Book Review: The Gospel of Happiness

Book Review: The Gospel of Happiness: Rediscover Your Faith Through Spiritual Practices and Positive Psychology by Christopher Kaczor


I found out about this book from twitter, when James K.A. Smith mentioned anticipating it’s release. I had never heard of the author before, but he’s an ethics professor with his PhD from Notre Dame.

The aim of the book is stated on page 18:

In this book, I highlight the many ways in which positive psychology and Christian practice overlap. I point out empirical findings in positive psychology that point to the wisdom of many Christian practices and teachings. I also provide practical suggestions on how to become happier in everyday life and how to deepen Christian practice based on contemporary psychological insights. All of this points us toward deeper fulfillment in this life, and in the life to come. This is why I titled this book The Gospel of Happiness – because this is good news, very good news indeed (18).

The argument is fairly obvious from chapter to chapter. The chapter titles are:

  1. The Ways to Happiness
  2. The Way of Faith, Hope, and Love
  3. The Way of Prayer
  4. The Way of Gratitude
  5. The Way of Forgiveness
  6. The Way of Virtue
  7. The Way of Willpower

Dr. Kaczor looks at the relevant psychological research concerning each topic as well the Biblical and historical teachings of Christianity and shows their coherence and overlap. After he makes these comparisons he makes recommendations for personal practice.

The Bad
I really found very little objectionable in the book. Perhaps a more New Testament studies oriented definition of the word gospel would have been nice. The gospel is not merely, “good news” because it makes us happy. It is good news because it is an announcement about God’s kingdom. But this weakness is forgivable because the author isn’t a New Testament scholar. Also, it makes very little practical difference to the content of the rest of the book.

There are two formatting issues though: the book uses endnotes which are as annoying as having socks full of fire ants. Also, there is no index. An index would have been wonderful.

The Good
Where shall I begin? For starters, the book takes on Nietzsche’s notion that Christianity makes people weak, miserable, and stupid (183). Many Christians feel guilty about pursuing happiness, power, or success and I think that this comes from adopting a Nietzschean understanding of Christian ethics instead of Biblical one.

Another wonderful aspect of the book is the content of the endnotes. The amount of helpful literature cited is a great library builder.

More importantly though is the content of the book. As stated above the author means to show how positive psychology and Christian teaching over lap and offer practical advice for improving happiness. I’ll summarize the first chapter to show how the author does this so that you can see that he performs his objective admirably:

The Ways to Happiness
In this chapter, Kazcor uses Martin Seligman’s PERMA definition of happiness and shows how Christian teaching and practice, at its best, fulfills the requirements of each piece of the puzzle (21). In this light it is important to recognize that Kaczor and Seligman define happiness as flourishing and well-being, not merely as positive emotion. PERMA stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement (21). Here are summaries of Kaczor’s explanation of each.

  1. Positive Emotions
    Kaczor cites several lines of research that indicate that religious people generally have higher positive emotion than irreligious people (22-23). He does observe that Christians are “called to love God and neighbor regardless how they may be feeling at the moment” (24). He also observes that doing the right thing while experiencing negative emotions is harder. I would add that Kant would say that makes it even more moral. Essentially, Kazcor notes that since we know the our emotions impact others and how we make decisions, we are obligated to care about fostering positive emotions in ourselves in ways that are not contrary to the Christian life. In doing this, we are able to foster well-being and emotional happiness in others (26). What I wish he did observe here was that doing the right thing for our neighbor can lead to positive emotions (he does say this on pages 66-67).
  2. Engagement
    Engagement is our flow or activation of our strengths in order to accomplish some task. Kaczor reminds readers that in Genesis, man was made to “tend the garden.” With this in mind, he notes the importance of legitimate work as a way of experiencing unity with God (29). I’ve written about this myself.
  3. Relationships
    Seligman’s taxonomy of happiness includes relationships as a “rock-bottom fundamental of human well-being” (30). Kaczor here writes about the obvious place of human relationships in the teachings of Jesus. His main focus here is Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:24). I would have added the importance of embedded personality in ancient thought is simply assumed in the Bible, so much so that while individuals are responsible for their actions, their identity is not merely related to achievements like in Proverbs, but it is linked integrally to their community associations (in Christ, the body of Christ, the church of God, etc).
  4. Meaning
    Kazcor notes that Seligman defines meaning as “belonging to and serving something you believe is better than the self” (32). Kaczor points to the subjective experience of Christian obedience in small things as a level of meaning added to people who aren’t famous for their contributions to the world (33). He also notes the objective question of whether or not anything actually has meaning and notes that Christianity claims to offer objective meaning to the life of the Christian and to explain the objective meaning of the cosmos and human existence in general. If Christianity is true, then meaning is provided for like Paul says, “your work in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
  5. Achievement
    Here Kaczor notes the importance of feeling successful for human happiness, but also notes the traps that Christian morality trains us to avoid: greed, vanity, and social comparison which are all things that positive psychology notes do not actually contribute to overall happiness (40). In my opinion, many Christians are so concerned to talk about God’s grace saving us from sin despite our failure to do good works that they fail to talk about the importance of tackling small and big tasks for God, neighbor, and self in order to be happy. But the Bible does say that with toil there is profit and with mere talk there is only poverty (even talk of God’s grace and no active response to that grace).

