Ambassador Bridge across the Detroit River near the University of Windsor

History of Informal Logic at the University of Windsor


Ralph Johnson teaches the UW philosophy department’s Symbolic Logic course (8-months long, using Copi). Student response indicates that students did not find the course helpful in dealing with the arguments they come across. RJ mentions these complaints to Dept. Head, Peter Wilkinson, who tells Johnson to go ahead and create a course that would be helpful in this respect.


Johnson teaches the first “Applied Logic” course at UW using Kahane’s Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric. Note: this course is also 8-months long—not two one-semester courses, but one two-semester course. Student response is very good.


With enrolment doubled, Wilkinson agrees to open a second section, and Tony Blair (hired in 1967 to teach ethics & political philosophy) is recruited to teach it.  J&B team-teach the two sections of Applied Logic using Kahane.  However, in the evaluations, many students objected that it was an American text (i.e., most of its examples were from U.S. media about U.S. current affairs). J&B had constantly (daily!) to comb The Windsor Star, The Goble & Mail and Maclean’s magazine for Canadian-content examples for classroom use, assignments, and exams. Also, J&B were finding Kahane’s treatment of the fallacies slapdash, and it gave students difficulty in identifying and naming fallacies.


J&B begin to develop their own text in the form of mimeographed handouts, replacing units and eventually whole chapters of Kahane.

By 1976

A ms. is developed. Textbook rep. Herb Hilderly of McGraw-Hill Ryerson encourages J&B to submit ms. to MHR. Department secretaries and a hired typist make a fair copy of the cc. 500-page ms.; MRH sends it to two referees; both recommend against publication. MHR sends the referees’ reports to J&B. Blair does some detective work!! and identifies one of the referees, whom he regards as biased. In a long memo, J&B rebut both referees’ criticisms, urge MHR to get a 2nd round of reviews from more open-minded refs, and they provide MHR with a list of possible referees. Reports from the 2nd round approved the text as publishable (if cut in half). (Years later we learned that the 2nd round refs. were Trudy Govier (Trent) and Michael Gilbert (York).)


Logical Self-Defense (1st ed.) is published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson (Canadian branch of McGraw-Hill). Johnson’s name goes first partly because he created the course that led to the book and partly because we liked the rhythm of “da’dit da da” better than “da da da’dit”. Johnson was not the “lead author” or the “senior” author; we were equal co-authors. The ms. went through so many mutual revisions that we cannot say that one of us was responsible for this or that part.


J&B begin noticing similar texts. 

  • Alex Michalos’s Improving Your Reasoning (1970)
  • Stephen Thomas’s Practical Reasoning in Natural Language (1st ed. 1973)
  • Nicholas Capaldi’s The Art of Deception (1973)
  • David B. Annis’s Techniques of Critical Reasoning (1974)
  • Douglas Ehninger’s Inference, Belief and Argument (1974)
  • Michael Scriven’s Reasoning (1976)
  • Vincent C. Barry’s Practical Logic (1976)
  • S. Morris Engel’s With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (1976)
  • Peter Geach’s Reason and Argument (1976)
  • Robert J. Fogelin’s, Understanding Arguments, An Introduction to Informal Logic (1978)

With the success of LSD boosting their confidence, J&B decide to host a conference to take place in Windsor in 1978 dealing with these matters. Flyers advertising the conference are sent to universities in Canada and in the surrounding states in the U.S. Midwest.


Windsor Symposium on Informal Logic (later dubbed “FISIL” after the Proceedings’ title). J&B presume to give the introductory paper, which is a review and analysis of what literature there was. Invited speakers: the two Canadian scholars who had been co-authoring a series of papers analyzing informal fallacies, John Woods and Douglas Walton; two prominent American textbook authors, Howard Kahane and Michael Scriven; a Canada-based (Guelph) author of a book on fallacies, Alex Michalos; from neighbouring Western University, philosopher Robert Binkley; and to cover Wittgenstein’s influence, a LW scholar from York University, Peter Minkus. There were eight presentations over two and a half days. A ninth paper, by Thomas Tomko and Robert Ennis (who had attended the conference), is added to the Proceedings at Michael Scriven’s suggestion.

In addition to more than a dozen colleagues and students from the University of Windsor, some 40-50 faculty members, mainly from surrounding provinces and states, register for the conference.  Besides the invited speakers, among the attendees who previously or later (or both) published in the field are: John Barker, Robert Ennis, David Gallup, Trudy Govier, Nicholas Griffin, David Hitchcock, John McPeck, Stephen Norris, Deborah Orr, Robert Pinto, William Rapaport, Thomas Tomko, and Sheldon Wein.


At the end of the Windsor conference, a post-mortem is held.  It’s agreed that some way of keeping in touch and following up would be desirable. B&J’s offer to start a newsletter meets with unanimous enthusiasm and promises of support. Thus is born The Informal Logic Newsletter (which five years later becomes the refereed journal, Informal Logic).    


Edgepress (the company Scriven had founded to publish his Reasoning) publishes the proceedings under the title: Informal Logic, The First International Symposium. B&J include an appendix to their article: “An unclassified and partial list of [13] problems and issues in informal logic” which, according to Hitchcock, sets the research agenda for the next decade.


J&B organize the Second International Symposium on Informal Logic. There are 84 registrants. Among those who were not at the first conference and who were either prominent philosophers or later published in the field (or both), are Stephen and Evelyn Barker, Seale Doss, Maurice Finocchiaro, Robert Fogelin, James Freeman, James Gough, Jaakko and Merrill Hintikka, John Hoaglund, Baylor Johnson, Fred Johnson, Charles Kielkopf, Jack Meiland, John Nolt, Richard Paul, Thomas Schwartz, Christopher Tindale, Perry Weddle, Mark Weinstein, Joseph Wenzel, Arnold Wilson and George Yoos. Repeat customers included Robert Ennis, Trudy Govier, David Hitchcock, John McPeck, Stephen Norris, Robert Pinto and Michael Scriven.

The proceedings of SISlL are not published, but many of the papers present at the conference are published as articles in Informal Logic (see below).

At SISIL the Association for Informal Logic and Critical Thinking (AILACT) is formed, and B&J’s intention to transform the ILN to a journal is announced and supported.


The first issue of Informal Logic, the blind-refereed academic journal, published and edited by B&J, appears. The founding editorial board includes, Robert  Binkley (Western Ontario), Robert Ennis (Illinois), Trudy Govier (independent scholar), Merrill Hintikka (Florida State), David Hitchcock (McMaster), Howard Kahane (Maryland), Richard Paul (Sonoma State), Robert Pinto (Windsor), Nicholas Rescher (Pittsburgh), Michael Scriven (Western Australia), Douglas Walton (Winnipeg), John Woods (Victoria) and George Yoos (St. Cloud State). We invite Chaïm Perelman to join the board, but he declines, saying that the journal is too pedagogical and not sufficiently theoretical for his participation.

Thus was created the institutional infrastructure for the development of the field of informal logic by Blair & Johnson from the University of Windsor in the years 1977-1984.

J&B held one more International Symposium on Informal Logic (1988). LSD went through four editions and remains in print: 2nd ed. 1983; 3rd ed. 1993; 1st US ed. 1994; US ed. repr. by IDEA Press 2006.

~ Compiled by John Anthony Blair & Ralph Henry Johnson, November 2017.