Statistics: I was born in
1944 in Cincinnati, Ohio. I grew up a few miles to the north in Middletown, and was educated in that city's public school system.
My wife and I met during my military technical training in 1965 at Fort Devens,
Massachusetts. I served four years in the intelligence branch of
the United States Army, stationed in Berlin, Germany from late
1965 until early 1969. Afterward, in addition to an odd job or two, I
was engaged in a thirty-year career as a technician in the
telecommunications industry. It was during this time that I was
also introduced to computers and word processing. As a result, the general focus of my
life subsequently underwent a gradual reorientation, from technology to
Transformation: Upon retiring in
late 1999, I decided to return to school at a local campus of Miami
University (of Ohio), where writing and philosophy have been my main
pursuits. However, I've also undertaken to become broadly
knowledgeable in a variety of subjects: the fine arts, history, economics,
mathematics, psychology, religion, computer science, and the natural
sciences. The unusually broad scope and leisurely pace of my
studies has drawn out the time frame of obtaining a customary four-year
degree to more than a decade. But at this stage of life, I'm
inclined to regard higher education as an ongoing process of personal
enrichment to be savored and assimilated, rather than an irksome task to be
gotten out of the way and—except for the money-making bits—forgotten. Some of my professors have urged me to go into
teaching as a second career, but I simply lack the temperament for
effective classroom management. However, writing would seem to
offer a way around that barrier—and the 4thr.org website is one example.
Reflection: I first became
interested in logic as a plaything, when, in the late 1950s, my father brought home
some clever logic puzzles from the laboratory. These puzzles require
one to match individuals of various occupations with their respective
houses, cars, relative heights and ages,
favorite foods, and so forth, by deducing these from a list of clues. My second
interest in logic took the form of a learning tool for understanding such
subjects as mathematics and physics. I found that it also came in
handy for practical endeavors, such as troubleshooting automotive
problems, since, in my early adult years, the only cars I could afford
were aging hulks given to all sorts of maladies. Logic was also an
indispensable tool in my technical career, beginning in the 1970s, where
my duties included analyzing trouble patterns, pinpointing the
underlying problems, and deciding on and implementing appropriate corrective measures.
Later on, when personal computers became the rage in the 1980s, logic took on a
new, highly structured look in the elegant and semi-abstract form of
methodical process-guiding and problem-solving algorithms.
It struck me then that logic—whether applied to
academic math and physics, or to practical mechanics and electronics, or
to computer programming—must be built around a core of consistent
principles. Precisely what these principles are, I couldn't have
guessed at the time. Yet, observing that some reasoning processes
yield consistently reliable results, while others produce only
high-sounding nonsense and unpredictable results, I could infer that logical
reasoning must have some fundamental, reality-governed underpinning that
makes the difference.
Epiphany: Still, it didn't dawn on me until the 1990s,
when I encountered the phenomena of electronic bulletin boards and
Internet newsgroups, that logic might also apply to things other than
physical sciences, and technology. It turns out that it can be
applied to a variety of other fields—including language, history,
psychology, economics, philosophy, religion, politics, and ethics, to
name only a few. Properly
used, I saw, logic is a reliable means of discerning the nonsensical from the
rational, refuting the former, and making coherent sense of the latter.
By itself, of course, logic cannot replace evidence and knowledge;
application of logic to evidence and knowledge dramatically amplifies
their usefulness and reduces error in the earnest pursuit of truth.
While all this was new to me—a marvelous
adventure of self-discovery—it was hardly new to certain others.
I'd simply stumbled onto what those others had already known for more than a hundred
generations. General principles of logic had been established some 2,500 years ago, and
have been applied and developed in the centuries since. Yet somehow I'd
managed to remain largely ignorant of those principles for the first
five decades of my life.
Questions: So I
wondered, if principles of logic are so useful in distinguishing truth
from falsehood, why hadn't they been explicitly taught to me—indeed, why
aren't they taught to everyone—as an integral part of basic
upbringing? As a member of the blue-collar workforce for several
years, I had become aware that most people in that workforce are as
capable as anyone else of occupation-specific reasoning. However,
it also happens that many people I encounter socially have postgraduate
degrees requiring critical thinking in specific areas—yet they toss
away their thinking discipline when discussing social issues or
So, it strikes me as very odd that
no effort had ever (at least in my own and subsequent generations) been made by our education system to explain the
basics of reasoning generally. In my own case, a working
understanding of logic would have answered countless questions, and saved
huge amounts of time, effort, and frustration wasted in fumbling
for answers on many topics. And I can only suppose that the same must
be true for many others. Why, I fretted, is such enormously useful
yet mostly simple
knowledge kept locked away in academic ivory towers, or at most dribbled
out in small doses in specialized courses, when, taught as a
general-purpose skill, it could offer so much
benefit to ordinary people in so many aspects of their daily lives?
