The Logic of Leadership

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

–Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

It would be mad to try and live without leadership. Yet a random collection of curiosities over the past year serves as a doleful reminder that leadership is scarce in our world. Consider a few absurdities:

  • Freedom of speech is effectively removed from university campuses in America
  • Leading scientists want to redefine science to allow non-empirical validation of theories
  • Bioethicists want natural and unnatural banned as people equate them with good and bad
  • Workplace churn and disengagement surge despite “scientific” recruitment and retention
  • Blue Chip companies break employees with stack-ranking, excessive hours, and intimidation
  • Volkswagen management presides over the shaming of one of the world’s greatest brands

Where is the leadership when we have such egregious violations of logic from the power-wielders? The malign implications are so plain that one can only conclude that the perpetrators proceed with impunity, confident that the dumbing down of society makes it unlikely that their deceit will be challenged.

It is simple logic that if your aim is not to inspire people to work together to achieve fulfilment for all, then you are not a leader. You might have managerial skills aplenty, and a title that implies leadership, such as boss, CEO, president, prime minister, or czar, but you are not a leader. Your intention is not to take people to a better place, but to pursue personal aggrandizement. Exploitation, bullying, and deceit are not leadership, but misleadership.

And the way they think is shaped by the constant noise that assaults their senses. The unheeded warning of Christopher Lasch has come back to haunt us: “It is advertising and the logic of consumerism that governs the depiction of reality in the mass media.” History shows that the logic of consumerism entailed a break with the logic of reality.

Logic is the process of reasoning, involving the conditions of valid inference. It is a single reality – there are not different kinds of logic, just different methods of using it. Humans discovered logic; we did not create it. We came to recognize order in the universe, an order that is comprehensible. As Wittgenstein saw, “Logic is not a body of doctrine, but a mirror-image of the world. Logic is transcendental.”

However, how we use logic is controversial. There are two prime methods. Up until the 1960s, most textbooks dealt with the traditional method as explained by Aristotle in the Organon. The more recent approach, symbolic logic, mathematical logic, or propositional calculus, pioneered by thinkers like Frege, Russell, and Whitehead, gradually won acceptance in academia, and by the 1970s, had become the method of analytic philosophy. Today, texts on Aristotelian logic are rare.

This intellectual revolution has had serious consequences, even though most people are unaware of the change. The negative consequences, ethical, social, political, and economic, flow from the way people think as a result of the new logic. The need for leaders in politics, business, and community life, in general, to understand these developments should be obvious.

There were three arguments for replacing Aristotelian logic with symbolic logic: first, efficiency – reducing long, complex arguments to simple formulae. The new logic is like using code compared to ordinary language – code is useful but inadequate in human relationships. Most people use ordinary language to communicate, and Aristotelian logic uses ordinary language.

Secondly, the new logic is mathematical, more exact, and appropriate for science. However, while mathematics is a technical language, it is inadequate as a means of communication in human relationships. Mathematics is about quantity, not quality, expressing those aspects of reality that are quantifiable, but unable to capture the qualitative aspects of reality.

The third reason was ideological. Aristotelian logic is grounded in two commonsense assumptions that contradict the mechanistic worldview of modern philosophy. These assumptions, metaphysical realism, and epistemological realism, were generally accepted for 2400 years and most ordinary people still take them for granted. However, modern philosophy and academia reject them.

Metaphysical realism says that the essences or natures of things, like trees, tortoises, or triangles, known as universals, are not just products of our minds, but have real objective existence. Epistemological realism sees objective reality as the object of human reason. It says the human mind can know things as they really are. “One plus one equals two”, and “kittens become cats”, are objective truths, and not just our own ideas. So metaphysical realism says reality is intelligible, and epistemological realism says intelligence knows reality.

To say “Man is a rational animal,” is not to impose order on reality, but to draw a conclusion from data received through our senses. Reality is not unknowable, formless, or chaotic, but ordered and intelligible. Plato believed universals, the set natures of things, were real things in themselves, but Aristotle explained them as real aspects of things, which we abstract from the reality perceived. The rejection of this metaphysical realism is called Nominalism, which sees universals as mere names.

Epistemological realism was rejected in favour of John Locke’s assumption that the only things we can ever know directly are our own ideas. Locke felt that we could take it for granted that our ideas, derived from sensory impressions, somehow correspond to objective reality. However, if we are unable to know objects directly, how can we ever be sure that our ideas represent reality as it is? Locke opened the door to the skepticism of David Hume.

