Posts Tagged ‘Reason’

Philosophy for life

Aught3
Aught3
Fri Jan 10, 2014 11:56 am by Aught3

In his book modernising the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism (A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy), William Irvine proposes two criteria for a coherent philosophy of life. The first is to have an ultimate goal in living. Of the things that can be pursued in life, the ultimate goal is the one you find most valuable. It is a grand goal that sits at the top of a hierarchy and is something you would be unwilling to sacrifice in the pursuit of other ends. Without an ultimate goal, a philosophy of life is incoherent.

According to Irvine, the second component in a coherent philosophy of life is a strategy for achieving your ultimate goal. The strategy tells you how to go about your daily routine in a way that enhances your ability to achieve the thing in life that you define as the most valuable. Without an effective strategy you will likely fail to achieve your grand goal and so a coherent philosophy of life needs both an ultimate goal and the means to achieve it.

Everybody has a philosophy of life, it’s just that most people don’t think about it. For such an important topic, philosophy of life isn’t discussed at school, universities don’t offer courses, and treatment of these topics in popular culture is next to zero. Without proper consideration of this issue, the life philosophy foisted upon most people is enlightened hedonism. The ultimate goal in hedonism is pleasure and the ‘enlightened’ part refers to the strategy. An enlightened hedonist takes time to consider which pleasures they will pursue, at what time they would like to enjoy those pleasures, and the best method for obtaining them. Another thoughtless source of a semi-coherent life philosophy is an inherited religion. In a typical religion the goal is to obtain a good second life and the rules and precepts lay down the way to achieve that goal. Since everybody has a life philosophy the only difference between people is whether they have thought about their ultimate life goal or have just accepted it.

The biggest danger with having the wrong life philosophy is the chance that you will mislive. Despite all the things you did at the end of your life you will look back only to realise you did not live it the way you wanted to. Either you chased the wrong goal or, if you had the correct goal identified, you were unable to live up to it. As Irvine puts it “Instead of spending your life pursuing something genuinely valuable, you squandered it because you allowed yourself to be distracted by the various baubles life has to offer.” An enlightened hedonist may realise the pursued pleasures did not really bring what was most desired and the religionist may come to the understanding that their strategy will not bring eternal life after all. Without a suitable philosophy of life you will waste the one and only life you know you are going to get.

Some alternative answers to the philosophy of life question are: virtue, tranquility, happiness, connection, service, exploration, and usefulness. My suggestion to you is to find your own answer to the question “what do I want out of life?” Ultimately, your grand goal in living is the most important thing for you to discover. Understanding it will change your life – for the better.

Dissecting an Argument

Laurens
Laurens
Sun Feb 17, 2013 8:04 pm by Laurens

In my last post I spoke about issues and how to spot them in an argument. This post will follow in a similar fashion, about how to spot conclusions and premises in an argument.

Conclusions

I spoke briefly about how to find conclusions in my previous post. In a sound argument the conclusion should be a statement that follows logically or can be inferred or deducted from the premise(s). Generally these tend to follow what I’d term indicator words such as the following:

  • Therefore
  • Ergo
  • Consequently
  • Thus

Generally the sentences that follow these words are a conclusion to part of, or the entire argument. Of course these words aren’t always used, one might conclude their argument by saying ‘so in conclusion…’ or ‘this shows that…’. With a little practise you should have no problem being able to find the conclusions in someone’s argument.

Premises

Premises are the bulk of an argument, they are the reasoning that supports the conclusion(s) that you make. These can be statistics, facts, examples, logic, refutations of counter arguments, and so on. These are essentially the pieces of information that you wish to use to convince someone that the conclusion(s) you are drawing are valid.

Examples

Here are some example arguments, with the premises in yellow, and the conclusions in red:

In 2011 there were 8,748 alcohol-related deaths in the UK, heavy drinkers increase their risk of liver problems, cancer and other health issues, therefore alcohol should be more strictly controlled by the government.

