The Founding Fathers lived in an atmosphere where the need for definitions was recognized and appreciated. Being also schooled in the practical arts of getting things done, they further recognized that there were limitations within definitions themselves and did not push definition beyond what was needed and appropriate. They had a deeper insight into the function of the relation of definition to reason. The main logical purpose of definition, from their point of view, was to avoid equivocation, that is the switching of the meaning of a term within a given reasoning processes. John Locke said, “…yet this is the least that can be expected that in all Discourses, wherein one Man pretends to instruct or convince another, he should use the same Word constantly in the same Sense.” (35) He further says, “…yet, methinks, those who pretend seriously to search after or maintain Truth, should think themselves obliged to study how they might deliver themselves without Obscurity, Doubtfulness or Equivocation to which Men’s Words are naturally liable, if care be not taken.” (36)

            In the simplest possible terms, the second rule of reason can be stated thus: EQUIVOCATION IS WRONG. This rule is based on the assumption that within a discourse the same word should be mutually understood by those involved and used constantly in the same sense. Failure to communicate the meaning intended or changing the meaning within a given reasoning process is equivocation. Through respect for definitions and insistence on “plain speaking” popular in the Colonies, equivocation was often avoided.

            Understanding this basic rule makes it possible to appreciate the radical significance of the new theories of language. Hayakawa says, “One of the premises of modern linguistic thought, No word ever has exactly the same meaning twice.” (37) If no word ever has exactly the same meaning twice, it becomes impossible throughout a discourse to use the same word constantly in the same sense as Locke advised. The second rule of reason is, therefore, in the light of the new philosophy, deceptive and dangerous.

            From these different points of view, one philosophy encourages definitions and the use of dictionaries, the other discourages definition. With diametrically opposed requirements of this nature, how can those of the “old” and the “new” reason carry on a rational dialogue? They may play verbal games with each other, but it will never be a genuine conversation because there is no common ground for minds to meet. Those who cannot reason together will soon resort to other methods of resolving conflicts. The issue is serious and failure to make an effort to resolve it is irresponsible.




            If a person were looking for examples of the effects of classical education, the founding fathers would make excellent material for such a study. They approached the ideas of Cicero, Virgil, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc., from a fresh point of view removed from European sophistication, skepticism, and decadence. Being men of self-reliance, they did not idolize the classics but analyzed them as one source of knowledge among many. Approached in this spirit of open inquiry, they were able to examine both the value of reason and the foibles of human nature. With this perspective, their expectations of “reason” were kept in bounds without destroying their optimism. To appreciate the attitude the founding fathers had toward logic, it is instructive to examine the type of education they received.

            At age 15, John Adams, after demonstrating his proficiency in Latin, was admitted to Harvard College (1751-1755). There he studied natural philosophy under Professor John Winthrop, famous for his research on Venus and sunspots and also well known for his friendship with Benjamin Franklin. From this aspect of his education Adams developed his appreciation of science and the scientific method. The other two thirds of his education was under the direction of Edward Wigglesworth, the professor in charge of the traditional subjects; Greek, Latin, reading in the classics, logic, rhetoric, and ethics. Although Professor Wigglesworth was deaf and, some say, shy, his brilliance, wit, and practical common sense made him an inspiring teacher. He introduced young John Adams to the world of knowledge and provided him with tools to evaluate the new ideas that were rushing into his life. The professor emphasized the need for both inductive and deductive methods in the search for truth. His favorite quotation, he was famous for often repeating, was, “Upon the prickly bush of Logick grows Of other Sciences the fragrant Rose.” (38)

            Thomas Jefferson at William and Mary continued his already impressive studies reading Plato in Greek, Cicero in Latin, and Montesquieu (the philosopher who maintained that freedom could be created by separating powers into executive, judicial, and legislative) in French. Jefferson’s scope of interest amazed everyone. “His mind seized with equal avidity upon Greek grammar and Newtonian Physics. He mastered calculus with the same ease as Spanish.” (39) Through a fortunate set of circumstances, Jefferson got the greater part of his logic, rhetoric, and ethics from William Small whose personal influence was unforgettable in fixing the destiny of Jefferson’s life. Being qualified to fill the chair of either moral or natural philosophy, Small was able to communicate to Jefferson the unity of logic and science and to point out the importance of both theory and experimentation in the development of knowledge. Small “…was one of those rare men who point the way, who show new paths, who open doors before the mind.” (40)

