Good introductory books on logic

Hey Qt3,

been wanting to start, slowy but surely, studying logic. Im in my last year of University, but by the looks of things, there will no course on logic this semester. Yet I have a lot of free time on my hands. So fire away! I have zero experience with logic, so the simpler the better. I just want a taste and then see if its for me or not.

Check out this dude’s earlier works

For super introductory logic, you could try Bonevac’s Deduction.

Although I technically own a copy & should disclaim that I did go to UT Austin for undergrad, I haven’t actually read it myself; but I heard the best word-of-mouth about that text among the several used. (I have actually read Susanna Epp’s Discrete Mathematics, which I can say is wonderfully easy to follow for beginners, but only the first section concerns basic logic.)

I taught myself basic symbolic logic from the introduction to Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica. I can safely advise anyone against this.

I bring this up not to amuse, but to segue into set theory from logic. It’s nearly as fundamental, and most introductory set theory texts teach you how to reason clearly just as well. In fact, set theory is usually classified under the branch of math known broadly as “logic”. [sic]

For traditional set theory, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Paul Halmos’s Naive Set Theory, which really isn’t. (ie it’s axiomatic)

For a somewhat unorthodox approach, & in the form of a dialogue, there is Donald Knuth’s wonderful Surreal Numbers, which may be the most exciting introduction to math generally that I’ve ever found.

Edit: I guess I should mention that I’ve intentionally ordered these books from easiest to hardest.
Edit2: Since it came up later in the thread, Surreal Numbers assumes little to no background in math. It becomes difficult as it goes along only due to the nature of its subject, not because it expects you to know that subject beforehand.

Do you mean logic as a part of discrete mathematics, that you would study in a maths or computer science course, or logic as a tool for analyzing non-mathematical arguments, as you would study in a philosophy course? How much mathematical background do you have?

(There isn’t actually a difference in the logic between departments. Sometimes the notation/vocabulary changes, but they all teach the basics of classical logic first.)

I have zero mathematical background and would like to learn logic to analyze non-mathematical arguments and just because I feel like it is something that I just ought to do. Thank you for the recommendations, I’ll start going through Deduction as soon as I find it in a library near me. I’ll keep the thread open so that people could discuss the recommandations and come up with new ones. Thanks for the great feedback so far!

Not sure what you mean by introductory. Could be any of:

  1. Working with propositional logic.

  2. Working with first order logic.

  3. First order logic proofs + Godel’s theorem proof.

1 and 2 are fairly easy stuff, but the first logic course in the Philosophy department probably includes 3, which requires some set theory… Once you get to the point of being able to prove first order compactness and completeness there are many books specifically on Godel’s theorem, starting with the old pamphlet by Nagel and Newman that I recall liking quite a bit, but I don’t know any good books on the first half of 3 offhand.

The ones Austin recommended mostly sound good, though. I haven’t read the Knuth suggestion, but is it perhaps a bit advanced?

For very practical uses of logic, not sure what your interest is, you might also consider what is likely to be a low numbered Electrical Engineering course or the corresponding textbook that will cover very grounded applications of logic like flip-flops and gates, binary arithmetic implementations, and other elements of hardware. But that might be too computer-specific. That course won’t have any proofs to speak of, and will only use propositional logic, but it will do a lot more with 1s and 0s than the equivalent Philosophy department course which will pass quickly and lightly over truth tables in order to get to proofs using set-theory.

Edit: Here’s the link to the Nagel&Newman book, in case anyone is interested.

+1,000,000 :)

Oh sorry, didn’t see this. Zero mathematical background means you will have difficulty just using a book to go through proofs, but I guess that’s not your interest anyway.

I fear you will be disappointed in trying to use symbolic logic to analyze arguments. That’s not really what it’s useful for. Without any math at all, it should still be easy for you to get a grip on propositional logic, but I don’t believe it will help much in untangling contracts or political arguments or things like that. Still, it should be an interesting little intellectual journey, not too arduous and easy to know when you’re done, and it’s not entirely useless in and of itself.

There’s a book called Logical Self-Defense, which talks about a number of fallacies and is very thorough in explaining its ideas.

I had the same idea as you awhile ago, and that’s the best book I’ve found. Let us know how this project goes – I feel there is more to learn.

I’ll try to start and share my experiences as soon as possible but all the books suggested in this thread are proving themselves to be very hard to find. Not much in the Kindle Store (at least regarding the books that , as I understood, were targeted at beginners) and nothing in my local libraries :/ .

Logic, understood as a subject, is just the abstraction of correct methods of thought. Learning a logic, here understood as one formal system among the many logics, helps you learn how to think clearly & correctly about something.

If you understand how correct reasoning works, it’s much easier to identify bad reasoning.

But as a subject matter, I agree that informal fallacies are a separate topic altogether.

Since you’re having trouble finding books, might I recommend as an introduction this horribly (or wonderfully?) quaint old piece called Love is a Fallacy.

There are also plenty of online resources dissecting horrible offenders of sound reasoning, such as Nixon’s Checkers speech, every other Hollywood documentary (eg Michael Moore movies), and everything in between.

Although I would view this as a distinct subject, studying a bit of formal logic certainly helps with informal reasoning, not least because it helps you clarify forms of argument, even if they’re informal forms of argument.