Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Hierarchy of Appeals, From Aristotle

[I just posted the following on my other blog, Name Pending. I don't know why I have two blogs, especially if I'm just going to post the same things on one as on the other (even though there are some differences). I think it has to do with the difficulty of coming up with a name that I like and that I feel contains in germ the logic of what I will write on that blog. That's a mouthful, sorry about that last sentence. But I'm getting a bit side tracked. Here's what I wrote.]
This is from Aristotle's Rhetoric (some translations of the book are called The Art of Rhetoric). You can pick up any copy of the Rhetoric and find this passage at 1356a. It's a bit lengthy, but well, it's worth it.
This is where Aristotle introduces ethos, pathos, and logos in Chapter 2 of Book 1:
"Of the means of persuasion provided by way of speech, there are three forms, for some are in the character of the speaker [ethos], some consist in putting the hearer into a certain disposition [emotion, pathos], and some are present in the speech itself by showing or appearing to show something [logos]. Persuasion is by means of character [ethos] whenever the speech is spoken in such a way as to make the speaker trustworthy; for we are more persuaded, and more quickly, by decent people, about all matters without exception, and . . . character, one might say, has in it just about the most decisive means of persuasion. Persuasion is by means of the hearers whenever they are led on into passion [pathos] by the speech, for we do not render our judgments the same way when grieved as when delighted, or when friendly as when hostile . . . And persuasion is by means of speech whenever we show something that is true, or appears so, from things that are persuasive on each subject."
Now, after typing all that out, I feel a sort of desire to say a bit about it.
One of the things that Aristotle implies here is that there is a sort of hierarchy of the three rhetorical appeals: ethos is at the top, pathos is next, and logos is at the bottom. The reason for this is because when we hear a logical argument, we believe it, but our brains actually reason differently depending on the emotional state that they--we--are in (hence Aristotle's statement, "we do not render our judgments the same way when grieved as when delighted, or when friendly as when hostile"). New studies in Embodied Cognitive Science will actually confirm this idea that, at least to some degree, we reason from emotional states of mind (see, for example, Mark Johnson's The Meaning of the Body). Crazy, right? But there is an appeal that's even higher than pathos, and that's ethos. Ethos is at the top of the hierarchy because ethos is character--what and who a person is--and the emotions strong as they are, are in the body, both the body of the speaker and the listener, and the body is an essential part of who and what a person is. Additionally, when a speaker makes an emotional appeal on an audience, if the audience trusts that speaker, then the audience will transfer that trust to the emotions that they are now having! "[F]or we are more persuaded, and more quickly, by decent people, about all matters without exception." Another translation of the same passage reads, "We believe good men more fully and more readily than others." When it comes to ethos, trust is the key word.

So here's the question. To what degree is trust an emotion?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Just Some Thoughts

[I wrote the following post on Thursday, May 12, 2011. I am reposting it here because it is easier to access on this blog.]

I'm writing this because I need an audience, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to read it. Then again, if you do read it, I'd certainly be interested in your thoughts.

In the renaissance, students were educated in what was called the trivium--logic, grammar, and rhetoric. Rhetoric tended to focus on the study of formal patterns that we use in our speech. One example of a formal pattern, antimetabole, is the ABBA form in Kennedy's statement, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" (the "your country" is the A and the "you" is the B).

Renaissance philosophers believed that the rhetoricians studied and taught these formal patterns because you can throw a bunch of them in a speech and result in having an "eloquent" or "flowery" piece of work. But the rhetoricians themselves disagreed. For them, formal patterns like tropes and figures were not just ways of speaking, but they were also ways of thinking and ways of acting. In other words, they were ways of being.

Let me give a classic example: repetitio. Repetitio means to repeat something (a word, an idea, or a syllable). Here's an example: I came, I saw, I conquered (some translations say "I overcame" instead of "I conquered"). Notice how the "I" is repeated. That's repetitio. Simple enough. And by the way, since the "I" is repeated at the beginning of successive clauses, this case of repetitio is also an anaphora. An anaphora is a certain kind of repetitio that repeats something at the beginning of successive clauses. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Repeating something is an action, and by repeating, emphasis is placed on the thing that is repeated. The more something is repeated, the more it sticks in our minds. By repeating the "I," in "I came, I saw, I conquered," the speaker--remember, this is Caesar--is emphasizes his own actions. He is in every clause, and the emphasis is places on him as the conqueror. Furthermore--this is from Lanham--the "I came, I saw, I conquered" are all statements of similar length, as if Caesar means that conquering was as easy as coming and seeing. From this statement, Caesar reveals, somewhat, his self-pride. The focus of his statement is on him and his accomplishments.

