Sunday, June 17, 2012

Logic Lessons pt 2: Terms

I remember in class one day I was teaching what the Church says about "gay marriage."  One of my students got very indignant and said, "This is stupid.  Love is love!" 

To which I responded: "'Love is love?'  You don't believe that.  And I can prove it to you."

I then said 4 declarative sentences:

I love ice cream.
I love God
I love my wife.
I love my mom.

But I do not love ice cream the way I love God.  And I sure hope nobody loves their mother they way they love their wife. 

You could make the argument that she was talking only about romantic love (i.e. eros).  And that what she was saying is that eros is eros and all romantic relationships should be equal.  The problem is that I am not sure that she was making that argument because I didn't understand her use of the term.

This is why understanding terms is so important.  Especially in something as hotly contested as "gay marriage,' it is important for us to know what the other person is talking about before we go about trying to argue it.

Terms come from concepts.  These are universal ideas that are abstract and unchanging.  When we experience green grass as babies, we experience them together as one thing: "greengrass."  But as we begin to understand, we separate the two concepts in our head so that we can think about "greenness" and "grassness."

From the concept we get the term, which is the most basic unit of meaning.  It usually focuses on comprehension or its extension.  Comprehension is its meaning.  For example, the mean of "books" is "paper bound together at a spine with written words or illustrations."  Extension is in reference to the number in existence.  Books, here, would be "the billions of paper bound together at a spine with written words or illustrations that exist on the planet."  Usually the greater the comprehension, the less the extension and vice versa.  In other words, the more exact definition, the fewer number of objects, whereas the broader definition will have a wider number of objects in the subject.  For example, "Harry Potter Books" refer to all books about the character Harry Potter, to which there are dozens.  But if I were to specify the comprehension to mean only Harry Potter books written by JK Rowling, the number of books reduces to 7.

Words are simply terms put into human language.  Just like John, Juan, and Ivan are all the same name of a person in different languages, words like "love," "amor," and "caritas" are all different words about the same term.  And because language is a fluid thing unless it is dead, we have to constantly make sure our words are speaking about the same term.  This is why it is important to always define a term.

A good term should not be ambiguous, that is have more than one meaning.  "That is a cool house to be in for summer."  Does cool refer to temperature or does it refer to its level of awesomeness?  It should also be clear so that people can understand it.  If I use the term "quarvat" without any specific reference, our argument is at an impasse, because you probably do not know what a quarvat is.  Terms should also be specific, and not vague.  Senior year of high school I was studying over a friends house who had a foreign exchange student from France living there.  The French girl looked at one of my friends and out of nowhere said, "You know, you are very fat."  Not only was everyone appalled by her statement, but also flummoxed because she wasn't overweight in our eyes.  But that is the problem with the word "fat."  It is clear what is meant (i.e. "overweight"), but it is not exact.  What the French girl considered fat and what we considered fat were two radically different things, even though we clearly understood what "fat" meant.

In order to have a definition, you have to have predicables.  These are terms in a proposition that are in the predicate that are in reference to a subject.  The predicate has to give you new information in order to be a meaningful definition.  "A quarvat is a quarvat-shaped object" is a terrible definition because it gives me no new information from the predicate to apply to the subject.  When I ask my students to tell me what justice is, sometimes they will say, "When something is just."  But I learn nothing from that definition.  The give me the same thing in predicate as in the subject.  These are called tautologies.

There are 5 predicables.

1. Species – state of the whole essence of a subject (e.g. “Man is a rational animal” “Triangle is a 3 sided plane figure”)
2. Genus – states the generic or common aspect of the subject (e.g. “Man is a rational animal” “Triangle is a 3 sided plane figure”)
3. Specific Difference – states the specific of proper aspect of the subject (e.g. “Man is a rational animal” “Triangle is a 3 sided plane figure”)
4. Property – any characteristic that is not the essence itself, but flows from or is caused by the essence (e.g. “Man is able to speak” “Man is Mortal” “Triangles have 3 interior angles equal to 2 right angles”)
5. Accident – any characteristic that is not essential to the subject. (e.g. “The man is bald.” “The Triangle is equilateral”). Refers to all categories except the substance

Also, people cannot be predicables.  "Batman is Bruce Wayne" or "Obama is the president" are actually tautologies.

When we make mistakes in our understanding (the first act of the mind) we can fall into all kinds of fallacies.  That will be our subject for next time.

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