"Logic is an art in the sense that Aristotle used the term: an organized, systematic discipline that is best taught in an organized systematic way." Martin Cothran
Reading the Introduction to Martin Cothran's Material Logic I is like taking a mini-seminar in "What is Classical Education?" He puts logic squarely in its place as part of the Trivium. He reminds us that the Trivium is language study: the grammar stage teaches the structure of language, the logic stage teaches the structure of thought, and the rhetoric stage teaches the rules of persuasion, written and spoken. At this point, we may be confused, because we've thought of logic (if we've thought of it at all) as really a mathematical subject. There's a good reason for that confusion: Modern logic is indeed largely mathematical, but this is not the logic of the Trivium. The logic study that fits into the Trivium is divided into two disciplines, Traditional logic, an analysis of the structure of arguments and Material logic, an analysis of the content of arguments.
Material Logic I includes a consumable worktext with an answer key. Each lesson provides several pages of reading and then 1-6 days worth of exercises to test comprehension and apply the principles learned. There is a suggested schedule which covers the text in 16 weeks. A model lesson plan is provided for the teacher. Since most homeschooling parents are not trained teachers of logic, I expect that students will either be working through his text alongside a parent, or working through it independently. In either case, this book is best used by a student in high school or beyond. The material is challenging and requires advanced thinking. Traditional Logic I and II are recommended as prerequisites but are not required. Material Logic I stands alone.
What might a student gain by putting forth the effort to tackle Material Logic? This is best answered by looking at the quality of the case studies the student will analyze near the end of the course.
"The Nature of Philosophy," by Fr. Vincent McNabb
"The Function of the Wise Man," by St. Thomas Aquinas
"What is Heresy?" by Hillaire Belloc
These three readings are analyzed with exercises such as, "Explain, as best you can, Thomas' reasoning by which he concludes that it is part of the function of the wise man to impugn error," and, relating to Belloc's essay, "Why is Newton's scheme of physics considered a complete and self-supporting theme?" In other words, the student will learn to give very careful attention to a text and to analyze it. The contents of an argument are defined and categorized according to various strategies. This kind of sharp analytical skill would be of great value to any student.
As we homeschoolers are trying to recapture the best of what classical education means, we are looking for quality products that can help us understand subjects we ourselves may have never learned. Material Logic I provides Rhetoric level course that is both readable and rigorous. A motivated student with a good deal of reading experience will be able to tackle this independently. Other students would benefit from taking this course side-by-side with a parent.
I appreciate the concrete examples for difficult concepts and the high quality choices for reading selections. The exercises add to the student's facility with the concepts. Although this is difficult subject matter, Material Logic I makes it understandable.