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Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry after Truth Review by Patty Rebne

Isaac Watts
Soli Deo Gloria Publications
PO Box 451
Morgan, PA 15064

Yes, that Isaac Watts-the one who wrote some of the most poetical, expressive and devotional hymns in Christendom-is the author of this book. His own subtitle for the book is even more expansive than the one on the cover: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry after Truth with a Variety of Rules to Guard against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. The book was published in 1724 in response to a friend's repeated request for a text useful in learning or teaching the discipline of logical thinking.

This book is about Logic as the discipline of Reason. Watts states that the primary purpose of Logic is to be able to discern Truth, and that truth is objective and is worth pursuing in all disciplines - science, economics, philosophy and theology included. He says the Rules of Reasoning are to keep us from error, and from being "puffed up" with knowledge, argumentative or prideful. This book is about traditional Logic, word and not number-centric, which acknowledges objective truth and revealed knowledge. Modern Logic does neither of these. Readers committed to Modernism or Relativism will find Watts? book not to their tastes.

This book has so many heartening qualities. First, it is quite accessible. I expected it to be difficult to read, with all those 300-year-old words in it. But the writing is clear and to the point. Watts gives multiple concrete examples for every abstract idea, so those who think concretely have something to hold onto even in the most abstract sections.

The book is well ordered. Isn't it important proof of the author's ability to teach Logic, that he can present the subject logically? If my software would allow, I could draw a tree diagram from the table of contents that shows exactly what will be covered in this book. Watts has divided the book into four sections. The first gives the birds-eye view to the next three, which describe the three main progressions of Logical Reasoning. In each of these three sections, he gives another birds-eye view of the specific progression, and then he digs in for more detail.

Watts writes clearly and gives orderly structure to make the subject accessible. But do not expect it to be an Easy Reader. Logic is a difficult subject for most of us who are teaching our children. Most of us have never had a class in Logic. We have been surrounded for our entire lives by Relativism, by "whatever is true for you, Babe" as the ultimate truth. Even those of us who are "cradle Christians" are not exempt from this miasma: some churches teach that Reason is antithetical to Faith and as a result many Christians distrust the discipline of Reason, Logic. (Watts disagrees with this premise, by the way.) For these and other reasons, Logic is not an easy subject. Watt's book is a text book. It must be studied to be understood. It must be read with a pencil and a notebook. Think of this as a college course and attack it as such. I myself am not all the way through it, because I cannot skim it and do it justice, but I can't study it in time to become a knowledgeable and timely reviewer. That being said, I am confident that this book is worth my time and attention as I gain personal benefit and prepare to teach my son.

The book has a few weaknesses. It was written almost 300 years ago, and while the writing is lucid, words change meanings over time. One analogy that Watts repeats relates to a "bowl". The analogy holds true for a number of examples?until one about hitting the bowl with a bat. Then, and only then, did I realize that "bowl" meant "ball". The editor should have provided footnotes or explanations for archaic words and ideas. The book includes a number of misspellings; they were probably left in for "authenticity," but again, I say that the publishers would do better to edit this sort of thing for modern sensibilities. Don't let the "authenticity" get in the way of the meaning. The misspellings have no material impact on the meaning, but neither would correct spellings, so why not fix them, and let the reader maintain focus on the content? SDG (the publisher) will meet its own goals better by meeting the readers where they are, which is in the 21st Century.

It is obvious that Watts is a product of his times. This is not a bad thing as it gives us entry into life in another time, but the reader will do well to recognize this and not try to deconstruct Watts' claims and prejudices according to our own time. The subject matter holds up; the examples are sometimes outdated, but still understandable.

The book's ISBN is 1-57358-055-4. Ligonier's website tells about SDG publishing. Here is a condensation: SDG specializes in reprinting classic Puritan manuscripts. As a subdivision of Ligonier Ministries, SDG provides theological materials to help deepen and strengthen the life of the church.

-- Product Review by Patty Rebne, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February, 2006