JTS: Intro to Phil
Session 2: Briefing Note

GEM 03:10:15a, this rev. 05:12:31a, with adj. 06:01:02a.0

A Basic Philosophers’ Toolkit



--> Factual Adequacy

--> Logical Coherence

--> Explanatory Power

1. Logic vs. Rhetoric

--> Arguments and persuasive appeals: ethos, pathos, logos

2. Epistemology

--> Science: capabilities and limitations

--> Russell's Five-Minute Old Universe Argument

3. Logical Analysis

4. Ethics

5. Dialogue

For Discussion or Reflection

References & Readings

Tipsheet on Doing Philosophical Analysis


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INTRODUCTION: The heart of philosophy is worldview analysis: assessing the factual adequacy, logical coherence, and explanatory power of individual worldviews, and also on a comparative basis across alternative systems. For, as Hasker [Metaphysics. IVP, 1983. Ch. 1] summarises, such testing properly focuses on three key issues:

  1. Factual adequacy: Does a worldview's scope of explanations/insights (and predictions) account across time for and comfortably agree with the material “facts”-- those that make a difference to our conclusions and decisions?  Are there key gaps, and/or contradictions to such “facts”? Are these claimed “facts” warranted to an appropriate degree? Relative to competing worldviews, are there fewer gaps and/or contradictions to such credible, well-warranted "facts"? But also, sometimes, quite diverse views are empirically equivalent, so "facts" generally under-determine the truth. That means that the two further tests are vital:
  1. Logical Coherence: Do the claims within a worldview (and their implications) support or deny one another?  For, if two such claims/implications contradict, at most one can be true.  (NB: Both may be false, or may refer to empty sets and so are vacuous. If a contradiction is important and cannot be excised without utterly changing the worldview into something else, this issue can be decisive. That is why the problem of evil is so important, and why the question of the evident incoherence of naturalism is also important, as has been ably discussed by Alvin Plantinga.) On the other hand, is the worldview's key warranting argument merely circular; i.e. is it self-consistent, but at the cost of assuming what should be proved? However, on pain of absurd infinite regress, it is also manifest that the chain of proofs, explanations and evidence has to stop somewhere. So, is the resulting faith-/ presuppositions- point at least comparably credible to that of "live option" alternatives? Now, too, as systems rub up against alternatives and more and more credible facts, they are often "patched," over and over, to keep them "viable," i.e. matching facts and avoiding circularity or self-contradiction. But, too often that is at the expense of becoming a patchwork of ad hoc assumptions. Thus, the third test arises:
  1. Explanatory Power -- i.e. simplicity vs ad hocness: Credible worldviews UNIFY the facts/entities of reality as we discover them across time, showing how they relate, interact and/or work together; thus, giving us powerful insights, clear vision and solid, sustainable guidelines/principles for thought, decisions and life. [Cf. Prov. 1:1 - 7.] This helps equip us to know, love and live by, wisdom -- the ultimate goal of philosophy. In turn, wisdom allows us to understand, predict and influence/shape the world, to the good. To do that unifying task well -- as William of Occam argues, in his famous "Razor": hypotheses should not be multiplied without necessity -- worldviews should use a relatively few, plausible but powerful core beliefs that are consistent, tie together the material facts, bring out the dynamics that drive how the world "works," and give us "handles" by which we can influence the course of events towards the good. Thus, such a worldview should avoid the continual need to patch newly discovered gaps by repeatedly tacking on yet another assumption or assertion. For, if that happens, the resulting view soon becomes an ad hoc patchwork of after-the-fact claims, "justified" by the argument that these additions patch holes in the system. (Ignoring or suppressing such gaps and/or censoring discussion of them is even worse -- and, too often resorted to by those whose credibility and interests are invested in a socially powerful but failing system. Cf. Plato's Parable of the Cave, and also Matt. 6:22, John 3:19 - 21, Rom 1:18 - 32, and Eph 4:17 - 24.) But equally, Einstein aptly observed that every theory should be as simple as possible -- but not simpler than that. That is, there is a difference between being simple (or, "elegant") and being simplistic: failing to come to grips with the credibly established complexities -- and sometimes just plain strangenes and mystery -- of the world. So, relative to the live options, is the view more or less elegant or an ad hoc patchwork; or, is it simplistic?