Over all I find the book to be a wonderful clarification of the position of Christian theology and the Biblical witness on happiness, but it is not merely that. It also functions as a defense of Christianity because it shows that Christianity is actually good for you. Finally, the book is a great book for devotional reading or for pastors to read in order to help Christians in their pursuit of Christ and of earthly and eternal happiness. I highly recommend it.

Human Excellence: On the Cardinal Virtues

One of the most unfortunate losses during the reformation was the loss of focus on the four cardinal virtues as simple excellencies that are praiseworthy in anybody, but find their truest expression in the Christian Scriptures.

I’ve written about the cardinal virtues (justice, courage, temperance, and wisdom) briefly in the past and their place in the Bible in the past. They are called cardinal because other virtues tend to hinge on them. For instance power depends upon courage because one must act to gain power, generosity depends up temperance and justice because one must first give to those who deserve and moderate his own desires in order to have extra to give to the needy. I don’t intend to say that the cardinal virtues are actually the only hinge virtues, but I see no reason to deviate from a helpful rubric for thinking about human virtue until it is proven useless or wrong. Showing it to be incomplete would be no more damning to the system than showing modern physics to need improvements would be a proof that we should abandon it.

In my mind, the learning the virtues is important because it seems that people are are praised for excellence have these traits and while they may possess others, they always have these traits to some degree. What is unusual is that in our present culture praise is often given to those who do not have these traits, but it never seems to correlate with actual success on the part of those being praise. Edward Feser observed this a few years ago:

But much more prominent than the cardinal virtues — and to a large extent coloring the conception democratic man has of the content of the cardinal virtues — are certain other character traits, such as open-mindednessempathytolerance, and fairness.  The list will be familiar, since the language of these “virtues” permeates contemporary pop culture and politics, and it can be said to constitute a kind of counterpoint to the traditional cardinal virtues.  And in each case the counter-virtue entails a turn of just the sort one might expect given Plato’s analysis of democracy — from the objective to the subjective, from a focus on the way things actually are to a focus on the way one believes or desires them to be.

In other words, virtues concerning the dispositions that require one to interact with the world as it is, to virtues that focus on how the individual wishes the world was. Whereas wisdom is the virtue of knowing the world and acting accordingly, open-mindedness is a willingness to consider alternate points of view without settling on one. In other words, one of the components of wisdom has replaced wisdom. This is similar with respect to tolerance

There are three important things to remember about the concept of virtue, as I’m using it:

  1. Virtues are dispositions and habits of mind and body, not mere actions.

  2. Because they are dispositions and habits, they can increase and decrease based on actions and belief.

  3. The cardinal virtues are natural virtues.

I want to explain each of them briefly and then in later posts give some tips, from older literature as well as from recent psychological literature on how to acquire these virtues.

  1. Justice is the virtue of giving to others their due. Modern culture has a tendency to think of justice solely in terms of the actions of institutions and other people. Rarely is virtue a consideration, at least in any news outlets I read, for the introspective soul.

  2. Courage is the virtue of facing fear and danger in order to perform a noble act or to suffer for the sake of some good.

