Friday, October 25, 2013

(LCR) Midterm surprises

There were a couple of questions that many of you missed which surprised me. For example:
"'Thus,' 'since,' 'so,' and 'therefore' can all serve as conclusion indicators" is clearly false ('since' can only be a premise indicator). Yet all but one of you marked it "True."

Almost as many of you marked "True" the claim that "I was late because my car broke down" is an argument, the conclusion to which is "I was late." But the broken car is not offered as evidence for the truth of the claim "I was late" -- the fact of your lateness is a given, and the broken car is offered as an explanation.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why Study Philosophy?

Here's a nice news story from Purdue University (where, as it happens, I got my Doctorate):

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

(LCR) Socratic Reasoning

Consider the following passage from Plato’s dialogue Crito:
Socrates:  …wrongdoing or injustice is in every way harmful and shameful to the wrongdoer. Do we say so or not?
Crito:  We do.
Socrates:  So one must never do wrong.
Crito:  Certainly not.
Socrates:  Nor must one, when wronged, inflict wrong in return, as the many believe, since one must never do wrong.
Crito:  That seems to be the case.
Socrates:  Come now, should one do harm to anyone or not, Crito?
Crito:  One must never do so.
Socrates:  Well then, if one is oneself done harm, is it right, as the many say, to do harm in return, or is it not?
Crito:  It is never right.
Socrates:  Doing people harm is no different from wrongdoing.
Crito:  That is true.

One consequence of taking this reasoning seriously would be that punishment -- harming someone in retribution for having done something wrong -- would be indefensible. What do you think?

Monday, October 14, 2013

(LCR) Spam Logic -- Fuggetaboutit!

I just received an email that announced:  "Someone Develops Alzheimer's Every Sixty-Eight Seconds." I suppose we can only feel sorry for that poor person, whose life must be a relentless series of repeatedly forgotten lapses of memory.

(LE) The Struggle Continues

One or two of you have noticed some similarities between the civil war era and current events. In an article in Salon, Michael Lind argues that the current shenanigans in Congress are part of a deliberate strategy on the part of Southern elites (he calls them "neo-Confederates") to preserve their wealth and control over labor. In other words, what we are witnessing is merely the latest economic and political battle of the civil war.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

(LE) Student Ethics

I have just posted the next phase of the essay assignment to Canvas. Doing a good job on this assignment, and in a timely manner, is overdetermined by all the moral theories available to us:  
  • diligence and timeliness are qualities of virtuous persons in a good polis;
  • the maxim of a slacker could never serve as a universal law of nature in a realm of ends; 
  • the aggregate balance of utility (happiness and fulfillment over pain and suffering) would be undermined by the unpleasant consequences of missed deadlines or sloppy work.
So have at it!

Monday, October 7, 2013

(LCR) Truth-Functional Operator Issues

Friday's quiz revealed, for some of you, a residual weakness in your grasp of truth-functional operators. To begin with, remember that when translating an argument into standard form or symbolizing it, identifying the argument's intended conclusion is fundamental. If you get that wrong, fuggetaboutit. Once you identify the conclusion correctly, pay close attention to the operators: in logic as in English, 'and,' 'if-then,' 'or,' 'not,' and 'if and only if' mean different things (which is why we symbolize them differently). Because natural language is very flexible, you have to examine each statement carefully to determine which operator is operative.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

(LE) Lincoln's flaws

As we catalogue Lincoln's character, it is important not to neglect his limitations and shortcomings. One reason for this is that a virtue in a personal context can sometimes turn into a vice in another situation, such as a leadership role. For example, Lincoln's intelligence and ability to learn are admirable in themselves, but could cause problems. On page 333, Donald notes John Hay's observation of Lincoln's "intellectual arrogance and unconscious assumption of superiority" which offended many legislators even in his own party.

You may perhaps have heard analogous criticisms of Barack Obama over the past five years.

Clearly one of the qualities one needs in public life is a very thick skin!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

(LE) Corporate Humor

As you are aware, Lincoln had a rather broad sense of humor, and was prone to tell silly stories (sometimes with a serious purpose, often not). Not everyone appreciated this propensity, and some were driven crazy by it. Lincoln was not above using others' lack of appreciation for his humor to his advantage -- people who thought him an unsophisticated hick, with his southern Indiana drawl and homey analogies, tended to misunderestimate him (as a later president would actually say of himself).

An excerpt from Dave Eggers's new novel, published in Sunday's New York Times, brilliantly captures a certain earnest corporate humorlessness: "...she swept her arm around, indicating about a dozen offices surrounding the open space. Each was walled in glass, revealing the occupants -- all of the supervisors slightly older, a bit more polished, preternaturally calm.
     'The architects really like glass, eh?' Mae said.
     Renata stopped, furrowed her brow and thought on this notion. She put a strand of hair behind her ear and said: 'I think so. I can check. But first we should explain the setup and what to expect on your first real day.'"