Of Bouncers and Secret Servicemen

16 Jul

What do bouncers do?  I’ve never been to a skanky private nightclub guarded by a big burly bouncer, but I’ve seen them in the movies.

The function of a bouncer is to let in ONLY those authorized to enter – same job description of the President’s Secret Service.

We started to define ‘meal’ last time when our imaginary Susie opined, “It’s not healthy to eat between meals!”

We identified a GooD definition as one having a clearly identified genus or a broad category (think family) that contains different members easily distinguished one from another.  If you can picture a Venn diagram, then the boundary of the diagram delineates the genus and individual points within the genus circle are the differentia.

We thought deeply and decided that meals belong to the genus that WE called,

“Food prepared for human consumption”

And besides meals, we proposed other ‘family members’ such as –

  • a single edible item like a CARROT that is seasoned, cooked, cut or arranged in such a way as to have been ‘prepared’
  • a potable drink that is either poured from a container or created from ingredients or seasoned or heated/iced

So now the question is, are we done?  If we include ‘meals’, we have 3 participants in our category.  Are we ready to finish describing and distinguishing a meal?

Almost, but not quite:   We need to run our genus through a grid to insure a complete & accurate definition.

Consider this question –

  • Does our genus contain ALL possibilities?  Can we say, that with our 3 described differentia, we have exhausted ALL possibilities?  (I AM aware that we have YET to describe the differentia that separates ‘meals’ from its other 2 ‘siblings’.)  The way to answer this is to think of any and all ‘foods prepared for human consumption’ and see if they fit into one of the 3 sub-groups.

How about a container of yogurt that I buy at the store – Where does that fit?

Is it a ‘single food item that is seasoned, cooked, cut or arranged’?  NO!!!

Woops, then we need to add another member to the food category.  How about

  • Food or drink that comes pre-packaged, ready to be consumed.

Now we ask our 2nd detailed question “Is there any ambiguity or possible confusion among our differentia?  Could a potential member be assigned to more than one of our differentia?” If so, then we have to be more specific in limiting/ describing the differentia.  If we can’t think of any possibilities, then we can say with confidence that our definition is:   ‘mutually exclusive’.

Let’s return to our Bouncer/ Secret Servicemen analogy.  Imagine two different functions occurring at the White House on the same night.  One might be a reception welcoming the National Spelling Bee finalists and the other a state dinner for UN ambassadors.   The President is going to mingle and congratulate the young people before going into the international soirée.  Invitees to both are filing through security under the scrutiny of Secret Service and Protocol officials.  You can be sure that the lists for each event are VERY detailed.  And I doubt that any of the ambassadors and their spouses are good enough spellers in English OR young enough to be on the elite guest list of Spelling Bee-ers and family.  The 2 lists ARE mutually exclusive.  There will be no confusion.

And if those are the only 2 events hosting outside guests, the two lists are also ‘ jointly exhaustive’.  They take care of ALL guests that night.  In summary, there ARE no other possibilities, there IS no confusion, no one admitted to the White House can be on both lists or on NEITHER list.  Protocol has done its job correctly.

So must we be as accurate when we define a term.

Let’s return to our term ‘meal’.  If we look at the other 3 differentia, I think we can confidently define a meal as:

A food prepared for human consumption that is composed of two or more edible/potable items previously packaged and/or presently seasoned, cooked, cut or arranged.

Food genus

Whew !  So what’s the point of all that?   Well, there’s no sense in engaging in a discussion with Susie UNTIL we reach agreement WITH her on what constitutes a meal.  Once we all accept the definition of terms, then we can turn to the propositions and evaluate whether they are true or not and then examine the deduction that Susie undergoes to arrive at her conclusion.

Your ongoing assignment is to pick a term and draw it out, placing it in its larger family or genus.

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