Logical Methods — on propositional logic

I have now had a chance to read the first part of Greg Restall and Shawn Sandefer’s Logical Methods, some 113 pages on propositional logic.

I enjoyed this well enough but I am, to be frank, a bit puzzled about the intended readership. The book’s Preface starts “Welcome to Logical Methods, an introduction to logic for philosophy students …”. And the text does indeed seem to start right from scratch. But Restall’s web-page for the book says “The text was developed through years of teaching intermediate (second-year) logic at the University of Melbourne.” While their Amazon blurb says “suitable for undergraduate courses and above.” Which suggests a rather unstable focus. And indeed, a significant amount of the material here, as we’ll see in a moment, is at what strikes me as a decidedly non-introductory level.

Certainly, things that can (and often should!) give pause to a philosophy student encountering formal logic for the first time are often skated over at speed. For example, when we do propositional logic, just what is the relation between the formal systems and our everyday inferences using the ordinary-language connectives? So, exactly what are these dratted “p”s and “q”s doing? On p.8 we are told that “declarative sentences express propositions”, and that we are going to be looking at propositional languages “where there are declarative sentences”. But then are also immediately told that our formal language is just designed “to express the forms of propositions combined with [the connectives]” (my emphasis). So do the “p”s and “q”s get interpretations as expressing propositions or not?

On p. 9 we are baldly told that “disjunctions will always be inclusive in this text” without a moment’s discussion of how things might or might not stand in ordinary language. And later, the much more vexed question of how the logician’s conditional might be related to the ordinary language conditional is relegated to a “challenge question” on p. 32. I wonder: if we don’t say rather more about the ordinary-language logical apparatus, how do we rack up a persuasive score sheet of the costs and benefits of various alternative formal choices? (Teachers using this book with real beginners might well be adding quite a bit of appropriate classroom chat on such matters as they go along — but I’m thinking here of a student reader taking the book “neat”.)

Again, the beginning reader is given just one worked example of a truth-table test for validity in action. And nothing is said e.g. about standard heuristics to speed things up (as in “you don’t need to work further on a line where the conclusion is true because that can’t give us a counterexample”) Yes, yes, of course truth-table testing complicated examples is as boring as heck. But surely(?) we do want our beginning students to be just a bit more au fait with how things can work out in practice.

So already, I’m not sure how well this is going to work with real beginners. But there are more serious worries. Restall and Sandefer advertise their book as presenting “proof construction on equal footing with model building” — but in fact that briskness over truth-tables is just one sign that their presentation is really skewed to emphasize proof-theoretic ideas. And so, long before we ever hear about the classical truth-functional interpretation of the connectives, we are tangling with why we might want detour-free proofs in a Gentzen-style natural deduction system. (By the way, much as though I like the elegance of Gentzen trees, I’m yet to be really persuaded that they trump Fitch-style proofs for introducing ND to students.)

And now, not only is the — I agree! — reasonably intuitive idea of a detour-free proof canvassed, but we actually get a full-on, ten-page, proof of normalizability for intuitionistic propositional logic (starting as early as p. 53 in the book). I honestly can’t imagine too many thinking that this is where they want their beginning philosophy students to be concentrating, so early in their logical encounters!

Now, I don’t want to carp, so let’s now recalibrate our expectations, and think of this as in fact a second-level text with some brisk reminders of the more elementary stuff. Then, on positive side, it can be said that the normalization proof and other parts of the discussion of Gentzen style ND are very accessibly done. So I can e.g. well foresee the relevant sections getting into the next edition of the Study Guide as warmly recommended reading on entry-level proof theory. But yes, for me at least, that is where this material really belongs, a step or two up from a first introductory text for philosophers. Call me old-fashioned!

I note that the text was typeset by the authors (and some of their aesthetic choices are a bit wonky!). But that does raise a question. I do wonder why, in 2023, since they have a nice PDF to hand, they have gone done the route of conventional publication when they could have got the book into so many more students’ hands by going down the free-PDF-plus-cheapo-print-on-demand route? Just saying.

3 thoughts on “Logical Methods — on propositional logic”

  1. I’ll (again) cast my lonely vote in favor of authors going beyond the free-PDF-plus-cheapo-print-on-demand route.

    1. “Cheapo”, as I flippantly put it, meant in price not and not necessarily in production quality. And I think your earlier animadversions about print-on-demand were based on seeing some bad quality POD publications. Fair enough. But the Amazon POD paperbacks of the Big Red Logic Books are, I still think, very acceptable and I’m pretty fussy about these things (have you seen a copy and been really disappointed?). And the hardbacks of two of them are printed by the same firm as now produces e.g. a lot of CUP books, and they are pretty decent. OK, not classically elegant, but attractive enough. And anyway, I don’t want people to get too attached to their physical copies (paperback or hardback), as there may be another edition along in just a while ….

      Yes, there’s a special pleasure in reading e.g. Jane Austen in an elegantly printed edition. But I guess I’m happy with more workaday production standards for logic books.

      1. I have a hardback copy of the 2nd edition of your _An Introduction to Formal Logic_ and a paperback copy of the 2nd edition of your _An Introduction to Godel’s Theorems_, and both of those seem quite well put-together. If they’re POD, I’m surprised.

        Bad PODs are not just a thing of the past, unfortunately. My copy of _The New Era in American Mathematics_ was published last year by Princeton University Press, and the text is gray and the figures are muddy. I certainly could have printed that more clearly on my cheapo personal printer. Reviews of early copies of Needham’s _Visual Differential Geometry and Forms_, also published recently by Princeton University Press, spoke very negatively about the quality of the printing and binding.

        I’m very glad that Sheldon Axler insisted that Springer publish his two most recent texts the old-fashioned way. The clarity of printing really does make a difference.

        I inspect most new LoC QA books that arrive in our campus library, and some of the PODs are still quite bad.

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