[sources used: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health4/alcohol-related-deaths-in-the-united-kingdom/2011/alcohol-related-deaths-in-the-uk–2011.html and http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/Effectsofalcohol.aspx]

46% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form, this calls for a great effort to improve science education in the United States

[source used: http://www.gallup.com/poll/21814/evolution-creationism-intelligent-design.aspx]

[NOTE: These arguments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the author, they merely serve as examples for education purposes]

Non-sequiturs

Sometimes a conclusion will not follow from a particular premise, or series of premises. This is called a non-sequitur (literally meaning ‘it does not follow’). Here’s an example that many of you will be familiar with:

There is no evidence for evolution, therefore creationism is true.

The conclusion does not follow because it excludes the possibility of both evolution and creationism being false.

In order to spot non-sequiturs, it is advisable to read through the premises of an argument, and think about what kind of conclusions could logically be drawn from them (assuming that all the premises are true). If the conclusion differs greatly from the conclusions that you think are reasonable to have drawn from the premises, then it’s likely that this person has made a non-sequitur.

General tips when making arguments

In order to make your argument as sound as possible, there are some important things to consider when coming up with your premises and conclusions. These are: does my conclusion follow from my premise(s)? Are there any logical flaws in my premise(s)? Is there any research/facts that counters my conclusion(s)? Have I cited references for my argument? Are these references trustworthy? What are the counter arguments to my position?

If you continually scrutinize your arguments in such a way, you will inevitably come up with stronger ones. If you find that your argument is flawed in any way, the most honest thing you can do is discard it. That doesn’t necessarily mean changing your position, it might just mean finding better arguments. However, if you find that no arguments tend to support your position, then the most humble thing you can do is change your position, rather than defending it with bad arguments just to maintain your bias.

In my next post I shall look into some ways in which premises can be flawed, misleading or plain wrong.

Any comments, questions, suggestions etc. about this post are welcome in the discussion thread.

You Have Some Serious Issues

Laurens
Laurens
Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:30 pm by Laurens

In my first post on critical thinking, I spoke a little about values and how important they are. In the next few posts I’m going to look at the various means by which one can dissect an argument into its composite parts.

The first thing that it is important to get a grasp of when listening to, or reading an argument is; what the hell are they arguing about? The subject matter of the argument is often referred to as the ‘issue’. Sometimes they can be easy to spot because the person states the issue clearly, sometimes they are more ambiguous. To give you more of an idea of what an issue is, here are some examples:

  • Should the USA have stricter gun control?
  • Does creationism have any place in a science class?
  • Do violent video games negatively affect children?
  • Should George Lucas be allowed to make more Star Wars films?

As you can see, the issue takes the form of a question. This question is what the person making the argument is trying to answer. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes this question is not actually mentioned directly during the discussion, but one can deduce the issue from looking at the conclusion of the argument. Here’s an example:

“Many people, adults and children alike suffer with obesity and the health risks that come with it. Therefore junk food should contain similar warnings to those found on tobacco products.”

We can find the conclusion by looking at indicator words, in this case “therefore,” other examples of such words include; ‘thus’, ‘so’, ‘ergo’, and ‘consequently’ etc. These words tell us that the following sentence is likely to be the conclusion of their argument. Now if we look at the conclusion above, we merely have to rearrange the sentence a little to see that the issue is; should junk food contain similar warnings to those found on tobacco products?

This all seems pretty straightforward, and probably obvious to most of you. But there are instances in which people direct a discussion off course by going for a different issue than the original one raised—be it intentionally or unintentionally. This is often called a red herring. An example of this would be a creationist stating; “scientists carried out carbon-dating on newly formed igneous rocks and they came out as forty billion years old” during a discussion about whether creationism should be taught in schools. However, this does not address the issue at hand, rather it is addressing a completely different issue of ‘does radiometric dating provide accurate results?’ (rather badly at that). This merely serves to throw the discussion off course, and for that reason it is useful to be able to derive the issue(s) from the conclusion(s) of a persons argument and see if they match up to the original issue that you began with. If they don’t then you can discard them and politely request that the discussion gets back to the real issue.

There are of course some issues that cover a whole range of sub-issues. Does God exist? For example, also covers issues like what is the nature of evidence? And what are the attributes of God? etc. It is important to keep track of these and to try to make it as clear as possible what these are and how they relate to the original issue in your presentation. Once we begin to learn how to de-construct arguments to analyse their components, we can begin to make much stronger arguments ourselves. Looking for, and clearly stating the issue at hand might seem obvious, but it is important in order to argue with clarity and to begin to see whether someone’s overall argument fits together.