Now, since worldviews notoriously bristle with difficulties relative to these three challenges, a process of comparative testing is a key element in practical philosophising. At its best, this comparative difficulties process is carried out through dialogue constrained by logic; while bearing in mind associated issues of knowledge and ethics.  Therefore, at least a basic ability to effectively use such tools in the community of the informed (and in the general public!) becomes critical to success in loving and living by wisdom; raising the challenge of:

1.         Logic vs. Rhetoric

Aristotle, in his The Rhetoric[1], aptly but wryly observes:

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question . . . .

Thus, a clear distinction has long since been drawn between persuasion by proof (or apparent proof) and that by appeals to emotions and/or to the credibility of an authority or speaker, not to mention, outright spin/propaganda tactics. Since, there is a common tendency to either blindly follow emotions or authorities on the one hand, or else to -- equally blindly -- dismiss them when they do not tell us what we wish to hear on the other, it is worth pausing to remark further on this pattern of appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos:

  1. Facts and Logic: Strictly, only the appeal to "facts" and "logic" actually has the potential to prove its conclusions [within limits . . . ].  For, the mere intensity of our feelings or even the depth of our feeling of "certainty" [or for that matter, our degree of doubt] cannot ground any conclusions.  Likewise, no authority is better than the facts, assumptions and reasoning behind his or her opinions. This is why we should examine claimed facts and inferences from them carefully, to see if such “facts” are true and representative of the truth, and that conclusions follow logically from these premises.
  2. Explanations: Of course, logic also plays a role in the "opposite" kind of reasoning: abductive explanation. For, sometimes, we need to provide an explanation for the credible facts. In that case, if facts F1, F2, F3, . . . Fn are puzzling, but if we accept explanation E, at once the facts follow logically, so E is an explanation for the facts, which provide empirical support for E. But, E has NOT been proved: there are often other possible explanations: E1, E2, E3 etc. So, we need to compare alternate explanations on factual adequacy, ability to predict new facts accurately, logical coherence and explanatory power, in order to infer that any given explanation is the best [current] explanation of the facts. That is how worldview analysis works, and it is how scientific models or theories and historical or jurisprudential explanations work as well. Explanations are, plainly, defeatable reasoning: for, "new" facts or issues over logical consistency and simplicity/ad hocness can overturn such an explanation.

  3. Authority: Moreover, appeals to authority -- starting with a good dictionary or credible eyewitnesses, teachers and other technical experts -- are a practical necessity for almost all real-world arguments; so we must discipline ourselves to authenticate the “authorities” we appeal to. We should also be alert to bias, mistakes, debatable assumptions and other limitations.  For, a good authority can save us much time and effort, and when in doubt, if an authority is credible, it may well be wise indeed to heed his or her opinion. (For instance, that is often the critical issue in matters of history, where selective hyper-skepticism can lead to systematic and foolish inconsistencies when one gives in to the temptation to be unreasonably skeptical about claims one is not comfortable with. Modern biblical studies, sadly, provides a capital case in point.)

  4. Emotions and Perceptions: Even more subtly, an emotional response may well rest on an accurate perception of a situation, so we need to inquire carefully [where it is appropriate to do so -- if you see an out-of-control car headed your way, JUMP!] into the credibility -- trustworthiness, perceived and real -- of the underlying perceptions, beliefs/doubts, intuitions and judgements that are the cognitive basis for our felt emotions. However, plainly, we must always be wary of being blinded by our feelings, fears, ideals, prejudices, assumptions, impulses, lusts, greed and/or envy, or even by unmet needs.

