Monday, November 13, 2006

Intellectual exercise

Wow, it's been almost a month since I updated. Time flies when you're broke and doing a lot of homework. Anyway, I went to the dentist. It was 73 dollars for them to take x-rays and go "we don't know what's causing this". Nothing like a good investment.

On an entirely new subject, I've found this philosophy game to play. It's called "Find the Assumptions". You take a statement, and then you figure out all the pre-existing premises that you need for it to be true. It can be something as simple as "The sky is blue". In order for that to be true, you have a number of assumptions: you know what the color blue is, that there is a sky, that you have the ability to properly see the sky, that your senses are giving you truthful input (which is different from being able to see) and that your individual knowledge of the sky is accurate. A lot of different premises for something that most people think are generally true.

This is a nifty little exercise, because it helps when you're constructing your own arguments and when you're listening to other people's arguments.

For instance, if someone makes the assertion that "Hard sciences (physics, engineering, medicine) are more valuable than soft sciences (humanities)" there are a whole slew of assumptions in there to make that statement anywhere near true. In general, the premise includes that there is a universal value that one can make a judgment, and that "hard" and "soft" sciences are significantly different.

So, what makes "hard" and "soft" sciences significantly different? As a person who did years in both (communication is normally considered "soft" and aviation is normally considered "hard"), not a whole hell of a lot. One could say that aviation is taught more by focusing on small details and then having to extrapolate themes from them, whereas communication is vice versa, but that's really only a difference in how it's taught. Another could be said that communication is a lot of guess-work whereas aviation is hard and fast. When people say this, it always makes me laugh: any "hard" science: be it engineering, aviation, medicine, what have you is about "guesswork" and "generally". Finally, the other explanation for this difference is that hard sciences are more concrete, as in they actually "do" something. You build a bridge, you cure a sick person, you fly from point a to point b, instead of writing a book or a paper. The next, obvious question becomes: how do you fly from point a to point b without the airport facilities directory (which someone had to write)? Why would you want to build a bridge without someone giving a reason? Why bother curing people unless you are motivated to do so?

If you bust the unspoken premises, you bust the statement. This statement is false, unless you more clearly define "value" and demonstrate a significant difference between the sciences.

And this could be for any statement one wants to make. What are the premises for anything you say?

"Mexicans are undertaking America".

"Academia is insulated from reality".

"Abortion is a personal choice".

"We should have strong leaders".

"Environmental protections are a good thing".

Anything you say has unspoken premises to make it true. I think a lot of disagreements people have about political issues are that they are short-handed. If someone says "we have a collective responsibility to our citizens" and someone responds with "you're lazy" we've hit a place where our presumptions don't match up. If someone says "The wage gap is not due to institutionalized discrimination" and someone responds "you're sexist" our presumptions are not matching up.

Moral of the story: people should learn philosophy.


At 10:02 PM, Anonymous patrick said...

Logic is fun.


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