  3. Temperance is the virtue of self-control with regard to good things. Temperance is the virtue of saying yes to the good, but no to too much.

  4. Wisdom is the virtue of understanding the world, discerning good from bad (not just morally, but consequentially as well), and acting accordingly.

These are rough summaries of what you would find in Aristotle or Aquinas.

Are there other important virtues from the ancient world that you feel make humans excellent, but are ignored or even treated as vices in our culture?

Trivium 3: Rhetoric

The third art of a true liberal arts education is rhetoric. I’ve written about grammar and logic already. I’ve also written about rhetoric in the ancient world. Obviously, this post is about rhetoric.

Whereas the purpose of grammar is clarity of communication and the emphasis of logic is the discovery of truth and probability through clarity of thought, the purpose of rhetoric is the discovery and use of what is persuasive.

Rhetoric, as a skill set, can be seen from the perspectives of speaking/writing, listening/reading, and debating:

  1. Speaking/Writing
    Rhetoric, in this sense, is related to the forethought given to discovering what could potentially persuade an audience, what they need to be persuaded of, and the actual delivery of the speech or writing of the paper/article.
  2. Listening/Reading
    Listening involves discerning the intent of the speaker or author as well as the intended audience. Are they trying to get you to act, to believe a proposition, or to support a cause? In knowing the author’s cause and audience, one can determine what methods they are employing to persuade and whether or not they are convincing. At this stage, one will want to use logic to determine whether or not the author contradicts accepted principles without good evidence or contradicts other statements made in the discourse.
  3. Debating
    In debating, rhetoric becomes very important because being able to demonstrate or discover the truth is not always helpful in a person-to-person encounter whose outcome can largely be determined by the emotions of the audience. So rhetoric is especially important in debate. Logic is still one’s friend, especially for discrediting an opponent’s claims, but rhetoric is important for defending oneself from claims on incredibility or incompetence. Rhetoric is also important for framing the debate. It is not uncommon in debate for side issues to become the focus due to ideologically driven participants or people unconcerned about civility. Learning to maintain one’s state of mind and the emotional and cognitive frame of the debate for the audience is difficult, but crucial in a debate.

The Modes of Persuasion
Aristotle identified logos, ethos, and pathos as the three phases of persuasion.

  1. Logos
    Logos is the appeal to facts and evidence. But in a speech, this is not always the same thing as careful and accurate argument. That is necessary for research and writing to advance the field of knowledge. It is not always best for persuading people to act. Logos, with respect to rhetoric appealing to the facts that the audience would find convincing. This is not always different from careful and painstaking accuracy, but it is not always the same thing. Learning to use the common topics carefully will be very important here because they represent the types of evidence available to a researcher, speaker, and writer. Also, I recommend that no matter what type of logical argument you rely on in a speech, you have a tighter more carefully documented version of the argument elsewhere in case questions are asked.
  2. Ethos
    Ethos is appeal to personal credibility. To bolster your ethos, you must associate yourself with the good (morals, principles, groups, and individuals), take the moral high ground (appeal to the audience’s sense of virtue and morality), and when possible use sources credible to the audience. When thinking of rhetoric in terms of debate, ethos becomes very important. Many debate opponents are comfortable discrediting the other by means of attacking their ethos rather than their arguments. Learning to deal with this and take an acceptable risk of punching back in the same manner (because that is the nature of the game) or taking the moral high ground of non-response is a difficult decision to make. In my opinion, this depends on whether or not the debate is about action or fact. If the debate is over an academic topic, then the high ground of seeking truth must be taken, even if this leads to a perceived “loss” on the part of the more accurate and careful participant. In the case of debates about the proper course of action, the one becomes morally obligated to fight back hard in defense of the audience when attacks are made. This is because, in fact, we are easily persuaded to enjoy ruthless winners over kind losers. In the Bible, Jesus does both, which illustrates how difficult a line it is to walk.
  3. Pathos
    Pathos is the appeal to the passions or deeper emotions of the audience. This includes using techniques such as exaggeration, sarcasm, language of shame/honor, flattery, legitimate compliments, and so-on. Pathos is greatly aided by florid language or simple language. Academic language is almost always a passion killer, although if it is accompanied by strong ethos, academic language can ignite the passion for knowledge. Pathos is appealed to, not simply by florid or simple language, but also by emotional style. An enthusiastic speaker is easier to listen to than somebody who sounds like the topic is boring to them.