  5. The appropriate place for Rhetoric: Having duly noted all of this, rhetorical approaches and issues -- if only in self defense -- are still vital, especially if the audience may not have the education, time or inclination to follow out a detailed demonstration, or may simply be unwilling [or, just as bad sometimes, is only too willing] to listen to a given presenter of a case. For, sadly, actual proofs and/or inferences to what is indeed the best current explanation are often the least persuasive arguments: they take too much time, effort and attention. So, credible persons should present cases, and in so doing, they should make appropriately logical but easy- to- follow, honest appeals to credible facts, authorities and sources or witnesses, as well as to accurate perceptions, to well-founded and upright motives of the heart, and to the conscience. For, as the key real-world example of the success against all odds of the antislavery movement of the C18 - 19 shows -- and as 2 Cor 4:1 - 2 & 10:4 - 5 with Eph 4:9 - 24 (esp. vv. 14 - 15 & 17 - 24) discuss -- these are proper, effective, and even vital in many all- too- important real-world situations.

Plainly, though, it is  only when an argument is anchored in true fact-claims that represent the truth in a situation, and such facts are surrounded by good reasoning, that conclusions and proposals are correctly arrived at and/or wise. In short, we must sharpen and use well-formed epistemological, logical, ethics and dialogue tools if we are to achieve progress in loving and living by wisdom. We now turn to these tools.

2.         Epistemology

It has been classically said that knowledge is “justified, true belief” -- as the Oxford English Dictionary confirms. This leads to key questions: Can we know? Can beliefs be justified? Can we be confident that we know?

This issue is subtler than one might think. For, over the past several decades, so-called Gettier counter-examples have been identified: cases [sometimes, somewhat contrived] in which one is subjectively justified in holding a belief that happens to be true, but in fact objectively one is not warranted to claim the belief as knowledge. An example discussed by Moreland and Craig in their Philosphical Foundations for a Christian Worldview [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003], p. 75, is that of a man believing he is watching a live championship match, and concluding that a certain team has won. But, in fact this is the second time that the same two teams have met, and due to technical difficulties, he is in fact seeing a rerun of the previous match that just happens to have the same outcome. Now, he is [subjectively] justified and believes what just objectively happens to be true, but it obviously hardly counts as a case of knowledge. To resolve this, Plantinga has introduced a slightly different terminology [and a massive, 3-volume technical discussion to back it up!] for an objective justification, i.e. warrant.

Warrant of course, comes in degrees, and is in at least some cases defeatable but credible at whatever level is appropriate. This is consistent with the implication of the above considerations on logic, explanation and proof, i.e. that there are at least some important cases where even confidently held knowledge is not absolutely certain. Indeed, that is also a longstanding conclusion of Simon Greenleaf, a father of the theory of evidence, as stated in his famous 1874 work, Testimony of the Evangelists -- of course, using less technical language:

In the ordinary affairs of life we do not require nor expect demonstrative evidence, because it is inconsistent with the nature of matters of fact, and to insist on its production would be unreasonable and absurd . . . .

In proceeding to weigh the evidence of any proposition of fact, the previous question to be determined is, when may it be said to be proved? The answer to this question is furnished by another rule of municipal law, which may be thus stated:

A proposition of fact is proved, when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence.

By competent evidence, is meant such as the nature of the thing to be proved requires; and by satisfactory evidence, is meant that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond any reasonable doubt . . . . If, therefore, the subject is a problem in mathematics, its truth is to be shown by the certainty of demonstrative evidence. But if it is a question of fact in human affairs, nothing more than moral evidence can be required, for this is the best evidence which, from the nature of the case, is attainable. [Testimony, Sections 26, 27, emphases added.]

Now, also, Science – “knowledge” in Latin – is today’s dominant contender for the title: “provider of reliable (or at least probable and credible) knowledge,” and it has a great inherent plausibility because Scientific methods are often glorified common sense: sophisticated extensions to how we learn from day to day experience. But, while such methods and their findings have a proven track record of success that has positively transformed our world, there are in fact many limitations to scientific knowledge claims.

A little deeper glance at Charles Sanders Peirce’s Logic of Abduction (also cf. here and here or even here) concept rapidly shows why:

1.      Observations of the natural (or human) world produce facts, F1, F2, . . . Fn; some of which may seem strange, contradictory or puzzling.

