Philosophical Thought of the Day: Sept. 17th

Actuality and the Laws of Logic
Often in discussions with people, when the laws of logic come up, the conversations seems to run into problems. Especially around the question of conditionals. It seems some people have a problem with unactualized conditionals–in other words conditionals that either have false antecedents & consequents or conditionals that have indeterminate antecedent & consequents.

People seem to be under the impression that a conditional can only be true, if its antecedent & consequent is true. I think the general view can be put as follows,

(A) For any proposition P, if P is a conditional, then P is true if and only if the antecedent P1 and consequent P2 are true. P (P1 & P2) = T

It is ironic that this principle would need a true antecedent and consequent in order to be true — but nevermind that for now. Let’s suppose that is not a problem. Principle A face other problems — it is clearly false.

Example: If my car is out of gasoline & no one puts any more gasoline in the tank, then the car won’t start.

The example just given is true, whether the antecendent & consequent are true or not. In other words, I could be driving my car at a particular time t — in other words the antecedent & consequence are false — and the example is still true. Conditional statements are true independently of their parts for the simple reason that conditionals state what will happen in the event that their parts (antecedent and consequent) are true.

How we know conditionals to be true is another question — an epistemic (knowledge) question. That we know a conditional is true is another matter, and clearly possible.

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September 18, 2006 at 6:24 am 1 comment

Philosophical Thought of the Day: Sept. 16

Often when I tell people I am a philosophy major & after I have explained what philosophers do — what it means to be a philosopher — they often ask me why. ‘Why do you want to be a philosopher? Why do you want to philosophize?’ Of course often they are refering to what they think of as a bad financial and career decision.

But sometimes they are refering to the philosophizing itself — why should one philosophize about anything? Why ask about minds, existence or knowledge? Don’t we already know what those things are? Don’t I already know that p, and don’t I already know that I know it? So what is the point? It seems as if people are saying, for any (so called) philosophical puzzle, if everyone already knows that p, then it shouldn’t be taken seriously be philosophers. We already know that p. Therefore, p shouldn’t be discussed by philosophers.

Let us grant that people generally know that p — whatever p turns out to be. But that doesn’t mean that philosopher’s shouldn’t take about ‘knowing that p.’ After all, philosophers often talk just as much about what is known than what is unknown. Philosophers discuss the ordinary in a new way, and challenge conventional ways of thinking and knowing. Additionally there is something more to p, than knowing that p. It is knowing how S knows that p. How does S know that p?

Simply saying that S knows that p just restates the problem of how. By what means — what way — does S know that p. So even if we grant that everyone — or most everyone — knows that p, it leave unanswered the question of how S knows that p. In other words, there is still more for philosophers to discuss.

And as far as I can tell, philosophers will always have work to do. It’s more about the process than the conclusion!

September 16, 2006 at 10:16 am Leave a comment

Hugh Hewitt on Legal Tradition

I was just listening to Hugh Hewitt — who I rarely agree with on partisan matters and generally consider to be a Republican hack — when he was discussing the status of children born in the United States to illegal immigrants. Hewitt invoked past legal precident in support of his opinion (the specifics of which are irrelevant) as if that were sufficient to make his case.

Mr. Hewitt unwittingly accepts the following principle — or at the very least, must accept it to ground his assertion,

(L) For any legal matter m, if m is consistent with a legal precident, then m is morally & legally justified.

This principle may seem initially plausible — maybe not — so long as the precident to which is appeals is morally & legally justified. But this principle doesn’t say that; it simply says as long as m is consistent with current precident whatever that may be.

p1. If the decision d in the Dred Scott case is consistent with a legal precident p, then d is morally & legally justified (principle L)
p2. It is not the case the d.

p3. So, d is not consistent with p (MT 1,2)

Clearly p3 is wrong — or at the very least it could have been — in that the Dred Scott case was clearly consistent with p. So what is the problem. It’s not the modus tollens rule; at least I don’t want to go down that road. So what could it be? It is the conditional; principle L should be reformulated.

(L’) For any legal matter m, If m is consistent with legal precident & meets condition C (C being morally & legally permissible), then m is morally and legally justified.

Now perhaps (L’) has its problems. I don’t want to explore that here, but the point remains that a condition needs to be included that must be met in order for m to be justified — its takes more than legal precidence to justify a legal decision (this commits the fallacy of traditional wisdom).

So if we return to Hewitt’s assertion, he is stating that this particular legal matter m1 is consistent with precident and implicitly asserting that is meets condition C — either that or he would be ignoring the problem of something being immortal and yet consistent — without any justification.

This is simply begging the question. Once that is point is made, it becomes clear that altought Hewitt seems to be justifying his position by appealing to legal precidence, he is really simply assuming the necessary condition he needs in order to truly justify his position.

August 31, 2006 at 11:41 pm 1 comment

Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit & Theism

There are theists who attack materialistic, atheistic and non-theistic theories of cosmology on the grounds that these theories violate the latin principle ex nihilo nihil fit (“from nothing, nothing comes”). These same theists also maintain that the universe hasn’t always existed and/or depends on more than itself to exist.

This is directed at the theist that maintains three things (a) God created the world ex nihilo, and that this is the only viable explanation for the world’s origins, (b) the principle of ex nihilo nihil fit (“from nothing, nothing comes”) is true, and (c) that ex nihilo nihil fit is a necessary truth. Although I would argue that even theists who just accept (a) & (b) but deny (c) have problems of their own.