When you think of writing a speech, I recommend thinking of these aspects like a group of investment accounts. You need to invest enough in the right one depending upon the audience. For instance, your personal credibility might be very high due to your virtue and research capabilities, but that does not mean that an audience of people who don’t believe in virtue will care. So in that case it might be better to appeal to emotions and logic. Similarly, emotional appeal will not help you in a speech about statistical methods to a group of mathematicians. Similarly, an audience might need a strong emotional hook before they are ready for logic and facts. In other cases, logic and facts must come first, but a rousing fiery call to action can come at the end. These things are to be determined on a case by case basis.

Concluding Thoughts and Extra Tools
I really think that the study of rhetoric, as a skill is crucial to the development of your mind and social skills. People who are naturally good at it often say things like, “Just get it without trying to learn it.” That’s literally stupid. Studying rhetoric can help you learn to defend yourself against charming evil-doers and appealing falsehoods, to win debates, to see through cheesy sales tactics, and even to flirt.

Helpful tools for becoming rhetorically minded include:

  1. Grammar and Logic (of course)
    Without clarity of expression and thought, rhetoric is pointless.
  2. Eloquence
    Eloquence is the art of speaking beautifully. It is context dependent. A good tool for gaining eloquence is having a digital copia and listening to the compelling speeches of others.
  3. The Common Topics (Or the destroyers of writer’s block)
    I’ve written about these here. In coming weeks, I will write about each topic and add a few more to the list. Knowing the common topics is incredibly useful for research, finding the truth, writing, and personal mindset (because debating your inner monolog is best done using evidence that you find convincing).
  4. Learn the Five Canons of Rhetoric (invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery)
    These are the five things one ought to think about in order to improve at public speaking. I will write about these soon, but for now I recommend the articles at AoM here.
  5. And, to keep you from being an charming evil-doer, learn wisdom and virtue
    Rhetoric treated as a mere skill without reference to truth, goodness, and beauty leads to speeches which work like fruit eaten off of a forbidden tree. They sound good, but they are poison to the mind and soul.

Spiritual Lessons from Peter Drucker

In teaching the common topics, I’ve had my students read Managing Oneself* by Peter Drucker. The goal of the assignment is to have the students see which of Aristotle’s topics Drucker uses to make his case and to determine if his points are persuasive. For Christian readers who don’t want to learn from a secular author, read this. Anyway, Drucker had these points that would be helpful to anybody pursuing any goal, including becoming more like Christ:

  1. Use feedback analysis.
    Feedback analysis is the simple process of looking at the outcomes of your habits and actions using a journal or, in today’s world, a tracking app on your phone. Christians might, for instance, notice that on days when they get more sleep, they are more apt to be kind and forgiving or that when they study the gospels each week they are more daring with respect to evangelism and caring for the needy. The effectiveness of this method is that you can edit/revise your affairs routinely rather than simply being shaped by whatever suits your fancy in the moment.
  2. Concentrate on your strengths
    For church member ship or one’s job this task is very important. If a hand tries to consume food or a foot tries to see, then there will be some serious problems. But if a hand works really hard at being handy, then the whole body can flourish. If you’re really good a mathematical reasoning then it doesn’t really make sense to try to help the world doing something different like interior design or managing a hair salon.
  3. Work on improving your strengths
    Many people have strengths and they use them when the time comes to use them, but they do not improve them. I had this struggle with academia. I was good at memorizing and synthesizing data, but I hated studying boring things. But had I improved my abilities when I was younger, I might have (would definitely have) been more successful. If you have strengths, improve them.
  1. Discover where your intellectual arrogance is causing disabling ignorance and overcome it
    I’ve written about this before. Many people are so proud that they refuse to learn something new, lest it shows them to be ignorant. I remember when Johnny Candito posted about using wrist straps for deadlift and observed that many people don’t use them solely for pride. Similarly, many people won’t use the Lecture-To-The-Wall technique of studying because of pride. Finally, many people cannot overcome a bad habit like drinking, porn use, or video game addiction because they won’t admit that they have a problem. But Drucker recommends that you crush this pride barrier, admit ignorance, and start learning to do the thing that holds you back.

