What is Logic?

St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

One can find many articles and videos in which men who identify themselves as “classical educators” or even “philosophers” provide very bad answers. If, however, they actually studied the writings of history’s masters, they would know that St. Thomas Aquinas already answered this question far more eloquently than any of them can, and if they were concerned with being good teachers, they would direct their students to the true sources rather than trying to draw them to themselves in hope of making money.

Catholic students are not dependent on any living men for answers to these important questions. They have all been answered by history’s wisest and best men, whose writings are their inheritance.

Here is St. Thomas Aquinas’ answer to the question “What is Logic?“, which all will see exposes the nonsense of the “classical educators” trying to sell their books today. This explanation is found in St. Thomas’ prologue to his commentary on Aristotle’s “Posterior Analytics”. You will see that, with a careful reading, no further explanation is necessary. Students should simply get to work studying the works St. Thomas names (links have been provided) rather than wasting time listening to men who merely distract them from real classical Catholic studies.

Logic, or the science of reasoning…is the art of the arts, because it directs us in the act of reasoning, from which all arts proceed.

Consequently one should view the parts of logic according to the diversity among the acts of reason.

Now there are three acts of the reason, the first two of which belong to reason regarded as an intellect.

1. One action of the intellect is the understanding of indivisible or uncomplex things, and according to this action it conceives what a thing is. And this operation is called by some the informing of the intellect, or representing by means of the intellect. To this operation of the reason is ordained the doctrine which Aristotle hands down in the book of Predicaments, or Categories.

2. The second operation of the intellect is its act of combining or dividing, in which the true or the false are for the first time present. And this act of reason is the subject of the doctrine which Aristotle hands down in the book entitled On Interpretation.

3. But the third act of the reason is concerned with that which is peculiar to reason, namely, to advance from one thing to another in such a way that through that which is known a man comes to a knowledge of the unknown. And this act is considered in the remaining books of logic.

It should be noted that the acts of reason are in a certain sense not unlike the acts of nature: hence so far as it can, art imitates nature.

Now in the acts of nature we observe a threefold diversity. For in some of them nature acts from necessity, i.e., in such a way that it cannot fail; in others, nature acts so as to succeed for the most part, although now and then it fails in its act. Hence in this latter case there must be a twofold act: one which succeeds in the majority of cases, as when from seed is generated a perfect animal; the other when nature fails in regard to what is appropriate to it, as when from seed something monstrous is generated owing to a defect in some principle.

These three are found also in the acts of the reason. For there is one process of reason which induces necessity, where it is not possible to fall short of the truth; and by such a process of reasoning the certainty of science is acquired. Again, there is a process of reason in which something true in most cases is concluded but without producing necessity. But the third process of reason is that in which reason fails to reach a truth because some principle which should have been observed in reasoning was defective.

1. Now the part of logic which is devoted to the first process is called the judicative part, because it leads to judgments possessed of the certitude of science. And because a certain and sure judgment touching effects cannot be obtained except by analyzing them into their first principles, this part is called analytical, i.e., resolvent. Furthermore, the certitude obtained by such an analysis of a judgment is derived either from the mere form of the syllogism—and to this is ordained the book of the Prior Analytics which treats of the syllogism as such—or from the matter along with the form, because the propositions employed are per se and necessary—and to this is ordained the book of the Posterior Analytics which is concerned with the demonstrative syllogism.

2. To the second process of reason another part of logic called investigative is devoted. For investigation is not always accompanied by certitude. Hence in order to have certitude a judgment must be formed, bearing on that which has been investigated. But just as in the works of nature which succeed in the majority of cases certain levels are achieved—because the stronger the power of nature the more rarely does it fail to achieve its effect—so too in that process of reason which is not accompanied by complete certitude certain levels are found accordingly as one approaches more or less to complete certitude. For although science is not obtained by this process of reason, nevertheless belief or opinion is sometimes achieved (on account of the provability of the propositions one starts with), because reason leans completely to one side of a contradiction but with fear concerning the other side. The Topics or dialectics is devoted to this. For the dialectical syllogism which Aristotle treats in the book of Topics proceeds from premises which are provable.

At times, however, belief or opinion is not altogether achieved, but suspicion is, because reason does not lean to one side of a contradiction unreservedly, although it is inclined more to one side than to the other. To this the Rhetoric is devoted. At other times a mere fancy inclines one to one side of a contradiction because of some representation, much as a man turns in disgust from certain food if it is described to him in terms of something disgusting. And to this is ordained the Poetics. For the poet’s task is to lead us to something virtuous by some excellent description. And all these pertain to the philosophy of the reason, for it belongs to reason to pass from one thing to another.

3. The third process of reasoning is served by that part of logic which is called sophistry, which Aristotle treats in the book On Sophistical Refutations.

St. Thomas Aquinas
Prologue to Commentary on Posterior Analytics
Translated by the Dominican Fathers

One reason I believe that the modern “experts” try to steer their students away from the writings of Aristotle and the commentaries of St. Thomas Aquinas is because this last part of the science of Reasoning will expose them.

In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, we study Aristotle’s works on the art and science of Reasoning and follow the interpretation of St. Thomas Aquinas. There is no need for anyone to pretend to be a teacher of these subjects because they’ve already been taught by history’s wisest and holiest men. We offer free access to these studies because we have received them freely and they are the inheritance of every Catholic student.

God bless your studies,
Mr. William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy

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