Logic, unlocked

Having logic just fall into place for me was a truly elating experience. Professor Harold said it that morning: “If my mind arrives at a truth, this gives happiness.”

Welcome to article 8 of a weekly series on the formation journey of Br. Josh, MIC, a second-year seminarian at the Marian House of Studies in Steubenville, Ohio. It is the continuation of Br. Josh's previous column, "Novice Notes." Watch for a new column every Friday.

By Br. Josh, MIC 

My Ethics teacher, Professor Harold, sat on his desk in front of the classroom, his legs dangling under him.  He was teaching us about Aristotle’s Nicomacean Ethics.  

He was explaining why Aristotle said pleasure can’t be people’s greatest good.  

The first reason was that we have no single faculty that provides pleasure.

“The second reason,” he went on, “is that pleasure follows from other things as an add-on, rather than being the main point of them.  For example, if I enjoy the sight of a beautiful landscape, that gives me happiness.  If my mind arrives at a truth, this gives happiness.”

A student sitting behind me said, “Or if I eat food, it nourishes my body.” 

“Excellent example,” Professor Harold agreed.

I listened as Professor Harold continued to elaborate his point, but a thought briefly passed through my mind when he mentioned the happiness of a mind reaching truth.  

“That doesn’t happen very often,” I thought to myself.

The day before, I had experienced some real mental frustration struggling with a logic system.  I knocked out all the problems using formulas but didn’t have time to memorize how and why it all worked the way it did.  When our professor asked us to graph the info in class, I was helpless.  

It was far from ideal.  It felt very unpleasant.

Attempting Art
After Ethics class ended, I settled myself down at a library table and pulled out my Logic textbook, The Art of Reasoning.  

Time to attempt a little “Art.”

I began to read through the next section, Venn Diagrams.

The previous day, I used Aristotle’s Traditional Square of Opposition to solve problems, but I didn’t understand the Square.  Memorizing it felt like it would involve a lot of drudgery.

Fortunately, I had more time to study than I did the day before.  Now, I was going to learn the Modern Square of Opposition.  It was based on the same structure and formulas as Aristotle’s, but I was relieved to notice that it looked a little simpler.  

I’m a highly visual person.  The Venn Diagrams displayed the Aristotelian logical structures in graphs, representing them in a way that made a lot of intuitive sense to my brain.  

I started noticing important parallels among the diagrams that would make for handy memorization tools.  

As I noticed the symmetry and went over visual diagram after visual diagram, seeing the logic play out in each one, the logical structure of them all suddenly CLICKED.

A thrill filled my heart, the thrill of knowing how this worked.  And, wonderfully, the insight covered not just how to use the Modern Square of Opposition but also the Traditional that I’d failed to learn the previous day.  Both made sense.

I’m a Humanities guy, so writing or literature are my thing, not logic.  Having logic just fall into place for me through the visual diagrams, and recognizing how to quickly and easily memorize both Squares, was a truly elating experience.  

Professor Harold said it that morning: “If my mind arrives at a truth, this gives happiness.”

Next article: "The First 'Why'?"
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