Pre-Grad School Logic Preparation


An undergraduate who is interested in pursuing graduate studies in philosophy writes in seeking advice about making up for deficits in his logic background:

I’m a student at a small liberal arts college. I have a double major in Philosophy and Literature. My school’s Philosophy program is very good at what it does, but it is limited. Among other things, there are no logic courses offered. My question is, how do I prepare to apply for graduate school with these limitations? Are there good ways to make up for this gap (logic courses outside of the college, a terminal MA)?

Part of my anxiety over this issue is that I’m not sure how prepared I will be going into graduate school, or how much a graduate school will do to accommodate the holes in my education.

Additionally, it would be useful to hear from people on recent graduate admissions committees about what they would think about a student who had not taken any logic courses, and also what they would think of the various ways of making up for that (e.g., a logic summer school).

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PDM
PDM
5 years ago

Some universities (Harvard I think, maybe Penn too?) have a “summer semester” where students from other universities (or students in continuing education) can take courses; and they sometimes offer logic courses. Can’t find the relevant links right now, but this might be worth looking into.Report

Daniel Mak
Daniel Mak
Reply to  PDM
5 years ago

UCLA definitely does; I took its Logic: First Course during Summer 2012 under Prof Steven Levy and it was brilliant.

However I feel that for graduate level First Order logic alone may not be enough, which is what this course covers.Report

Current grad
Current grad
5 years ago

I’m not sure about what admissions committees might think (but I suspect MA committees might be less bothered than PhD committees). However, there are several students who came into my PhD program without a logic background. They were directed to sit in on an undergraduate symbolic logic class before taking the graduate logic class. This undergrad might also see if he can sit in on a logic course at another university (if there’s one nearby). We’ve had a few students do that, and most professors don’t seem to mind.Report

Daniel Mak
Daniel Mak
5 years ago

Peter Smith, a former Cambridge Professor, wrote a brilliant guide for audiences just like him
http://www.logicmatters.net/resources/pdfs/TeachYourselfLogic2015.pdfReport

Adrian Piper
5 years ago

The measured, constructive suggestions commenting on this post lead me to infer that I am the only one (so far, at least) who is going off the rails about it. So be it. I understand, of course, that many colleges and universities have abolished logic as a requirement for the major, in order to boost enrollment; and that this may be necessary in order to ensure the survival of the department. But a respectable, accredited academic institution that purports to host a philosophy department in which logic is not even *offered* is acting irresponsibly and without regard to the best interests of all of its students, majors and non-majors alike. This is completely unacceptable.Report

Grad
Grad
5 years ago

At UCLA you’d just take the first year logic sequence in your first year as a grad student. It’s not uncommon for people to neither have much nor ever have much logic training. It just blocks you from certain fields of study, particularly if your person of interest leans toward the formal side of the subfield. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but whatever you can do to make yourself more attractiev is good. I would just be tempted to work more on a writing sample than on learning logic. Both would be ideal I suppose.Report

P.D. Magnus
5 years ago

It’s definitely not worth taking a year or two to do a terminal MA just to remedy. Unless you are hoping to work in formal philosophy, this should not be a big deal for PhD admissions. Plenty of people start a PhD program in Philosophy having taken only one logic course years earlier, not really remembering any of it. Programs typically offer ways for students to get up to speed.

I occasionally get e-mail from people who have used my book (forall x) to teach themselves logic. It’s free, but any introductory book might do as well.Report

Illogical Grad Student
Illogical Grad Student
5 years ago

I went to a small liberal arts college as an undergraduate and majored in Physics and Philosophy. I took no logic courses as an undergraduate. I did an MA in the UK and took no logic courses there either. I am now a PhD student at another (top-tier non-Oxbridge) UK university. I taught myself logic along the way and have not found that to be a burden. I also know of other PhD students who are sitting in on introductory logic courses. I am not sure how US universities typically feel about it, but it hasn’t seemed to be an issue in my experience in the UK. Obviously, people who are in the know regarding admissions could respond better to whether it might be a sticking point, but I don’t think it is a problem in terms of PhD work.Report

AM
AM
5 years ago

You might also look into whether the schools will take other classes to satisfy the admissions logic requirement. I too went to a small liberal arts school with no formal logic courses, but had taken a course in discrete mathematics (which touched on logic, set theory, number theory, graph theory, and a little probability), and the graduate director was happy to take it.Report

