By Nathan Watson, Opinions Editor
In Woody Allen’s 1975 comedy “Love and Death,” the main character, Boris Grushenko, tries his hand at a famous argument, called a syllogism but comically butchers it: “A: Socrates is a man; B: All men are mortal; C: Therefore, all men are Socrates.” Now, obviously, not all men are Socrates and, thus, Grushenko’s argument is not very convincing. The problem is that his conclusion, “All men are Socrates,” does not follow logically from his two premises, “Socrates is a man” and “All men are mortal.” The task of formal logic is to study such relations between premises and conclusions, learning along the way how arguments are structured.
Sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, as Steve Jovanovic, graduate student, philosophy, notes, classes in formal logic are notoriously difficult and experience some of the highest failure rates.
“[Logic] is like nothing you have ever done before, so it is a whole different thing to wrap your head around,” confirmed Ashley Westbrook, senior, political science. Westbrook decided to enroll in Formal Logic, a 3000-level course in the Philosophy Department, to prepare for the LSAT. So far, she has found the course challenging and sought Jovanovic’s help.
Jovanovic, along with Patrick Bajier, senior, philosophy, is a tutor in logic at the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ Writing and Math Center, located in room 222 of the Social Science Building (SSB). Available by appointment, one of the two (or both) can usually be found tucked away in the back of the Writing Center, working with students struggling to complete a homework assignment or study for an upcoming test.
The philosophy department started offering tutoring in formal logic five years ago with the help of the Access to Success (A2S) program. The need became apparent when a large number of students demonstrated difficulty even passing PHIL 1160, Critical Thinking, and PHIL 3360, Formal Logic. “For about half of the students in these courses, the formal systems are relatively transparent and so they find the material easy enough, while the other half find formal systems opaque and so, at least initially, the material can be daunting,” said Dr. Jon McGinnis, Chair of the Department of Philosophy. “Clearly just expecting students to get it was not enough, so when the department learned about the A2S funds, we jumped at the opportunity to try anything to help those students who find logic more challenging,” he added.
The department evidently put the funds to good use, with notable increases in student success following the implementation of tutoring services. “What we have seen is a progressive and significant increase in the number of students availing themselves of the logic tutors, such that last semester over 25 students visited them more than 110 times with about a 90% student success rate,” McGinnis explained. This is a significant achievement for a course subject in which it is not unusual to see nearly half of students attain low Cs, Ds, and Fs.
Jovanovic started studying philosophy at UMSL a year ago after working and studying in engineering, business, and clinical psychology. “I have loved philosophy since I was a little kid,” explained Jovanovic. Coincidentally, Bajier was Jovanovic’s tutor when he took formal logic.
As for Bajier, this is his second year at UMSL following a start at St. Louis Community College-Meramec. Although he originally anticipated majoring in English, it only took two courses—one in Philosophy of Religion and one in Logic—to convince him to study philosophy. Now his views on the importance of logic (and philosophy in general) are definitively positive: “[Logic] is a valuable tool for everyone. It pervades everywhere.”
One of the most beneficial consequences of studying logic, Bajier and Jovanovic both agree, is that it helps us see all the ways in which language can get in the way of communication, rather than facilitate it. “If you study logic, you find a lot of ambiguities in [less formal languages]. You see that it is very difficult to speak clearly,” Bajier explained. “Logic helps you see things clearly.”
There are also a number of practical applications for a proficiency in logic. “If you want to pass the LSAT, you should probably study logic,” Jovanovic added, citing the fact that philosophy majors routinely achieve some of the highest scores on both the LSAT and GRE. Alluding to his own career path, he also expressed a belief in the value of logic for the computer sciences and even healthcare. “[Logic] is conducive to computer programming. It is also useful for understanding the sometimes complex nature of electronic health records.”
Bajier and Jovanovic are particularly keen to emphasize that their services are not limited to helping with logic problems. “The great thing about this service is that it is not just for logic—it is for any help with philosophy,” Bajier explained. The two tutors welcome students seeking help for any philosophy problems, whether it be essays, difficult passages of text, or complex ideas.