Anyway, that's why students in the Renaissance were taught tropes and figures. They believed that speaking was acting. Speaking reveals and betrays who we are. They believed, like Quintillian, that since "No man can speak well who is not good himself" (Institutio Oratorio II.xv.34), instruction in tropes and figures was also instruction in how to act well.
But wait. Can you really do this? Can you analyze someone's speech patterns--or someone's rhetoric--and discover something about their character? Renaissance rhetoricians would say yes, definitely. And I think Kenneth Burke would say yes, too.

For Kenneth Burke, we're using rhetoric whenever we use symbols to "induce cooperation in beings that . . . respond to symbols" (A Rhetoric of Motives 43). Probably the most apparent way in which we use symbols is in language. Language is a system of symbols. The words, the sounds, the syntax and sentence patterns all have meaning for beings that speak the same language. We use symbols to communicate, and these symbols also have patterns. Some of these patterns happen because our languages have rules that other speakers of our language will expect us to follow. Other patterns we can create or mimic because we like the sound of them. There are still other forms that Burke says

we might call innate forms of the mind. These forms are the 'potentiality for being interested by certain processes or arrangements,' or the 'feeling for such arrangements of subject-matter as produce crescendo, contrast, comparison, balance, repetition, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion, magnification, series, and so on. (Counter-Statement 46)

In other words, there's something within us human beings that craves a variety of patterns, and all forms of art--music, literature, paintings, movies--manifest these kinds of forms in some way. There are also many different kinds of crescendo, contrast, repetition, etc.

One reason why we watch the same movies over and over is because they have a variety of the kinds of patterns that we like. The same thing goes with our favorite music. Perhaps this can even explain why we spend time around certain kinds of people. Yes, we like them. But my question is, to what degree can we explain ourselves in terms of balance, repetition, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion, magnification, series, and so on"? Language, after all, isn't the only symbol system we use. We also use things like body language, gestures, tonality, and attitude, personality, style, the list goes on.

We can use formal patterns strategically or subconsciously, but however we use them, do they really reveal--and betray--who we are? We use our symbols strategically or subconsciously to communicate to others what we want and what we are. Can't we, then, also analyze the ways in which others use symbols to learn something about their character?

At least, that's what I'm wondering about right now.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Why the Principle of Faith Should be a First Principle of Philosophy (Including, of Course, Epistemology and Metaphysics)

[The following post was previously published here, but I believe Subject to Revision is a better place for it. At least, the post is certainly subject to revision as soon as greater light and knowledge is available.]

By typing this sentence, I am acting, even though I cannot see what the sentence looks like until it is finished. I cannot touch it or hear it or smell it or taste it. And I cannot see it until it appears on the screen. But I type anyway, trustingthat by moving my fingers, I will hit certain keys, keys that correspond to certain letters that I need to spell out words and sentences. I trust that when each key is pressed, some kind of electrical signals will—somehow—be sent from the keyboard and into the computer’s memory. Somehow, though I don't quite understand how the whole process works, the letters will appear on the computer screen so that I can see what I am typing. But even though I don’t understand how the entire process works, I really don't need to understand it. All I know is that it works. I can type sentences if I try it, if I work at it, if I act. 
Typing sentences: an act of faith?

But the process of typing sentences doesn't just include having my fingers hit certain keys. There's also something that has to happen in order for my fingers to move at all. I'm not a neuroscientist, but I do know that when I will my fingers to move, they move. I think about them shifting from key to key, and they hit the keys that I want them to hit.

(At least, most of the time they do--when I'm typing on a laptop keyboard, my hands are a bit too big for the keyboard, and sometimes I end up hitting more than one key at the same time. But that doesn't mean that my fingers weren't headed in the right direction, nor does it mean that they wouldn't have hit the right key and no other key if I had been typing on a keyboard that I had been more used to typing on.)

I don't understand how the message moves from my brain to my fingers and makes my fingers hit certain keys. I also don't understand how, when I press a key on the keyboard, the message of a key getting pressed eventually shows up on the monitor and I can finally see the fruit of my acts. I don't understand these things. But I still act even though I don't know exactly how the entire process works. I don't know how it works, but I trust in the fact that it does work. My act of trusting is knowledge. My act of trusting is an act of faith.

And yet, I could find out, if I wanted to. I could study how the brain works and how it sends messages. I could find out how fingers move or how a keyboard and memory and monitor all work together to produce evidence of my fingers having moved across certain keys. But I do not have to know how they work in order to make them work. And even if I did know how they worked, I wouldn't be able to efficiently type sentences if I was always thinking about how these things worked while I made them work. "A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing," philosopher Kenneth Burke once wrote, and "a focus on object A involves a neglect of object B" (Permanence and Change 50).

The same is true for all of our acts. I can talk about making letters and words and sentences appear on a computer screen, or about I can talk about the electrical impulses that are somehow sent from my brain to my different body parts. I can talk about driving or swimming or playing the piano or tying my shoes. I may or I may not know how everything works within each of these processes. But if I am going to drive well, I have to forget about what's going on under the hood and pay attention to what's happening on the other side of the windshield.

