Hinterlogics Explained (Sort of)

I began this blog with a vaguely academic interest, namely a concern with the way that logic and critical thinking are normally taught in introductory courses and explained in introductory textbooks. On one level, I knew an obscure blog by yet another internet know-it-all isn’t a great venue to solve this or any other problem really, but I do find this a pretty good place for me to meditate on the subject at any rate.

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, one whose value is at least a little bit more questionable if it can’t be made using a real life example. 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 about them at all. Additionally, I found myself taking more time to explain the subject matter and context of examples in my textbooks than I did to explain the logic in them. An example in physics might take 15 minutes before we could get to the logic of the example; one in economics would take another 10, and one from art might take who knows how long. All of this served as a great introduction to the great debates of western academics, but they took a lot of time for things other than logic and critical thinking, and at the end of the day, they didn’t mean too much to a lot of my own students.

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 sprinkled into my weekly assignments 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 people in my present location. 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 some of the conventional arguments from regular textbooks. Some examples are better than others, and since nobody seems to know about this blog, at least I don’t worry too much about students finding them. If they do, then maybe thinking they are getting by with something is as good a lure for homework as any I can think of. In any event, these are probably better for exercises than test material. It remains a source of examples I can pick through for my own class.

If anyone else finds any of this useful, then please be my guest!

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 of an argument 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 some advantages. I’ve tried to design the entries so that the text and its introduction can be lifted straight off the page and put it in an without the analysis.

There is nothing definitive about my efforts to pick apart these arguments. What I write here is tentative at best, and I’m not at all happy with my own analysis of some of the first few examples I posted here. It’s all a work in progress, but I do think it’s important to think through the examples here, and hitting “publish” seems to sharpen my sense of the work, so anyway…

I’ve arranged the entries into thematic categories such as Native Americans, movies, pop-culture etc. I am using WordPress tags to mark the recurrent themes in logic and related problems appearing in each argument example. Someone could find examples relevant to specific subject matter by clicking the “categories” and scrolling through them. Someone could find examples of specific themes in logical and critical thinking by clicking the relevant hashtag.

Readers will note that I have included a number of themes in the hashtags here such as #voicing or #dialectics not necessarily associated with 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, even though it interactions with reasoning in interesting ways. I’m interested in looking at the interplay between this kind of social interaction and the strictly descriptive communication functions which normally constitute the focus of logical analysis.

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.

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