Why indeed! Were I a conspiracy theorist, I could speculate about
many factions—advertisers, brokers, corporations, lobbyists,
politicians, theologians, unionists—who would feel threatened by the
prospect of hoi polloi wielding the power of logic, and who
therefore might actively oppose any large-scale effort to teach it as a
general skill. But let's be charitable, and suppose it might be a
simple, honest error. For example, the hang-up might be rooted in
an assumption, among academics, that ordinary people just aren't smart
enough to learn logic. Yet in many cases, perhaps even most,
this assumption is false, at least as far as basic concepts are
concerned. Most people do learn logic well enough to
do their jobs with an acceptable degree of competence. And if they
can learn to apply logic to a specific purpose, then surely they can
learn the basics of using it correctly for general applications.
Public education at some point, and this website in the meantime!
Associate of Arts, Humanities, Miami U.
English; German; world history; formal and informal logic; astronomy;
geology; biochemistry; psychology; computer science; single-variable calculus;
Humanities and Fine Arts Award (Middletown campus, 2002-2003):
Academic Excellence in Philosophy
ΦΘΚ (Phi Theta Kappa two-year honors society, liberal arts and
Bachelor of Arts, Philosophy, Miami U. (2012):
logic and ethics concentrations; English thematic sequence.
Ancient, modern, and contemporary philosophy; ethics; symbolic logic;
micro- and macro-economics; physics; chemistry; human physiology; fine
arts history; comparative religion.
ΦΒΚ (Phi Beta Kappa four-year honors society, liberal arts and
Note that one needn't have a Ph.D. to acquire
and apply essentials of sound reasoning. Indeed, if someone has
the natural knack of successfully figuring things out for himself, he
might not even need
college to achieve it. Still, learning to reason well can be much easier and faster,
and run less risk of error,
with competent instruction and guidance. Granted, there might be
some who, for one reason or another, are simply unable to fathom any
mental process more complex than rote memorization or unquestioning
belief. But it seems to me that most people of
average intelligence can learn and apply the basics of reasoning—and (I hope)
would gladly do so, if only given the means,
motive, and opportunity.
You may consider them given, here and now.
What's in it for this Mr. Joyce?" the cynics might well ask. "Why would
he do this for nothing?" It's a fair question. After
all, as the saying goes, "Anything that sounds too good to be true
probably is." So, my response might sound "corny," to
use an quaint term. But simply put, it's my way of giving back to
the world a measure of
what life has given to me. Certainly, I had to invest
time and effort to develop this course, and it costs me a modest sum to
rent server space to offer it to the world. Yet if anyone benefits
from it, I consider it well worth my effort and expense.
For anyone who insists
I must have a self-centered motive, it would follow reasoning of this
The more people who learn to
think critically, coherently, consistently, and ethically, the more
likely such thinking will be applied to work, play, health, family,
community, business, politics, belief, and life in general.
The more good thinking
skills are acquired and practiced, the more competent and thoughtful
humanity will become.
The more competent and
thoughtful humanity becomes, the better off the world
will be for everyone—including me.
To make this course
affordable to the most people, "free" is as low as I can go on price.
(But if you're one of those nobly conscientious folks who insist on
paying, such generosity should not be discouraged. I only request
that you redirect it to whatever charity you judge will use it most
wisely and humanely.)
So, I'm glad you're
skeptical; that's a promising start! Still, if you'll forgive my mangling a proverb...
NEVER LOOK A GIFT-COURSE IN THE MOUSE!
I ask only two favors:
When you've finished
your studies, please take a moment to offer feedback—positive, negative,
or mixed—using the "wrap-up" questionnaire. Your thoughts are
valuable to the future of this project. Any request for anonymity
will be respected.
If you feel this
course has been of benefit to you, please pass the word to your family,
friends, and associates. This free service must rely on free
advertising, and satisfied customers generate the best kind.