We can't always be aware of everything that's going on. If we are to do something well, we choose to focus on doing that thing. We forget about the feeling of the chair that we're sitting on. We forget about breathing, though the chair continues to hold us up and our respiratory system continues to take in air.

To have faith is to act without a perfect knowledge. If a perfect knowledge is based on whatever we get through our five senses, then we are constantly acting on faith. There are some things that we know that don't come through our five senses, and even for the stuff that we do, we're not always aware of how things come to us through our five senses. If, on the other hand, a perfect knowledge isn't based on whatever we get through our five senses but is instead based on what we learn from reasoning, then we still act on faith because we have to forget about what we've learned through reasoning in order to really do anything. Either way, our actions are based on the principle of faith--we don't know what is happening or what does happen until after we finish acting.

Typically, the history of philosophy (both in the western and the eastern traditions) has started in the wrong place. I believe that the right place to start is with faith. Joseph Smith once said that "If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong we may go wrong, and it will be a hard matter to get right" (History of the Church 6:303). Philosophies often contradict themselves because they have started wrong. But if we start right, we may go right all the time.

Faith, of course, must be grounded in something. In this post and in all subsequent posts, I claim that the right place to begin is with faith, and the object of faith ought to be God. And if we define philosophy as "the love of wisdom," as some of the ancient Greeks defined it, then what we're really doing when we do philosophy is what Paul Woodruff called reverence (cf. Woodruff's book, Reverence: A Forgotten Virtue).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An Attempt (to Briefly) Define Philosophy

This post was previously published here.

"What is philosophy?" a question that is important but also problematic. It is important because, as French philosopher Maurice Riseling has said, "Sooner or later, life makes philosophers of us all." What exactly he means by that (along with why the question "What is philosophy?" is problematic) will become clear at the end of this post. Hopefully.

So what is philosophy? The quick answer is that it depends on who you ask, but that answer doesn’t really answer the question. At least, not really. When philosophers themselves attempt to answer the question, it is interesting to note that each of their answers is a bit different, and, perhaps ironically, some philosophers even disagree on what it means to do philosophy, leading one to wonder if anyone knows the answer. But of course, the words the answer at the end of that last sentence assume that there is one answer, though I admit that there may not be only one answer to the proposed question. Whatever. For now, I would like to discuss two different but still useful answers. The first answer comes from where the word philosophy comes from, and the second comes from the questions that are asked when we study philosophy.

Plato and Aristotle detail from Raffaello Sanzio's The School of Athens)

The Word
Our word philosophy comes from the Greek word philosophia. This word is made up of two parts: philos and sophia. Philos means love or love of, while sophia means wisdom (think of our word for sophisticated). Hence, philosophia originally meant love of wisdom, and philosophers were lovers of wisdom. Personally, I like to broaden the word wisdom to include knowledge and truth. From this perspective, then, anyone who loves wisdom is a philosopher. And yet, note that the active word is not having wisdom or knowing wisdom, but loving it.

Love is a significant emotion. It is an emotion that causes us to see the world differently (usually more optimistically) than other emotions sometimes do. We desire what we love, and we tend to be happier when we are full of love.

There are different kinds of love, however. But there is only one kind of love which I'm talking about. God is love, 1 John 4:16 says, and the kind of love that God has trumps all other emotions. It has to, because it equals God. Hence, the love I am talking about is a prerequisite to spirituality, which spirituality, philosopher Robert Solomon says, is having the right emotion, at the right time, for the right reason, towards the right person or object, and to the right degree. Solomon also defines love as the expansion of the self to include the other.

There's a lot to say about this subject of love, but I'll have to get to it later. Let's move on to the questions that Philosophy tends to ask.

The Questions
While "love of wisdom" is a valuable and helpful way to define philosophy, not everyone thinks of philosophy that way. Typically, philosophy tends to be divided up into 5 areas: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics. Each of these areas asks certain questions, a few of which I will list below . Notice that while these 5 categories seem to be separate, they are often mutually inclusive, as we'll see below.

Metaphysicsask about the nature of reality and truth. Also, questions of metaphysics also include questions of what it means to be. The smart-sounding word for questions about being is ontology. Questions of metaphysics ask these questions:

· What is truth?

· What is the nature of reality? What is real?

· What is the nature of existence?

· What is space and time? What is cause and effect?

· What does it mean to be?

· What is the origin of the universe?

· Does existence have a purpose?

· Is there a God?

· Can God be known?

That last question overlaps with epistemology, since epistemology asks questions that deal with knowing.

· What is knowledge?

· How can something be known?

· How do we know what we know?

· Can everything be known, or only some things?