2.      However, if a proposed law, model or theory, E, is assumed, the facts follow as a matter of course: E is a scientific explanation of F1, F2, . . . Fn. [This step is ABDUCTION. E explains the facts, and the facts provide empirical support for E. In general, though, many E's are possible for a given situation. So, we then use pruning rules, e.g. Occam's Razor: prefer the simplest hypothesis consistent with the material facts. But in the end, the goal/value is that we should aim to select/infer the best (current) explanation, by using comparative tests derived from the three key worldview tests: explanatory scope, coherence and power.]

3.      E may also predict further (sometimes surprising) observations, P1, P2, . . . Pm. This would be done through deducing implications for as yet unobserved situations. [This step, obviously, uses logical DEDUCTION.]

4.      If these predictions are tested and are in fact observed, E is confirmed, and may eventually be accepted by the Scientific community as a generally applicable law or theory. [This step is one of logical INDUCTION, inferring from particular instances to -- in the typical case, more general -- conclusions that the instances make “more probable.”] 

5.      In many cases, some longstanding or newly discovered observations may defy explanation, and sometimes this triggers a crisis that may lead to a scientific revolution; similar to Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift.

6.      Thus, scientific knowledge claims are in principle always provisional: subject to correction/change in light of new evidence and analysis.

7.      But also, even when observations are accurately covered/predicted by the explanation, the logic involved has limitations: E => O, the set of current and predicted observations[2], does not entail that if O is seen then E follows: “If Tom is a cat then Tom is an animal” does not entail “Tom is an animal, so he must be a cat.”[3]  

In short, scientific knowledge claims, at best, are provisional; though they are usually pretty well tested and have across time helped us make considerable technological, health and economic progress.

Other common bases for knowledge claims are similarly limited:

So, our human knowledge claims generally embed limitations, gaps and possibilities for error and challenge. The best we can do is to be open-minded and critically aware, consistently applying the worldview tests: (1) factual adequacy [i.e. explanatory scope relative to the material facts], (2) logical coherence, and (3) explanatory power [relative simplicity, predictive/descriptive accuracy and comprehensive unity of thought].

Tom Morris also adds the principle of conservation of beliefs[5], also called the principle of credulity, as a counter-weight to unbridled radical skepticism.  In essence, the principle asserts that:

it makes good sense to stick with your current body of beliefs --  and to have  confidence that your basic belief forming mechanisms are generally reliable -- unless there are compelling reasons to accept a radical alternative.

For instance, consider Bertrand Russell’s 5-minute universe argument.  We could not come up with empirical evidence to disprove the idea that the cosmos was created in an instant five minutes ago, complete with records, artifacts, memories, breakfast in our tummies, etc.  So, which hypothesis should we accept: our present one or the 5-minute universe?  Why?

Answer: to accept the 5-minute universe theory would require overthrowing not only nearly all of our current beliefs, but our instinctive, intuitive common-sense trust in the general -- as opposed to absolute -- reliability of direct perception, experience and memory, etc.  So, in the absence of, say, actually discovering utterly convincing evidence that we live in the modern equivalent of “Plato’s Cave” -- as is imagined in The Matrix -- it would make no sense to take such a radical hypothesis seriously. However, this leads us to three key lessons:

In short, it is quite rational to hold to certain core beliefs -- and to generally trust our basic belief-forming mechanisms -- without asking for proof or evidence: such beliefs are properly basic.[6]

3.         Logical Analysis

Logic is the study and art of correct reasoning. It thus plays a major role in philosophical investigations – and in day-to-day life. This has always been so: when Socrates was once challenged to prove that logic is necessary, he promptly pointed out that it would take logic to do that: the challenge refutes itself.

Decades later, Aristotle put deductive logic on a systematic basis, through his discovery of syllogistic logic:

ALL men ARE mortal

Socrates IS a man 

So: Socrates IS mortal

Such syllogisms work by specifying properties of/claimed facts about sets and all or some of their members: “men” is a subset of “mortals.”  “Socrates” is a member of “men.”  So, Socrates is a member of “mortals” too. 

