Ethical Realism

March 17, 2011

A Study Finds That Formal Logic Can Help High School Students

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 1:05 am
Tags: ,

A study provides strong evidence that an applied logic class significantly helped improve high school students’ critical thinking skills. The study was conducted by Dan Bouhnik and Yahel Giat from the Jerusalem College of Technology (in Jerusalem, Israel) and information about the study was published online in a PDF file entitled, “Teaching High School Students Applied Logical Reasoning.” (You can download it for free here.1) This study is of the utmost importance because high school students in the United States are not taught about good reasoning in high school, and logic in particular is highly relevant to good reasoning. A better understanding of good reasoning can help us achieve our goals, become more ethical, avoid deception, and think for ourselves. Nonetheless, I don’t think a single news organization has published information about this study.2

The study tested an applied logic class’s effectiveness on high school students—how helpful would this kind of class be for high school students? Would students’ reasoning skills improve? The class was given to juniors and seniors. Students were tested at the beginning of the course and at the end of the course to find how much their reasoning skills could be improved, if at all. The students were also given a “questionnaire about the course and its effect on them” (1).

The study used a years worth of a “college level” applied logic class that was originally meant to be a two-year college course.3 Only the first year’s worth of instruction was taught in detail. The class taught logical reasoning and deductions, and Boolean Algebra in detail.4 It then proceeded to introduce students to what would be taught in the second year, “digital systems, inductions, paradoxes, and computation” (2).5

The class is meant to do the following:

a) Improve critical reasoning skills.

b) Improve ability to apply logical reasoning in speech and writing.

c) Improve ability to search, retrieve, analyze, and evaluate information.

d) Improve ability in other applied logic fields, such as computation and digital systems. (4)

The ability to understand logic wasn’t only meant to be abstract or mathematical. Instead, “[t]he students were given many assignments in which they had to analyze newspaper articles, political statements, judiciary rulings, and day-to-day life situations” (11).

According to the researchers, “[t]he results suggest that the students significantly improved their critical reasoning” (8) and “[a]ll student groups found this course important” (9). Many of the students reported that “they use these tools to critique and evaluate information” (10). Additionally, there were deficiencies found in students’ reasoning skills before taking the class, which “stresses the need for reasoning to be taught, as much improvement can be gained by such instruction” (11).

The results of this study doesn’t prove that formal logic is the most effective way to teach high school students to be more reasonable. Perhaps a philosophy course without formal logic would be even more effective. However, I personally find formal logic extremely helpful for thinking philosophically and I explain why here. In particular, it’s very difficult to understand formal validity or how to appropriately object to an argument without studying formal logic. We already intuitively understand formal logic, but our intuition often fails us and knowing more about logic can help us avoid making logical mistakes.

Free information regarding formal logic can be found here.

Update (3/19/2011): I rephrased the introduction.


1 Originally published in the Journal of Information Technology Education, Volume 8, 2009. <>.

2 A search in Google’s news archives for ‘Dan Bouhnik and Yahel Giat’ on 3/16/2011 gave me 0 results. Go here to check the current results. A web search gives almost no results as well.

3 The class was taught in “approximately 90 class hours” (5).

4 The class taught argumentation and “propositional calculus” (a symbolic version of formal logic) in addition to Boolean Algebra (the mathematical application of propositional calculus) (5).

5 The class can be compared to other logic courses. In particular, a similar course is taught at the Critical Thinking Community website (4). “The main difference between our course and these courses is that we provide a broader skill set of applied and theoretical logical tools.” (ibid).


  1. Logic is the foundation of true intelligence.

    Comment by Romney — March 17, 2011 @ 4:20 am | Reply

    • How should we prove that to politicians? Do you think statistics are the best way?

      Comment by James Gray — March 17, 2011 @ 5:56 am | Reply

      • That’s a good question (sorry it’s taken me too long to answer).

        I’d imagine that’s the only way, though I feel that our political and public culture would still be hard-pressed to be convinced.

        Comment by Romney — April 4, 2011 @ 3:49 am

  2. Distinguishing validity from what is taken to be “truth” is important. At the same time, the purely formal aspects of symbolic logic–modus ponens, etc– have limited applications, IMHE. The empirical aspects (ie, confirming premises/claims) may in the long run be just as important. In that sense, Im slightly in agreement with Toulmin–ie, applied logic as tool for social science/law/humanities, etc., instead of dull formal exercises.

    Comment by horatiox — April 15, 2011 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

    • I don’t think it has limited applications at all. I’ve already explained why in quite some detail. We as human beings need to reason about things and understanding formal logic is part of reasoning. We are able to reason without formal logic with great success, but we can reason with even greater success with it.

      Edit: In fact, I don’t see how anyone can distinguish between validity and truth without formal logic. “Validity” in the formal logical sense is a formal aspect of arguments. That is not something easy to explain to people without formal logical education. We lack a vocabulary to discuss it effectively.

      Comment by James Gray — April 15, 2011 @ 8:14 pm | Reply

  3. […] A Study Finds That Formal Logic Can Help High School Students […]

    Pingback by Argument Mapping Classes Are The Most Effective At Improving Critical Thinking « Ethical Realism — April 16, 2012 @ 11:56 pm | Reply

  4. As someone who’s recently begun studying logic, with the conviction that such effort is beneficial, it’s nice to have some empirical evidence which not only justifies my time spent in these studies, but also substantiates my assertions that other should do likewise.
    Without a means of measurement, it’s hard to determine exactly how beneficial my own studies in formal logic have been. For example, if I were to detect a sound logical argument in an essay I wrote, who’s to say that I wouldn’t have produced the same sound argument without those studies (even if I hadn’t been able to formally identify it)? Your blog post, and the article which it’s based on, are solid grounds for me to defend the worth of my studies, and encourage others in the same vein. Thanks!

    Comment by Jacob Baijal — October 19, 2014 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

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