Philosophy, in layman’s terms, is ‘thinking about things that matter’. And, in a way, that means that everyone does it – at least from time to time. Though some might put these hard questions off, longer and more at arm’s length than others, we all wrestle with tough questions of life.
Of course, sometimes we narrow the meaning of the word, such as when we refer a set of college classes that present the views of major thinkers, or the elite profession. But, in general, philosophy remains an activity which everyone does to some extent.1 So, as follows are just simply some notes on the book, Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult; because, if you haven’t ever noticed, philosophy is terribly hard!
Laws of Thought
Though we often use the term ‘logic’ interchangeably to describe ‘laws of thought’, the author prefers to start the discussion using this term. Three of the logical laws are so fundamental they are called ‘axioms’. And, these axioms provide the basis for philosophical thought.
- The Law of Identity
- The Law of Non-Contradiction
- The Law of the Excluded Middle
Such fundamental principles are so foundational that to try to prove them wrong essentially proves futile, for by attempting to prove these wrong one always tends to demonstrate these three. One, can as a Christian, through Isaiah 45:5, demonstrate all of these.
Moreover, the ‘arguments’ of philosophers are not necessarily heated exchanges. Simply, arguments are ways that we set up our claim. Arguments, for the most part, can be done inductively or deductively.
- Inductive Arguments
- Deductive Arguments
Inductive arguments relate to probability that something is true.
Arguments can be proved true as they relate to the following concepts
- Validity (proper form)
- Soundness (proper premises)
- Cogency (where the validity and soundness are apparent to the reader)
An argument is valid if its form is correct and it follows from the premises according to the laws of logic (having proper form); it is sound when the premises are true (having proper premises), and it is cogent when the reader thinks these are so.
Cogency, is a bit of a subjective category (and it has to be). Especially when the premises are not clearly, demonstrably true, cogency remains difficult to gauge. So, this is the term which describes how two people can look at the same argument and disagree as to whether it is true or not.2
Returning to inductive arguments, these kinds arguments often relate to hypothetical reasoning: specifically, inference to best explanation. Best explanation is governed by a variety of factors.
- explanatory power – it explains the realia, hard data of life, better.
- scope – it explains a wider range of data.
- fertility – it provides more possibilities for research than its rivals
- less ad hoc – it involves fewer new assumptions
- coherence – it will agree with a wider variety of data
- simplicity – all other things being equal, it will be simpler than its rivals
Definitions come in at least three forms for the purpose of this introduction
- Lexical Definitions –
- Intensional/Extensional Defintions
- Intensional (Yes, with an ‘s’) – defines the essence of a word
- Extensional – defines the class of a word
- Stipulative Definitions – Using an unusual definition3
- Conceptual Analysis – “What is ‘justice’?” would be an example.
The Problem of Universals
Red, red, blue. How many words for colors are here? Well, in one way there is only two and in another way there actually stands three words for colors.
But, if you have seven green balls and three yellow ones; group them together with the 1969 Mets, the planet Mars, and your aunt Martha – the balls really bear no resemblance to the other objects. So what makes some objects similar and some different? Such is the question of universals.
Actually, one can trace the problem of universals to a practical, real-world affect: the dissolution of marriage and families. As I’ll trace out next time I write on this, a nuclear family is commonly made up of people of a certain group with particular qualities (father, mother, brother, sister, etc.). Extended families complicate the scenario.
Throughout at least the West, we have started, it seems, to partake in radical nominalization; meaning, ‘families’ or ‘marriages’. We are starting to include other groups (planet Mars) into the categories (green balls), that do not quite correlate, even though they may share other similar properties.
In summary, People have started to think distinctions are only distinctions in name – so ‘families’ can be made up of eclectic groups of people other than commonly called. This would be an example of a scenario where the most basic of philosophical concepts likely is having effects upon the broader world.
- And, philosophy is a noble task. Medievals used to refer to philosophy as the handmaiden to theology, because theology was always regarded as the ‘Queen of the Sciences’ (but, philosophy came in a close second!)
- But, remember, an argument can never be stronger than its weakest premise!
- An author may legitimately propose to define a word differently to avoid confusion.