REVIEW: Logic by Vern Poythress

Poythress, Vern. Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.

The book is also available free in PDF format on the Frame-Poythress siteBLogicFinal_Page_001. (In my opinion, you should buy it and support Crossway (or join their Impact program with the money and print out the PDF).

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How do you review a book on logic? I took logic courses while getting my B.A. in philosophy in college and tutored in the same subject during that time. Despite my knowledge of the subject (and love for it), I still wondered: How do you review a book on logic? After receiving this book from Crossway to reviews nearly a year ago (sorry, Crossway- I’m the worst!), I have asked myself that repeatedly. There are a number of things that make a review of Logic difficult.

  1. This book is a magisterial work. It contains 733 pages of difficult logic teaching, as well as the deepest of “deep theology” both philosophical and Biblical.
  2. Logic is a complex subject and many things have to be covered at length to do the subject justice. Logic covers them all. Does it do it well?
  3. No one can read Logic in a single sitting. Even to read it in less than two or more months would be, it seems to me, a waste of time. This is a subject that takes a long time to learn. Truly, symbolic logic (SL hereafter) is a language in an of itself. There are new terms, new symbols, new ways of thinking. To learn it takes practice, discipline, and a certain amount of intellect.

With that said, I feel comfortable saying that Poythress’s book is not for everyone. Simply stated, Logic is not the book for the average churchgoer. For someone seeking to learn a great deal more about not just what to think (though they will get that), but also how to think, Logic is perfect.

How should this book be used is the real question. It’s not for everyone, clearly.

Not only that, however, I would say that this book is not necessarily even for those seeking to learn the basics of practical logic. Keep in mind that Poythress’s goal was not merely to have written a logic textbook; rather, he sought to write a philosophical approach to thought itself that is God-centered and done through logic. Poythress believes that secular logicians do not give accurate answers to the questions of the importance of logic and it’s relation to human life, neither do they give satisfactory limits or uses of logic (on the whole, that is. Of course they offer good uses in general). Poythress says (25):

We need a new approach to the subject—we need a distinctively Christian approach… Many would say no. They would say that logic is what it is, irrespective of religious belief. I think that the reality is more complicated. There is a Christian view of logic.

What follows thereafter is a discussion accessible enough to those willing to plumb the conversation’s depths with their full attention, but also a discussion distinguished enough to challenge many academicians and logicians. Poythress not only teaches the basics of informal and formal logic (syllogisms, truth tables, symbolization, etc.), he also give the theistic foundations each, which can be an especially helpful motivator to logic students everywhere. No doubt, many a logician has despaired in their studies at one point or another (this junk is hard!). These sections, however, are both brilliant and Biblical and ought to be great motivators to those trying to study to the glory of God.

Part I.B. “God in Logic” ought to be required reading for all who would study God’s place in the academy. Poythress’s discussion on Boolean Algebra (II.B.35) and Propositional Logic (II.C) are especially helpful. His discussion of Philosophy and Logic (IV.F) also ought to be required reading for those interested in Christian philosophy. Perhaps the shortcoming of this book is its lack of exercises. Though there are though-provoking and challenging questions at the end of each section, there are very few exercises. It is exercising one’s logical skills (particularly in SL) that makes a logician. In this regard, the book suffers a tad, and I would recommend supplementary texts, such as Elements of Deductive Inference or something of the sort to those who wish to use this book in teaching. For what it is—a Christian view of logic—this book is exceptional. For Christians in the field of philosophy and logic, this text ought to be celebrated, devoured, and regularly consulted. I would recommend it to all who are up to the task.

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