As always, comments, questions, criticisms and suggestions are welcome in the discussion thread.

Values and Assumptions

Laurens
Laurens
Fri Feb 08, 2013 9:30 am by Laurens

For my debut here at the League of Reason blogs, I thought I would make a few posts outlining some thoughts and ideas about critical thinking that I have picked up on my travels. I hope this will generate some interesting discussion. Thoughts, comments, criticisms and suggestions are very welcome in the discussion thread. In this first post I shall discuss values and the assumptions that we all make based upon them.

Every individual you encounter holds a unique set of personal values. In other words, concepts and principles that are uniquely important to them. I shall provide a by-no-means-coprehensive list of a few things that I personally value below to give an example:

  • Truth
  • Kindness and compassion
  • Liberty
  • Knowledge
  • Creativity

I am of course, liable to agree with someone who shares these values on many issues, however if I were to encounter an individual who values concepts and principles that are at odds with my own, we are likely to disagree fervently on many topics.

The reason that this is important is because our values often remain unstated. For example I may argue in favour of the legalisation of cannabis, due to the value that I place on liberty—and thus all of my arguments will be derived from this stand point, however I may never actually state this value outright during a discussion. Thus all my arguments assume that liberty is valuable without actually explaining why.

If we use a typical theistic argument, such as; “I believe in God because I have experienced him working with me in my life, and have spoken to him through prayer.” What values might you think this person has? How do they differ from your own values?

This kind of argument is made from the standpoint of someone who values faith, personal experience, and intuition.

Rather than refuting this argument by saying something like “personal experience is unreliable, and prayer studies have shown that it has no effect,” it might be more worthwhile to question the values this person holds rather than the arguments that are built upon them. Ask them why they value personal experience over empiricism, explain how your values differ from their own and why you think empiricism is more valuable than personal experience. Even if you do not convince them to change their mind, you will at least gain a mutual understanding of each others viewpoint and likely have a more fruitful discussion.

I think it is very important in critical thinking to gain an understanding of values, and to be able to derive these from looking at the value assumptions that people make in their arguments. It is also important to have good arguments as to why you value the concepts and principles that you do, it will make your overall arguments far more solid.

What are your values?

The Good and The Hatred

Dean
Dean
Thu Dec 15, 2011 11:02 pm by Dean

Just recently I discovered various videos of Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett on YouTube (surrounding the AAI). They echoed opinions that are similar to mine and are quite harsh in their views on religion. I rediscovered this stance for me just recently again after a long time on hiatus. Now my experience is this: arguments on the ‘crimes’ of religions and their negative views are often met with justifications and relativizations; It is suggested that a position as mine is driven by hatred and intolerance.

There is the old question: How much tolerance for the enemies of tolerance?

Also recently, I found a documentary on the German church-critic Karlheinz Deschner (unfortunately not in English yet). It was titled: “the Hatefilled Eyes of Karlheinz Deschner’. The documentary is some kind of meta-discussion on his body of work which is, alas, not yet available in english, either. He basically wrote for 30 years, alone, on the “Criminal History of Christianity’ in 10 Volumes (!), currently writing the tenth and last one. Hopefull the whole is translated when he is done.

The title “the Hatefilled ‘¦’ is a quote of one of the Christian interviewees, who also appears in regular public TV sometimes. It reflects how some of the other Christian participants think. They are quite obsessed in trying to find a reason for Deschners engagement, trying to pull Ad Hominem Arguments against him. Deschner on the other hand is a rather gentle (very) old man, speaking softly and supports his work with tons of supportive evidence. He will probably not witness how his work is received and it may appear to him that it happens what the other side wants: that his book just collects dust (one of the christian interviewee says so).

(more…)

The Qur’an . . ? Really?

Th1sWasATriumph
Th1sWasATriumph
Sun Dec 20, 2009 12:14 am by Th1sWasATriumph

The day I’ve had.

