Monday, 23 August 2010

The old trouble returns

I'm feeling a bit peeliwally today (Whaddaya mean it's not in your dictionary? It's a perfectly good Scottish word isn't it?).

Anyway I'm usually perky but today I'm peaky, the reason being that I was unable to go to the blog yesterday. I had another bout of the old trouble, contingent syllogisms, and very painful they are too.

It started, as it so often does, with reading Christopher Howse discussing 'argument from design', which is the notion that since Nature is so complex and yet so orderly it must therefore be intelligently designed ('Bertrand Russell versus faith in God', Telegraph, Saturday August 21st, p 27). His general message seemed to be, insofar as any message at all could be gleaned from the philosophical flim-flam, that argument from design shows the need for an extra-cosmic intelligence and that sounds to him like 'God, our Lord'.

Well, that's a perfectly reasonable view, even though it's erroneous, but in order to reach it he had to take us on a tour of several intellectual punch-ups which various distinguished philosophers have had with Bertrand Russell, and that's what brought my old trouble back. At first I thought it was just a lack of moral fibre in my diet, but apparently it's all to do with whether one can 'deduce a necessary conclusion from a contingent premiss'.

Russell, you may recall, was the greatest philospher/mathematician of his age, but even he didn't have all the answers. A taxi-driver with a grasp of such matters, and they're more numerous than you might think, once remarked 'You know I had that Bertrand Russell in my cab yesterday and I said to him " Hallo, Bertie, Wot's it all abaht then?" and do you know he'd no bleeding idea!'

He was however fairly hot stuff on the question of syllogisms (see his 'History of Western Philosophy', pub. Allen and Unwin, 1946, p. 218).

Now a syllogism, as we all know, (and indeed in our Somerset village we talk of little else), is an incontrovertible logical deduction of the form

A+B = C+A, therefore B=C, or if you prefer 1+ 3 = x + 1, therefore x= 3.

You can't argue with that, can you? But was that good enough for Bertie? Oh no, he had to give us various forms of the wretched thing, thus:

1a. 'All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal'.

1b. 'All men are mortal, all Greeks are men, therefore all Greeks are mortal'.

Then clever-clogs Bertie points out that Aristotle was mistaken because he did not distinguish between these two forms. Of course!

He goes on to distinguish between:

2. 'No fishes are rational, all sharks are fishes, therefore no sharks are rational'.

3. 'All men are rational, some animals are men, therefore some animals are rational'

4. 'No Greeks are black, some men are Greeks, therefore some men are not black'.

These four make up the 'first figure' to which Aristotle added a second and a third figure, and other philosophers later added a fourth although the three later figures, according to Bertie, can be reduced to the first by various devices.

You can see how my intellectual sphincter tightened, can't you.

I'm not entirely convinced Christopher Howse understands it either, but he should read my book 'Why Man Made Gods and Dogs' (ISBN 978-0-9565588-0-0) then he would at least understand the Anthropic Principle.


  1. I think you possibly need a bit more Allbran in your diet.

    x need not equal 3. But I'm buggered if I know what else it might be - a combination of numbers with other operators (eg 1.5 x 2 perhaps)....which would mean that although x COULD equal 3, it would not be restricted to 3.

    I have absolutely no idea where I'm going with this, other than back to the drink's cabinet.

    Ali x

  2. Ah, but its the same thing innit? No need to answer that or you'll confuse both of us. Bertie devoted the first 200 pages or so of his 'Principia Mathematica' to this kind of thing.
    I shall no doubt return to this fascinating topic at a later date, once I understand it.