Tag Archives: definitions

What does ‘progressive’ mean?

20 Aug

I heard a news story that Cal State Sacramento decided to drop their Intermediate Algebra requirement for non-math/science majors.  Having to add remedial Intermediate Algebra to one’s course load has hurt the institute’s graduation statistics. Apparently, the number of undergraduates completing degree requirements in the normal 4 years is at an all-time low of 21%.

When asked in an interview about the change in required courses, one of the school’s administrators apparently explained:

“It’s a little radical. It’s a change. It’s progressive, but we think that it’s really needed.”

Progressive – that’s a term one hears bandied about.  I happen to teach in a school that prides itself in its adherence to ‘progressive education’.  When pushed to explain what that means, the usual answer is to juxtapose our ways of learning as different from ‘traditional’ schools, those who focus on delivering content via textbooks or lecture to mostly passive students.

As any logical Joe or Jane knows by now, step one of any discussion is to define one’s terms. So let’s start with this current adjective, ‘progressive’.

The top hit on Google defined progressive this way:

  1. Happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step.  “A progressive decline in popularity”
  2. (of a group, person, or idea) Favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.  “A relatively progressive governor”

Next, I scrolled down a bit further and landed on Merriam-Webster’s site: 

Possibility c seems to fit with the Cal State guy’s reflection:

a :  of, relating to, or characterized by progress  b :  making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities  c :  of, relating to, or constituting an educational theory marked by emphasis on the individual child, informality of classroom procedure, and encouragement of self-expression.

If we look at description a – having to do with progress, the first question that springs to mind is:  What are we progressing TOWARD?  What is the goal?  Does anyone even know?  Simply moving in a direction away from the way things have been done in the past does NOT imply a wise or good choice.  Deliberate thinking to evaluate what truly is in the best interests of the constituents is what counts.

This emphasis on constant movement and change brings up a very real danger that often leads to error.  That pitfall is called the Chronological Snobbery fallacy.  This sloppy thinking occurs when people automatically privilege something new JUST because of its newness. The counterpart can be equally faulty – valuing something JUST because it is old!    “The latest model!”  “A classic!”  Newness or oldness hold no value in and of themselves.  We must examine the benefits of an object, service, practice or idea to determine if it is praiseworthy.

Anyone with a legitimately good product or idea will not fear standing up to that kind of scrutiny.  Let’s not just reject or embrace something because it’s ‘progress’.

 

 

Meaningful definitions require boundaries

19 Oct

human-animal-stem-cell-research

Scientists at the National Institutes for Health apparently are talking about lifting a ban on research that would co-mingle human stem cells with animal embryos.

Human-Animal Embryo Stem Cell Research

Listening to a discussion about this back in August, the commentator who mentioned this new development posed the question:

  • What does it mean to be human?  If you have 99% human DNA and 1 % ‘other’, are you still considered human?

In other words, “How do we define the term, HUMAN?”

What came to mind was how TODAY, we seem to be playing fast and easy with definitions.

Two examples come to mind:

1a. Tolerance once referred to the restraining civil behavior between two or more people who held and articulated differing and/or contradictory beliefs and positions.  If you think about, one doesn’t tolerate what one find acceptable, one AGREES with it.  By definition, the ‘classic’ view of tolerance presupposes contrary views.

1b. Tolerance today seems to require that a ‘minority, despicable viewpoint’ be shut down, shamed and disbarred from the discussion table.

The term has remained the same, but the concept has changed.

2a. Marriage once referred to the legal union between one suitable (not a close relative) man and one suitable woman of appropriate age.

2b. Marriage today refers to a state-granted status that recognizes a two-person, gender-indifferent union with the same legal rights of a married biological male and female.  (A temporary quantity and constituent view – down the road who knows how many humans and what/who else might fit into this new definition!)

Logical friends, definitions matter!!!

These are but two current examples.

Think about other terms in the area of religion, for example:  God’s love, Faith in God or Prayer.  These ALSO seem to stand for a multiplicity of concepts.  So what exactly is the relationship between TERM and CONCEPT?

