Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Introduction - Method

A brief introduction is in order. Mayhap a mission statement, or something a little more serious...

I intend this blog to consider a number of topics with which I have no claim of expertise. I like thinking about politics, economics, technology and science in general. I really enjoy thinking about philosophy. And after I've thought about such things, I like to write about them, for two (common) reasons. At least one of them is quite selfish: I hope, that by putting down the first draft of my thoughts, some intrepid soul might find some flaw, and point it out, correcting me. (The corollary is too plain to point out, but here it is, my second reason: I hope someone might occasionally see that I've said something right, correct, true, or just elegant.)

I have received my training in technical letters, specifically, journalism. I have also had the benefit of a few philosophy courses in ethics and informal logic. For those of you who are trained in philosophy, welcome. I hope that you do not find my lack of reading in the subject too daunting. I will not quote the classics (I wouldn't know how). For those of you who are trained in writing, or who simply find your skills sharper than mine, I hope you will not find my style abrasive. I, somehow, managed to study journalism at a college and at a university (or "an university?") without ever finding a mechanics class, though I searched.

Please keep this in mind as I raise mostly questions.

I've given my main interests, specifically as I see them impacting this blog. However, I am curious and have many interests. I have not set these things down as boundaries, but simply as guesses as to what will often find its way here.

And now, a brief lesson in logic. Caveats: I'm not accredited. I haven't even received my BS yet. I am a student of logic much as I am a student of Scotch: I have limited experience from a limited perspective, and from these flow my opinions and some little knowledge.

Right. Logic.

Arguments can either be of the sort that occur over boasts made mightily at the corner tavern, or a technical device used to get from what we know to what we don't, or to prove something observed. Of those three sorts of arguments, I'll concern myself with the latter two, and mush them together. They commonly have a rough form:

Here are the parts, in action:
Premise: I have no Scotch.
Conclusion: I have no Glevlivet.

We humans are generally fortunate in that we possess an excellent talent for logical reasoning, although we often shoot ourselves in the foot by failing to exercise, develop and execute that talent. That little tiny argument above is a good argument in one sense: if the premise is true (and if you are aware that Glenlivet is a brand of Scotch) than the conclusion must logically follow. We know this.

This is a poor argument, however, in that the premise is not true. I do have Scotch. But what does that tell us about my Glenlivet provision? Nadda. I might have Johnnie Walker, or Chivas. Maybe some boutique stuff that I'd only mention to make myself feel highfalutin. Once again, we already know this. Let us extract a few lessons:

Dr. Tom's lessons on logic
1: If the evidence, or premises, are assumed to be true, do they reasonably lead to the conclusion?
2: Are these premises true?

Dr. Tom Gilbert is a professor of philosophy at my (almost) alma mater, Morningside College. All of the material on logic here is what I remember from his classes on the subject. I have a textbook he co-authored on the shelf right handy here to me, but I have neglected using it here to force myself to paraphrase, thus avoiding ripping him off (undesired even when acknowledged, if a sign of laziness) and assuring my sense of self-worth that I haven't been lazy. If I've done his material justice, the credit is his for excellent instruction. If I haven't, the fault is mine. Dr. Tom has many more lessons on logic, but these are sufficient for now.

I know this is a hell of an entrance fee to pay to a blog. But it's almost over now. I'll build on these concepts from time to time, continuing to borrow heavily for Dr. Gilbert. Before you get excited that you're auditing a course, remember: audits don't get credit; he's the one with the "Ph.D." stuff; and you really should know this. Really. And if anyone asks, please say you're not: I'd hate it if Morningside billed me for your tuition, and Dr. Gilbert might want royalties or something (I'm sure not, gulp).

When I'm writing, keep an eye out for my arguments. In the real world, few arguments are as simple as the example I gave above. There is usually much more than a single premise, and very often I won't even include all of my evidence because I assume you know of it. Sometimes there are multiple conclusions that can be drawn from the same premises. And, often, the conclusions of some arguments form the evidence for others. I can hardly believe that you're reading this for free - can you believe that I paid for it? And that I think it was worth so much that I write about it after the fact?

The point is that some arguments are lousy, and I have a habit of making such lousy arguments. We all do. What I am trying to encourage is a method to sharpen our discourse. And any time I can make Scotch a teaching device, you had better believe that I'll bite.

If you're a glutton for this sort of thing, I suggest that textbook I referenced, Everyday Logic, Textbook and Workbook, by George Bowles and Thomas E. Gilbert, revised by Gilbert, copyright 2000. It is published in-house by Morningside College, and isn't the sort of thing you're likely to find on Amazon. But if you contact the campus bookstore and ask nicely, they might have a spare copy. Maybe. The Wikipedia entry on logic is quite helpful as well, but, well, it just isn't the same. I'll paraphrase as much as I can without feeling like I'm stealing.

No mission statement this time. Probably for the best, at this point.

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