Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Steps to Logic

Recently, I had the opportunity to reflect on my intellectual development. Most of my readers (all 5 of you) know RS played a crucial role in that development. As many of you have had the privilege of studying with him, I thought you would find these reflections interesting. I hope they stimulate insight.

When I was in TASC, RS thought it was important that we study logic. He had a unique method of teaching it. He used a method he called the ‘steps’ or ‘words’. A verb would be chosen, either simple like ‘sit’ or ‘stand’, or more complex like ‘inspire’ or ‘think’. The first step was to give a quick definition so that we knew we were talking about the same thing. The next step was to think of an example. The trick was that it had to be a rich, meaningful example that felt powerful and right: ultimately, an exemplar. However, the exemplar could not be artificial. He would test and prod to make sure we really felt our examples and that they were coming from a real place. When we had our exemplar we would proceed to check our original quick definition. The main point was not to see if our definition was correct - it was, of course, important. The point was to give nuance and real meaning to our definitions - to move from talking-about to truly knowing and experiencing something. This, he explained, was the first logical act of the mind that the Aristotelians spoke of: simple apprehension. This was the first step to learning the art of logic.

These "steps" naturally led to a deeper understanding of many mitzvot and halakhot. For example, "sit", "stand", "inspire" and "think" obviously lead to a deeper understanding of the mitzvah of Tefillah and its halakhot.

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