First of all, a concept is the immaterial idea of something one pictures, the image of which one holds in his head.  A concept can indicate something real or imagined like a tree or a unicorn. A term is the written or verbal name we give to that concept.

Terms can be confusing because the same term can refer to different concepts.  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason teaches that before ANY discussion about a topic can ensue, two people must clarify and agree on the definition of terms used.  Conversational partners must know and state the concepts they have in mind when each employs a term.

So back to those religious terms I mentioned. Today, in Christianity, people seem to talk with ease and certitude about ‘the love of God’ or they announce: ‘I believe in God’ or ‘I pray’.  We cannot assume that they and we are picturing the same thing.  As the fox in Le Petit Prince says ‘Words are the source of misunderstandings.’

As the social climate across the literate world grows more fractured and sharp, logical and reasoning men and women CAN make a difference by gently asking the clarifying questions that will guide others to think about what they mean.

Who knows?   In bringing a concept to light, in employing the discipline of articulating WHAT WE MEAN, someone or even we ourselves might decide to modify what we believe. Not a bad result. For thinking is never wasted effort or time.

 

 

Logical Girl does NOT beg the question

25 Feb

Pet Peeves, we all have them!

Pet Peeves

When it comes to grammar usage, my ire-raiser is when people misuse LESS and FEWER.  The following example is my g0-to reminder of proper usage:

  • This cookie might have less fat, but it does not have fewer calories.

If you can COUNT items, you must use ‘fewer’.  If you can’t count the substance, choose ‘less’.  How difficult is that?

And when it comes to logic, I get irked when people incorrectly use the expression to beg the question to mean to raise the question or to wonder about something.

According to a useful website About this fallacy ‘begging the question’ is:

  • a logic term….used to indicate that someone has made a conclusion based on a premise that lacks support

If I say, Susie is unskilled as a bookkeeper because she lacks accounting skills, then I have just restated my opinion/conclusion instead of providing reasons or proof.  No skill in bookkeeping is very close to a lack of accounting skills.  I haven’t built any case at all.  I have simply reworded my conclusion.  My duty still awaits; I must prove my point with reasons and evidence.

Here’s another example, incorrectly using this logical fallacy:

  • Sugar, which comes from juice squeezed from harvested sugar beets or sugarcane, must be good for you because it grows in nature.

We haven’t actually shown that substances derived from natural plants ARE good for one.  The first counter example that comes to mind are certain types of mushrooms, which although ‘natural’, are most definitely poisonous.

Voilà a few examples of this logical error, ‘Begging the Question’.  Of course we should strive to argue correctly, but more importantly, I’m advocating an accurate USE of the English language to avoid confusion.

Just so you know, I don’t ‘buy’ the possible comeback that language evolves, that as soon as a word or phrase comes to be accepted by many, then it has a new legitimized meaning.

Question:  What do YOU think about sticking to the formal meaning of a word or phrase versus going with the tide of general usage?

Logical Gal questions 99.99% death rate of germs

31 Dec

anti-bacterial soapis clinically proven to eliminate 99.9% of bacteria

Hmmm, what questions might a thinking, logical person pose about the claim above?

  • What do you mean by the term, “to eliminate”?
  • How was the study done?
  • Which bacteria were eliminated?

If one takes the time to dig just a little, it turns out that many of these advertising assertions are misleading.  The article below describes just such a situation.

Veracity of one set of claims

As often is the case, statistics get batted around pretty indiscriminately. But this sloppiness is not confined to marketing.

How about the claim that 50% of marriages end in divorce?  Apparently that number, also, is a misinterpretation of data.  Have you heard the adage that a lie repeated often enough becomes a truth?

The real data about marriage and divorce

The world is filled with data-hungry people.  And without careful thought, statistical fallacies can be allowed into our assessments, coloring what we believe to be true.  And if we pass along false data to others, even in casual conversation, we are adding to the problem.

