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School in a Book: Basic Logic and Rhetoric

Everyone loves winning an argument. Actually, everyone just loves an argument. It’s stimulating. Challenging. Energetic. If you want to argue better, or just be better able to discriminate between arguments, logic studies will help–a lot. Just keep in mind that once you learn this stuff, it’s hard not to get a bit snobbish about it; I recommend you flavor your powers of logic with tact.

Important note: Many logical fallacies are known by more than one name. I’ve attempted to use the most common in my list, but if you rely too much on memorization, you won’t always recognize other people’s terms. More important, you’ll miss the point.

Finally, a quote to consider: “One and one cannot become two, since neither becomes two.”– Gongsun Long, Chinese logician (c. 325–250 BCE)

I think that pretty much says it all.

Basic Logic and Rhetoric

Logic: The set of rules that guides the formation of valid arguments and tests argumentative conclusions for validity.
Rhetoric: The art of persuasion

Practical uses for logic: Ethics, politics, computer programming, writing and any situation in which arguments are posited, questioned and defended.

An argument: A defense of an opinion or position. Arguments can be logical or rhetorical. Logical arguments are those which determine whether a particular statement is true or false. Rhetorical arguments are those which attempt to persuade a person or audience that a particular statement is true or false, regardless of whether it actually is true or false.

Premise: An idea upon which other ideas in an argument rely.

Logical form: The formula that an argument uses to arise at its conclusion. Example: All A’s are B’s and all B’s are C’s; therefore, all A’s are C’s.

Valid: Logically correct. Example: All zebras are mammals and all mammals are ugly; therefore, all zebras are ugly.

True: Actually correct. Example: All zebras are mammals and all mammals drink their mothers’ milk; therefore, all zebras drink mothers’ milk.

Rational/sound: Logical, valid and true

How to analyze an argument for soundness: First, notice whether or not the form of the argument makes sense. Does the conclusion follow from the premises? If not, you likely have a formal fallacy on your hands. As a beginning logician, don’t spend too much time figuring out the name of the fallacy; instead, point out the problem and say something like, “The conclusion doesn’t follow the premises.” Step two is to notice whether or not the statements made in the argument are true; if not, there is an informal fallacy. You should be able to identify all ad hominem fallacies and name them as such. You should also be able to call out these fallacies by name: the fallacy of equivocation; the slippery slope fallacy; the poisoning the well fallacy; the straw man fallacy; the appeals to emotion, fear, pity, ridicule and the like; and the appeals to tradition, authority, and popularity. Other fallacies can simply be identified as such, and often, this is enough.

Semantics: The meanings of words. These can often be problematic and unstable, which contributes to illogic.

Inference: A true or false conclusion in the form of “A, therefore, B.”

Implication: A true or false conclusion in the form of “If A, then B.”

Deductive reasoning: Deducing a specific fact from a general principle

Inductive reasoning: Arriving at a general principle from a specific fact or case

Analysis: Deconstructing part-by-part to find deeper meaning

Synthesis: Putting parts together to find deeper meaning

A posteriori: Not known to be valid or true except through observation and experience

A priori: Known to be valid or true by reason alone

History of the study of logic: Logic comes from the Greek word logos, originally meaning “the word” or “what is spoken”, but later meaning “thought” or “reason”. Aristotle was the first known proponent of formal logic, and since then, it has been applied to many scientific areas, including computer programming. Logic studies, though, normally refers to rhetorical logic.

Logical fallacy/non sequitur: A weakness in an argument, often hidden, that causes the conclusion to be invalid or untrue. Informal fallacies have to do with the content of the argument, and formal fallacies have to do with the form of the argument. (Non sequitur means “it does not follow.”)

Formal logical fallacy: A fallacy in the structure of the argument that causes the argument to be invalid, regardless of the content of the argument. Remember, just because an argument contains a fallacy doesn’t mean the conclusion isn’t true. It simply means that particular argument doesn’t prove it to be so.

