Logic Works?

I can hardly complain about people adding unnecessarily to the over-supply of introductory logic books, having done it myself. But here’s yet another one, Logic Works: A Rigorous Introduction to Formal Logic by Lorne Falkenstein, Scott Stapleford and Molly Kao (published just six months ago by Routledge). I’ve been asked what I think of it. Having now taken a look at the book, I’ll save you the trouble of doing the same. It’s pretty bad. Not that I’ve struggled through all 645 pages. But you’ll forgive me that: life is short and patience limited.

That’s a strange subtitle, no? As if introductions to formal logic aren’t usually rigorous. Or at least, as rigorous as they need to be — and as they say, “sufficient unto the day is the rigour thereof”. You might be tempted to worry, then, that a book that especially advertises itself as “rigorous” is likely to be unnecessarily laboured. You’d be right. And actually it is worse than that. It’s not just heavy-handed in explaining the technicalities, but quite generally the long-winded prose is depressingly clotted and terminally uninviting. I pity the poor students who have this inflicted on them!

Two sample episodes. Chapter 6 presents a Fitch-style deduction system for propositional logic. Good choice (though the system isn’t as streamlined as it could be). But the authors plod through a turgid presentation, without zip and zest, making very heavy going of things. It is really pretty difficult to imagine a reader coming to appreciate that by doing things Fitch-style we can arrive at a really rather elegant, natural, and highly user-friendly system. Things aren’t helped by the printed pages being a typographical mess. 

The same applies in spades to the grimly laborious chapters introducing the language of predicate logic. Who would ever guess from these longueurs that the beautiful and compelling basic idea of a quantifier/variable notation for expressions of generality is so very neat and attractive once explained that it can be introduced well enough to convey a reading knowledge to any beginning mathematics student in half a lecture? (I was surprised to see that one of the authors does have some mathematical background — yet the writing throughout gives no sense of the aesthetic attractions of rigorous mathematical ideas.)

I could go into more detail, but I won’t. A rather depressing read, then, which I can’t recommend at all. If you want a good introduction to formal logic which also ranges quite widely, I’d stick to Nick Smith’s!

[Added And see Phil’s comment!]

2 thoughts on “Logic Works?”

  1. Fate had it for me that, during my PhD, I would be a TA in the first author’s introductory course to logic. The class was based on what were at the time the early drafts of this book. It was actually a valuable lesson for me (as the only tutor of the class) but from the reverse: how *not* to (never!) teach introductory logic.
    As a math- and logic-phobic during my early master’s years, I had finally come to appreciate and admire (and actually love!) logic through your two gems (IFL and IGT, each one read twice, cover to cover). And then, a fate worse than death turned all the fun of doing logic to an endless boredom (fortunately for only one year), by being forced to read the drafts of this book and help students cope with their weekly assignments.

    So regarding what you wrote: “I pity the poor students who have this inflicted on them!” Oh yes; apart from the very few ones who excelled in the class (and would excel anyway and probably with any kind of textbook), I still remember the struggles written in the faces of most of the others. But, please, while pitying those students, spare a thought also for the poor graduate students who are the Teaching Assistants of these classes.

  2. Dear Peter, thanks so much for this review. Unfortunately I had already bought the book, according to the adagium in your splendid introduction to read more than one. I have yours, the Other Smith and this new one (and other better ones than Logic Works).
    Thanks for all your time. Unfortunately I can not send it back, because it’s impossible after a month. And what bugs me too is that the answers are apparently only voor Mac (MACOSX) and the file refuses to open. So I have to get to Routledge to ask how I can get the anwers. Logic works? Computers not and Routledge neither.

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