Hinterlogics Explained (Sort of)

Hinterlogics grew out of my own disatisfaction with the examples used in logic textbooks. On the one hand, they are often filled with examples of argumentation that are simply made up to illustrate a point. On other hand, the real examples used in my textbooks often have so little to do with the lives and interests of my own students that it is difficult to muster an argument as to why they should care. Admittedly, my teaching locations may have something to do with this. I have taught an introduction to logical and practical reasoning at Diné College on the Navajo Nation and again here on the North Slope of Alaska. These tribal colleges present unique challenges, not the least of them being students whose interests may diverge considerably from those of mainstream college students. Just the same, I don’t this problem is entirely unique to my own classes.

College Freshmen everywhere encounter examples of logic such as the classic “All men are mortal…” and they have got to wonder why on earth they should give a damn about any class that begins with such trite material. Later encounters with John Locke, Epictetus, and sundry academic arguments will probably do little help matters. For this reason, I wanted to compile my own list of sample arguments to be selected with a view towards matching the experience and interests of students in a particular classroom. In my case, those experiences and interests reflect something about life on the edge of civilization (literally). Hence, the name of the blog.

For the present I will be looking mainly for examples of interest to students at Iḷisaġvik College. That means indigenous issues (and particularly those of Native Americans or Alaska Natives) will be a common theme, as will hunting and other issues affecting life in rural Alaska. Occasionally, I’ll throw in arguments that just get my attention. Hell, I may even add many of the conventional arguments from regular textbooks. The point is that with a searchable data-base, the examples used in any given lesson can be adapted to the students in the classroom.

Each standard entry in Hinterlogics will begin with a brief account of the background information to help students gather the main point of the argument along with a text presenting a key example for use in a logical or critical thinking exercise. I am currently following this up with analysis using a informal (natural language) approach very similar to that of Stephen Thomas. This approach may seem a bit fuzzy for logic, but it has its advantages. I’ve tried to design the entries so that the text and its introduction can be lifted straight off the page without including subsequent analysis. Also, there is nothing definitive about my efforts to pick apart these arguments. I’m definitely open to alternative perspectives. Right now I am still exploring the topics and enjoying the chance to push the envelope with this approach to critical thinking.

I’ve arranged the entries into thematic categories such as Native Americans, movies, pop-culture etc. I am using tags to mark the recurrent themes in logic and related problems appearing in each argument example. If you are looking for an example that contains False Alternatives, just click the relevant tag on the right side of the page and it should bring some up for you. …at least I hope that’s how it will work.

Readers will note that I have included a number of themes such as voicing or dialectics not normally included in an introductory study of logic. I am also interested in getting a handle on the contextualization of arguments in real world communication. I think most logic texts and most logic classes assume certain norms of communication and they basically shoehorn their examples into the necessary model for purposes of critical inquiry. A great deal of poetics and social interaction thus gets set to the side. In time students will be encouraged to accept the normative assumptions of logical analysis and get on with what counts as rational inquiry.

Logic texts typically cherry pick examples (or make them up) to make this focus on rational argumentation easier. Instances in which rational presentation may compete with alternative norms are minimized and/or those norms are simply ignored for purposes of logical analysis. At least part of my interest here lies in unpacking that process and exploring the way that reasoning interacts with other aspects of social life.  I am of course cherry picking the arguments myself, but I’m not always picking the most perfect cherries.

Yes, I over-extended that metaphor. That’s just how I roll.

Note: I wouldn’t claim any particular expertise in this field, and it’s been a long time since I have done any symbolic logic. I am open to any criticism or revisions readers may care to offer. I will for the present incorporate changes directly into the text as I regard each entry here as a working document.

Note 2: The standard entries are intended to include a section that can be lifted straight out and used as part of a homework assignment. For this purposes, one would wish to leave out everything after ‘ANALYSIS’.


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