Informal logical fallacy: A fallacy in the content of the argument. Most often, informal logical fallacies are simple distractions from the actual argument. They point to external ideas or the opponent’s personality and the like. Literally any distraction from the validity of the argument itself can be an informal logical fallacy. Don’t memorize the names–just understand the problem with them in the collective. (For a ridiculously long list, see Wikipedia’s list of logical fallacies.)

Common Formal Logical Fallacies

The affirming the consequent fallacy: An argument that states “If A, then B; B, therefore A.” Example: “If Fred killed Todd, Fred is angry. Fred is angry, therefore, Fred killed Todd.”

The denying the antecedent fallacy: An argument that states, “If A, then B; not A, therefore not B.” Example: “If Fred killed Todd, then he hated him. Fred didn’t kill Todd. Therefore, he didn’t hate him.

The affirming a disjunct fallacy: An argument that states, “A is true or B is true. B is true. Therefore, A is not true.” In fact, both could be true.

The denying a conjunct fallacy: An argument that states that “It is not the case that both A is true and B is true. B is not true. Therefore, A is true.” In fact, both could be false.

Fallacy of the undistributed middle: An argument that states that “All Zs are Bs. Y is a B. Therefore, Y is a Z.” One must first prove that all Bs are Zs.

Common Informal Logical Fallacies

Ad hominem (“to the man”) fallacy: An argument that relies on attacking the arguer instead of the argument. This is really a category of fallacies which includes the appeal to authority/expert fallacy and the opposite of this, the courtier fallacy (which attacks the opposition’s knowledge, credentials or training).

The equivocation fallacy: An argument that relies onthe misleading use of a term with more than one meaning (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time).

The straw man fallacy: An argument that relies onan argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.

The slippery slope fallacy: A slippery slope argument (SSA), in logic, critical thinking, political rhetoric, and caselaw, is a logical fallacy in which a party asserts that a relatively small first step leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant (usually negative) effect.

The poisoning the well fallacy: A subtype of ad hominem presenting adverse information about a target person with the intention of discrediting everything that the target person says.

The appeal to emotion fallacy: An argument that relies on the manipulation of emotions. This is a general category that includes the appeal to threat fallacy, the appeal to fear fallacy, the appeal to flattery fallacy, the appeal to pity fallacy, the appeal to ridicule fallacy and more.

The false dilemma: An argument that relies ontwo alternative statements are held to be the only possible options when in reality there are more.

The circular reasoning/begging the question fallacy: An argument that relies on the presence of the conclusion within the premise in order to appear logical

The ad nauseam/ad infinitum fallacy: An argument that relies on mere repetition

The appeal to tradition fallacy: An argument that relies on a conclusion supported solely because it has long been held to be true.

The appeal to the people/bandwagon fallacy: An argument that relies on a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because a majority or many people believe it to be so.

The guilt by association and honor by association fallacies: Arguments that rely on the idea that because two things share some property, they are the same.

The red herring fallacy: A speaker attempts to distract an audience by deviating from the topic at hand by introducing a separate argument the speaker believes is easier to speak to. Argument given in response to another argument, which is irrelevant and draws attention away from the subject of argument.

The cherry picking fallacy: An argument that relies onact of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

The appeal to consequences fallacy: An argument that relies on describing the terrible things that would happen if the opponent’s position were true.

The appeal to motive fallacy: An argument that relies on attacking the motive of the opponent.

The tu quoque (“you too”) fallacy: An argument that relies on pointing out the hypocrisy of the opponent.

The etymological fallacy: reasoning that the original or historical meaning of a word or phrase is necessarily similar to its actual present-day usage.

The moving the goal posts/raising the bar fallacy: An argument that relies onargument in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded.

The survivorship bias fallacy: An argument that points to a small number of successes of a given process are actively promoted while completely ignoring a large number of failures

The false analogy fallacy: An argument that relies on an argument by analogy in which the analogy is poorly suited.

The hasty generalization: An argument that bases a broad conclusion on a small sample or the making of a determination without all of the information required to do so.

The oversimplification fallacy: An argument that relies on it is assumed that there is one, simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes.

The appeal to ignorance: An argument that relies on assuming that a claim is true because it has not been or cannot be proven false, or vice versa.

