# PROBLEMS IN APPLYING THE THEORY OF THE SYLLOGISM

After mastering the techniques for evaluating syllogisms, students naturally turn to argu- ments that arise in daily life and attempt to use these newly acquired skills. They are often disappointed with the results. The formal theory of the syllo- gism seems to bear little relationship to everyday arguments, and there does not seem to be any easy way to bridge the gap.

This gap between formal theory and its application occurs for a num- ber of reasons. First, as we saw in Chapters 2 and 5, our everyday dis- course leaves much unstated. Many things are conversationally implied rather than explicitly asserted. We do not feel called on to say many things that are matters of common agreement. Before we can apply the theory of the syllogism to everyday arguments, these things that are sim- ply understood must be made explicit. This is often illuminating, and sometimes boring, but it usually involves a great deal of work. Second, the theory of the syllogism applies to statements only in a highly stylized form. Before we apply the theory of the syllogism to an argument, we must cast its premises and conclusion into the basic A, E, I, and O forms. As we saw earlier in this chapter, the needed translation is not always simple or obvious. It may not always be possible. For these and related reasons, modern logicians have largely abandoned the project of reducing all reasoning to syllogisms.

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Why study the theory of the syllogism at all, if it is hard to apply in some circumstances and perhaps impossible to apply in others? The an- swer to this question was given at the beginning of Chapter 6. The study of formal logic is important because it deepens our insight into a central notion of logic: validity. Furthermore, the argument forms we have stud- ied do underlie much of our everyday reasoning, but so much else is go- ing on in a normal conversational setting that this dimension is often hidden. By examining arguments in idealized forms, we can study their validity in isolation from all the other factors at work in a rich conversa- tional setting.

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