Hume believed we have two types of ideas: first, sense impressions or matters of fact, which are always particular, and in which the predicate adds new information to the subject, e.g., “Some roses are red” or “All these men have two legs.” Note that he excluded universal propositions because they are not perceived but inferred. Secondly, Hume said we have relations of ideas or tautologies i.e. propositions that are true simply because their predicate repeats all or some part of their subject, e.g. “A rose is a rose” or “All aunts are women”. Kant later called these two types of ideas synthetic propositions and analytic propositions.

Hume denied the common sense notion that we can know some universal truths with certainty. Most people think it obvious that all humans are mortal, and that Socrates too, is therefore mortal. Hume, however, pointed out that we only think we know such universal truths through repetitive sense experiences, which are particular, and from which we then make falsifiable generalizations. Our senses give us information about this particular human, not all humans.

Hume insisted that not even science can provide irrefutable knowledge since it necessarily presupposes the notion of causality, which for him was not an objective truth, but an association of ideas in our minds. The constant conjunction we see in the world, as in acorns and oaks, leads us to assume that acorns cause oaks. However, we do not perceive the cause but merely infer it.

Immanuel Kant, like Hume, rejected realism for idealism, believing that what we think is knowledge of reality is merely knowledge of the operations of our minds. However, while Hume said our minds work in accordance with custom and habit, Kant believed the nature of reason itself lets our minds project onto reality the necessary logical categories, like substance, quality, quantity, relation, time, etc., by which we understand things. For Kant, the knowing subject determines the object known; the mind doesn’t discover reality, but makes its own, imposing form on matter.

The implications for our understanding of logic are plain: to follow the epistemological idealism of Hume or Kant is to see logic as nothing more than the manipulation of symbols, and to regard concepts like substance, nature, causation, etc. as mental classifications rather than objective realities. In this kind of thinking, the term ‘genus’ refers only to a large class of things, while ‘species’ denotes smaller sub-classes constructed in our minds. Aristotelian logic, on the other hand, understands ‘genus’ as the general or universal aspect of a thing’s nature, while ‘species’ specifies the essence, e.g. humans belong to the genus ‘animal’, and the species ‘rational animal’.

In Aristotelian logic, the first act of the mind is to understand the essence or nature of a thing, which applies to all such things. The second act of the mind is to make a judgment, relating two ideas, by using their terms as subject and predicate in a proposition e.g. planets are spherical. The third act of the mind is to reason, inferring from two related propositions, called the premises, a third proposition, the conclusion, e.g. planets are spherical; Earth is a planet; therefore, Earth is spherical.

Aristotelian logic is much more than the abstract calculus of symbolic logic; it embraces the fullness of reality, flowing as it does from a realist metaphysics that recognizes the stable natures that make up the world. Symbolic logic merely manipulates symbols according to a set of rules, without reference to meaning or relationships between things. Purely quantitative, it can be done by computers. Propositions are its basic working units, instead of the terms used by Aristotelian logic, like tree, tortoise, or triangle that express essences, the universals of metaphysical and epistemological realism.

The very nature of reason is at stake here. Aristotelian logic is substantive, based on knowing the meaning of things and their relationship to everything else. It starts with our understanding of what we are talking about, comprehending the nature of the thing expressed by the universal. It is the logic of an ordered hierarchy of objectively known essences. It demonstrates the conceptual thinking that distinguishes us from other animals, which have perceptual intelligence, but not abstract reasoning.

Symbolic logic, by contrast, is procedural, making no claim to know what anything is, but simply performing calculations to reach practical outcomes. Its goal is not truth, but utility. Rejecting meaning and purpose in life, and the commonsense view that things have stable natures, modern philosophers felt free to manipulate reality in any way they considered useful. And look where that has got us.

Symbolic logic sucks the content out of language, and since limitations on language undermine the way we think and express our ideas, the loss of Aristotelian logic threatens civilization itself. Nominalist modes of thought erode our ability to think rationally and analogically. The result is intellectual regress, as the absurdities, we started with demonstrate.

