Saturday, 8 November 2014

Brief introductions and a look at analytic philosophy

Hello fellow philosophy students. My name is Shane Hutchinson and I'll be making contributions to our blog every weekend, or at least as often as I can manage.
I thought I'd start with an area I know is not everybody's favorite, analytic philosophy. On Friday this week with Ben Curtis, we looked at propositional logic, it's language and uses. Though some parts may been hard to follow, it seemed to me to be a very useful tool in the analysis of arguments. This is for a few reasons.
For one, by deconstructing an argument into its propositional form we are able to eliminate a lot of the ambiguities that are often a bane to productive philosophy. Once any argument is clearly set out into premises and conclusions, there can be no mistaking what it is a philosopher is arguing for. For example, in the case of the argument:

'If ghosts exist then there is something physics cannot explain. If ghosts do not exist then psychics are liars. But psychics are not liars, so there is something that physics cannot explain.'

as presented in the seminar as the object of a task in which we were to put the argument in propositional form, the language caused some students to believe the conclusion was in fact that psychics are not liars. This would have meant they would have misunderstood the intentions of someone presenting this argument. However, with the argument presented as follows:

    '1. If ghosts exist then there is something physics cannot explain.
    2. If ghosts do not exist then psychics are liars
    3. Psychics are not liars
    C1. There is something physics cannot explain
    C2. Ghosts exist'

it is impossible to misrepresent either the intentions of a philosopher or the implications of any argument they present. 
I think that the main confusion has been over the fact that you do not have to accept a valid argument as fact or even as a good argument in virtue of it's structure. Rather, the assessment of validity can be viewed as a kind of quality control on arguments, which prevents illogical arguments from being taken too seriously. Rather, it is the assessment of soundness which occupies much of the inter-disciplinary areas of philosophy and a sound argument is much more likely to convince than one which is only valid. 
What do you think about analytic philosophy? Is it just an abstract form of logical analysis reserved for those in ivory towers or does it have a place in debates?  Either way, can you see yourself using it? And if not, why? Would the invalidity of an argument convince you to oppose it?