A couple of weeks ago, a report correcting an oft-quoted statistic about crimes against female college students set the record straight.  For years, people had cited a 1 in 5 chance (20 %) that a college co-ed would be attacked on her college campus.  Apparently the study was flawed in several ways, one being it was based on too few data.  A more rigorous study shows the probability of attack to be less than 1 percent. Sexual assault statistics of women on campus

Statistics lie

Please don’t think that I am impugning the character of everyone who conducts or cites studies whose conclusions are false.  I would imagine that most people sincerely believe what they assert. Nevertheless, just like we should check out any fantastical story that arrives in our email inbox to see if it’s true, we should take equal care to vet a statistic before passing on something shocking in one mass email to our contacts.

Snopes.com

 

 

 

Logical Gal and the Source of Misunderstandings

19 Nov

Consider the assumptions below: are they true?

  • The French are snobs
  • Southerners are lazy
  • Kids don’t read much
  • Americans are generous
  • Women feel guilty
  • Schools are failing students

It depends

We often treat these particular statements as true JUST because we know some cases where:

  • SOME French people behave as though they were better than us
  • SOME Southerners lack drive
  • SOME kids prefer video games to reading
  • SOME Americans open their wallets for every world misery
  • SOME women confess their conflicting views about motherhood, marriage and working
  • SOME schools routinely turn out students unprepared to take up adult roles in society

An effective and accurate (truthful) communicator does not assume that the qualities pertaining to certain cases equally apply in EVERY case.   This is the difference between the Universal (ALL) and the Particular (SOME).

When we apply the characteristics of the few or even the many to every, we are going beyond what is logically correct.  Logical thinking is, after all, using language correctly.

EXTENSION is the term to note the particular details of one exemplar of a category.  The term to identify all those members of a category that also carry the same ‘extension’ is COMPREHENSION.  And ABSTRACTION is the term that pulls together the descriptive characteristics that EVERY single member of of the category holds in common.

Take a house, for example:

House - Ranch House - shack House - Victorian

The 3 houses above are all very different.  To get the idea of ‘house’, we abstract what they have in common:

  • a roof
  • 4 walls
  • shelter for living
  • space enough to protect some personal belongings of inhabitants

A particular house, say the rancher on the left, has all 4 of the above features plus we can say that it is:

  • on one floor and noticeably longer than it is wide

But if we took that particular rancher which is a sum of the ‘applies to all’ features (the abstracted idea of house) + a particular characteristic (long and on one floor) and said

  • Houses are easy for handicapped people to access

We would be guilty of taking an extension and applying it across the board to all houses.

To be logical, we would have to supply the correct quantifier and say SOME houses make it easy for handicapped people to access.  A mansion might not have a way for a wheel chair to reach higher floors.

Ramp on rancher

If extension means the particular characteristics beyond the abstracted or general idea of a concept, then what is comprehension?  Think about extension as the details.  Think about comprehension as the number or sum total of all the members of a category to which this description applies.

And when we add more particular details, then a category member can be said to have a ‘greater’ extension.  But, conversely, there are fewer members that can be said to share that extension.

Here are 3 houses again, but this time they are:

a) a general, abstracted house

b) an abstracted house considered a ranch

c) an abstracted house that is ranch-style and has a handicap ramp

The latter, house C, shows the greatest extension because it has the most detail (hence, there are fewer houses that are accurately said to be that kind of house)

The first, house A, has the greatest comprehension because more houses qualify to be that kind of house (basic house) without all the extra details.

See Saw

The seesaw picture shows the inverse relationship between extension and comprehension.  The greater the details (greater extension), the fewer items that meet that description (smaller comprehension) and vice versa.

Bottom line?  Committing ourselves to take the time AND think clearly and then express ourselves honestly can ease the tension and conflict that characterizes our world.  It’s either laziness or pure disingenuousness to paint people or institutions with a broad brush.

Language is the source of misunderstandings Language is the source of...in French

 

Logical Gal and the beauty of a category error

29 Oct

I heard some good news this week – enunciated in a way that I can understand AND remember.

Good for goodness sake

And it was just the opposite of the song invoked in the photo above.  Whew!

One of my favorite preaching pastors, John Piper Link to his site, was explaining the concept of election and justification, Christian terms for being called into the Christian family by God.  He painted the scenario of a gal lamenting to her pastor that her past was SO BAD, that NO WAY could God forgive her enough to let her into His kingdom.

