According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word logic is defined as, “the branch of philosophy that treats the forms of thinking in general, and more especially of inference and of scientific method.” The dictionary goes on to elaborate on the large term, stating that it is also “a formal system using symbolic techniques and mathematical methods to establish truth-values in the physical sciences, in language, and in philosophical argument” [1]. The form of logic most relevant to media studies is syllogistic logic. Though symbolic logic, often referred to as mathematical logic, formal and informal logic are often utilized in the analyzing of media as well.

Related theoretical words are sense, deductive reasoning, syllogism, semiotics, argument, fallacies, and paradoxes. Relevant types of logic in relation to discussion on media are philosophical logic, Aristotelian logic, and syllogistic logic.

Logic is a very broad term with several uses. In this case, logic will be examined as it relates primarily to the study of media. In this sense, even, the term is extensive and can be approached from many angles; logic is both a medium in itself, as well as a way of understanding different media. In his book, “Understanding Media,” Marshall McLuhan argues, “the medium is the message.” [2]. I will use these terms throughout this article- “medium” and “message.” Please refer to Keyword: Media for an understanding of the term. In the case of “message,” however, I mean to point to the theoretical object of communication that aids the experiencer in reaching a mediated conclusion regarding the meaning of the media. Logic is a primarily theoretical term used in the metalanguage of media, which arises when reflecting upon or analyzing the message posed by some media. In short, logic is a “grammar of media” which investigates the arguments posed by a media, and serves a vital role in our internal mediation of the message. Media is, in one sense, defined as “the middle term in a syllogism” [3]. Syllogism is a term derived from Aristotelian logic in which “sullogismos” stands in for “deduction.” In the case of logic as it relates to mediation and its connection to the study of media, this refers to the deductive reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn from two premises. These two premises must contain a common middle ground in which logic is utilized to mediate between the media and the message. In this article, logic and its history is discussed briefly in theoretical terms as a medium of the middle term of a syllogism. Logic is then examined in regard to its relation to specific types of media.

The most fundamental way to discuss logic, syllogistic or otherwise, is in terms of logos, or the word, and semiotics (Please refer to keyword: Semiotics). This type of logic, like syllogistic logic, falls under the larger term of philosophical logic, and is an “argument expressed or claimed to be expressible in the form of two propositions called the premises, containing the common middle term, with a third proposition called the conclusion, resulting necessarily from the other two” [4]. The philosophy of language is directly related to logic, as an understanding of language is required in order to communicate ideas. In the dialogues of Plato, informal logic, or natural language arguments, are utilized. Though his Theory of Forms is based upon the development of an un-mediated form of supra-sensible media in man’s mind, his dialogues regarding the subject take place according to informal logic, and demonstrate his ideal method of posing an effective argument. Instead of stating his theories in a paper or essay directed to the reader, Plato created dialogues in which he utilized informal logic in persuasive conversation [5]. In Aristotle’s “Organon,” logic plays the vital role of mediating between words and thoughts. According to Aristotle, our interactions with sensible objects pave the way for understanding the outside world on a practical level [6].

Deductive reasoning is another important term in discussing syllogistic logic. Deductive reasoning, as opposed to inductive reasoning, refers to a logic based upon a previous understanding of a general concept, which allows an individual to draw knowledge when confronted with a more specific particular. Generally speaking, when an individual is confronted with a media, he or she uses this logic to derive the message from what that individual senses, or knows about the media. A fallacy occurs when the logic driving a conclusion is invalid (7). This invalidity often occurs in the form of the argument, and does not necessarily illustrate a misunderstanding, but an inability to effectively communicate a message so that another individual can understand it. Fallacies are important when using formal or informal logic, as they are dependent upon an argument, and require verbalized logic. They must explain the mediation process connecting the media to the message. When an argument leads to a seeming contradiction between the mediate knowledge of a concept and the immediate knowledge of a particular, a paradox arises. Paradoxes defy intuition, or the immediate sensible knowledge of a particular acquired upon confrontation with that particular. Logic aids human understanding and the process of matching up of our mediate and immediate knowledge of the world.