The pooh-pooh fallacy: An argument that relies on dismissing an argument perceived unworthy of serious consideration.

The moralistic fallacy: An argument that relies on assuming what ought to be true, is in fact true

School in a Book: World History Overview and Timeline

History isn’t hard. It’s just stories. Lots of stories. And remembering some dates is important, too. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to recall the approximate date for the beginning of the universe, or the invention of fire, or the first known appearance of Homo sapiens on the spot but could not. Knowing a few key dates is hugely important to your understanding of the world. It provides a framework that you can build on as needed. Below is that framework.

That said, I am not the world’s biggest fan of the timeline. Other than the basic one below, in this book historical terms and concepts are chunked into four broad categories instead: ancient history, the Middle Ages, early modern times and modern times. If you know which of these historical periods an event occurred in, you will have a “good enough” understanding of its context for casual conversation and application.

Note that many dates given here are approximate, tentative and rounded.

Basic World History Terminology

Prehistory: All history that took place prior to the first cities, civilizations, and writing. Prehistory ended around 10,000 BCE.

Recorded history: History that took place after the invention of writing. It began around 10,000 BCE and continues into the present.

The Stone Age: A general term for the prehistorical era after Homo sapiens began using stone tools (around 3000 BCE) and before they engaged in metal work in a widespread manner. The Stone Age encompasses the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras and ended at roughly the start of ancient times (3,000 BCE), when the Bronzeron Age began.

The Paleolithic Era: The historical era that began with the evolution of the species Homo sapiens in which these and other hominids primarily survived through big-game hunting.

The Mesolithic Era: The historical era between the Paleolithic Era and the Neolithic Era when humans lived a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribal lifestyle

The Neolithic Era: The historical era that began when humans discovered farming (around 10,000 BCE) and, with this location-stable food supply, began to settle into towns. The end of the Neolithic Era took place at approximately the beginning of ancient times (around 3,000 BCE).

The Bronze Age: The historical era that began when humans learned how to forge metal, particularly bronze, which was particularly useful in weaponry. The Bronze Age usually refers to ancient Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Egyptian history.

The Iron Age: The historical era that began when humans began replacing much of their bronze work with iron work instead. Iron allowed for lighter, cheaper weaponry, which resulted in a more widespread use of it and more battles.

Ancient history: The historical period from the beginning of recorded history (around 3,000 BCE) to the fall of the Roman Empire (around 500 CE).

The Middle Ages: The historical period from the fall of the Roman Empire (around 500 CE) to the discovery of the New World (around 1500 CE).

Early modern times: The historical period from the discovery of the new world (around 1500 CE) to 1900 CE.

The modern era: The historical period of the 1900s, marked by industrialism, globalism, rapid technological advancement and world war.

Outline of world eras: The terms Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, Paleolithic Era, Mesolithic Era and Neolithic Era are all very rough constructs. Since they’re defined by their technological developments, they took place at different times in different places of the world. However, a rough timeline is as follows:


  • Beginning of time, the earth and hominids (14 billion BCE to 3 million BCE)
  • The Stone Age (including the Paleolithic Era and the Mesolithic Era and the beginning of the Neolithic Era) (3 million BCE to 10,000 BCE)

Recorded history

  • The rest of the Neolithic Era (10,000 BCE to 3,000 BCE)
  • Ancient times (including the Bronze Age and the Iron Age) (3,000 BCE to 500 CE)
  • The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)
  • Early modern times (including the Colonial Period, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and more) (1500 CE to 1900 CE)
  • The modern era (the 1900s)

Basic World History Timeline

The Beginning of Time

14 billion BCE: The Big Bang occurred

4.5 billion BCE: The Earth formed

4 billion BCE: The first living organisms formed

3.5 billion BCE: LUCA, the last universal common ancestor, formed

7 million BCE: Hominids evolved

The Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras

3 million BCE: Homo sapients began using stone tools and the Paleolithic Era began

10,000 BCE: Farming began, the first towns were built and the Neolithic Era began

Ancient Times (3000 BCE to 500 CE)