That’s when Piper described her as BOTH prideful AND incorrect in thinking that any condition could block God’s will.

At that moment…..drum roll Piper announced that God NEVER even considers one’s past life or actions in his selection of His children.  This gal was making a category error.  She was thinking that the two kinds of people were

  • the GOOD enough

and the

  • NOT GOOD enough

It is truly happy news to learn that she was not even in the ball park.

She was right on one account;  there are just TWO categories of folk.  All humans fall into one of these two groups:

  • those who belong to the family of God and are considered His adopted children
  • those who don’t belong to the family because God has not adopted them as His children

But HOW He chooses is a mystery. If we take His words as truth (and since He is God, by nature He IS Truth), then He has decreed who He adopts for His own reasons that have nothing to do with how ‘bad or good’ we are.  (Truth be told, NO ONE is ‘good’.)  Listen to what God teaches us through Paul’s writings in Romans 9: 10-13

  • when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Of course, we will probably trip over the verbs LOVED and HATED.

So as all good logicians and thinkers, we should CLARIFY THE MEANING of these two terms.

 

Clarify meanining

I’ll leave you to think through what God might intend by ‘love and hate’, but before you snort and feel frustrated, think about how we freely and loosely toss around terms.

  • I love movies….I love my dog…I love my children…I love God
  • I hate laundry….I hate Mondays….I hate terrorists….I hate it when I lose my temper

 

Logical Gal-statements that die before reaching 1st base

15 Oct

Self Refuting Tree Sawing Analogy

 

I tuned in last week to J. Warner Wallace’s discussion about TRUTH.

He addressed rules or pronouncements that can’t even meet their own standards, what he calls self-refuting statements.

Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective who ministers by sharing investigative insights that apply to Christianity. He films and uploads a video discussion most Fridays about evidence supporting the truth of Jesus Christ.  You can find these gems at Cold Case Christianity.    Here’s the link to his site

One of his points about truth that I enjoyed hearing again described the change in the definition of TOLERANCE.

Tolerance USED to be defined as the respectful treatment of the FACT or PRESENCE of differing points of view.  This original view of ‘tolerance’ assumed that people believed differently and that beliefs often opposed or contradicted one another.  But today, the concept of tolerance includes the belief that ALL views are equally ‘valid’.  As meek and mild as this new version may seem, it has a mean bite to it!

Pushing the definition to go in THIS direction actually uses ‘valid’ to mean:

  • You can’t criticize my view and say it’s WRONG!

Today’s Tolerance Bullies protect ‘new and improved’ definitions of such fundamental parts of society as

  • holidays (Seattle just voted to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day)
  • gender
  • marriage
  • societal roles
  • aberrant and normal behavior
  • rights and entitlements

As overwhelming and furiously paced as these changes may be, one can take comfort in the FACT that the logic behind the pre-supposition grounding this new definition of tolerance is flawed.

If it is true that tolerance means you can’t say my belief is WRONG, then…

  • You, yourself, can’t label ‘wrong’ MY belief that traditional marriage is the only legitimate marriage union
  • You, yourself, have no leg to stand on when criticizing my view that abortion is murder!
  • And if I were to think it’s okay to act out any number of behaviors you don’t like, my loyalty to them is protected by your new definition

Do you see how today’s new definition breaks down before getting to first base?  That, my friends, is the beauty of logic!

Just like the in-your-face comeback (see image below) to the fact of the existence of absolute truth, their statements break down before they can gather a molecule of dust!

Self-refuting statements

 

All you have to say in response to their claim above:

– So, is your statement just a personal opinion?

Question:  What is a ‘Truth Pronouncement’ that seems suicidal to you?

 

 

 

 

So next time, instead of feeling overwhelmed by next topsy-turvy way of thinking, take a deep breath and ask yourself if that person’s statement follows their OWN ground rules.

Logical Gal and what makes a good definition

8 Oct

Stop

Have you ever felt sheepish after jumping down someone’s throat….

for incorrectly assessing your conversational partner’s point of view?  Come to find out, you had been thinking about X and they had meant Y.  And it all hinged on a TERM!  Before you and I engage in a discussion, we need to clarify and clear away the fog by defining our terms precisely!

