Thursday, May 23, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You Part 4: Logic: What Is Valid Reasoning?

I'm sorry for such a long time between entries!  If you're following my series, or my blog in general, the last entry was on the nature of truth.  This lecture/entry is on logic and reasoning.  There's a few courses available on this topic available at  As we've been discussion truth is objective in relation to reality, or as Prof McGinn says, "Beliefs are true or false; reasoning is valid or invalid."  So here we are discussion logic in relation to validity NOT truth/falsehood. The best classical example comes from Aristotle, All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal.  The thing I like (and hate at the same time) about logic is the way it can be expressed somewhat mathematically.  The problem comes in knowing what the symbols mean.  I learned about this use of symbols in a class on logic but I haven't really gotten the hang of how to use all the symbols.  This simple lecture from Prof McGinn doesn't really go into all that but I feel it's worth mentioning here.  That classical example would be written something like:

∀ P ⇒ Q     All Ps are Q               All men are mortal
A ⇒ P        A is a P                      Aristotle is a man
∴ A ⇒ Q      Therefore, A is Q    Therefore Aristotle is mortal

If everything of a group has a certain property, then every particular part of that group also has that property.  Also, if one particular thing has a property, then something has that property.  I know it sounds silly and basic, but that's the way it's supposed to be.  Logic, for the most part, is straightforward and basic.

While Prof McGinn doesn't go over that symbolic logic, he does cover the three main classical laws of logic.  As I understand it, they were codified by Aristotle and the lectures refer to them as, "three traditional laws of logic: the law of identity, the law of excluded middle, and the law of noncontradiction."  I don't necessarily agree with this idea as common sensical as it seems, but Prof McGinn says that these laws of logic are inescapable and the even the concept of a universe where these rules don't hold true is inconceivable (you keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means).  The book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid seems to say that "kōans (公案)" are examples of mankind's ability to step outside this idea that logic is inescapable.  I don't completely agree with everything that book says but it seems that is the case.  One of problems I have is these sayings are just that, sayings.  They may indicate that mankind can think illogically, but that doesn't mean one can escape the rules of logic.

Take the law of identity, everything is identical to itself.  It seems to me that it's possible to conceive of a place where that isn't the case.  But, just because one can conceive it doesn't mean one can actually go to such a place or make something that doesn't follow that law.  Or the law of excluded middle, which says that everything has a given property or it lacks it.  Or the law of non-contradiction, which says that nothing can have a given property and not have the same property at the same time.  So, we can conceive of things that don't follow these laws, but we can't actually make things or find things that don't follow said laws.

Now that's a snake

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You Part 3: Truth: What Is the Nature of Truth?

As I move through this lecture series by Prof Colin McGinn on discovering the philosopher in each of us and dealing with the big questions in philosophy, I'm liking this prof more and more.  As far as philosophers are concerned, he seems quite down-to-earth.

Today's topic has to do with truth and the analysis of truth.  In the last lecture, we used the word truth several times and now we're dealing with analyzing truth itself.  According to these lectures, there are three common theories behind truth, the coherence theory, the pragmatic theory, and the correspondence theory.  One thing I have noticed though is how Prof McGinn seems to make powerful claims when most other philosophy teachings I've heard don't make simple straightforward claims like Prof McGinn.  Claims like, how there are these three theories but how the correspondence theory is the correct one and that the others are just quaint ideas that we discuss almost out of hand just to be kind to the ideas because they're wrong and there's no two ways about it.  I find this approach to philosophy surprising and slightly refreshing.  Anyways, on to the different theories.

Coherence theory: leaves out the world in so many, potentially dangerous ways.  Basically it says that something is true if it is coherent within a set of beliefs or belief system.  If a fact is consistent with your other beliefs or a web of belief systems, then it is true.  A slightly more basic way to put this is, if something is consistent with a large group of people's belief then it is true, like if enough people believe something is true, then it is.  Of course this goes against one of the things Prof McGinn has said a number of times, that one cannot force oneself to believe something that isn't true.  Of course technically, in this concept of truth, it's completely relative to the person/people involved.  This concept has no grounding in reality, which I'm sure is why it's considered a poor theory of truth.

The pragmatic theory: this (kind of) leaves out the world as well.  The basic idea is that whatever is good for one is true.  Like if I jump off this tall building it will be bad for me, and therefore it's true.  While this at least relates truth to reality there's an important distinction to be made.  The example in the lecture is of living under a despotic tyrannic government.  In a place like that it would be good for one's health to believe the propaganda that the government is good and wonderful.  If you truly believe otherwise, the secret police would be knocking on your door.  But that doesn't change the truth of the evil tyranny you're living in.  (Not that all tyrannies are evil.)

