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Aristotle Blog

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Posted 17 March 2015 by Chris FarmerChris Farmer

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Aristotle Blog

This is the third blog in a series. We are covering the three biggest names in philosophy; Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

Everyone knows the names Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. These are the three lions of philosophy. Their names are known the world over. But, unless you have made them the object of your studies, you probably don't know much about WHY they are so famous.

You may not know much about what they actually said that has been so influential. So, that is why I thought I would give you a quick course on the Three Mental Musketeers.

In the first blog, we learned Socrates said we needed to give clear and distinct definitions of all our major concepts so that, in any one context, each concept denotes only one meaning. If you claim that you believe in justice, then you had better have a well worked-out definition of justice. If you do not have a definition, then Socrates would take you apart, in a public debate.

In the second blog, Plato became famous for developing the field of philosophy as a distinct mental discipline apart from all other fields of endeavour. Plato defined philosophy as being made up of distinct subsets and he was the first to have a complete, fully integrated, worked-out philosophy that had something to say about all the main branches of philosophy. The main branches of philosophy, according to Plato, and since Plato, are as follows.

  1. Theology: the study of the Gods.
  2. Epistemology; the study of knowledge.
  3. Ethics. The study of morality.
  4. Politics the study of government and economy. And finally,
  5. The nature of humanity.

In our second blog we learned about Plato's theory of innate ideas. Plato said that everyone is born with innate knowledge; therefore, the purpose of education was to "draw-out", the innate knowledge, abilities and wisdom of the student.

Aristotle disagreed with Plato on many aspects of Plato's philosophy and in this third blog I would like to touch on Aristotle's theory of knowledge.

Aristotle thought that Plato was wrong to suggest that each child is born with innate knowledge. Aristotle said that the opposite was true. That each child is born "tabula rasa"; meaning blank slate; meaning, that each child is born knowing nothing. Everything you know you had to learn.

Education is not a process of "drawing out" the innate talents of the learner, education is more about "pouring in" the necessary knowledge, information and skills into the learner. Knowledge is gained first by sense perception. You've got to keep your eyes and ears open. Look and see; observe, record and classify.

Aristotle was the first scientist in the true sense of the word. His favourite science was biology and he was the first to recognise that whales were not fish but should be classified as an animal.

Aristotle's greatest achievement was his discovery of the laws of logic

Logic is the study of correct and valid inference. Logic is the study of the correct use of your mind so that your ideas conform to reality. Logic is the science of valid reasoning. Before Aristotle there was no logic.

Logic comes in two main forms

  1. Inductive logic.
  2. Deductive logic.

1. Inductive logic is the act of drawing general principles from a limited number of examples

For example. If you notice that:

  • Puppy dog number 1 wags his tail when you give it a bone. And then you notice that:
  • Puppy dog number 2 wags his tail when you give it a bone. And then you notice that:
  • Puppy dog number 3 wags his tail when you give it a bone. And then you notice that:
  • Puppy dog number 4 wags his tail when you give it a bone.

Then you might be tempted to induce the following conclusion:
All puppy dogs wag their tails when you give them a bone.

This process of drawing general conclusions that apply to all members of a class, from evidence gained by observing a limited number of instances, is crucial to logic, to learning and to experimental science. From a very early age, baby-scientists gain experience by making observations of a limited sample of the world, and begin to make universal conclusions (general principles) from their limited number of observations.

In a similar way, all super scientists make laboratory experiments and try to draw from them, conclusions that they can apply outside the lab, in the "real world".

We induce general principles all the time, from a limited number of examples. The question of logic is this:

When is it legitimate to generalise from your limited experience, and when is it not?

If one police officer treats you harshly is it fair to say, "All Coppers are harsh!"

This question is called "the problem of induction". It was first posed by Aristotle.

How can you properly draw a true, general principle based on the evidence of only a limited sample?

2. The second form of logic is deductive logic

Deductive logic is the act of applying a general principle to an individual instance.

Reconsider our earlier example: all puppy dogs wag their tails if you give them a bone.

If you saw a new puppy dog, one you have never seen before - call him puppy dog 134 - you could reason in the following way.

  1. All puppy dogs wag their tails when given a bone.
  2. 134 is a puppy dog.
  3. Therefore, 134 will wag his tail if I give him a bone.

Aristotle made the amazing discovery that the form of the argument is the most important thing about an argument.

All valid arguments share the same basic forms.

And if the argument does not have one of the correct forms, then it is invalid.

Here is the form of a valid argument.

  1. All A's are B.
  2. C is A.
  3. Therefore C is B.

This is the form of the puppy dog argument, above.

But here is an example of an invalid argument:

  1. All A's are B.
  2. C is B.
  3. Therefore C is A.

Look at the following argument which takes this invalid form.

  1. All fish live in water.
  2. All whales live in water.
  3. Therefore, all whales are fish.

This is wrong. The argument is wrong in spite of the fact that the first two statements are true:

Aristotle made it clear that, if you don't use the correct form of argument, then you can get a wrong conclusion even starting from two correct premises.

This is the best and most important thing you could study:

How to think logically so that you can come to correct conclusions, by using correct information integrated by a correct method.

This form of reasoning is called the syllogism and it is the object of intense study and debate.

This is Aristotle's legacy. Here is how Aristotle won his stripes. Aristotle wrote the book on deductive logic and it is still being taught now because his treatment of deductive logic is wonderfully useful and a terrific guide to proper thinking.

  1. If you want to make your brain better then study inductive logic. How to draw general principles from a limited number of instances.
  2. And study deductive logic. How to apply your knowledge to a specific, individual instance.

Welcome to the world of logic.

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