That’s rule # 1

And we always follow the rules, right? Smiley Face

Sometimes though, it is easier said then done.  Especially when we aren’t sure what makes for a good definition.

There are several guidelines, but today I want to talk about 2 characteristics in particular which assist in obtaining clarity. Communicating a definition means that your audience is left better off after listening to you – there is LESS confusion.

First things first!

When you create a definition, you need to include both a genus (the big category to which it belongs) and a differentia (the ‘what about it details’ that make IT different from other members in the category/genus).  Hence, a GooD definition – capital G for genus and capital D for differentia, includes both parts, the genus and the differential.

For example, what is a car?

Car

The ‘genus’ is the large family of motorized vehicles.

And what distinguishes a car from a truck from an airplane could be stated like this:

a member of the motorized vehicle genus which has 4 wheels and has as its primary design function that of transporting 1-6 people on a road.

What’s highlighted in red makes up the differentia.  Now here is the tricky part and what I want to convey in this blog post.  When we attempt accurately to describe the differentia, we have to be both inclusive AND exclusive in a sufficient manner so that:

  • the differentia could not apply to more than one member of the differentia

For example, if we had suggested a differentia that went like this….which has as its primary function that of transporting people and not cargo on a road..then how would we tell whether this included or EXcluded a van or  a bus or even a motorcycle?

A definition has to be ‘mutually exclusive’, meaning that there be NO confusion whether something fits into a car slot or a bus slot or a motorcycle slot or a pickup truck slot.

  • AND the genus and differentia have to provide for all potential members so that you don’t exclude a possible member, leaving them unassigned.

For example, if I had not intentionally selected the number ONE as the lower end of passenger carrying capacity, I might have left out the possibility of a really tiny one-person vehicle from being considered a car.

One passenger car

What got me thinking about the importance of ‘GooD’ definitions and the proper use of categories was the opening of a sermon in which the pastor was describing Mexican food.  He had grown up in California and argued that when you boiled down this style of cuisine, there were basically MEAT tacos and BEAN tacos.  The varieties are endless, but by his thinking, a GooD definition of Mexican food would be this:

Mexican food is a style of cooking (genus) using tacos as a base for filling with either meat or beans in various combinations combined with many possible add-ons. (differentia)

Mexican Food

After tantalizing his congregation with mouthwatering thoughts of a tasty lunch, he delivered his punch line: 

There are only 2 kinds of people in the world:

  • those who live according to the Holy Spirit and are therefore born-again Christians with a happy future
  • those who live according to their own agenda and are therefore enemies of God with a depressing future

If you think about it, every single person on Earth who ever has lived, is living or will live fits into either one or the other group. Therefore, this categorization is considered ‘jointly exhaustive’.

And no one can have a foot in one category AND the other at the same time. Therefore, this description is ‘mutually exclusive’.

It’s sobering, isn’t it!

But truth is like that.  I’m reminded of another area where there are only 2 categories:  a woman is either pregnant or she is not pregnant.  The logic law that states that limitation of reality is called the Law of the Excluded Middle.

Even though Truth can be as bracing as a bucket of ice water, there is Good News.  And it is this:

  • Although EVERYONE starts off in that 2nd category (or trajectory toward remaining an enemy of God), no one is doomed to stay there.  God’s offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is available to all those who are willing to accept the gift.

Question: what are other categories with only 2 possibilities? 

And for an explanation of how you can be adopted into God’s forever family, How to become a Christian

 

 

 

Logical Gal – Multiple definitions can be confusing!

24 Sep

A recent devotional I read mentioned the Apostle Paul’s use of the term Israel to refer to FOUR different concepts.

I thought a brief account of how ‘Israel’ is employed would serve as a useful reminder to clarify terms before jumping into a discussion/debate or argument with someone.

The first question ALWAYS to ask is: What do you mean by X?

