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Just because something IS, does that mean it OUGHT to be?

28 Sep

is-ought-fallacy  Given the breathless rate of societal upheaval in America these past 2 years, the IS/OUGHT fallacy seems to be the modus operandi of the current ‘Culture Nazis’.

What do I mean by that?

First of all, to set the stage for this failure in reasoning,  here is where I see this kind of fallacious thinking popping up.  People seem to believe and argue for a narrative that goes like this:

  • This relationship exists (IS), therefore it ought to be authorized (OUGHT)

In short hand – If something exists, it should exist.

But is that true? And if so, then on what basis?  What grounds or serves as a foundation for this premise and conclusion?

If my two-year old granddaughter makes a scene when her parents deny her every wish, should she throw a tantrum just because that is her ‘natural’ or default response?

Just because she screams, should she scream?

Can we say that something is wrong or right?  Or is personal preference what supports our decisions?

A toddler’s self-centered outburst is small potatoes compared to what culture is claiming as reasonable.  Consider the following if/then conditional premises that follow this is/ought line of thinking:

  • If two people love each other and feel their relationship deserves official recognition, then they ought to have the freedom to marry with the state’s approval
  • If a person born a biological male feels better acting like a female, then he should be acknowledged as a female

What’s the difference between those is-ought statements and the following?

  • If a person feels like she is very overweight, but her appearance belies her feelings, then she should be treated as overweight (this is the way she is as she defines reality, then others should accept her preference)
  • If a person claims he can operate a motor vehicle and consume marijuana, then he should be allowed to do so  (this is his self-evaluation, therefore we should accept it)

The first two affirmations are now accepted by a segment of our US population.  The last two claims more folks might question.  But the reasoning in all 4 if-then statements is the same.

Should we really make decisions about what is good, right, beautiful and acceptable based on what occurs naturally, what we prefer or what we feel?  Many would say unequivocally YES!   When we balk at submitting to authority we do so out from a desire for self-rule or AUTO-NOMY.  ‘Who gives YOU (or society, or the church, or God!) the right to tell me what to do!’

When a people no longer submit to law or when the law becomes watered down so that it can be stretched to mean whatever one wants, then anarchy ensues.

Even if my country is becoming unmoored and applying false reasoning to justify personal preference, Christians have an authoritative foundation to guide and ground their decisions.  What a relief.

As a Christian, my parameters of what is the good and acceptable are detailed in the teachings and commandments of God.  He is my creator and I belong to Him.  So I defer to His wisdom and His wishes for me.

Many Americans seem increasingly to prefer a decision-making model that leaves them like drifting ships with no anchor.  In reality, without any authority in their lives they are actual prisoners of their temperamental or fickle feelings.

Who wants to live with this life rule?: “What IS today IS my truth and I OUGHT to be accepted by everyone.  And I reserve the right to adjust how I feel and act for tomorrow. My opinion and preference is how I define my reality.”





Underpinnings of logical thought

4 May

Here’s an argument:

The biblical worldview is the optimal worldview to support logic because it best explains why we can declare a premise to be either TRUE or FALSE.

True or false

Let me explain what I mean.  To use the tools of logic, we must assume several conditions about the building blocks of an argument.  At its most basic analysis, there are 3 component parts to an argument:

-terms (individual words or phrases that represent a concept like: chocolate ice cream or dogs)

-premises (statements that provide a judgment about a concept like: red hair is thick or cats are quirky)

-syllogisms (the ensemble of at least 2 premises and the conclusion that follows like:  PREMISE 1 – All boys are strong  PREMISE 2 – Joe is a boy  CONCLUSION – Joe is strong)

When evaluating terms, premises and syllogisms, logicians use this measurement:

  • terms are either clear or ambiguous (to the degree that they unequivocally and explicitly describe a concept)
  • premises are either true or false (to the degree they accurately match reality)
  • syllogisms are either valid or invalid (to the degree they follow the ‘rules’ of logic)

So why do I make the claim that the biblical worldview should be adopted in order to use logic?  If I understand Darwinian naturalism or materialism correctly, truth is not something that is necessary.  The species survives and continues by adapting. So what is ‘good’ for a population is what ensures its ongoing viability.  That MIGHT intersect with truth, but it does not depend on truth.

When a materialist or naturalist argues for his point of view, he borrows the concept of truth to advance a point of view. And in conversation with said materialist, if we avoid pointing out the inconsistency between her beliefs and practices we are being gracious. But there might be an occasion gently to point out this ‘inconvenient truth’.  I grow more confident when I write out my thoughts regarding this assumption about logic.

You might be thinking, what is the linkage between a biblical worldview and truth?  Good question!  Christians believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired account of God’s creation and rescue of a people He loves.  The very character and nature of God is grounded on personal attributes such as His:

  • truthfulness
  • immutability
  • eternality
  • goodness
  • wisdom
  • infinite power and knowledge

Christians believe in absolute truth because of who God is, an immaterial being who defines and models perfect truth. The evidence we have that God is true and speaks truth is that the Bible corresponds to reality.  Vast numbers of written records document both the historical and the archeological reliability of most of the Bible including the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, without going into that kind of detail, I argue that the use of logic rests on the presupposition that truth exists.  And the only worldview that supports THAT belief is the biblical one.


Is pepperoni pizza the best? or what are objective and subjective claims

14 Oct

pepperoni pizza

Is it an objective statement or a subjective statement to claim that something is the ‘best’?

At first glance, given the topic of pepperoni pizza, we might rush to conclude that this is a subjective evaluation totally determined by the speaker’s preferences.

And we would be correct if we take him to mean that he likes pepperoni pizza the best out of all other pizzas.  In other words, for him, this particular style of pizza is best.

But in another sense, this could also be an objective statement, a matter that can be evaluated as TRUE or FALSE.

If I stand up at my middle school where I teach and proclaim that pepperoni pizza is the best, I am sure to meet with counter claims to the contrary.  We have plain pizza lovers and sausage pizza lovers as well as those weird people who like anchovy pizzas!

All kidding aside let me explain how in one sense it could be a true statement to affirm that pepperoni pizza is the best.

The key is in defining our term, “best”.

A Logical Joe or Jane knows enough to ask when encountering any claim that something is “best”, What do you mean by “best”?

Miss America

Take the Miss America pageant where every year, judges select the ‘best’ qualified gal to represent the ideal young female American.  There are objective criteria with rubrics or scales that judges use to quantify and justify their decision.  You might not agree with the judges’ objective statement of reality for the year: “Susie Smith from Oklahoma is the BEST qualified to be this year’s Miss America”.  About the most you can say at that point is: “For me, I prefer Janie Jones from Texas. I think she best embodies Miss America.”

So to say something is best can be both an objective statement and a subjective statement of reality.  It depends on where the criteria reside.  Can they be supported by ‘reality’ or are they dependent on the subject making the statement?

And just what is ‘reality’?  In the beauty pageant world, reality is defined by what the judges agree to in advance.

Here are other examples of how saying something is best can be an objective statement of reality that is agreed upon in advance:

  • Auditions for roles in movies or plays: The casting director picks the ‘best’ actor for the part.
  • Auditions for sports teams and orchestras: Who is ‘best’ at hitting home runs or holding down the 1st chair violin spot?
  • Interviews for jobs:  Mr. Peter Parker was the ‘best’ qualified for the job (but I liked Mr. Dan Douglas the best)

So let us beware of the facile dismissal of the predicate ‘best’ as merely subjective.  We are, after all, capable of holding two things in tension.  Just because they might appear to be contradictory does not mean they are so. Language allows us to make distinctions and that is a hallmark of all Logical Janes and Joes.