Cold, so very bitterly cold. Anyone who’s been any closer to outside than their own bedroom knows it’s been cold enough to freeze the smile of a Catholic priest in an orphanage. Cold enough to make people who should know better wear beanies. You get what I’m saying; coldness.

Walking down Kilburn high road (note to foreign types; Kilburn high road is a shopping street in London that contains a pub called The Cock, and this is all you need to know) I noticed a couple of trestle tables with brightly coloured pamphlets. A few people stood behind these tables, picking up a sheet from the ground. Initially I thought they’d been breakdancing, poppin’ some sweet moves in the grindstreet dustcore scene, yo.

Nope. Muslims! (more…)

About Knowledge

zomgitscriss
zomgitscriss
Sun Aug 09, 2009 12:51 am by zomgitscriss

Hey there .

It’s very late and I’m tired but I said I will have a blog by Sunday and if I don’t deliver I will OCD my brains out over it. I’m awesome like that. So please excuse my possible ramble.

In this blog I will mainly adress the Theists. I heard many of them saying that they KNOW certain things in regards to God and what they say to be “the Creation’ . Even in the recent debate between Thunderf00t and Ray Comfort, Ray said a couple of times that (unlike Thunderf00t) he KNOWS what the truth is.

I will try to argue why this claim cannot possibly hold water.

First of all, what does “to know’ mean anyway?  Can we say that we know anything at all ? I would say we can. For instance, I KNOW that there are more than two people writing on this site. I know this because I can count, I can read, I personally know more than two of them, etc. The point is, I can say I KNOW this because it is in my immediate and direct observation.

I can also say I know that Human and Chimpanzee DNA is about 98.5 percent identical. This is clearly not in my immediate and direct observation but I can still say I KNOW it because I have sufficient data proving it. All facts gathered through observation and experiment point to this conclusion, none of them point against it.

But let’s try another example. Not to long ago, if anyone asked me to define a triangle without mentioning its angles, I would have said that any given 3 points that are not in a straight line form a triangle . And I thought I KNOW that the sum of the interior angles of any triangle is 180 degrees. But I was wrong. This is true if the given triangle is in Euclidian space. But if someone could draw a triangle in the near neighbourhood of a Black Hole with such intense gravity forces, the interior angles of that triangle would NOT add up to 180 degrees. The results are very different depending on how Space bends. So suddenly, even if I was certain I KNOW something, at some point I realized that my so called knowledge was in fact a belief.  And I was wrong in my belief because I was ignorant of the data.

I still have certain beliefs. For instance, I believe that Quantum Mechanic could be eventually proven not to contradict Determinism. I don’t believe that the atoms act randomly but rather that at atomic level there might be laws we haven’t discovered yet and variables we cannot calculate. Which, imho, is not to say that the atoms are not subjected to the cause and effect rules. And I believe that (strongly I may say) because EVERYTHING in the observable Universe is subjected to the cause and effect rule. But I am willing to admit that I don’t KNOW that and there is a possibility I might be wrong. And if, at some point, all evidence will lead to the conclusion that atoms can act randomly, I will change my belief. I highly doubt this will happen, what I am trying to say is that I don’t rule out this option because I realize this is something I believe and NOT something I know.

How about God ? When you say you KNOW God is real and He created everything, what do you base it on?  On a book with origins and authors very dubious (to say the least). God is not in your immediate and direct observation and there is no collected data to support his existence. He cannot be proven through observation and experiment. So you are left with your book. And how do you know that your book is the Truth ? Because it says so in your book. Can you spot the problem with this ? (hint : it starts with a “c’ and it ends with “ircular’)

And you may say now that according to this logic, Atheists cannot say they KNOW there is no God. Which is correct and I don’t know one single Atheist who says so. An Atheist will say he does not BELIVE in a God. The difference between the logic  of an Atheist and the logic Theist is that the first doesn’t believe because of lack of evidence while the former believes DESPITE  the lack of evidence.

Where I am going with this is that you cannot say that you KNOW your God is real. You only BELIEVE he is real. And if you accept that what you call knowledge is in fact a belief, you will also have to accept the possibility that you might be wrong.

I’m just sayin’

Criss

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