Yet another grad student
Yet another grad student
5 years ago

I should preface this by saying that I did my degree in Europe, and my MA and PhD in the UK, so I have no idea how my experience translates to the US experience of the person who asked the question. It’s interesting though to learn about the differences in our education systems, so I thought I’d add my few pence.
My degree was not in philosophy at all-I took core modules on political philosophy and philosophy of science as well as some history of philosophy modules. Crucially, no logic at all (I mean, we did basic argumentation stuff, syllogisms, fallacies etc. But I assume that’s not what they are asking about). I liked the little philosophy I did, though, and so I went on to do an MA and a PhD in it. My focus is on normative stuff, and (perhaps because of that?) no one has forced me to make up for my lack of logic knowledge. Everything I’ve learned in this respect, I’ve learned from encountering it in papers I read and looking up the symbols/terms I didn’t understand. I guess, as some commenters have already pointed out, much depends on what the OP is intending to study. You can learn a lot just from reading stuff in the field(s) they’re interested in while having google handy. If they find that this doesn’t work, there’s too much formal/modal/weird stuff they cannot understand, then perhaps it’s worth it getting a few books in. But I also suspect that any logic modules they would have to take at graduate level would not assume that everyone taking them had the same background. As with all graduate modules, they’ll be easy for some and harder for others.
This is all quite apart from the question whether a lack of logic education would harm their chances to get into grad school. I’ve no view on that, but I guess that a lack of logic could be glossed with a nice statement and some excellent grades in other relevant topics.Report

Andy
Andy
5 years ago

I don’t think it is anything you should worry about too much (if you are not intending to study a particularly formal area of philosophy), but if you want to get your confidence up it might be worth looking at the following coursera courses (which are open access):

https://www.coursera.org/course/logic1
https://www.coursera.org/course/logic2

After that, if you feel you still want more, it would probably be worth having a look at a text book. Ted Sider’s ‘Logic for Philosophy’ aims at giving you the background needed to be comfortable in the majority of analytic philosophy, so it would probably be worth a look.Report

Hello
Hello
Reply to  Andy
5 years ago

I found Steinhart’s “More Precisely: the math you need to do philosophy” also a good complement to Ted Sider’s book.Report

anonymous American prof
anonymous American prof
5 years ago

I recommend the Logic Year at the University of Amsterdam. If you do it, you’ll not only be passable in logic, knowledge of logic will immediately become one of your strengths. Sure, it’s a whole year, but c’mon, it’s in Amsterdam! Trust me, when you’re 40 looking back on your early 20’s, you won’t think, “ah geez, I wish I hadn’t of wasted that year of my life living in Amsterdam studying logic after graduation. I wish I had gone straight into a Ph.D. program.” It’s worth looking into. Here’s the website: http://www.illc.uva.nl/MScLogic/programme/logic-year.htmlReport

Um.
Um.
Reply to  anonymous American prof
5 years ago

From the website for the Logic Year program: “You furthermore are expected to have a reasonable background in logic, affinity with mathematical and formal thinking, and some familiarity with mathematical proofs. In practice, this means that we expect that incoming students have had a formal introduction to logic up to the completeness theorem for first-order predicate logic and have taken courses requiring mathematical or formal reasoning. The tight schedule of the programme leaves very little room to compensate for deficiencies… The admission criteria for the MSc Logic and the Logic Year are the same.” Those are… quite the admissions criteria. It sounds as if the original poster would have to do a year or two of work just to qualify. That said, it looks like a marvelous program, and others who are reading this may be planning already to submit their applications.Report

Adrian Piper
Reply to  Um.
5 years ago

Just to be clear, “a formal introduction to logic up to the completeness theorem for first-order predicate logic and … courses requiring mathematical or formal reasoning” is what the first and second logic courses formerly required for an undergraduate philosophy major used to provide.Report

Um.
Um.
Reply to  Adrian Piper
5 years ago

Touché.Report

Adrian Piper
Reply to  Um.
5 years ago

Many thanks. 🙂 And thanks for adding your voice. I am very concerned about the “don’t worry, it’s not that important, everything will be fine” tone of many of the comments on the OP. In some ways these are as worrying as the original OP itself.Report

David Jacobs
David Jacobs
5 years ago

Many graduate programs have a logic requirement, and will not accept a course at a different university as fulfilling that requirement. It is quite likely that you will have to take logic in graduate school, come what may. I would advise not worrying about this very much, especially if you are not looking to work in an area of philosophy that is heavily dependent on logical formalisms. You’ll pick up what you need in graduate school, in all likelihood.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
5 years ago

Just to add another voice along the same lines: I had zero training in logic before I arrived at my reputable US phd program. I’ve fulfilled my logic requirements here by taking two upper division undergraduate logic courses. My experience does not seem uncommon.Report

Dan
Dan
5 years ago

I want to second P.D. Magnus’s point, namely that, absent the aim of working in formal philosophy, one would be ill-advised to take time off to catch-up on logic, or even worry very much about not having taken logic in undergrad, not that I think it’s fine for a philosophy department to lack a course offering in this area. One can display keen sensitivity to logical rules in the way one presents her philosophical arguments; formalization and course work in logic may (and, especially in the latter, do) contribute to this end, but the quality of one’s philosophical work (in the admissions process, the writing sample) is what really matters, and there’s much more to good philosophy than soundness of argument.Report

J
J
5 years ago

I’m currently doing a conversion MA in the UK. We have a whole-year module especially designed for non-Philosophy majors in which we will study the four main branches of philosophy (epistemology, ethics, metaphysics and political philosophy) as well as basic symbolic logic. Speaking from a conversion student’s point of view, I find studying logic helpful and indeed crucial to understanding and forming arguments. But if there are alternative ways for you to fulfill the logic component in your PhD (if it is required), then doing an MA doesn’t seem necessary for a Philosophy major.