As a Venn -- intersecting circles -- Diagram will show, so long as the set relationships are correct, the argument will be valid: the conclusions follow from the given premises.  (However, validity says nothing about the truth of either premises or conclusions: it only says that IF the premises are true THEN the conclusion follows. When the structure of an argument is valid, and its premises are true, it is SOUND – the conclusion will follow from true premises and so will be true.)

The other, more common, type of deductive argument is the implication: IF P, THEN Q – for whatever reason: definitions/meaning of the concepts in P and Q, cause-effect, etc. The idea common to all types of implication is that P cannot be true and Q false, where P [t antecedent] and Q are propositions, statements that make claims that something is either true or false. (A question is neither true nor false, so it is not a proposition.) Symbolically:

P => Q, “P implies Q.”

In effect, the implication says P being true is sufficient for Q to be true (and also that unless Q is true, P cannot be true: Q is necessary for P). From this, we see that the test for whether a claimed implication is so is to see if we can have P true and Q false. If this happens, the implication fails.

Implication arguments are correctly used in two main ways:

Modus Ponens (affirming the antecedent):  P => Q; P is true, so Q is true

Modus Tollens (denying the consequent): P => Q; but Q is false, so P is false too

However, it is a common error to think that if Q is true then P must be true also, the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent.  To see why it is a mistake, think about the case:

P: “Tom is a cat”

Q: “Tom is an animal.”

And: Tom is an animal

So: Tom is a cat!

Obviously, Tom could be a pig or a goat.  But, while this simple example is obvious, it underscores the fact that we tend to confuse implication with equivalence. (In an equivalence, we have not only P => Q but also Q => P: P <=> Q. That is, P is both necessary and sufficient for Q, so that P and Q are equivalent.)

That is, Affirming the Consequent is a Formal Fallacy, a persuasive but faulty argument, in which its conclusion does not follow from its premises. It is invalid. (There are many other fallacies, not only formal ones, but informal ones that exploit our emotions or errors in our concepts, or get us to trust those who do not deserve to be trusted.)

So far, it is clear that logic is important and sometimes quite useful.

However, logic often has a bad reputation, not only in popular discourse but in serious discussions. As Copi summarises in his Logic, this often takes the form of complaints about “linear” or “black and white thinking” caused by Aristotelian Logic, especially his three laws of logic:

  1. Identity: If a claim, P is true, then it is true: Symbolically, [P => P] = 1.
  1. Non-Contradiction: P cannot be both True and False, in the same sense at the same time. [P AND NOT-P] = 0.
  1. Excluded Middle: A statement is either true or false. [P OR NOT-P] = 1.

The root of this problem is a series of misunderstandings.  Identity may endure through change; and where change is material, specifying the point of time can resolve ambiguity.  Contradictions are distinct from conflicts: “not-white” (as opposed to “black”) is the true contradiction of “white.” Thirdly, white/ not-white is not at all the same as “white”/ “black” – any shade of grey, green or red will do: so, the excluded middle does not force us into “two-value thinking.”

Further, modern mathematics has developed logic considerably over the past two hundred years, going far beyond Aristotle and his successors.  For instance, George Boole (1815 – 1864) created Boolean Algebra, which is the mathematics of computers and digital systems.[7] 

We can sum up: logic is the science and art of correct reasoning, so it is useful whenever we are concerned to reason correctly. Thus, if we wish to love and live by wisdom, we should study and use it as we think and argue.

4.         Ethics

Just now, we discussed being “concerned to reason correctly.” That is, we raised the question of our sense of duty, i.e. desire to excel relative to things we hold valuable, good or right. Consequently values, judgements, motives, decisions and associated emotions play a vital role in philosophizing.

So, ethics --  the critical analysis of morality -- is a key tool in the philosopher’s kit.