            Alexander Hamilton, born in Nevis, British West Indies, came to the Colonies to complete his education. He attended a grammar school at Elizabethtown in New Jersey. Here “…he got up his Latin, Greek, and mathematics with such success that in a year he was ready for college.” (41) In 1773, at age 16 or 18 (there is a dispute over the year of his birth) he entered King’s College, now Columbia University, as a student with special status. Here he studied logic, rhetoric and natural philosophy. He did readings in French, history, literature, and philosophy. For mathematics he had a personal tutor. In his early pamphlets, (1775) he expresses his admiration of Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaiqui.  He quotes Pope, Hume, Blackstone, and Coke. He also expressed strong disagreement with Mr. Hobbes demonstrating that reading did not necessarily mean agreeing. Hamilton said, “Moral obligation, according to him (Hobbes) is derived from the introduction of civil society; and there is no virtue but what is purely artificial, the mere contrivance of politicians for the maintenance of social intercourse. But the reason he (Hobbes) ran into this absurd and impious doctrine was, that he disbelieved the existence of an intelligent, superintending principle, who is the governor, and will be the final judge, of the universe.” (42)

            In 1776, Kings College was closed because of the war and Hamilton joined Washington’s troops. Louis Hacker, in his biography, said that when Hamilton led away his company of volunteers, “…he took with him amoung others, the following books: Demosthenes, Cicero, Plutarch, Bacon, Hobbes, Rouseau’s Emile, a number of histories, and Rault’s Dictionary of Trade and Commerce.” (43)

            As a freshman at Yale, Noah Webster studied Cicero’s oration, the Greek testament, logic, and arithmetic. He learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. As a sophomore he studied Latin, Greek, rhetoric, geometry, and geography. As a junior and senior, with time out to fight in the war, he continued studies in Latin and Greek, moral philosophy and, among other things, Locke’s On Human Understanding.

            Benjamin Franklin, a self-educated man, stated in his autobiography that around the age of 16 his ambition was to become a tolerable English writer and therefore he began to devote as much time as possible to exercises and reading. “I read about this time Locke’s On Human Understanding and the Art of Thinking, by Messrs. du Port Royal. While I was intent on improving my language, I met with an English grammar (I think it was Greenwood’s) at the end of which there were two little sketches of the arts of rhetoric and logic, the latter finishing with a specimen of a dispute in the Socratic method; and soon after I procur’d Zenophon’s Memorable Things of Socrates, wherein there are many instances of the same method. I was charm’d with it, adopted it, dropt my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer and doubter.” (44)

            These basic studies in logic, rhetoric, ethics, and the classics, combined with the new ideas of natural science and the experimental method, produced many men who launched themselves on a lifetime of self-education. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Noah Webster, to name a few, were Doctors “Universalis”. Their interests extended in every direction. Their logic was an interesting synthesis of principle and fact, of theory and practice. They rarely spoke of “reason” alone, but would rather say “reason and truth”, or “reason and virtue”. They seemed to recognize that reason was an operation uniting principle and practice and did not expect “reason alone” to solve their problems. Reason was the form. Theory and fact were the content. Reason thus conceived was a tool to be used and was a tool they used to great advantage.

            An example of this type of logic can be found in Washington’s Farewell Address, a joint work of Washington, Madison, and Hamilton. The purpose of this address was to leave to posterity an explanation of the principles that had guided Washington’s administration. He desired, he explained at the beginning of his address, to take advantage of “…an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplations and to recommend to your frequent review some sentiments, which are the result of much reflections, and no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to be all-important, to the permanency of your felicity as a people.” (45) The reflection and observation, so characteristic of Washington, is then distilled into what were considered to be basic principles and maxims of his administration. He concludes his address by saying, “How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world – To myself and the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.” (46) The public records and other evidences do witness to what he said. Washington not only talked about his political principles, but also lived by them.

            The founding fathers were men of principle, but since they made a genuine effort to practice their principles, they were also humble men. Thomas Jefferson said, “Only lay down true principles, and adhere to them inflexibly. Do not be frightened into their surrender by the alarms of the timid…” (47) he also said, “I tolerate with the utmost latitude the right of others to differ from me in opinion without imputing to them criminality. I know too well the weakness and uncertainty of human reason to wonder at its different results.” (48)

            John Adams was of a similar opinion. He believed that the successful completion of a revolution of government was the strongest proof that can be given by a people of their virtue and good sense. He said, “An Interprize of so much difficulty can never be planned and carried on without Abilities, and a People without Principle cannot have confidence enough in each other.” (49) He also said, “The Science of Government, like all other Sciences, is best pursued by Observation and Experiment – Remark the phenomena of Nature, and from these deduce the Principles and Ends of Government.” (50)

            Adams, after his term as president, decided to write an autobiography. In explaining his purpose he said, “It is not for the Public but for my Children that I commit these Memoirs to writing: and to them and their Posterity I recommend, not the public Course, which the times and the Country in which I was born and the Circumstance which surrounded me compelled me to pursue: but those Moral Sentiments and Sacred Principles, which at all hazards and by every Sacrifice I have endeavored to preserve through Life.” (51)