Hebrew people

‘Tabletalk’ is a monthly magazine with articles and daily Bible teaching by Dr. R.C. Sproul. I’m a month behind, but the 18 August 2014 piece was based on some verses in Romans 11.  Dr. Sproul mentions that in Romans 9-11, Paul uses ‘Israel’ to describe 4 different groups of people (his exact words follow):

  • The group of ethnic Jews who have true faith in the Lord
  • The entire corporate nation that is made up of all ethic Jews, including those who do not trust in the Lord
  • Ethnic Jews who have not placed their faith in Jesus
  • And finally, the term Israel can also designate all of those who believe in Jesus, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles

Just reading about these distinctions reinforced in MY mind how ‘nuanced’ the Bible is.  I’m beginning to realize that words in Scripture are often a shorthand description that needs to be amplified.  For example, I’ve often been puzzled by the first 4 words in Paul’s statement: To live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)

I now realize that we in contemporary America speak in an equally symbolic but well understood way when we announce boldly general statements such as:  “Gardening is my life” or some such thing.  So to say ‘to live is Christ’ would probably mean that Christ is the most important person and truth in my life and I base everything on Him.

If we invest the energy and time actually to think and ponder, we CAN deal with layered concepts that might at first seem to stretch us.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle to practice with, one that maybe you can unravel.  Just as there are equivocal definitions of the term Israel, there are several possibilities for the adjective ALL or EVERY……  I often hear people announce hyperbolically:

  • All of New York turned out for the parade
  • All the OTHER kids get to go to the party!
  • Everyone knows that…..

Here’s my challenge:  What does Paul mean when he boldly writes to the Christians in Rome – All Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26)

All Israel will be saved

Before we get into a theological back and forth, we had better work to clarify the following:

  1. which category of Israel is meant?
  2. what does ‘all’ really mean?
  3. and in what sense will that group be ‘saved’?

Only then can a discussion proceed!

Would that as a matter of course I could be so restrained in my conversations.

 

 

Logical Gal: those Martian men and Venetian women

27 Aug

It’s true – we really are different!

Besides the physical and emotional distinctions, what else separates us?  Our definitions!

We view and use terms in ways that are not always identical.  As St. Exupéry’s Fox informs the Little Prince:

Renard (Little prince)

“Le language est source des malentendus” (Language is the source of misunderstandings)

Friday my husband and I bought a new car for me in a town south of where I teach school.  It has been more than 10 years since I’ve had this experience and this latest 4WD small SUV came equipped with bells and whistles that were overwhelming.  So as Mike and I set out to convoy home from the dealership, I said I would ‘follow’ him.  I felt it was challenging enough to drive the new car safely without having to hunt for signs to the interstate.  Over 50, I sensibly have stopped clinging to the false notion that I can multi-task.  The idea of setting and following ‘Miss Bossy GPS Lady’ was too much for me!

All was well in this ‘following’ maneuver until we reached the interstate.  I now KNEW the way home, so didn’t feel the need to stay directly behind my husband’s car.  I was, after all, behind him in one sense of the term and in MY lexicon that qualified in the wide definition of what it means ‘to follow’.

The only problem was that this dear Martian man of mine was NOT privy to my unpublished Venetian glossary. Unbeknownst to me, he grew more and more aggravated as I fell behind.  So he attempted to catch my attention by driving erratically.  My reaction, at first, was to think that something was wrong with his Subaru.  So I prayed.  Then it occurred to me that he might be suffering a stroke or at the least low blood sugar since we were now past the dinner hour.  (These 2 scenarios were unlikely for his car is only 2 years old and he doesn’t have any physical condition that would justify my imaginings!).  But I prayed even more earnestly.

When we finally reached our cove and pulled off the busy highway, he stopped to get the paper.  I rolled down my window and said: What is wrong with you! Are you alright?

Well, that caught him by surprise because he was about to ask me the same questions.

We laugh now,

reconciled husband and wife

but lesson learned:  Be clear about terms.  Ask one another, “When you say you’re going to FOLLOW me, what do you actually mean by that?”  I also learned that when I change my mind about something AFTER I have told him what my intention was, I should communicate that too.

I guess Martians are not mind readers.

All joking aside, good clear thinking is foundational to logic.  And formal logic always starts with clarifying terms.  If two people can sort out, pin down distinctions and agree to abide by certain definitions, then much aggravation is avoided.

Question: when has language gotten in the way of communicating with someone you love?