Specifically, we need to consider duties and rights in relation to knowledge, proof and persuasion; especially in a world where many people simply do not have the intellectual equipment or inclination to assess the full complexity that a rigorous proof may require. Not to mention, already this assumes that the range of required information for such a proof exists or is freely available. (This last speaks to one reason why community leaders with command over security matters should be of proven character/ high integrity: we have to trust them to act in our interests, using information that cannot be shared with the general public.)

Immanuel Kant provides a promising start-point.  In seeking a logical basis for ethics, he proposed the Categorical Imperative (CI). This argues that, in general, sound moral actions are not self-serving. That is, we should ask: if “everyone” was to act as I propose to do, what would happen to society as a whole[8]? Or equivalently, morally sound acts do not use other people simply as means to my ends.

(Kant’s key insight was that when immoral acts spread like an epidemic across a society they disrupt it: e.g. if “everyone” routinely breaks promises and tells lies to gain advantages, normal relationships and economic activities would soon become impossible -- due to the widespread breakdown of trust. This is why cheques are now effectively dead in Jamaica.)

If “everyone” in the community loses interest in accuracy, truth, fairness and correct reasoning then education, the media and decision-making would deteriorate into a contest as to which liars are least dangerous or most persuasive – or worse, who holds the bigger guns.  So on the face of it, it is in the interests of the community as a whole to promote a concern for truth, right, fairness and logical thinking.

Some would strongly object to such a project of moral education.  Typically, they demand that we refrain from imposing our “outdated” views and values on them or the wider society.  That is, implicitly, such relativists appeal to the concepts that (1) we ought to be fair to other people, and (2) people have rights that should be respected.

Now, as Holmes points out in his Ethics:

If we admit that we all equally have the right to be treated as persons, then it follows that we have the duty to respect one another accordingly.  Rights bring correlative duties: my rights . . . imply that you ought to respect these rights.[9]

In short, when radical relativists attack the idea that some truth or moral claims are  binding, they instantly fall into confusion and inconsistency – possibly even hypocrisy: 

(1) insisting that truth and right are subjective and relative to individuals, cultures, and times (i.e. NOT universally binding); but also

(2) expecting others to accept as binding the maxim that they should not “impose their views on others.”

Given the direct link between duties and rights, such an inconsistency undercuts the moral foundation of all of our cherished rights and freedoms.  Therefore, the radical relativist’s demands should not unduly deter us from the vital task of sound moral education of the public.

Tom Morris[10] suggests that perhaps the most effective way to tackle this project is to focus on character, wisdom and virtue: indeed, ethics is derived from ethos, Greek for character. In this context, character is “that settled set of dispositions or habits of thinking, feeling and acting that make you who you are . . . determined by how much wisdom and virtue you have in your life.” In turn, wisdom is “an understanding of how we ought to live,” and virtue is “the habit or disposition of acting in accordance with wisdom.” In short, people who discipline themselves to consistently think, feel and act in accordance with wisdom thereby become ever more wise and virtuous, benefiting the whole community.

For, cultivating a widespread, informed concern for truth, soundness, right and justice in reasoning, deciding and acting in the community is critical to its long-term good. And, that is not at all new: it is the central concern in Plato’s Republic – though we probably would not agree with his proposed solution!

5.         Dialogue

By raising ethical issues and the need for good decisions in the community, we are now involving not just the sophisticated and educated but also the “ordinary” man in the street. Therefore, we need to bring together the above tools in an effective, step by step approach to promote sound, fair, balanced dialogue in the community. That way, we can work together to build a future based on wisdom rather than narrow agendas and spin games.

