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Epistemology and Logic

Notes on Formal Logic

Notes on Dialectical Logic

Dialectics as a Method

Effects of Logic System in Everyday Life

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Epistemology and Logic

The subjects of Epistemology and Logic are considered by myself to be essential for a critical and open view of society and ourselves. So lets start with some bare-bones defintions of these two ideas.

To begin with...these ideas are often thought of as merely "philosophical" and therefore, rather esoteric. However, since I believe that difficult ideas still need to be dealt with if they are important ones, as I did in my classes, I will present them here straightforwardly and in "practical" terms. Why I feel this way will hopefully become clearer as I explain them.


Although there are varying definitions of this term, I will define it on two levels...a "formal" definition and then a "working" definition.

The Formal essence, a dictionary definition...would be:

The investigation of the...

1. origin,

2. nature,

3. methods...and

4. limits

of human knowing and knowledge.

As such epistemology is that branch of philosophy with investigates the conditions for knowing/creating knowledge.

The Working own working

The study of HOW we KNOW what we SAY we KNOW

As such I am interested primarily in #3 of the Formal definition...the methods (HOW) by which we come to know anything. Actually, I feel the other three areas are within the methods of knowing and would necessarily be touched upon by focusing on the methods.

Having defined epistemology this way, this leads to a consideration of:


In the broadest sense of the term, there is only one "method" by which knowing takes place...a LOGIC SYSTEM. So without refering to any particular logic system...nor any particular kind of "knowing"...I will again utilize "formal" and "working" defintions:

The Formal definition would be:

a SYSTEM of principles of reasoning utilized for inferring correctly and reliably in the process of knowing

As such this refers to an organized way of knowing that is applied to the raw phenomena of life

The Workingdefinition would be:

the method/mechanism/tools used to...

1. conceptualize,

2. name,

3. label,

4. describe...and

5. explain

reality (physical, mental, and social)

As such a logic system is a set of tools with which we "order" reality. These tools are not innate within us...but rather, are taught to us.

Effects of Logic System in Everyday Life

The following has been adapted from a Psychology textbook written by Zimbardo and Ruch...Psychology and Life, 9th Edition. Although not intended to be used in this way by these authors, I've felt since the first time I saw it that it reflected something important...and after a number of years of shuffling it from file to file, I finally realized that it represented the difference between the two major Logic Systems in least in the "western" world...Formal Logic and Dialectical Logic. I took the liberty of renaming it and utilizing it in my Introductory Sociology classes as a way for students to assess themselves...after hearing and studying my presentation of Epistemology and Logic (see link above).

I assign an Analysis Paper covering this table and the results have been very gratifying...students see the relevance of it to the lecture and handout materials as well as to how this seemingly esoteric material has relevance in their everyday lives.

The table lists ten (10) abilities or activities we all engage in...all the time. Each ability is then symbolized by the characteristics which roughly correspond to the Logic System primarily utilized in our thinking and behaving. While clear-cut placement of ourselves in one system or the other isn't always possible...many students realize they're a combination/synthesis of both...self-reflection upon these choices helps to highlight which logic system is which areas...and...where we might want to change how we approach and conceptualize our experiences.

So, I offer this material as a means of understanding ourselves a bit better. I make no claims for its definitive meaning...only that it points us in the direction of understanding why we think and do certain things in certain ways...that is, how the Logic System we use to name our world affects how we experience that very world.

Give it a try.


Formal Logic (leads us to)

--carry grudges,

--suffer from former conflicts and past traumatic events

--lose spontaneity of behavior because of commitments and obligations

--feel excessive remorse or sense of loss

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--profit from past mistakes

--develop and use complex concepts

--relate present to past

--distinquish novel events from previously experienced ones


Formal Logic (leads us to)

--fear change

--live in the past

--feel guilt

--dread an unknown future

--become anxious

--experience disappointments from unfulfilled expectations

--concentrate on past or future...ignoring the present

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--develop a history and sense of continuous self

--relate present behavior to the future

--distinquish between transience and permanence


Formal Logic (leads us to)

--form negative, crippling associations

--misperceive self or others

--develop stereotypic and delusional thinking

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--create, imagine events not experienced

--generalize from partial data

--construct theories/hypotheses


Formal Logic (leads us to)

--experience conflicts

--experience indecision

--suffer from inability to act when action is necessary

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--not be stimulus bound

--be independent (undependent)

--see ourselves as responsible agents

--hope, build for future


Formal Logic (leads us to)

--feel inadequate

--feel guilt for not living up to standards

--feel guilt for letting someone down

--feel constrained by obligations

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--take pride in accomplishments

--delay gratification

--undertake difficult or unpopular tasks

--be concerned about effects of our actions on others


Formal Logic (leads us to)

--fear failure

--suffer feelings of inadequacy

--be anxious about tests of our ability

--work for self-aggrandizement

--work to be "number one"

--work to beat others down

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--do work well

--set high standards

--gain benefits of hard work

--advance technologically

--use resources to meet our needs


Formal Logic (leads us to)

--sacrifice individual needs to group principles or rules

--torture, imprison, execute dissenters

--impose our own solutions on others

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--protect individual rights

--set up fair rules binding on all

--value equality of opportunity

--value equality of results


Formal Logic (leads us to)

--circulate and be prey to rumors and falsehoods

--conceal true feelings

--use "word magic"--curses, verbal derogation--to inflict harm

--mistake the symbol for the reality

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--communicate with others, present and absent, for information, comfort, pleasure, planning, social control


Formal Logic (leads us to)


--sacrifice integrity

--reject innovation

--stifle creativity in ourselves and others

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--follow group standards

--learn and transmit values

--cooperate, establish community

10. LOVE

Formal Logic (leads us to)

--become jealous, vengeful

--possessively limit another person's freedom

--become depressed and suicidal from loss of love

Dialectical Logic (enables us to)

--experience tender emotions

--nurture growth and independence of others

--support, encourage, comfort others

--feel wanted and special

Featured Sites

Dialectical Logic

by Leon Trotsky

Introduction to The ABC of Materialist Dialectics
by Rob Sewell

by John Pickard

Dialectical Logic
Evald Ilyenkov

The Neurocognitive Roots of Logic
(Both Formal and Dialectical)
(copyright 2002 C. J. Lofting)

Common Misconceptions About Argument

How the Language Really Works: The Fundamentals of Critical Reading and Effective Writing

Lesson Plans for Teachers using Rock and Roll songs
from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Articles on Critical Thinking

Suggestions for Critical Thinking in Sociology

Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum Project

Logic & Critical Thinking Page

Mission: Critical

Critical Thinking...Links

Pre-Logic, Formal Logic, Dialectical Logic

Alan Watts...On Being Aware
From...The Wisdom of Insecurity

Creative Problem-Solving

How We Confuse Symbols and Things

The Critical Thinking Community

The Myth of the Magical Scientific Method