Last but not least, the correspondence theory: this is the most simple, straightforward of all these theories of truth.  It's simple, the truth is what actually is.  The statement that snow is white, is true, not because it is coherent with what I believe about snow, or the fact that believing snow is white is good for me in some way, but because snow actually is in fact, white.  The truth of the matter has nothing to do with one's beliefs or wants.  It is subjective, that is, outside one's wants or ideas.  Well, this concept brings up the topic of tolerance to which the professor gives a very good response: "Tolerance is not a matter of allowing that everyone believes the truth, no matter how much they disagree; it is having the policy of not persecuting people for their beliefs even when they are egregiously false."  Stating that truth is subjective is not intolerant, it's a fact.  It's not putting people who believe otherwise down, it's simply stating a truth about how facts correspond to reality.  There's no such thing as something being "true to me, but not true to you."  That's not how this works, it's either true or not, those types of statements are faith statements value statements relating to one's beliefs, not to truth or falsehood.

One last thing to say on this topic, there are different types of truth.  This discussion has been about factual truth.  I'm sure that later discussions/lectures will deal with value statements and moral truth.  That will come later I'm sure, so stay tuned!

Technology in Education

Well, I've decided to take a short break from the Discovering the Philosopher in You series.  First a little background...

As part of my training to lead workout sessions, I've taken the certification training for CPR.  Also, I've taken general first-aid and even been an instructor for those first-aid classes.  Well, on Wednesday morning this last week I took a class on teaching CPR and I noticed a couple things.

First off, the most annoying thing in general about CPR training is the seeming total reliance on videos.  Even the training to teach CPR by video, is taught by video!  The thing that bothered me about this in this situation started with the preliminary training videos, it was actually full of great information. They had a variety good instruction tips, with good examples and help on how to deal with all types of situations.  One of the scenarios they dealt with was how to teach and deal with a break down in your technology.  But, apparently the only option for teaching CPR is with a video course.  They're inconsistent!  Here's how to deal with technology, but the only option available for teaching CPR is a video.

Here's another thing that gets me, they said at the beginning of the instructor training video that they've done research and that it showed how video instruction is just as effective as more traditional instruction.  I'd be interested to see what that study covered.  And as a hopeful future teacher, I died a bit inside when they said that!

I've discussed my opinion on technology before, but this is a serious question for educators and students.  A fellow blogger/former teacher that I've discussed various topics online with, Jason Robillard, wrote an entry about this very topic.  I've thought about this as an online learner and in general I've noticed that I don't really like the online "environment."  Though online teaching is less like the integration of technology in education so much as lectures broadcast for a wide audience.

In all the online courses I've taken, especially the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) I've taken at, the biggest shortcoming is in testing.  Especially with the topics I've taken classes in, philosophy, logic, etc., there's no way to test EVERYONE.  Though I heard this the other day and really liked the idea: tests aren't for the teacher, the teacher (should) already knows if the student has been studying.  The test is for the student, to test to find out if one really knows (in a measurable way) what one thinks one knows.

How does the integration of technology look in today's education world?  I don't really know, though what I do know is that it's still not to that point where education should be taken over by machines.  It's an exciting and scary prospect as I someday hope to make a career of teaching.  Maybe someday (God forbid) we'll be at the point where teachers are replaced by machines, but hopefully I'll be ready for that day by educating myself on the best integration of technology in my own teaching (when I get to that point).

Don't look too close, there's some dust spots... but a beautiful sunset nonetheless

Monday, May 6, 2013

Faith and Philosophy Blog Carnival, May 2013, 4nd Edition

Jana presents How To Slow Down Recurring Unwanted Manifestations, Our Work in Manifestation: How To Focus More On What Is WantedHow To Drop The Ego and Attachment: A Spiritual Conundrum : Wisdom Ink Magazine all posted at Wisdom Ink.

Linda Donegan presents 4 Tips to Help You Pray Continually posted at Grow Thru Adversity.


Ron Moser presents Old Testament Prophecies of the Second Coming: Still future?–Part One posted at Where Eagles Gather (and other sayings of Christ).

Robin Bremer presents 3 Secrets to Easy Prayer & A LIST of What to Pray in Our NEW COVENANT posted at Robin

John presents What is Manliness? posted at Fearless Men.

Mantas presents Have Some Hope posted at Life and Thoughts of an Ordinary Guy.

Thank you to all those that have submitted their work for this month's edition. The standard caveat applies, I don't necessarily agree with all the ideas presented but I hope you all enjoy reading the various perspectives regarding faith and or philosophy.  Next month's edition will be posted here on the 6th of June.