Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Philosophical Tools

I've identified twelve practical philosophical tools that I use in all sorts of situations; from the theological to the conversational. They are listed in no particular order and if anyone knows of others I'd be interested to hear about them.
  • local context
  • seeing the big picture first
  • breaking something into small steps
  • 'Reverse Engineering'
  • Occam's razor
  • batching similar tasks together
  • pattern recognition
  • the past-history of something
  • links/connections between things
  • Law-of-non contradiction
  • "the cover is better then the book"
  • "If the sequel sucks then the creator of the original was a one-hit wonder."


Swil said...

Occam's razor is a great one when used properly. Unfortunately it constantly gets misrepresented in pop culture. Every time a character on a TV show says "You know Occam's Razor? The simplest answer is probably the right one" I want to hurl.

That's not Occam's Razor. That's just idiotic. The simplest answer to "how do birds fly?" is "magic."

Occam's Razor says the answer with the least assumptions is probably the right one. It's a way of vetting your logic.

Truth is a complicated thing, simple answers are often attractive but not necessarily right.

Anyway I'm sure you know that Luke, just grinding an axe for anyone reading who didn't know ;)

Andrew Bowles said...

I find the first two of Aristotle's laws of logic to be helpful to keep in mind:

1) A is A
2) A is not ~A

ie, the Law of Identity and the Law of Non-Contradiction.

A lot of the bad thinking in the church comes from ignoring the law of identity. Example I have heard; 'Anxiety is a sin'. No, anxiety is anxiety (A is A). It can lead to sinful behaviour or can come from sinful attitudes, but itself is not identical to 'sin'. So don't beat people over the head with their 'sin' when they confess a bit of anxiety.

Ben said...

Great list, thanks.

I'm not with you on the logic of your statement about anxiety there, Andrew.

'Anxiety is a sin' is not saying A is not A: anxiety is not anxiety. It's saying that anxiety belongs to a group of things called sin(s).

So you can say, 'sexual immorality is a sin' and you're not saying sexual immorality belongs to a class of activities that are called sin(s).

I agree that you shouldn't just teach that anxiety is a sin, though. ;-)

Andrew Bowles said...

Ben, I know it works that way on the level of the use of language, otherwise the category of sin would be empty given that it has to be instantiated somehow. Nothing would be a sin, yeah!

What I'm talking about is absorbing one concept into the other. When you describe anxiety there has to be some remainder that makes it more than 'just' a sin. That is, the idea of sin doesn't cover the whole conceptual field that is covered by anxiety.

Your example of sexual immorality makes the point, because by adding the term 'immorality' to it you've already designating as a sin, since 'immorality' is a subset of the idea of 'sin'. A better example would be 'sex outside of marriage', since while it is sinful, perhaps even 'a sin', its sinful nature doesn't describe the entirety of what it is. That's another case where we sometimes fail in the church to make proper distinctions, and therefore alienate non-Christians.

Perhaps Aristotle's laws aren't the best way to make the point, but they help me.

Luke said...

Wow, all three of my four readers thinking, despite the heat!

Thanks Shaun for the clarifying Occam's razor, your right, it is misused frequently, perhaps because the mistaken view and the correct view sound so similar. (As a segue to Andrew in the form of a bad pun: The smallest explanation = the fewest assumptions! (Shaun loves puns.)) Explanations and assumptions are different beasts, that need to be handled in different ways.

Thanks Andrew, I see the line of argument on a thing is equal to itself. (A = A) How to apply it gets tricky. Thanks for mentioning the Law-of-non contradiction, I'd overlooked it.

Thanks Ben, I like your website. Are you at Moore College, I noticed your latest post?

In other news I've added two more. The first "the cover is better then the book" is one Amy and I use frequently to describe that sensation Gladwell refers to in Blink when you grasp something superficially and after investigating it further realise your initial assumption was correct. (I'm prone to misuse this one sometimes though,) The second Shiloh and I invented. "If the sequel sucks then the creator of the original was a one-hit wonder." Up there with Aristotle I reckon.

The Borg said...

Hey Lukatron, you should read the Informal fallacies entry in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. It has "all" the argument pulling-a-dirty-one nicely listed.

Ridley probably has a copy and so does UMelb or I might just photocopy the pages from mine and post it to you, lo-fi style.