Key steps in promoting such effective dialogue include:

  1. De-spinning: We need to isolate appeals to emotions, authorities and to fact and logic, then apply appropriate tests: (a) emotions –- are underlying perceptions and judgements accurate? (b) authorities -- are they expert, fair and accurate? (c) “facts” and logic -- are claimed facts so and do they materially[11] represent the truth? Is the reasoning valid? Do conclusions make sense?
  1. Limitations of Knowledge: When we accept something as “knowledge,” we accept it as adequately justified and true, often on the testimony of an authority. It would therefore be wise to check facts and test authorities, at least on a sample basis. Always bear in mind the provisional nature of our knowledge claims.
  1. Logic: Much of our knowledge is by way of being “best explanations” to date, and so is inherently provisional and tied to points of view: what are the major alternative views? Also, do conclusions follow from such premises?  Are generalisations hasty/faulty? Given the likely or possible risks on either side of a case, what conclusions would a prudent thinker draw?
  1. Ethics: The CI and associated rights/duties help to identify key concerns, duties & virtues to be embraced in the discussion, so helping us see the right or at least the lesser of evils if we face forced momentous choices? Is a consensus on these issues possible? (Or at least, can a coalition with a critical mass to act effectively be formed? Where is it necessary to compromise and go with the lesser of evils?)

CONCLUSIONS: It is noteworthy to see that a basic toolkit for philosophizing does not require particularly advanced learning or intellectual skills, just the willingness to ask and follow up carefully on key concerns relating to issues, facts, questions of expertise, quality of reasoning and ethical challenges.  Therefore, in principle, the public at large -- if it is willing -- can be equipped across time to carry out serious, critically aware dialogue on many of the major challenges facing us. If we are willing, we can become able.


Points to ponder . . .

  1. Is the above reasonably within the reach of ordinary people, at least at a basic level?
  1. If at least some of the basic philosopher’s toolkit is within reach of most reasonably intelligent people, why is it then that public discussion in our community is not usually shaped by concerns such as the above?
  1.  Consider a recent issue in our community, such as the Emancipation Park and its statues. What were the issues that shaped how it played out? Would the above considerations have changed the outcome?
  1. How could average people gain the ability and motivation to use at least some of the above tools as they participate in day to day discussions and participate in the processes of citizenship?
  1. What role can the church play in this process, and in facilitating associated dialogue on a positive reformation agenda for our local communities, nation, region and world?

References & Readings

Geisler, Norman & Brooks, Ron. Come, Let us Reason. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992.

Copi, Irving, et Al. Introduction to Logic. Prentice Hall. Latest Edition.

Morris, Tom. Philosophy for Dummies. NY: Hungry Minds, 1999.

Moreland, J. P. Christianity and the Nature of Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992.

Plato. The Cave. In The Republic. Try: http://www.bulldognews.net/cave-parable.html

Stanford online Enc. of Phil: http://plato.stanford.edu/

An online Intro to Phil: Topics: 

Logic: http://www.philosophyclass.com/logic.htm

Epistemology: http://www.philosophyclass.com/epistemology.htm

Ethics: http://www.philosophyclass.com/ethics.htm



PRINCIPLE: Philosophy is based on analysis of worldviews using logic in light of the key hard questions and alternative answers - all of which bristle with difficulties. So in analysis, we need to see the underlying core worldview beliefs in an argument, then assess how they control the conclusions and action proposals made: do they make good sense? Then, we need to decide which alternative makes best sense in light of the comparative difficulties and the possible consequences of each option.


As Nash points out: "a worldview is a set of beliefs about the important issues in life." So, we need to see what an argument claims, implies or assumes regarding:

  1. What, or Who, is ultimately real? [i.e. Metaphysics]

  2. How do/can we know and test/justify this? [i.e. Logic & Epistemology]

  3. How, then, should we live? [i.e. Ethics & Aesthetics]

  4. What's right/wrong with the world, and what should we do? [i.e. "loving and living by wisdom"]

  5. What are the key ideas and terms used in the worldview/argument?

  6. How does this fit with the major worldviews: e.g. theism, naturalism, pantheism, modernism, post-modernism?

  7. What are the key difficulties?

  8. What are the major alternatives to this view?

  9. What are their difficulties?

  10. In light of possible consequences and probabilities, which alternative is most prudent?


Real arguments are intended to persuade us. That means that they will be wrapped in rhetorical strategies: (a) appeals to our emotions, (b) to allegedly credible authorities, (c) to claimed facts and reasoning.

So, in practical cases we should focus on:

1. De-spinning:

(a) emotions -- are underlying perceptions and judgements accurate?