There are several other comments Drucker makes in his essay that would be helpful, but this was meant to help people learn these particular principles and perhaps get you interested in reading the essay itself. How have you applied these principles? If you haven’t, how will you?

*While skimming the essay, I realized that he had intentionally universalized certain Christian principles of self-examination and applied them to goals beyond the constraints of Christian spirituality. In fact when I read it more thoroughly, I discovered that, Drucker admits as much in the essay when he says that “feedback analysis” is simply adapted from the Jesuit and Calvinists in the immediately post reformation era in Europe.

Christians and Non-Christian Literature

Some Christians feel squeamish about learning anything from non-Christian authors. This is understandable, especially in light of the fact that in the Bible there is a clear emphasis on not emulating the evil or desiring the riches of evil people or basing your life on human traditions and false philosophies (see Colossians 2:1-10). Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Psalm 1:

Psalms 1:1-2  Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;  (2)  but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

But other passages of Scripture place the emphasis on learning wisdom wherever it can be found. But the fact of the matter is that the Bible has many cases wherein God’s people can learn from non-Israelites and non-Christians. The only sinful thing would be to learn from sinners (whether Christian or not) to emulate their sinful habits (See Exodus 23:2).

Here are some of the Bible passages about learning from people just because they are wise, regardless of their religious situation:

  1. Moses’ father-in-law, who certain respects the Hebrew people and even sacrifices to their God, but is not a Hebrew himself. Never-the-less, Moses not only follows his advice, but his advice is included as a part of the Torah in Exodus 18.
  2. In Acts, one of Stephen’s praises of Moses is that he was wise in “all the learning of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22).
  3. Paul quotes pagan philosophers in Acts 17, 1 Corinthians 15, and Titus in order to make specific points. In 1 Corinthians, the quote is concerning the capacity of bad character to corrupt good morals. Paul could have easily quoted Proverbs on this score, but didn’t.
  4. In Titus 1:15 Paul notes that to the pure, all things are pure, including the very mythologies he says not to obsess over earlier in the book (1:14).
  5. In Daniel, Daniel knows all of the wisdom of the Chaldeans, and this is considered a good thing.

Anyhow, the point is that while Christians should be concerned to avoid emulating the evil they see in others (whether Christian or not), they should not feel bad about learning to be wise or discovering truth from non-Christians. Instead, in all their getting, they should get wisdom.

Don’t Retire to Watch T.V. and Wish You’d Lived Differently

Don’t retire, if you retire from your career, pursue your calling as soon as you clock out on your last day.

Watch this video. This woman is 100.

Proverbs 24:10 says:

“If you faint in days of adversity, your strength is small.”

I hope to follow this woman’s advice and I hope you do to.

Here’s an article at describing a study which tried to determine if the phrase “he worked himself to death” describes a real phenomena: Hard Workers Live Longer

ht to Gary North for finding the video.

On the Accumulation of Tradition in Christianity

Nicholas Taleb helps us understand why tradition is helpful::

Consider the role of heuristic (rule-of-thumb) knowledge embedded in traditions. Simply, just as evolution operates on individuals, so does it act on these tacit, unexplainable rules of thumb transmitted through generations— what Karl Popper has called evolutionary epistemology. But let me change Popper’s idea ever so slightly (actually quite a bit): my take is that this evolution is not a competition between ideas, but between humans and systems based on such ideas. An idea does not survive because it is better than the competition, but rather because the person who holds it has survived! Accordingly, wisdom you learn from your grandmother should be vastly superior (empirically, hence scientifically) to what you get from a class in business school (and, of course, considerably cheaper). My sadness is that we have been moving farther and farther away from grandmothers.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2012-11-27). Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Kindle Locations 3841-3847). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Now, in Christianity tradition includes, but is not limited to Scripture. The idea is that Scripture is the measuring rod against which other traditions are judged. Scripture takes pride of place whether the church is examining practices, beliefs, or ways of speaking about God. But this does not mean that traditions are always wrong.

Socrates is right that everything should be questions. Postmodernists are wrong that they should be rejected.