On a similar note, Wittgenstein uses logic to study this relationship between words and concepts, and internal logic exists as a medium of its own. He locates a problem within the way that we mediate the message, and demonstrates the inability of man to accurately describe a concept in words- or translate the message of one media into another. In one classic example, Wittgenstein discusses the education of a man in the concept of a leaf. The man is shown multiple images of various leaves, and he then creates within himself the concept of a leaf. Wittgenstein writes, “We say that what he sees is in common to all these leaves; and this is true if we mean that he can on being asked tell us certain features or properties which they have in common. But we are inclined to think that the general idea of a leaf is something like a visual image, but one that only contains what is common to all leaves. This again is connected to the idea that the meaning of a word is an image, or a thing correlated to the word. Again, the idea we have of what happens when we get hold of the general idea ‘leaf’, ‘plant’, etc. etc., is connected with the confusion between a mental state, meaning a state of a hypothetical mental mechanism, and a mental state meaning state of consciousness” [8]. Logic fuels Wittgenstein’s argument regarding the mediation between words and concepts. The studies of Francis Galton [9], and Immanuel Kant [10] focus on this critique of logic as a method of mediation. These men identify logic as internal and self-referential. Words, or any other media for that matter, exist in the external world and contain their own message. Logic is our method of mediation between our internal reasoning, and the message of a given media. As emphasized by the referenced philosophers, there may be inherent problems within logic, which occur during the mediation of a message. In this way, logic itself exists as its own medium.

In addition to being regarded as a middle term in a syllogism, and a medium of its own in terms of thought and reasoning, logic also fuels the ways in which we perceive and draw conclusions from various other specific types of media. Kant, Galton, Hegel, and Wittgenstein demonstrate the ability, not only to think, but also to think about thoughts, analyze them as media, and study the mediation of the message. From the beginning, Aristotle claimed that what distinguishes man from all other creatures is the ability to think, this ability to think allows us to distinguish one media from another on multiple theoretical levels. It is through logic that we are capable of drawing conclusions about specific media.

For example, Clement Greenberg has formed his own theories regarding the medium of painting through his own use of logic. Greenberg is known for his classic argument of Avant-Garde artwork over work that can be considered kitsch. He aligns the unique, difficult, usually expensive Avant-Garde artwork with that of Jackson Pollock and Manet. He theoretically aligns commodified, democratic, and unauthentic kitschy artwork with artists in the style of Norman Rockwell [11]. Throughout Clement Greenberg’s article, logic is used to explain what he believes makes the media of painting different among all painters, and aids him in drawing conclusions regarding the medium and its use.

We have only recently begun to examine the future of logic in artificial intelligence as a new medium to understand logic. To explain, advancement in computer science poses questions about mathematical logic and the possibility of computers or machines achieving artificial intelligence. Installing syllogistic logic, and programming a computer to be competent in mediating the message from a media may be difficult due to the complexities of human understanding and reasoning. These complexities and our human ability to think about thought, as demonstrated by mentioned philosophers, illustrates an understanding that may not be translated into mathematical, or symbolic logic that a machine can recognize. John Searle has questioned this type of logic with his Chinese Room Argument, which causes us to question the depth of understanding of someone outside of ourselves [12]. There are questions posed regarding what type of proof is needed to know the depth of understanding, and how to test this understanding. Can a mind be “programmed,” and can an artificial mind with our same human capacity to think, to echo Aristotle’s famous thoughts once again, truly exist within a machine? If so, how could we even go about testing such a thing? The word logic, even as it relates only to the study of media, is a broad term rich in history and famous thinkers. Though it has the ability to be viewed as the middle term in a syllogism, a medium in itself, and a way of understanding other types of media, the term is still widening, and it continues to question its own definition [13].

Colleen Dilenschneider
Winter 2007


1. Oxford English Dictionary. Logic.

2. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA. 7.

3. Oxford English Dictionary. Media.

4. Oxford English Dictionary, Syllogism.

5. Rouse, W.H.D. Translator, The Dialogues of Plato. Mentor Book. New American Library. New York, New York, 1956.

6. Aristotle. Organon, Or Logical Treatises. Bohn’s Classical Library. London, England. 1853.

7. Patrick Suppes, Introduction to Logic, D. Van Nostrand, 1957.

8. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. “Blue Book,” p.18.

9. Galton, Francis. “Thought Without Words.”

10. Kant, Immanuel. “Logic” and “Critique of Pure Reason.”

11. Greenberg, Clement. “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.”

12. Searle, John. 1990. “Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program?” Scientific American, and other articles by John Searle.

13. Wikipedia. Logic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logic. This source was used throughout the article as a reference and guide for thought.