I want to start a forum…

Undistributed middle argument map

Undistributed middle argument map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to start a forum specifically for seeking help in formulating arguments. Not presenting arguments, not trying to answer questions, not raising new questions, etc. Just trying to flesh out your intuitions, or reject them, and help others do the same. Submit an inchoate line of reasoning you think has potential and seek help on premises, lemma, symbolized notation, entailment, etc. Philosophical brainstorming. Distributist reasoning. Intellectual bartering.

Call it “Preambulae Philosophiae” or “La Playa de los Razoñeros” or “The Wisdom Workshop” or, my personal favorite, “The Scholastic Dojo”.

The gist being: Can any fellow lover of wisdom help me say what I think I am trying to say as a philosopher?

I think this format world be superior to a philosophy blog for two reasons. First, with a blog, there’s pressure to make each post polished so as to satisfy readers, or generate traffic, or whatever. Second, with average readers you have people commenting on every aspect of the post, including the novelty, cleverness, relevance, tone, social implications, contrary evidence in the news, etc., so little attention is paid to the logical structure of the writing. Granted, a blog like Alexander Pruss’s or James Chastek’s has the kind of feel I want and enjoys that calibre of readers, but they’re rare, exceptions that prove the rule, and even then the threads tend to become conversations *between* commenters rather than *about* the argument itself.

My idea is to create a place where readers realize their only purpose in following the threads is NOT to refute or emote, but rather to make the proposed argument as strong as possible, regardless whether they agree with it or not.

Each OP at the forum should be written as briefly and as formally as possible. No clever anecdotes, erudite quotations, historical conceptualizing, etc. Just terms, premises, conclusions, and expression of difficulties in working out the logical knot in mind. I know it sounds bizarre but I think it would be a stimulating atmosphere tailored to a unique intellectual niche. Perhaps by being so austerely dialectical, it would garner a niche traffic off its own vivacity.

A further purpose I have in mind for the forum is to be a kind of logical menagerie, so that teachers and students have live examples of where and how arguments go wrong, and could absorb the ‘feel’ of how elegant reasoning should or shelf not be done.

What I do NOT want it to become is a fallacy food fight, in which commenters think their work ends by pinpointing the fallacy of such and such, and then clucking their tucks ay such poor philosophy. Fallacies should only be mentioned in glaring cases, and in more debatable cases, should be precisely catalysts for constructive rehabilitation by the forum community. The reflex in so much of contemporary philosophy is, “Well, let’s see just how awful THIS argument is”, but I think a more wholesome, more challenging, and more Scholastic mindset should be, “Hmm, let’s see how good we can make this argument.”

Two examples:

1. I’ve recently been pondering the logical relationship between chromaticity and extension (Witt’s Tractatus), size and shape, and chromaticity and visibility (Ari’s Physics). What is the name for the necessary and sufficient conditions that exist between those relata? It would be fun to explore that, I think, and if like-minded readers knew of a place to go just for logical calisthenics like that, we’d all be better philosophers for it, I think.

2. I have a hunch of a new argument against determinism D along the following lines: on D our cognitive kit is wholly a function of our environment/stimuli. We aren’t free to revise premises “on our own”. In a sense, the deterministic system – SD – we are in makes arguments through us, like a semiotic ventriloquist. If the same set of premises, which are of course just complex arrangements of matter AM, could be shown to entail contradictory conclusions, it seems we’d have proof that SD is not deterministic, since the exact same AM could result in two different results (or further AM – AM* – ). D requires not only that all AM are the singular, necessary result of prior conditions *AM, but also that any AM can only result in a single, necessary AM*. Thee can be no indeterminate plurality if D is true. So if the articulation of a syllogism at time t – Syl(AM(t)) – entails (or deterministically causes) a conclusion at time t* – AM(Syl(t)) – but then is found to entail a different conclusion at time t** – AM(Syl*(t**)) – , then D is false, since identical AM fail to result in a deterministically singular AM*. We don’t even need to find contradictory conclusions; inconclusive equally compelling conclusions from the strongest premises would suffice. For if on D the only ‘thing’ that ‘does’ anything ‘on its own’ is the entire SD – SD(ΩAM) – , then if any subsystem of SD(ΩAM) – SDsub(ΩAM) – can generate indeterminate entailed AM, then SD(ΩAM) is not deterministic, and D is false.

If it is denied causal ‘on-its-ownness’ is meaningless or impossible, then it follows that it’s impossible for SD(ΩAM) to have any causal power.

It may also be objected that my argument is only as good as the premises said to result in different conclusions, and that it’s therefore an argument from ignorance. But if perfect knowledge of premises is required for reasoning, we could never make any rational arguments, which seems like a typically high price for maintaining D. The objector can’t say the contradiction found from the premises just shows “the premises weren’t true, after all” since that could be said of any premises, and therefore no argument holds, not even the argument(s) for D.

Anyway, that’s my proposal. What say ye?

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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5 Responses to I want to start a forum…

  1. Syphax says:

    I can partition a section of my new Aristotle forum for that exact purpose. Then I can make you an administrator of that area. What do you think about that?

  2. Sorry to be late in responding to this; your comments went astray so I didn’t come across them very quickly (and in fact only came across them as soon as I did by accident).

    It sounds like a good idea to me — it would be a sort of informal way of doing what the journal Analysis was founded to do: bare arguments precisely discussed. But the focus on argument refinement rather than argument criticism makes it even better. I think mixing it with Syphax’s forum would work well. After all, one of the original elements of the scholastic spirit, and it is one that they got from Aristotle and that is eminently exemplified in Aquinas, was always to try to pin down the best possible version of an argument, whether you agreed with it or not, in a bare-bones way with no frills, as part of the process of giving the best possible answers. And this is not really the sort of thing the modern world, much more rhetorical in character, gives much practice in.

  3. Syphax says:

    I’m not a philosopher, nor am I good at formulating arguments. However, I’m good at moderating and facilitating discussion. I think this would be a very good idea, if you’re up for it.

  4. Brandon:

    You’ve got my point. Hence, my favorite name for the forum would be “The Scholastic Dojo”.

  5. Syphax, I’m game. Let me know what I must do.

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