How to read several books a year

I love reading and I love reading a lot. But sometimes I get depressed and don’t “feel it” or I get busy and don’t pick up a book. Author Jeff Olson, in his book The Slight Edge offers a solution to this problem:

Everything you need to know to be successful—every how-to, every practical action—is already written in books like these. Here’s a Slight Edge action guaranteed to change your life: read just ten pages of a good book, a book aimed at improving your life, every day.

If you read ten pages of a good book today, will your life change? Of course not. If you don’t read ten pages of a good book today, will your life fall apart? Of course not.

I could tell my shoeshine friend that if she would agree to read ten pages of one of these good books every single day, over time, she could not help but accumulate all the knowledge she’d ever need to be as successful as she ever wanted to be—successful enough to send her daughter to that cheerleading camp and hey, to send her to the best college in the country if she wanted. Like a penny over time, reading ten pages a day would compound, just like that, and create a ten-million-dollar bank of knowledge in her.

Would she do it? On day 1, sure. And day 2. And maybe day 3. But would she still be doing it by the end of the week? If she did keep reading, over the course of the year she would have read 3,650 pages—the equivalent of one or two dozen books of life-transforming material! Would her life have changed? Absolutely. No question. But here, back in week 1, all that’s still an invisible result.

And that is exactly why most people never learn to recognize or understand the Slight Edge, the reason most people never learn how to make the Slight Edge work for them, and why the Slight Edge ends up working against them: When you make the right choice, you won’t see the results. At least, not today.

We live in a result-focused world. We expect to see results, and we expect to see them now. Push the button, the light flicks on. Step on the scale, look in the mirror, check the account balance online 24/7. Give me feedback, trip a sensor, hit a buzzer, tell me, tell me, tell me it’s working!(Olson, 37)

Just ten pages a day, a discipline that could be accomplished a page at a time if necessary could lead you or I to read 3650 words per year, minimum. Most people won’t do it because it doesn’t feel epic enough. Same reason many people quit simple but effective training routines like Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, Body by Science by Doug McGuff, the six week program by Johnny Candito or Heavy Duty by Mike Mentzer. All of these programs will yield impressive results over the course of 12 months. The results will be even more impressive if the training is accompanied by increased sleep and improved diet. But, since the results won’t be evident in three weeks or six weeks, most people will give up. When I was a personal trainer I had several people give up while they were still simply learning perfect form.

Anyhow, don’t let time be the excuse you don’t read. This is especially important if you’re a teacher or a clergy member whose job is to be informed.

Trivium 2: Logic

In previous posts I introduced the liberal arts as a whole and grammar. In this post I intend to explain and outline the art of logic or dialectic.

Many people here the word logic and they think one of two things:

  1. logic is just common sense, why study it?
  2. logic sounds boring and difficult, it’s not for me.

I wish to challenge both of these lines of thought. The first is half true. Logic is common sense, but so are running and jumping. But with training, one can run a 6-minute mile or jump high enough to leap onto platforms several feet in the air. The second is simply not also half true. When studying something new, it can feel boring once it becomes hard, but that does not mean it is not for you. For instance, as a baby, learning to walk is hard, but ultimately it is worth it. The same goes for learning new languages, new mathematical skills, and new technologies; they are hard and at times boring, but make greater happiness possible.

With these two common objections to learning logic behind us, there are positive reasons to learn it. Read this quote from Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff:

There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.

Notice the claim in bold. If this is true, experience seems to indicate that it is, then our dominate institutions are training young people to be threatened by claims which contradict their beliefs. Put more simply, people are learning to be offended by disagreement. One of the primary reasons to learn logic is that it can train us to distance ourselves from our beliefs and the claims of others and to ask whether or not they are supported or coherent with one another.

Another reason to learn logic is that logic is training in virtue. Dallas Willard observed that:

[Logic] requires the will to be logical, and then certain personal qualities that make it possible and actual: qualities such as freedom from distraction, focused attention on the meanings or ideas involved in talk and thought, devotion to truth, and willingness to follow the truth wherever it leads via logical relations. All of this in turn makes significant demands upon moral character. Not just on points such as resoluteness and courage, though those are required. A practicing hypocrite, for example, will not find a friend in logic, nor will liars, thieves, murderers and adulterers. They will be constantly alert to appearances and inferences that may logically implicate them in their wrong actions. Thus the literary and cinematic genre of mysteries is unthinkable without play on logical relations.

