Book Review: The Art of Reasoning by David Kelley

W. W. Norton & Company, 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110 • 1988 • 412 pages • $19.95 cloth

David Kelley’s new logic text, The Art of Reasoning, is “must” reading for those dedicated to advancing liberty.

Of course, logic supports freedom over statism no matter what text one relies on. But Kelley seems to understand the relationship between first principles and final policy conclusions somewhat better than many other philosophy professors. His exposition thus tends to be more informative than the usual textbook treatment, even while avoiding technical issues not really relevant to the needs of the typical student. (There’s nothing in here about truth tables, for instance, or about exactly how statisticians calculate probability variances.)

This is not to imply that the book, with one of its more gratifying exercises pitting F. A. Hayek against J. K. Galbraith, was written with a primarily political purpose in mind. As the author comments, “The value of these logical skills is not limited to political arguments. . . . In a philosophy class, the issue might be free will versus determinism; in literature, it might be different interpretations of Hamlet. Discussing these ideas means presenting reasons for or against them . . . . In our own personal lives, finally, we all have choices to make, major ones or minor, and here too we need to weigh the reasons on each side and to consider all the relevant issues.”

The reader who studies this text and absorbs its lessons will be admirably equipped. Kelley begins by sketching the nature of concepts, the building blocks of premises. Then he takes on many of the usual topics, including the nature of propositions and syllogisms, inductive reasoning, etc. His chapter on dissecting and diagramming arguments is particularly interesting and helpful. Here the reader learns to detect implicit, unspoken premises, and to analyze the criss-crossing arguments and counter-arguments of debates.

Chapters are interspersed with practice quizzes for which answers reside in the back of the book. For more detailed exercises there are no answers to turn to; the student gets practice in thinking entirely on his own. That’s fine, especially since the meaty sample arguments are drawn from a wide variety of intriguing con temporary and classical sources. Logic, it turns out, can be fun as well as relevant.

(Mr. Brown is a free-lance writer in Trenton, New Jersey.)