In addition to the resources mentioned earlier, here’s another useful website: http://logic.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/main.htmReport

L
L
5 years ago

Hi, here is my personal experience, in case it helps. I hope this will alleviate some of your anxiety.

I had a critical thinking class as an undergraduate but not a proper logic class. I was nevertheless admitted to a number of reputable PhD programs (PGR top 30s). So my impression is that the fact that you did not have a logic class won’t be a deal breaker for many admissions committees. Did you take a critical thinking class? I am not sure if that made a difference in my case.

As for preparedness: I learned sentence logic in my critical thinking course but I did not know any predicate logic, completeness/incompleteness stuff, modal logic, etc. Between my undergraduate and starting my PhD, I did some non-degree graduate coursework and I did have some difficulties that were due to my ignorance about predicate logic. For example, my teachers would sometimes formalize arguments on the blackboard using the notation of predicate logic and I did not know what they were doing. So I think knowledge of sentence logic and predicate logic is necessary for a graduate student. However, I think you can catch up on it relatively easily. So I think you don’t need to stress out about it. I taught myself predicate logic over the summer and during the first semester of my program (which I managed to do, even though I am not super talented in this respect). Since then, I have never encountered any difficulties that were a result of my lack of logic-knowledge. Sure, I don’t understand articles that are very technical quite as well as some other students—but it’s never a big deal. Besides, if I wanted to, I *could* take further logic courses in order to change that. It is just that, given my areas of interests, it makes more sense for me to spend my time in other ways and take other courses. So, bottom line: I think you can be well prepared for a PhD program, even if you never took a logic course. I think you do need to know at least basic sentence logic and predicate logic as a PhD student. However, I think you can catch up on this relatively easily during your first semester.

As for “How willing was my department to accommodate my lack of logic-knowledge”: when I started my program, I told the Graduate Director that, even though I tried to teach myself predicate logic over the summer, I did not feel like I really knew it well. The Graduate Director said we need to fix that and told me to enroll in an undergrad logic course. However, it turned out that course was not very suitable, since it mostly covered sentence logic and I already knew that. So instead the Graduate Director gave me a copy of the Logic Book and told me to work together with one of the logic professors in the department in order to get me up to speed with predicate logic. The logic professor told me to just go through the relevant chapters in the Logic Book, do a bunch of the exercises, and show him some of the harder proofs in the end. So basically I just had to teach myself predicate logic a second time. But this time it stuck (hurray). I showed the logic professor some of the proofs I did and he determined that my knowledge was now sufficient. So that is how my department handled the situation—which I really liked. I hope you will be just as lucky!Report

grad student
grad student
5 years ago

For various reasons, I ended up learning first year logic out of a textbook. Honestly, it wasn’t that hard or time consuming. There are enough resources out there that with some discipline and maybe some occasional faculty help, you could teach yourself.Report

E. Walker
E. Walker
5 years ago

I suspect that whatever grad program you enter will provide some opportunity to familiarize yourself with sentential and first-order quantificational logic. And most should provide some opportunity to familiarize yourself with the modal logics and with some of the more useful and interesting metalogical results.

It is worth reflecting on why you think you should learn logic. Answering that question might then tell you how you should proceed. For my own part, I find logic intrinsically, profoundly, and philosophically interesting, and I’ve spent much of my graduate career thinking about just what it is (we think) we are doing when we elaborate formal systems. And I’m interested in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European philosophy, a lot of which was concerned with making sense of revolutionary advances in logic and mathematics. Those are my reasons for trying to become relatively logic-savvy.

Generally, though, I think that learning sentential, quantificational, and modal logic is useful less because it makes you smarter or a better philosopher and more because it makes you better able to understand those many insightful but formalism-addled articles that appeared throughout the last century. It might also be nice, when it comes time to look for a job, to be able to teach propositional logic well, at least.

But don’t assume that knowing how to express your ideas in set-theoretical notation or how to cast an argument in deductive form is necessary, sufficient, or even useful for producing substantive, rigorous, lucid philosophy. Deductive arguments are often just summaries of interesting reasoning that has already taken place, and such reasoning is where the action is. To paraphrase an obviously cheeky point from Bertrand Russell: The ideas that Socrates is a human and that humans are mortal vastly underrepresent the good reason we have to think that Socrates is mortal.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

As an undergrad, I missed the opportunity to take an introductory logic course, but wanted to enrol in a senior undergrad class in non-classical logics. I used Nicholas J J Smith’s book, “Logic: The Laws of Truth” to teach myself over the summer.

It’s excellent – eminently readable, full of exercises, and the solutions to the exercises are available from a companion website. If you’re willing to put in the time to work through it, it provides a more than adequate grounding in propositional and predicate logic – I was just as well prepared for the senior class in non-classical logics as students who had taken an intro class.Report