Logic and Common Sense

I tend to associate the term logic with the idea of common sense, or practical sense. I assume that it takes basic knowledge or common sense to be able to break down a math problem, such as 5 times 5. As a student who progressed through both elementary as well as high school math courses, I know how to break this down. I count the number five, five times, and that is how I find the answer. But, to another individual who did not receive the same education as I did, this is not common sense. They may question why they must add up the number five, five separate times. Or, without me having learned the foundation of addition and multiplication in the first place, I, too, would have no idea what I am doing. Logic is way more complex than it is said to be; it is in fact not common sense.

The term logic, as defined by Lexico, is “Reasoning conducted or assessed according to strict principles of validity.” The term is well associated with a recent class discussion in which our class discussed a section of poems, entitled “(Logic)”, in Percival Everett’s re:f (gesture) anthology. While as a class we tried to break each poem down, piece by piece, I know I continued to struggle with figuring out how to interpret the words.

One of the readings in this section ignited the most confusion for me, as it is written, “Let us assume X./ Even such signs have/ some place, some/ language X./ Constituent parts/ compose this reality–/ molecules, atoms, simple/ X” (66). 

To start, there is no practical knowledge within these statements. I do not understand how my knowledge can apply specifically to, “Constituent parts/ compose this reality…”. What does this even mean? How is this logical in the sense that it is regarded as common sense? Then, there is the aspect that there is math written in the English language. Math and English are two completely different languages, each with different meanings and symbols. It says, “Let us assume X” which appears as the start of a mathematical equation or a statement written in words. But, aside from its linguistic structure, nothing about this reading actually makes sense or encompasses the foundation of the English language. How would I know what “molecules, atoms, simple / X” means without having previously studied that branch of science? This is not common sense.

The term sense, within the phrasing of common sense, according to Lexico, is “a way in which an expression or a situation can be interpreted; a meaning.” While in some regards this definition does live up to its expectations because in order to make sense of logic I must find meaning and make interpretations, in other ways it does not associate. When piecing together the terms common and sense, common means that it is something that is known or that many people tend to know, and sense is the meaning or interpretation. This essentially implies that common sense, even in logic, is known by everyone because of the fact that it is categorized as common sense. But doesn’t that accumulate more confusion for people who do not have a basis for this knowledge?

Last year I was in an Introduction to Logic class to fulfill a math credit since I preferred to take an “easier” class than one like calculus where I would be drained of all of my energy. I went into this class as a second semester freshman under the impression that there would be very limited brain work in this course. I had the saying “Logic is common sense” in my head, convincing me that I made the right choice to enroll and that I would receive an easy A. I could not have been more wrong. I would approximate that for 90% of the semester, I was completely unsure of what I was being taught. I would attend the Teacher Assistant hours during the week, overwhelmed by the continuous sequences on the board, trying my hardest to go back and understand the foundation of the work my class was doing. Logic requires understanding various formulas in order to break statements down. Logic includes knowing how to prove the validity or invalidity of mathematical statements, and to be able to interpret oddly shaped symbols.

One questionable validity or invalidity statement written on the board one day said, “Mr. Aarons is a wolf but also a professor.” How was I supposed to know how to interpret this or answer this? How does one go from having a prefix of mister, to identifying as an animal and then also a professor? How was I to infer whether this statement written in English was invalid while using math? And most importantly, how was I to prove that this was a logical statement when nothing that was written made sense or had the foundation for common sense?

My roommate, who was also in my class, stared at me with the most confused expression on her face. Neither of us knew what we were doing.

In light of both this course as well as Everett’s anthological section “(Logic)”, it can be explicitly said that logic is indeed not common sense. To succeed, an abundance of brain power is necessary, as well as outside mathematical knowledge.

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