09 Apr 2010
09 Oct 2015

About the Author
S. A. Joyce


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 ideas.

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 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.

Vision:  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 math, the 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; however, the application of logic to evidence and knowledge dramatically amplifies their usefulness and reduces error in the earnest pursuit of truth.

Rediscovery 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 economics.

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?

Problem:  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.  How?

Solutions:  Public education at some point, and this website in the meantime!

My credentials:

  • Associate of Arts, Humanities, Miami U. (2004): humanities.
    Curriculum: English; German; world history; formal and informal logic; astronomy; geology; biochemistry; psychology; computer science; single-variable calculus; statistics.
    Humanities and Fine Arts Award (Middletown campus, 2002-2003): Academic Excellence in Philosophy
    ΦΘΚ (Phi Theta Kappa two-year honors society, liberal arts and sciences)

  • Bachelor of Arts, Philosophy, Miami U. (2012): logic and ethics concentrations; English thematic sequence.
    Curriculum: 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 sciences)

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.

"But wait!  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 sort:

  • 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...


I ask only two favors:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Thank you.