Those devoted to defending certain pet assumptions or practices come what may will also have to protect themselves from logic. All of this is, I believe, commonly recognized by thoughtful people. Less well understood is the fact that one can be logical only if one is committed to being logical as a fundamental value. One is not logical by chance, any more than one just happens to be moral. And, indeed, logical consistency is a significant factor in moral character. That is part of the reason why in an age that attacks morality, as ours does, the logical will also be demoted or set aside–as it now is.

Again, note the bold. Willard observes that since being logical requires that one be devoted to truth, free from distraction, and concerned with meaning that those who only want to defend pet ideas will find no friend in logic. And we live in a world wherein people seem to have no plan to examine their lives as Socrates recommended. I’ve known Christians, atheists, democrats, republicans, logic professors, men, women, adults, and children who approach thought in this unexamined way. I know that at times I certainly do.

The fact is of the matter is that using logic in order to examine whether or not one’s thoughts follow from evidence, contradict one another, or match up with our actions is a part of training in virtue, especially the virtues of prudence and courage. And, if it is true that virtue leads to happiness, then logic is crucial for increasing in happiness.

What is Logic?

In short, logic or dialectic is the skill of thinking things through. There are several varieties. Logic can be taught in a symbolic or mathematical form or a propositional (sentence based) form. Similarly, logical reasoning can be divided up in terms of the form taken in the reasoning. One can utilize deductive reasoning or inductive reasoning. These can simplified in this way:

  1. Deductive reasoning is reasoning such that true statements are arranged in such a way as to yield a necessarily (this means it cannot be any other way) true conclusion.
  2. Inductive reasoning is based on probabilities or what may or is likely or unlikely to be the case.

Either of these logical forms requires that you have three things in order to have a complete syllogism (a series of statements leading to a conclusion):

  1. Premises – these are the starting facts of a syllogism.
  2. Inferences – these are statements moving beyond any of the individual premises by relating them to one another or moving beyond them in a way which follows the rules of thought (to be discussed later).
  3. Conclusion – this is the final inference in the series.

An example might look something like this:

  1. The sum of the angle measurements in a triangle is 180 degrees. (Premise: Statement)
  2. Therefore, the sum of the angle measurements of two triangles is 360 degrees. (Premise: Inference from point 1)
  3. Any quadrilateral is the sum of two triangles.
  4. Therefore, the sum of the angles in a quadrilateral is 360 degree. (Conclusion: inference from statements 1, 2, and 3).

Though a comprehensive overview of logical reasoning is not possible in a blog post, I do want to mention arguing by analogy. Argument by analogy is looking at a known relationship, such as that between water and its constituent elements: hydrogen and oxygen and generalizing a principle from this relationship and using it to make a provisional inference concerning an unknown relationship:

  1. Water is constituted by molecules made up of hydrogen and oxygen.
  2. Other liquids, like alcohol, are similar to water.
  3. Therefore, they are likely constituted by molecules made up of still more simple elements.

Argument by analogy is most commonly used to form conjectures in mathematics and hypothesis in science. It is a very common form of argument in the human sciences and in courtrooms. It is especially handy in automotive repair and medical experiments (mice respond this way, therefore human beings may as well). A good example of religious and philosophical argument by analogy is The Analogy of Religion by Joseph Butler.

Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Learning Logic/Dialectic

  1. Logic trains us to have mental resilience.
  2. Learning logic trains us to find the truth in any discipline. It functions as the foundation of everything from jurisprudence and forensic science to chemistry and mathematics.
  3. Learning logic helps us to question authority.
  4. Learning logic can help us to learn temperance (the virtue of responding rightly to our passions/feelings).
  5. Learning logic can help you to discover small hypocrisies in your life wherein your actions do not match up with the apparent truths you accept.
  6. Learning logic can help you to deal with difficult people.
  7. Learning logic can help you become a more effective writer by helping you to avoid contradiction and to write paragraphs is a sequence which flows from premise to conclusion or from assumptions to application and so-on.

