Archive | November, 2013

Logical Gal asks why crazy weather is a moral issue

6 Nov

A local letter writer to our newspaper here in Western North Carolina has bundled together a few circumstances to make a case for his point of view.  The events he cites are :

Hurricane Sandy in NJ + a summer-like North  Carolinian day in February + unusual rain this past summer in our local area .  And from these 3 events, he concludes  –  “Something is wrong “.

Then he jumps to this claim and I quote, “At this point, to deny the reality of climate change and its underlying human causes is a moral choice.

So how does a logical gal or guy start to think about this man’s argument?  The best place to start is with TERMS.

Labeling one’s assessment of evidence as a MORAL action caught my eye.  Hmm…better see how ‘moral’  is defined.

Dictionary.com defines ‘moral’ as distinguishing between right and wrong conduct….in the context of what is customary for a culture.  Moral derives from ‘mores’  which are the practices of a culture. Our letter writer who happens to be a pastor (maybe that’s why he has introduced the language of morality?) seems to be saying that how one evaluates evidence and arrives at a conclusion can be considered morally RIGHT or morally WRONG.  He seems to rely on the alleged consensus of a large group of climate scientists.  In essence his reasoning is based on majority thinking. If one sides with the majority, then one has made a morally correct assessment.

But should the opinion of a large group of scientists be the basis for policy change that might have an even broader impact on our world than that of climate change? (think economic repercussions)  These are tough issues that demand clear thinking.

I’ve been greatly helped by a book whose author, Greg Koukl,  is a mature radio show host and head of an organization devoted to good reasoning.  On his show, Greg discusses questions with callers in the area of ethics, values and religion. The fundamental principle Greg teaches (and writes about in his book Tactics)  is this:  Whoever makes the claim has the burden to demonstrate what he means and how he arrives at  his conclusions.

To order Greg Koukl’s book

I think I would enjoy meeting face to face with the local pastor who exhorts his fellow newspaper readers to ‘right this wrong’.  After listening to him defend his argument, I would ask him to identify his authority and to explain how he knows that this person or persons are right? After all, has a majority of smart people ever been mistaken? Don’t scientific theories come and go? Before we instigate sweeping policy changes in one area, we need to study potential effects on the larger system, namely our country and the world.

Logical Gal and the difference between objective terms and subjective values

4 Nov

Last time I wrote (post dated 1 Nov 2013),

I asserted that terms were by nature objective since they are descriptive of what is.

One of the laws of the universe (no human made this up) is called the Law of Identity.  An apple IS an apple.  All the attributes on the left of the IS add up perfectly to what is on the right side.   Add or subtract one of the attributes and you no longer have an apple.

I asserted that the definition of TRUTH is straightforward – It is that which corresponds to reality.

So where do values and opinions come in to play?  Can they be subjective?

Value statements depend on the presuppositions behind them.  Presuppositions are the assumptions we make that are often hidden.  But they totally influence our conclusions, our values!

Change the presuppositions and you alter the sense of the conclusion. Presuppositions are sometimes unarticulated in a discussion.  When you have just a partial argument, it’s called an ‘enthymeme’ because the missing parts are implicit.  

“You’ll get fat!”   when fleshed out could be part of a syllogism that looks like this:

  • Eating chocolate 3x a day causes people to get fat – (Presupposition)
  • You’re eating chocolate 3 x a day – (Presupposition)
  • Therefore, you’ll get fat – (explicit enthymeme that showed up just as conclusion)

Getting fat is a fact, it’s truth.  What I mean is:  ‘adding a pound of fat to your body‘ is what might be corresponding to reality  But again, depending on one’s values, being fat is either a sign of ill health, or a sign of prosperity and beauty. (Think of Rubens’ artwork!)

 

The fact of adding fat is the truth – it’s objective.

But what it means is relative and subjective to the one creating the proposition.  In the conclusion above, the proposition being asserted is this:  You (subject) are doing something that will cause you to get fat. (predicate)

That proposition is either objectively TRUE or FALSE.

It’s subjective sense is, however, relative…..relative to the assumptions/presuppositions one holds.

Clear thinking requires the use of tools and the time to employ them.  Asking questions and parsing out terms from propositions is one tool.  Teasing out the implicit ideas behind the propositions is another.  Be a diligent detective.

Logical gal takes on claim: “Truth is relative”

1 Nov

I teach a few precocious 8th graders who take pleasure in striking the contrary pose.  The other day a lively discussion erupted at the end of the period. What got us started was the conclusion in a simple French reader, “Il n’y a pas de familles parfaites”  – there are no perfect families.  One boy disagreed saying, ‘En fait’  /actually that there ARE perfect families!  I responded with incredulity, “Really?  for how long?”   He backed down and said that his family could be perfect for ……. half a day.  But when pressed to admit the enormity of 7 family members actually ‘being perfect’ with one another for that many hours, we slipped OVER into the bunny trail of TRUTH.

Since there were only 2-3 minutes left in class, I allowed us to converse en anglais in this French 1 class.

So, what was the connection between the concept of perfect and the concept of truth?  It all started when I asked the students how they defined ‘perfect’.  I think someone piped up about perfection being relative, like truth.  I then humorously asked, “So the Law of Gravity is relative?”

Class ended as the boys were affirming that “All truth is relative”.  Had we been able to pursue this chain of thinking, I would have led them to define truth.  Defining one’s terms is always the hinge on which statements or propositions rest.

As Bill Clinton might have expressed and Pilate thought, “It all depends on what truth means!

So if truth is defined as “that which corresponds to reality“, then relativity has NO bearing on the definition.  Truth doesn’t change according to the one who is looking at it.

For example: Terminating the life of a person or animal is the act of killing.

Whether that action is justified or not, is morally good or not is another question.  Good or bad, it is still killing due to how the term is defined.  It doesn’t matter that in some cultures people are exhorted to Love their Enemies where in other societies members are taught to Eat their Enemies.  Those are moral values which DO change according to how and in what/in whom they are grounded.

Back to truth. Truth either conforms to reality or it doesn’t.  The ‘discovered’  Law of Excluded Middle tells us as much. There is NO middle possibility.

Only pseudo-sophisticated modernists claim that Truth depends on the eye of the beholder.   And my 8th grade boys, as advanced as they are for their age, have yet to be  grounded in philosophy and critical thinking.   Nevertheless, I was encouraged to witness their grappling with important ideas.   Logical thinking can be found in all disciplines, even in French class!  It’s just part of ordinary life!