If ex nihilo nihil fit is a necessary truth, and traditional theism maintains that God cannot do what is logically impossible & God created the world ex nihilo, then the traditional theist has a serious problem:

p1. Ex nihilo nihil fit (“from nothing, nothing comes”) is a necessary truth (self-evidence); p2. God cannot do what is logically impossible & p3. God created the world ex nihilo (“from nothing”) (from traditional theism); p4. Creation ex nihilo violates ex nihilo nihil fit (by definition); p5. Creation ex nihilo is logically impossible (from 1 & 4); p6. God did not create the world ex nihilo (from 1, 2 & 5).

The theist that denies (1) has a problem: if the principle can be violated in a theistic universe, why not an atheistic universe? The theist might respond that the principle could be changed to: from nothing, nothing comes with a sufficient explanation. But why couldn’t this apply to the atheist too? And if not, how is it not ad hoc?

If the principle is only contingent, then how does the theist know that ‘ex nihilo nihil fit’ is contingently true?

August 21, 2006 at 11:15 am 36 comments

“He” and Gender-Neutrality

There is a tired old argument — there are many more, I am only addressing a specific type — for the claim that using “He” as a gender-neutral designator is sexist. It goes something like this:

1. Using ‘he’ implies all non-descript persons are male; 2. All non-descript persons are not male; 3. Language should accurately reflect reality; (from 2,3) 4. ‘He’ should not be used as a non-descript person.

This argument could be developed more, i.e. I am aware the argument can be stated more forcefully. I am developing a simpler version of the argument, so that it is easier to manage — not so that it will be easier to knock-down.

The point of constructing this argument is to get at the basic thrust of the argument: using ‘he’ is sexist because it is ususally used to designate a male, and so using it to designate a gender-less person is sexist. The argument seems to rest on a principle:

GP: For any person-designator p, if p can be used to designate a particular gender and only that gender in at least one usage, and not the other, then p should (ought) not be used to designate a gender-neutral person.

Is there any support for GP? Can an argument be presented to persuade us ‘he’ user that GP is correct?

The GP principle seems to be assuming that if we can find an instance of a pronoun being used to designate one gender, and yet not another, than that makes the usuage of that word sexist. It isn’t fair to one gender to use a word that can sometimes be used to designate a gender, and only that gender to the exclusion of the other.

But this argument, and GP principle — and other arguments that resemble this one — are based on a confusion. Confusing the practice of using a particular word a certain way, with the actual word itself.

It is clear from our everyday word usage that word can have different meanings. The word ‘he’ is no exception. The argument against using ‘he’ rests on another confusion as well: confusing the meaning of the ‘he’ when used gender-neutrally as if it is the same as using ‘he’ as a gender-specific designator.

So the confusions are two-fold:

(a) Confusing word-practice with the word itself. There is a difference between how a word is used and what the word itself. A word can be used in one way, and used in another. Using a word in specific way the majority of the time does not entail that the word cannot have another meaning — just because it is used a certain way, doesn’t mean it has to be used that way. The practice and meaning of a word are two different things

(b) Confusing the word itself with its different meanings. Often opponents of the ‘he’-term as being gender neutral treat the word as if it always means male, when clearly that is not the case. It is quite simple to see that the same word can have different meanings (ex., road, heart, love, fun …) To treat a word with different meanings, as if it always has the same meaning, or to treat word being used one way as if its being used in another way is to blur the distinction between the word itself and its meanings.

August 18, 2006 at 4:13 am 1 comment

Parenting and Advice

In discussions between people with and without kids, it is very common for the one with kids to criticize the one without by saying something like, “you don’t know what its like until you have kids.” Implying of course, that one needs to actually have kids before one can empathize & give advice/criticism to those with kids.

Of course, this reply does nothing to address the quality of that advice, but it does have a point to it: understanding can be a long process, and often times involves being engaged in what you’re tying to learn.

There is another criticism of those without kids, that ususally comes from parents — and it is typically directed as kids who didn’t like how they were raised: “We did our best. Wait till you have kids, and you can see how hard it is.” This argument is a little different than the appeal to experience (above), and it has some problems with it.

1. Children have a right to complain about how they were raised, after all they are complaining about how they were raised from their perspective … that is the whole point! Whether they have kids, or understand what it was like for their parents is beside the point; that would only be relevant if the kids were saying they could do a better job had they been in the same situation — criticizing someone for something does not imply one could do better.

2. Having kids is irrelevant to evaluating one’s own life. If someone had a bad childhood, it was bad to them despite that fact that people at different times, places and relationships. In other words, it may change someone’s perspective — but changing one’s perspective alone doesn’t invalidate the old perspective.

August 18, 2006 at 3:03 am Leave a comment

Metaphysics of Theism

“…many prominent theologians seem to think that the philosophical work of David Hume and Immanuel Kant long ago effectively proved the miraculous and the transcendental to be excluded from the reach of human cognition. But more important, they appear to have become convinced that the legacy of Hume and Kant, crystalized in the domineering pronouncements of the logical positivists, has foreclosed forever the possibility of intellectually respectable and epistemically productive metaphysical thinking in the realm of religion” (pg. 3-4, Divine and Human Action. Ed. Thomas V. Morris).

July 12, 2006 at 12:36 am Leave a comment

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