Resources for Learning Logic:

  1. Online Tools:
    1. Logic Page
    2. Khan Academy
    3. Any number of old logic text books available at for free.
  2. Books
    1. Socratic Logic by Peter Kreeft
    2. Any LSAT preparation guide.


How to become a morning person

A couple of days ago my wife wrote a post about becoming a morning person. Go read it. In the first paragraph she makes this observation:

I’ve always admired people who can get up and enjoy the early morning hours. I’ve admired their discipline and craved the fruits of what they enjoy–the peace and solitude and freshness of a day in its infancy. Really, there’s nothing quite like the morning time. Apart from the the grogginess it brought, I have always had an appreciation for the morning…when I’ve woken up early enough to enjoy it.That’s the kicker.

Have you ever struggled to be a morning person? I have. When I was younger, I could stay up all night with no problem. I could even wake up before my cousins. But even as a child, I always felt very tired in the middle of the day. Even when I’ve had manual labor jobs, I’ve usually wanted to simply be asleep from the hours of 9AM-5PM. But in the middle of the night and the early morning, I’ve always been good to go.

When I was younger, people would be amazed at how much I could read. But I used to work night jobs, which meant on days off or when I got home around midnight or later, I would simply read all night and sleep until about 11AM and get on with my day feeling exhausted until evening. And, btw, if I did wake up before 10AM, I was usually quite energized until the afternoon. In all seriousness, even on days when I worked mornings, I could stay up until a couple of hours before work, take a nap, and work and not feel any different than I would feel if I had slept eight hours.

Now I have a day-job. Like 8-5. Now, historically, this has been the time period when I’m least functional. Worst of all, right when I got hired, I grew out of the ability to go with very little sleep and have no ill-effect. If I pull all-nighters I get cranky. So, to deal with this, I had to think about how to become a “morning person/day person” so that I could still get reading and writing done. I simply didn’t want to be somebody who was in a bad mood at work from staying up late or somebody who was “normal” with respect to reading volume. “I don’t really read anymore because when I get home from work, I don’t feel like it.”

Here are the steps I took for becoming a morning person:

  1. Mindset Shift: If other people can do it, I can too.
    Although some research suggests that morning/night people are stuck that way, self-limiting beliefs of that sort are unproductive until they’re conclusively proven to be true. In fact, many doctors and refinery workers have jobs that force them to change from night to day shift on a regular basis.
  2. Visualization: Imagine yourself getting out of bed without hitting the snooze button before you start your evening reading/prayer time in bed.
    One can elicit all sorts of physiological and neurological effects through visualization. If you imagine an embarrassing event from your youth, your cheeks can go beet red. So set yourself for a habit you don’t have yet by imagining getting up in the morning and associating that with positive feelings.
  3. Lists: Make lists of what you wish to accomplish in your mornings.
    Even if you simply want a leisurely morning so that the trip to work isn’t a terrible rush, make a list the night before. That always helps me.
  4. Fatty Food: Only eat fat and protein within three hours of bedtime, no carbs.
    I’m no doctor and this isn’t medical advice, but I hypothesize that only eating fat and protein late in the day will keep you from waking up in a hypoglycemic stupor because your body will already be in a fat burning state. This change might necessitate and entire dietary transformation, though.
  5. Find a ‘why’: Determine why mornings are important to you and make them non-negotiable.
    As a Christian, perhaps mornings are important because they give you time to pray, as a parent, they give you alone time, as a programmer they give you time for personal projects, as an athlete they give you time to prepare meals, or whatever it is figure it out. Until those values are no longer important to you, make yourself do the thing in the morning. You are what you do and if your “why” results in no “what,” then over time you will value that thing less and less until it is no longer a part of your life. Mornings can save you from giving up on your purpose.
  6. Get Enough Sleep: Go to bed early enough to get your ideal amount of sleep.
    Some people need four hours of sleep, some people need twelve. Find your number and go to bed with enough wiggle room to take 30-minutes to doze off and therefore achieve your ideal amount of sleep.

Other tips might include using melatonin for a brief time, using cold showers as soon as you wake up, incrementally waking up earlier (fifteen minutes a week or five minutes a day), or asking an early riser in your household to ensure your expulsion from dreamland manually.

I hope this helps. What tips do you have for becoming a morning person?