Culture is shaped by the way logic is understood. Most people today are less interested in what a thing is, its nature, than they are in its usefulness, how it can be controlled and exploited. They have become utilitarian in their thinking, careless about meaning, purpose, and relations, and blind to what is good for our world and what is bad for it. Just as symbolic logic manipulates propositions according to an “If…then” calculus, so does utilitarian ethics. Just as symbolic logic is mathematical, so too is utilitarian ethics essentially about quantity, “the greatest good of the greatest number”. It is an ethics of calculating outcomes or consequences, in which the end justifies the means. It is the ethics of consumerism.

This is a catastrophic repudiation of the Natural Law ethics that flow from Aristotelian metaphysics. The nature of anything lets us know what is good for it and what is bad for it. Natural Law ethics are built on unchanging human nature. Natural Law deals with people, while utilitarian ethics merely manipulates units, like functionaries in the corporate world. Today, few people have any proper understanding of classical Natural Law, and the moral confusion seen at every level of society is a direct consequence of the bankruptcy of utilitarianism, and its inherent inhumanity.

It is obvious enough that the standard of debate in politics, business, and life, in general, has declined dramatically in recent decades. One only has to follow the thread of a discussion on Facebook, or any blog dealing with contentious issues, to see how pathetic the capacity to engage in reasoned debate has become. The comments posted overflow with logical fallacies and the spiteful demonization of opponents. The cacophony leaves little space for the logic of leadership.

Anyone serious about leadership would insist on logical thinking as an essential requirement. As already emphasized, symbolic logic does have important uses, but the need for Aristotelian logic is greater in business, politics, and everyday life. Classical education was built on the Trivium, the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric that prepared people for study in all other disciplines. Politicians, professionals, and businesspeople would benefit richly from such a program.


Andre van Heerden
Andre van Heerden
ANDRE heads the corporate leadership program The Power of Integrity, and is the author of three books on leadership, Leaders and Misleaders, An Educational Bridge for Leaders, and Leading Like You Mean It. He has unique qualifications for addressing the leadership crisis. Since studying law at Rhodes University, he has been a history teacher, a deputy headmaster, a soldier, a refugee, an advertising writer, a creative director, an account director on multinational brands, a marketing consultant, and a leadership educator. He has worked in all business categories on blue-chip brands like Toyota, Ford, Jaguar, Canon, American Express, S C Johnson, Kimberley Clark, and John Deere, while leadership coaching has seen him help leaders and aspirant leaders in Real Estate, Retail, the Science Sector, Local Government, Education, Food Safety, Banking, and many other areas. Subscribe to my Substack HERE.

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  1. Andre your writings are always not only very stimulating and thought provoking but also serve as a very good reality check and introspection for the times we live in. The great modern day writer and philosopher Francis Schaeffer once said “Modern man stands with both feet in mid-air.” This is so true of time we live today.
    Relativism has created a very inward looking “brainwashed zombie” culture of meaningless politically-loaded voices and messages where rational thinking has become victim to socially correct populist thinking.
    William Penn (1644-1718) said, “If we are not governed by God, then we will be governed by tyrants.” That time has arrived. Unless modern man educates himself and equips himself with real TRUTH and KNOWLEDGE and gets out of himself and discovers the OBJECTIVE TRUTH outside of himself, civilization with its leaderless culture will go from bad to worse.
    The only way to re-awake the academic mind-set of modern man is for real leaders to influence them to get outside of their own irrational-ignorant-narcissistic- hyper-sensitive-shallow mind-set of entitlement and to enter the mind-sets of objective-outside-of-myself influences promoted by the great modern masters such as C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and G.K. Chesterton.
    The world is in desperate need for leaders to rescue modern man from the claws of a political, money-driven social elite whose aim is to control people’s minds and not allow them to speak out against their politically-correct driven media.
    Thank you Andre for making the world aware of the importance of “real” knowledge and the fact that real leadership can only develop with integrity and that real leadership is only possible from an objective knowledge based mind.

  2. Excellent explanation of the deepest recesses of logic. Andre, I admit this article took me a while to pour through. It’s a lot to think about. When I read this, “Most people today are less interested in what a thing is, its nature, than they are in its usefulness, how it can be controlled and exploited,” I went back to my original thought as I read about the different ways we define, understand, and use logic. All the logic in the world, although valuable, can’t replace ethics and integrity. What I wish most of all is that leaders would be first, and foremost, curators and practioners of integrity and ethics.