I am a part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move.

Month: June 2013


In theoretical syntax there is a running joke about Lasnik’s Syllogism, “It’s a problem for everyone, therefore it’s not a problem for me.” That is, if my theoretical proposal fails on some point that every other proposal also fails on, I’m not responsible to deal with it. (I could give an example, but since it would be an example from theoretical syntax, that would only make it harder to understand.) It’s a tongue-in-cheek thing, but it also reflects the tendency of linguists to leave difficult problems unaddressed, and unresolved problems outstanding.

This kind of approach to intellectual life leaves gaps between the joints – small spaces into which we can sweep the dust, or perhaps even conceal some unsavory detail in our thinking. I’ve been thinking recently about how the unresolved status of the induction problem, and how that creates space for sloppy reasoning.

The problem of induction is the problem of how to generalize successfully. How should we take a lot of particular facts, and come to some more general statement? And just as vexing a problem: how do people actually do it in their day to day lives? If you’re a Platonist, you believe in abstract categories, so the problem is to find out what those are, and how to link particular facts to them. If you’re an Aristotelian, you don’t believe in absolute abstract categories, but since people obviously use categories, you still have to explain how people create them. (For the record, I am a Platonist.)

I wrote this four months ago, and left the draft unfinished on my desktop. While I believe there’s something to be explored here, I have evidently gotten as far as I can with the idea at this point!

Evil perverting good

A philosophical example has been buzzing around my mind lately. It’s an example of how sin indirectly perverts good things, such that a thing that is good in itself would lead to something being ruined.

I love my Buena Vista Social Club album. The music is wonderful, invigorating and relaxing at the same time. I do not speak Spanish. Yet, when I looked at the liner notes, I saw from the English translation that some of the lyrics were quite vulgar. In fact, if I understood Spanish, I don’t think I would be comfortable listening to the album. There you go: what would otherwise have been a good thing (knowing Spanish) becomes in the sinful context a bad thing.

Of course, the million dollar example would be a bad thing that, in a sinful context, becomes a good thing. I don’t think that example exists, though.

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