Pioneering philosopher honoured for blazing trail in his field

For the last 45 years, Tony Blair has been making the world a better place, one argument at a time.

A professor emeritus in the university’s Philosophy department, Blair is one of the original founders of a school of thought known as informal logic. Simply put, it’s a manner of ordinary reasoning that helps people become more skilled critical thinkers, better able to assess the validity of arguments they’re faced with every day.

“It’s a method for identifying and qualifying the kinds of arguments we find in every day discourse, whether it’s in newspapers or magazines, in political debates,” said Blair, who was honoured at a Katzman lounge reception Wednesday to mark the publication of Groundwork in the Theory of Argumentation, a collection of some of his best essays from the last 30 years.

“People know how to reason and argue,” he said, “but that ability can be improved and refined and there are definite skills involved. It’s easy to get sucked in by bad arguments that look good and there’s a lot of bad reasoning out there.”

Blair reckons that a better informed public that won’t get sucked in by bad reasoning will be well-suited for participating in the political and legal processes that ultimately shape and define a society.

“The ultimate goal of it has really always been about social improvement,” he said.

The founder of the university’s Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation and Rhetoric, a founding member of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation, and a founding editor of the academic journal Informal Logic, Blair taught here from 1967 to 2006 and served two terms as head of his department. Bruce Tucker, Associate VP, Academic Affairs was at Wednesday’s event and called Blair an “exemplary citizen of the university.”

Colleague Christopher Tindale, a fellow philosophy professor, described Blair as a pioneer in his field.

“Three decades would reflect a lot of change within the field and he’s been involved at every step and in many cases, he’s been the leader,” said Dr. Tindale. “Anywhere the field has gone, Tony has either been there first or he’s been an integral part of the discussion.”

Ralph Johnson, also a professor emeritus and Blair’s closest collaborator, described the new collection as a “model of clarity and insight.”

“I have every confidence that this book will further enhance Tony’s reputation as a premier scholar in this area,” Dr. Johnson said.