            Although these “men of reason” had serious disagreements among themselves and disenchanting flaws in their characters, the framers of the Constitution were able to surmount these limitations in a remarkable degree and achieve workable solutions to difficult problems. They had a common logic, a common belief in principle and practice, and a common basic education in the classics that improved their ability to think with clarity and communicate with understanding. Clinton Rossiter in The First American Revolution says, “The role call of Harvard and William and Mary men in the Revolution should be evidence enough that Latin, logic, and metaphysics were rich fertilizer in the cultivation of reason, virtue, honor, and love of liberty.” (52)

            From this information the conclusion can be reached that the founding fathers were schooled in traditional logic and rhetoric, and were encouraged to be men of principle and fair play as well as men of science. They rejected Machiavellian intrigue because it contradicted their ideas of virtue and truth. They were uninfluenced by Kant’s theory of transcendental logic or the Hegelian dialectic because they had never heard of these notions. Reason, as understood by the Founding Fathers, was the ethic of traditional logic put into practice.

            That is the way it was, but all that is now changing. As Wendell Johnson says; “Generalizations, those great symbolic nets in which men try to capture the eagles of time, have been wrecked, one after the other, by the creatures they were designed to snare. Aristotle and Euclid and Newton and the other Old Men of the school books have been challenged, to their loss, by modern mathematics and scientists, by Einstein and Korzybski and Russell and the other new-day students of change and process.” (53) He emphasizes that change and process are to supplant old static ideas of logic and principle. Whereas Thomas Jefferson could advise his friend not to be frightened into the surrender of his principles by the alarms of the timid, Wendell Johnson says, “In the education of tomorrow, knowledge will be presented as tentative, as subject to ‘change without notice’…The student will be taught not only how to ‘make up his mind’ but also how to change it easily and effectively…This notion of the process character of reality underlies and generates nothing less than a new kind of civilization.” (54)

            The man of principle, once a man admired and trusted, is now a man to be ridiculed. William James states, ‘in this real world of sweat and dirt, it seems to me than when a view of things is ‘noble’, that ought to count as a presumption against its truth, and as a philosophic disqualification.” (55)

            The person who aims to live by principles or even to discuss his principles is now described as “a shrill voice armed with clichés” vainly attempting to “roll back the clock”. He is thought of as a little man devoted to his own empire, his own special interest, and his own outdated habits. After all, as Stuart Chase says, “Principles are not tools by which discoveries are made, for they tend to close the mind against free inquiry.” (56)

            In speaking of Existentialism, Rene Alberes, and authority on contemporary French literature, explains that the realization that “…there are no rules to govern our conduct and no systems to bring us stability and peace of mind, is in point of fact the hallmark of the literature of our time;…The harmonious synthesis of Classicism and the great systems of the Enlightenment belong to the past.” (57)

            Earlier logic was based on the assumption that the facts of experience and sound principles inferred from those facts in some manner placed man in contact with the truth and harmony of the universe. This was assumed by the founding fathers. This point was not belabored. Apparently no one thought of it as anything that required much discussion.

            The new thinking and the new reason that is guiding this generation to its destiny now rejects those assumptions. A different understanding of logic leads to a different approach to reality. Becker is referring to this new approach when he says, “The remarkable convergence of 20th century thinkers…is the elaboration of the idea that human meaning is arbitrary…The linguistic self-system spins itself like a web, wondrously suspended in space. It feeds on sound and ideation, and just enough experience to make peace with the exigencies of physiology and survival…The world of human aspiration is fundamentally fictitious. If we do not understand this, we understand nothing about man. It is a purely symbolic creation, by an ego-controlled animal, that permits action in a psychological world.” (58)

            The rejection of general rules and principles and a belief that social rules of behavior are a fiction designed by man to bolster his self-esteem is an outcome of the direct rejections of traditional logic. It will be shown later how closely these phenomena are related. Traditional logic promotes a certain kind of philosophy based on a specific idea of reason. It is not surprising, then, to find that the rejection of traditional logic eventually leads to the rejection of the philosophy that developed out of that logic.

            There can be no doubt that “traditional” logic is being repudiated en masse. Although the new intellectuals rarely agree on anything, they do agree that “traditional” logic is bankrupt. The following comments illustrate the attitude toward “traditional” logic that is predominant at the present time.


“So formal logic detached from the yes-or-no game is useless and even dangerous. It is an unnatural way of thinking, a contrived technique of going from unwarranted assumptions to foregone conclusions…I honestly believe that you’re better off without it. Most psychologists today would say the same.”

             Flesh, The Art of Clear Thinking (59)


“…academic philosophy and formal logic have hampered rather than advanced knowledge, and should be abandoned.”

