Tag Archives | Unethical Philosophy

Eis Duo Treis ho de Tetartos Pou

I’m familiar with views (and here I include both scientific and mythological views) according to which the universe has a beginning and an ending; and with views according to which it has no beginning and no ending; and with views according to which it has a beginning but no ending.

But I can’t recall coming across any view, either scientific or mythological, according to which the universe has an ending but no beginning.

Now it doesn’t surprise me that that’d be the least popular of the views. Despite the admonitions of Epicurus and Spinoza, we tend to find the prospect of future nonexistence more depressing than the prospect of past nonexistence; so objections to finitude, for those who have them, are more likely to focus on the future than on the past. Furthermore, counting down from infinity likewise seems more objectionably paradoxical than counting up to infinity; so objections to infinitude, for those who have them, are more likely to focus on the past than on the future.

All the same, it’s a big old world with a lot of people in it, and the space of possible views does tend to get populated, so I’d likewise be surprised if nobody had ever held the end-but-no-beginning view. My bet is that someone has. I just don’t know of any example.


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No True Fallacy

I’ve noticed a tendency for the charge of committing the “No True Scotsman” fallacy to be leveled at anyone who favours more restrictive definitions of something than the person leveling the charge favours. This is a misunderstanding of how the “No True Scotsman” fallacy works. Just saying something of the form “No true Scotsman would do X” is not by itself a commission of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy – though the fallacy does involve making a statement of that form. A fallacy has to be an error in inference from one statement to another; a single statement on its ownsome, involving no inference, can’t be a fallacy.

The “No True Scotsman” fallacy arises when someone uses a restrictive version of a definition in order to rebut a counterexample to a claim that was made using a less restrictive definition. So, for example:

1. SMITH: “Democracies never go to war against other democracies.”

2. JONES: “What about the war between Israel and Lebanon? They were both democracies.”

3. SMITH: “No country that commits that kind of aggression counts as a genuine democracy.”

What makes Smith guilty of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy here is not that she employs an idiosyncratically restrictive definition of “democracy” in (3). Employing an idiosyncratically restrictive definition is not by itself a fallacy, since it’s not by itself an argument. If an argument is offered for the idiosyncratically restrictive definition, that argument may of course be fallacious – or it may not. We can’t know until we look at the argument. (Merely using a term more restrictively than in ordinary usage is no proof that the more restrictive usage is wrong; sometimes ordinary usage by itself contains commitments to a more restrictive usage. For example, I think that’s true of the Socrates-Stoic-Cicero-Augustine-Aquinas-Blackstone-Spooner position that an unjust law is no true law.)

Rather, what convicts Smith of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is the fact that she treats her claim in (3), using “democracy” restrictively, as if it supported her claim in (1), where “democracy” was clearly being used non-restrictively. In other words, the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is an instance of the fallacy of equivocation. (Example of equivocation: “A bank is a safe place to deposit your paycheck; the edge of a river is a bank; therefore the edge of a river is a safe place to deposit your paycheck.” The plausibility of the premises depends on taking them to be using the term “bank” differently; the validity of the inference depends on taking them to be using the term “bank” in the same way.)

If Smith were, clearly and non-obfuscatingly, willing to reject (1) in the non-restrictive sense, and endorse it only in the restrictive sense, then although she might have an implausible definition of “democracy” – and a more vacuous opening claim than initially appeared – she would be innocent of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

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Greek Coffee

The AU Philosophy Club’s series of caffeine-fueled public fora continues tonight at 5:00 in a new venue: Mama Mocha’s new second location in the Hound restaurant, located here. The panel (including your humble correspondent) will discuss the topic “Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.” Drop by if you’re in the area!

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