Logical Thinking in a Three-Almost-Four-Year Old

04/05/2011 By Shawn Burns

“I love Disneyland!” Erin exclaimed. This was unsurprising. Of course she loves Disneyland. But she followed this announcement with an example of a perfect syllogism, and I was completely floored.

“At Disneyland there’s nothing I don’t like,” she began.

“I don’t like monsters,” she continued.

“So there’s no monsters at Disneyland!” She concluded.

This is a perfect syllogism, if a little grammatically odd. She had a Major premise “All X are Y”, in this case “All (things at Disneyland) are (things I like)”. She had a Minor premise “Z is a non-Y”, in this case “(Monsters) are not (things I like)”. And she had a conclusion that related the Minor to the Major premise, “Therefore Z is a non-X”, or “(Monsters) are not (things at Disneyland).”

I was so floored by what she’d done, all on her own, that I didn’t have the heart t o point out the difference between a valid syllogism, one whose conclusion follows from the premises, and a sound one, which requires that the premises themselves be true. There totally are monsters at Disneyland.

This is the difference between intelligence and wisdom: an intelligent person can reason correctly all day long. But only a wise person, with substance to add to the form of logic, can use logic to operate in the world. Wisdom requires facts, not just reason. And that’s why we usually attribute wisdom to our elders: they have the most facts, and the ones who combine those facts with keen rationality are our guides.