosophical logic, but in mathematical logic. Sure, that’s important too. But counterfactual logic, modal logic, mereology etc… are *far* more applicable to the kind of philosophy an average undergrad would be doing (in particular, an undergrad whose not doing the philosophy of maths.)

    True, things change when you become a grad student. However, I think it’s becoming normal these days for people to think that if they weren’t taught it at undergrad, it’s not something you should be expected to know. Add to that the feeling a lot of people have that logic is hard; the disadvantage of not having an undergraduate background in it really deters.

  6. I am an undergrad who loves logic, but, as you said, I’ve only taken de introductory courses and some mathematical logic courses (and they were absolutely basic).

    I did have luck because my first logic teacher taught me some modal, but that would be modal logic for dummies (this course was also taken by journalist, sociologist and some other undergrad programs which weren’t really happy with the topic).

    I have some other problems. First, in my country, you won’t find the computer science courses you are talking about that easily (mainly because the government wants workers, not scientists or thinkers). And now, I really want to get into a graduate program of logic… Could I do it? I mean, it’s quite hard to try and get to understand everything by your self…

    I think you were lucky if you could at least assist to some of those courses of computer science.

    That’s all I have to say, I just fell in love with your blog, and sorry if I made any mistakes, my English is not in it’s best shape latelly…

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