            Chase, Tyranny of Words (60)


“The ideal type is related to two other features in (Max) Weber’s thought; first, a thoroughgoing nominalism, and secondly, a conviction that the concepts applied to cultural phenomena cannot be reduced to the framework of traditional logic.”

            Aron, The Logic of the Social Sciences (61)


“Responsibility is logically related to freedom, and in logic there is no freedom, for everything is controlled by rigid rules of syllogism.”

            Suzuki, Zen Buddhism (62)


“I am driven then to the conclusion that logistics is an intellectual game of make-believe, which mathematically trained pedants love to play, but which does not on this account become incumbent on everyone. It may have the advantage that it keeps logisticians out of other mischief. But I fail to see that it has either any serious significance for understanding scientific knowing or any educational importance for sharpening wits.”

            Schiller, Rune’s Treasury of Philosophy (63)


“I conclude that the Aristotelian doctrines with which we have been concerned in this chapter are wholly false, with the exception of the formal theory of the syllogism, which is unimportant. Any person in the present day who wishes to learn logic will be wasting his time if he reads Aristotle or any of his disciples…Throughout modern times, practically every advance in science, in logic, or in philosophy has had to be made in the teeth of opposition from Aristotle’s disciples.”

            Bertrand Russell, Basic Writings (64)


“What has past under the name of ‘logic’, for instance, is not ‘logic’ according to its own definitions, but represents a philosophical grammar of a primitive-made language, of a structure different from the structure of the world, unfit for serious use. If we try to apply the rules of the old ‘logic’ we find ourselves blocked by ridiculous impasses. So, naturally, we discover that we have no use for such a ‘logic’”.

            Korzybski, Science and Sanity (65)


“The compound of Biblical religion with Aristotelianism was particularly unfortunate because it accentuated the idea of a world of fixed and eternal essences in which deductive rational processes could explore the unknown on the basis of the known…”

            Niebuhr, The Self and the Dramas of History (66)


“The history of Western knowledge is thus one of progressive emancipation from Classical thought, an emancipation never willed but enforced in the depths of the unconscious.”

            Watzlawick, Pragmatics of Human Communication (67)


“My belief in the Absolute…clashes with other truths of mind whose benefits I hate to give up on its account. It happens to be associated with a kind of logic of which I am the enemy…My disbelief in the Absolute means then disbelief in those other supernumerary features, for I fully believe in the legitimacy of taking moral holidays.”

            Wm. James, Pragmatism (68)


“Because the idea of change and development was so central to his thought, Hegel was forced to conclude that the traditional, formal, and (as he called it in derogation) static logic of Aristotle was hopelessly inadequate, and that it had to be replaced by what he called a dialectical logic more adequate to deal with the Absolute…It is sufficient to say that Hegelians abandoned or professed to abandon traditional logic and replaced it by their own dialectical formula.”

            White, The Age of Analysis (69)


“It is a fact that the requirements of the objects have rendered unusable schematized techniques and outworn logic. From physics to biology, the sciences of nature have not ceased to exercise a growing pressure over our habits of thought, to the point of forcing us at a certain level to abandon traditional logic.”

            Garaudy, Karl Marx (70)


            These examples, and they can be multiplied many times over, clearly indicate that traditional logic and classical education emphasizing virtue are no longer held in high esteem. The type of education received by the founding fathers has become the antagonist of the new educators. Those of the new way are not interested in amending or improving the old ways, but in repudiating them.

            A review of the subjects and languages studied by Thomas Jefferson in his youth reveals an exposure to classical education par excellence. He read Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Terence in the original Latin. He read Voltaire, Helvetius, and Holback in French. He deeply admired Shakespeare and Milton. To get to the roots of the English common law he studied Anglo-Saxon and to read Ossian he studied Gaelic. (71) Nathan Schachner said in his biography of Jefferson, “All his life Jefferson remained grateful for the education he had received, and particularly for his training in the classics. To the Latin and Greek models he attributed ‘…the chaste and rational style of modern composition instead of the inflated and vague manner of the eastern and Northern nations…I should feel myself more indebted to my father for having procure it to me, than for any other luxury I derived from his bounty.’” (72)

            The “new reason” now rejects this luxury, so valued by Jefferson, as a positive evil. When Hutchins ventured the daring proposition that even twentieth century students could benefit from grammar, rhetoric, logic, Euclid, and the classics, Stuart Chase replied that he considered such an education a bucket full of blather. “Back, young men and women of the twentieth century, to the broad bosom of Plato! Within these academic shades let it be known that Galileo flung his cannon balls in vain; Bruno died at the stake to no purpose; Einstein discovered nothing of educational importance. Dr. Hutchins is too young to be so tired. The intellectual elite have been reared on the classics for hundreds of years. Look at the world they have helped to make.” (73)