Sunday, August 12, 2012

Arguing for the sake of arguing

So I decided to look over an old post over at (this post) and I found this comment:
The arguments both for and against same-sex marriage are not logical arguments. Logical arguments should work from a fixed and common set of axioms and be independently verifiable, but the arguments for and against same-sex marriage are based on very variable moral judgements and values.
Wait, what?

So let me get this straight: neither side in the gay marriage debate is basing their argument on logic, only relativistic values.

In that case, there is no reason why gay marriage should or should not be allowed based solely on the number of people who happen to believe either position, i.e. sheer majority will. There is no real reason beyond the collective whims of everyone; there is no righteousness in the struggle of gays to have their relationships recognized as marriage, because 'righteousness' is a function of moral axioms, and there are no moral axioms.

I'm glad that's straightened out.

Sarcasm aside, let's break down this statement to see what's wrong with it.
Logical arguments should work from a fixed and common set of axioms and be independently verifiable.
Assuming that the word 'axiom' means what I think it means, e.g. a premise which can definitively known to be true, then so far so good. Moving on, however...
...the arguments for and against same-sex marriage are based on very variable moral judgements and values.
And here is where the trouble begins. First off, this is yet another example of presuming the truth of premises that are left undefended, because they are thought to be clearly true by reasonable people... Except they aren't, and that's why we keep having arguments about things like gay marriage or other such things.

Secondly, this statement presumes that there is some kind of separation between "logic" and "rhetoric", as if they are different species. On the contrary, there is indeed such a thing as "rhetorical logic". In the Middle Ages, the distinction was made between the "demonstrative" argument, which relied purely on syllogisms (e.g. If A is true, then B must follow) and the "rhetorical" argument, which was probabilistic (e.g. Given that A, B, and C are reasonable courses of action, I submit that B is the best, because X). The latter is the common technique used in politics, and can be perfectly valid arguments despite not being purely "logical".

I think the trouble here is that there seem to be different working definitions of what logic is in the first place. It seems that the commenter believes that what counts as "logic" would produce a proposition that cannot be denied by anyone. This is strict to an unfounded degree. There is no such thing as an argument or proposition that can compel a person to believe it beyond their capacity to deny it. People are fickle and can deny whatever they want, and even if they are open to argumentation it takes some time for someone to truly absorb, understand, and (possibly) adopt a correct argument. People have to consciously choose to accept even a totally sound proposition or argument; that is just a fact of life.

As to what the actual premises at stake are in the gay marriage debate, that will have to wait for now. I merely wanted to point out that even our ideas about what arguments are seem to, sadly, vary wildly between different people.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

I was thinking about that famous saying of Carl Sagan's. It didn't take me long to realize that...well, what the hell is that supposed to mean?

"Extraordinary claims." What makes a claim extraordinary? I'm guessing that's supposed to refer to claims about the supernatural or God, but to call such claims 'extraordinary' is to take for granted the assumption the only the physical is real, and that therefore anything that suggests otherwise must be considered 'extraordinary'. So, why is only the physical real?

"Extraordinary evidence." This is where things get out of whack. If the evidence for an 'extraordinary' claim is also 'extraordinary', then how is one supposed to obtain any such evidence? How you know what counts as 'extraordinary evidence' if the claim itself is subject to suspicion in the first place?

Now, granted, the statement itself isn't necessarily /bad/ per se, it only presumes a number of premises that may or may not be true. Sadly, it seems a lot of people aren't even aware that there are premises to be held beforehand; the statement becomes a bald assertion masquerading as an argument.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A New Definition

The Western: that peculiarly American genre in which lawlessness breeds high adventure and guns are magical weapons that can shoot flipped coins out of the air.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Random eschatological thought

Contrary to what Aquinas states, I think that there will, in fact, be food in Heaven, simply not the kind of food we are used to. After all, the risen Lord, I assume, did not dine with the disciples merely to show that he was not a ghost; he was demonstrating a real fact about what it is like to be resurrected. The supernatural effusion of divine grace into the resurrected body does not destroy the old, regular human nature but builds upon it.

As to the nature of this heavenly food, one can only speculate since we are dealing not with nature but with super-nature. The closest thing that comes to mind, of course, is the Eucharist, but since the presence of the Deity would be supremely effusive into everything in the New Heaven and Earth one might wonder if the Eucharist would be even necessary.

Or maybe it is, sort of? After all the whole point of divine grace is that it is wholly 'unnecessary' and gratuitous (the word 'gratuitous', of course, coming from the Latin gratic meaning, among other things, 'gift'). Maybe some kind of super-Eucharist or super-elf bread is the food of the blessed (and they don't have to worry about going to the bathroom, either, I would think), since the total union of the person to God, physically and spiritually, is the chief characteristic of living in Paradise, and consumption (but not digestion!) of the Deity is, I venture, a particularly intimate sort of physical union. Kinda gives a new meaning to those old Philly cheese commercials about having 'a little taste of Heaven in your mouth'.