(b) authorities -- are they expert, fair and accurate?

(c) "facts" and logic -- are claimed facts so and do they materially represent the truth? Are underlying assumptions sensible? Is the reasoning valid? Do conclusions make sense?

2. Limitations of Knowledge: When we accept something as "knowledge," we accept it as adequately justified and true, often on the testimony of an authority. So, always check "facts," underlying assumptions and authorities, at least on a sample basis. Much of our knowledge is by way of being "best explanations" to date, and so is inherently provisional and tied to points of view: what are the major alternative views and limitations?

3. Logic: Do conclusions follow from assumptions and "facts"? Does the argument assume things it should first have proved? Are generalizations from "facts" hasty/faulty? Do the assumptions, "facts" and implications contradict? (If so, could this be corrected?) Given the likely or possible risks on either side of a case, what conclusions should a prudent thinker draw? Who should we give the benefit of the doubt to?

4. Ethics & Action Proposals: What would happen if many people were to follow the path proposed? Would I feel that my rights were being violated if I were treated like this? (That is, the Golden Rule/CI helps us see the right or at least the lesser of evils.) Also, we should ask if a consensus on these issues is possible? Or at least, can a coalition with a critical mass to act effectively be formed? Where is it necessary to compromise and go with the lesser of evils?

[1] Book I, Ch. 2. Cf. summary with scholarly observations at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-rhetoric/ and http://www.public.iastate.edu/~honeyl/Rhetoric/index.html for a hypertext version of the book.

[2] That is, O = { F1, F2, . . . Fn, P1, P2, . . . Pm}.

[3] This is a fallacy, Affirming the Consequent, and is based on confusing implication with equivalence; i.e. double implication: P <=> Q means (1) P => Q AND (2) Q => P, but (1) obviously does not always imply (2) as the Tom the cat example shows.

[4] Educators and philosophers commonly observe that it is much easier to form a fuzzy idea than it is to determine a necessary and sufficient set of essential attributes that mark – i.e. define -- its boundaries.  Also, as the Socratic dialogues show, our concepts are sometimes misconceived to the point of being plainly ridiculous when they are probed with thoughtful questions.  (But equally, systems of belief that have stood serious scrutiny across time should not be treated as if they are guilty unless proved innocent.)

[5] Philosophy for Dummies (NY: Hungry Minds, 1999), pp. 72 – 80.

[6] This concept is used by Alvin Plantinga, who strongly argues that it is perfectly rational for certain individuals under certain commonly encountered conditions to believe in the existence of God -- without further proof!

[7] Similarly, when modern set and logical theory were developed, the possibility of empty sets leads to variations from the classical square of opposition. Boolean Algebra asserts nineteen basic laws that include but go beyond the three classic laws.  Zadeh has created a “fuzzy logic” based on the concept of partial set membership. And more.

[8] This bears a strong relationship to the Golden Rule of Matt. 7:12 and Leviticus 19:15 - 18.

[9] Arthur F. Holmes,  Ethics, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1984), p. 81.  Holmes goes on to point out that certain duties arise from our particular relationships, commitments and roles in the family and wider community. We may also face situations in which we are forced to choose the lesser of evils, especially where delay or inaction is in effect to make a worse choice.

[10] Philosophy for Dummies, 1999, pp. 116 ff. Cf. discussion, pp. 95 – 100, of ethical theories, leading to the conclusion that virtue-based ethics captures and renders coherent the insights of the various Divine Command, Duty-based, Social Contract, Utilitarian etc. approaches, whilst avoiding their fatal flaws. In sum, the sociobioloogists are looking at commonalities of human nature, which in turn promote social consensus on what is right, and would lead to a favourable balance of benefits as against costs and harm. In turn this arguably reflects the nature we have been endowed with by our Creator, whose commands are “for our own good.” [Cf. Deut. 10:12 – 13.]

[11] If leaving out a particular fact would make a difference to the conclusions drawn, it is material. This concept is vital to getting past the half-truths that are the major tool of many manipulators.