Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Week in Review: Syllogisms in Flight

Those of you who are attentive to patterns may have noticed that I tend to make two posts per week: one at the weekend describing the previous week's goings-on, and another at mid-week on some topic or other that I felt like expounding upon; you may have further noticed that a mid-week post from me was lacking in the last week. My apologies: it was a busy week, and I didn't have time to work out something decent. I will try to not let that happen this week. Can't let the public down. Either of you.

Apart from the cycle of class-homework-class-work-homework-work-class-etc. that I've settled into, there were a few events of note over the last week. On Tuesday the school put on another Philosophy Movie Night event, in which DSPT student Caleb Brown led the audience through the viewing of a film, pointing out  the storytelling and movie-making techniques being used by the filmmaker to convey the movie's message. That night we watched WALL-E, the Disney/Pixar film about a trash-cleaning robot who falls in love, saving humanity on the way and teaching us something about what it means to be human. I don't want to give too much away for those who haven't seen it, but for those who have seen, and for others when you do see it, think of Noah's Ark, and the movie may take on a whole different meaning for you. (By the way, the writer/director said Noah's Ark was specifically in his mind when writing the story.)

On Thursday I went with a few friends to see Flight, starring Denzel Washington. You may have seen the previews: a pilot makes a daring and amazing emergency crash landing, and admits to having had "a few drinks" the night before the flight. The commercials give the impression that the film might be about some sinister element trying to frame this hero, but really (and I don't think I'm giving too much away), the movie is about this man dealing with his addictions. There's a thread throughout about God acting in people's lives, but it's kind of subtle. Be warned: there are scenes featuring nudity and drug use. The movie can be tough to watch, but I thought it ended with a good message.

I also happened to have a nice little chat with the president of the DSPT, Father Michael Sweeney, OP, earlier this week. We were both in the school's kitchen, eating lunch, and he commented on the weather; we were soon discussing our love of the Pacific Northwest (he's from British Columbia and was pastor of a parish in Seattle for many years), and he asked me about my current studies and future aspirations. Unfortunately, I had to cut the conversation short (I was nearly late for work), but I appreciated the time he took to talk a bit with one of his school's students.

Highlights from class this week:

Philosophy of Nature: It's funny how, when scientific paradigms shift, some can be so derisive of what came before, only to be derided themselves by later generations. Some ancient models of the cosmos placed the earth at the center of the universe. Then someone came along and laughed and said, "How silly; of course, the sun is the center of the universe." Then someone came along and laughed and said, "You fool! Of course, our solar system is on the periphery of the real center of the universe." Then Einstein came along and argued that, according to his relativity theory, there actually is no center of the universe, or just as accurately, that everything is the center of the universe in relation to everything else. Let's us remember humility in the face of the great mysteries which we are trying to unravel.

History of Ancient Philosophy: It's amazing how varied are the backgrounds of ancient philosophers. Socrates was the son of a stone cutter. Aristotle was the son of the court physician to Philip of Macedon. Epictetus was born as a slave. Marcus Aurelius was born a noble and became emperor of Rome. Clear thinking and insight are not birthrights.

Introduction to New Testament: Our professor re-presented a theory of his about which I have written previously, but I realized I left something out. Do you remember the story where Jesus expels from a man demons who call themselves Legion, and they are sent into a herd of swine which then run to the shore and cast themselves into the sea, dying? I had earlier mentioned my professor's theory that this may be an allegory for driving out the Romans, since the standard of the 10th Legion stationed in Judea was a boar's head, and the demon called itself Legion. I omitted this important point: Jesus is the Messiah. The Messiah is one who rights wrongs, who punishes injustice, who re-establishes God's order. There are many references to God casting his people's enemies into the sea, or saving his people "from the raging waters"--think of the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea. Historically for the Jews, too, the sea was symbolic of danger and chaos: storms, floods, and the invading Phoenicians, Macedonians, and Romans. Put this together with the boar's head of the 10th Legion, and we see this event, not as a political statement, but as a theological one: Jesus is the Messiah, driving the enemies of God's people into the sea.

Aristotelian Logic: We've begun discussing the form of logical argument, the syllogism. A syllogism is an argument with two premises that lead to a conclusion, like:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

The class "men" is identified with a characteristic, mortality; since Socrates belongs to this class, he also posses that characteristic.

Beware of arguments, though, that look good, but are really false, like:

All U.S. presidents have been male.
Lincoln was male.
Therefore, Lincoln was a U.S. president.

All three statements are true. And we have a class of people identified with a characteristic, then an individual named as part of that class. It would seem to be like the previous example. But it ain't. Try inserting another person's name in there and see if it works:

All U.S. presidents have been male.
Charlie Chaplin was male.
Therefore, Charlie Chaplin was a U.S. president.

The problem is with the term "male." While it is true that all U.S. presidents have been male, the reverse is not true: not every male has been a U.S. president. This problem is called "the undistributed middle" (perhaps I will tackle distribution in a later post.) If we made that first statement into a negative proposition, then the middle would be distributed, and the syllogism would be valid:

No U.S. president has been a Frenchman.
Napoleon was a Frenchman.
Therefore, Napoleon was not a U.S. president.

Universal negative statements like that have distributed terms (meaning what is said of one is said of all): it is true of every Frenchman that he has not been a president, and it is true of every president that he has not been a Frenchman. Universal affirmative statements do not have distributed terms: It is true of all U.S. presidents that they have been male, but it is not true of every male that he has been president.

Yeah, I should probably go over distribution more in depth at some point. But I hope that made some sense.

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