3,000 BCE: Writing was invented and recorded history began

750 BCE: The first Greek city-states were founded

509 BCE: The Roman Republic was founded

356 BCE: Alexander the Great was born

250 BCE: The Mayas were at peak power in North America

46 BCE: Julius Caesar became the first dictator of Rome

4 CE: Jesus Christ was born

31 CE: Augustus Caesar (Octavian) established the Roman Empire

395 CE: The Byzantine Empire formed

476 CE: The Roman Empire fell

The Middle Ages (500 CE through 1500 CE)

618 CE: The Tang Dynasty ushered in China’s Golden Age

800 CE: Vikings began exploring and raiding

1095 CE: The first Crusade took place

1206 CE: Genghis Khan came to power in Mongolia

1300 CE: The Aztecs came to power in North America; the Ottoman Empire was founded in the Middle East

1350 CE: The Black Plague began

1450 CE: The Gutenberg Press went into use

1438 CE: The Incas came to power in South America

1453 CE: Constantinople fell, ending the Byzantine Empire

Early Modern Times (1500 CE through 1900 CE)

1492 CE: Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas

1500s CE: The colonization of South America began

1500 CE: The Ottman Empire was at its peak in and past the Middle East

1502 CE: Amerigo Vespucci landed in South America and created the first map of the New World

1517 CE: Martin Luther King nailed his “97 Theses” to a church door and started the Protestant Reformation

1600s CE: The colonization of North America began

1603 CE: The Edo Period began in Japan

1620 CE: The Pilgrims settled Plymouth Colony

1698 CE: The steam engine was invented

1776 CE: America declared independence from Great Britain by issuing the Declaration of Independence, starting the American Revolution

1789 CE: The French Revolution took place

1800s CE: The South American colonies gained independence from their colonial rulers one by one

1800 CE: The Industrial Revolution was at its halfway point

1839 CE: The first of two Opium Wars began in China

1869 CE: The transcontinental railroad opened

1879 CE: Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb

1881 CE: The colonization of Africa began

1884 CE: The first skyscraper was built in Chicago

The Modern Era (The 1900s through the Present)

1908 CE: Henry Ford invented the Model T

1914 CE: World War I began

1918 CE: World War I ended

1927 CE: The first modern television was invented

1929 CE: The Wall Street crash set off the Great Depression

1933 CE: The Holocaust began

1936 CE: The Spanish Civil War began

1939 CE: World War II began; the Spanish Civil War ended

1941 CE: The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, spurred the U.S. to join World War II

1945 CE: The U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Japan; World War II and the Holocaust ended; penicilin was made available to the public

1946 CE: The League of Nations was founded

1947 CE: India gained independence from Britain

1950 CE: The Korean War began

1953 CE: The Korean War ended

1949 CE: The USSR developed atomic weapons and the Cold War began

1950 CE: Apartheid began in South Africa

1954 CE: The court case Brown versus the Board of Education ruled against school segregation

1955 CE: The Vietnam War began

1961 CE: People traveled to space for the first time

1963 CE: Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech

1969 CE: People landed on the moon for the first time

1975 CE: The Vietnam War ended

1989 CE: Pro-democracy student demonstrations were violently quashed at Tiananmen Square in China; the fall of the Berlin Wall took place in Germany

1991 CE: The Gulf War began

2001 CE: Middle eastern terrorist group Al-Queda attacked New York City

2008 CE: Barack Obama was elected the first African American president of the United States

History Discussion Questions:

  • What are some of the things that all cultures of history shared in common?
  • What are some of the reasons towns and civilizations spring up independently in so many different parts of the world within a few hundred years of each other?
  • Were there any good civilizations in history? Were there any bad ones?
  • What are the main reasons nations and states initiated warfare? Why did smaller tribes wage war?
  • How was history influenced by various technological discoveries, including metalwork, gunpowder, the printing press, the train and many more?
  • What are some examples of religious wars? To what extent were they motivated by the spread of religious ideas and the quashing of other religious ideas and to what extent were they motivated by other desires or needs?
  • Why did safe, prosperous nations, like Rome, continuously try to grow larger? Was this a wise strategy?
  • What are some of the historical reasons for poverty?