Three Reasons We Should Care about Logic According to Isaac Watts

imagesThe great English theologian and hymn writer Isaac Watts is best known for classics such as “Joy to the World” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Lesser known is that Watts was one of the premier logicians of his day. He wrote a text in logic that became the standard text at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale for well over 100 years. In the introduction to his Logic: The Right use of Reason in the Inquiry after Truth Watts provides three reasons why we should care about logic. These reasons are as relevant today as they were in 1724. Dare I say, they carry even more relevance today in a culture focused on image, overrun with anti-intellectualism, and captivated by mindless and constant attention to social media.

Logic, according to Watts, is “the art of using Reason well in our inquiries after truth, and the communication of it to others.”[1] It is a “noble science” that “offers an humble assistance to divine revelation.”[2] Moreover, the “pursuit and acquisition of truth is of infinite concern to mankind” in which “our wisdom, prudence, and piety, our present conduct, and our future hope are all influenced by the use of our rational powers in the search after truth.”[3] Watts saw clearly what has become clouded in our day and age: the use of reason is critical to a well-lived life. Logic is important. Logic helps me to follow an argument to its proper conclusion—whether it is about eating that Twinkie or the morality of same sex marriage or God’s existence. Watts offers the following three reasons why we should care about logic.

First, logic helps unearth truths that are hidden. As the ancients put it: Veritas in puteo, or “Truth lies in a well.” In other words, often the nature of things is hidden to us. It is logic that “suppl[ies] us with steps whereby we may go down to reach the water up from the bottom: or it frames the links of a chain, whereby we may draw the water up from the bottom.”[4]

Second, logic helps move beyond appearance to reality. Watts notes that appearance doesn’t always conform to reality: the sun appears to be a flat plate, the moon appears to be as big as the sun; wickedness is often clothed in beauty, and so on. “Logic helps us to strip off the outward disguise of things, and to behold them and judge of them in their own nature.”[5]

Third, logic strengthens our feeble minds. All men are gifted with a rational nature. In this way, men are higher than the beasts. However, in our feeble and frail state—as well as our fallen state—man is prone to draw incorrect inferences, to be deceived by our senses, and to unknowingly adopt the customs and prejudices of the times, forming “a thousand judgments before our reason is mature.”[6] The cultivation of logic is necessary, according to Watts, “to guard us against the delusive influences of our meaner powers, to cure the mistakes of immature judgments, and to raise us in some measure from the ruins of our fall.”[7]

Do you want to be a better thinker? Do you want to flourish and live well? Then become acquainted with some basic logic. Begin to cultivate your mind. Question the claims of others. Investigate some aspect of God or the world that you find interesting. As you cultivate intellectual virtue, you find truth. You will also, if faithfully followed, find the source of all truth—the God who creates, sustains, and lovingly cares for all things—including our minds.

For Watts the worship of God and the contemplation of God work hand in hand. May we all, by cultivating our reasoning capacities, learn to survey the wondrous cross and find true Joy in Christ—who stands supreme as the source of all things, including logic.

For a nice primer on logic, I recommend (in addition to Watt’s book) Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic. For a fun introduction to some basic concepts in logic (including set theory and probability theory), I recommend David Papineau’s Philosophical Devices.













[1] Isaac Watts, Logic: The Right Use of Reason In The Inquiry After Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2013), 1.

[2] Ibid., iii.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 3.

[6] Ibid., 3-4.

[7] Ibid., 4.

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