· What are the limits of knowledge?
Logicdeals with questions of proof and argumentation especially formal proof and argumentation.

· What is valid reasoning?

· How does a person discern a fallacious argument?

· What is proof?

· What kinds of things follow from a set of premises, maxims, or axioms?
Ethicsdeal with questions of right and wrong. Questions of ethics also tend to be closely connected with questions of politics.

· How should one live?

· What is right? What is wrong?

· How should one act in a specific situation?

· What does it mean to say that something ought to be done?

· How should human beings interact with one another?

· What is the best way for human beings to get along together?

· How should human beings be governed?

· What is the best form of government?

Aestheticsdeal with questions about the arts, however broadly or narrowly we interpret the arts.

· What is art?

· What is good art?

· What is the purpose of art? What is art for?

· Why do we produce art?

· Does art influence us or teach us (is it didactic?) or is it merely self-expression or just a form of entertainment?
Looking at the above questions, note how often they shade into each other. In other words, how can we ask what art isunless we also understand the nature of reality and what it means to be? But, furthermore, before we know what the answer is to that question, we first have to know what it means to know! This is why a study of philosophy is often confusing. It is confusing because to ask one question we must presuppose the answer to the other questions! So, we can’t answer any questions without assuming answers to all of the questions. (Bertrand Russell once said that the value of philosophy is in the questions it asks, not in the answers it gives.) See how confusing this gets? Now read what Scott Soames has to say:

Philosophy has become a highly organized discipline, done by specialists primarily for other specialists. The number of philosophers has exploded, the volume of publication has swelled, and the subfields of serious philosophical investigation have multiplied. Not only is the broad field of philosophy today far too vast to be embraced by one mind, something similar is true even of many highly specialized subfields. (Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, vol. 2, p. 463.)

Yeah. It’s confusing. It makes it hard to start, because we want to start right so that we can continue to go right. Whereas if we start wrong, there’s no point in continuing because if we really are lovers of truth and wisdom, we want to make sure we're going right and talking about things that are true. If I’m doing a math problem and I start at the wrong place, I need to go back to the beginning to start it right. I can't keep going from the wrong place because I will never get the right answer. Joseph Smith once wrote, "If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong we may go wrong, and it will be a hard matter to get right" (History of the Church 6:303).

So while to some degree, we can't start without answering or assuming an answer to the questions posed above, we have to start someplace. We have to start because the answers to those questions are valuable. We need answers to those questions because those answers help us live our lives. Not only that, but if we do not consciously and deliberately answer those questions, we end up going about our lives assuming an answer to those questions without taking full responsibility for the answers that our acts assume. We need philosophy because philosophy is how we live our lives. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have written,
Philosophy matters to us . . . primarily because it helps us to make sense of our lives and to live better lives. A worthwhile philosophy will be one that gives us deep insight into who we are, how we experience our world, and how we ought to live. (Philosophy in the Flesh 551)
When Riseling says that "Sooner or later, life makes philosophers of us all," he recognizes that we all assume our own answers to the list of questions above.

So let's go back to where we began. What do I mean by philosophy? Do I mean the answers given by really smart dead (or mostly dead) people to the questions I’ve listed above? Do I mean that “love of wisdom” thing I talked about at the beginning of this post? My answer is yes and no. An undesirable answer, but a typically philosophical one, nonetheless. Whether the answer is yes or no depends on what we mean by “love of wisdom” and what those dead smart guys’ answers were (to what degree were they right, and to what degree did they start right?). So how will we judge the standard by which we agree with what they say? And how do we start right? The answer is we’ll necessarily judge them by the standard of truth.

But, lo! I’ve already assumed the answer before I’ve “defended” the answer! Surprise, surprise. But that's where faith comes in. We can’t start anywhere without faith. And faith will be the subject of the next post.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Foreward from the Book Mentioned in the Last Post

While certainly subject to revision, this Forward isn't as bad as it could have been for a one-time draft written an hour after midnight.


C.S. Lewis once said, "You can't get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." But now that I've somewhat easily edited an 800-page tome, I wonder, if he were still alive, how challenging it would be to make a book that really was too long for him. Walter Hooper reports that Lewis was reading Dickens' Bleak House at the time he said the above quotation. A long book, sure, but not the longest in existence.

But I'm not here to talk about the lengths of books, even though this certainly is a long one. I have chosen to compile the following articles for several reasons. Certainly, I wanted to make them more fun and convenient to read and study. But I think there is an even better reason. Now that I think about it, it occurs to me that there are several important philosophical implications that come from the fact that almost anyone could have edited these articles, yet they are not (if they are at all) disputed. In other words, people seem to be agreeing on something. And I think that's important.

Because almost anyone can edit Wikipedia, some believe that Wikipedia is not a credible source. When I ask my students whether or not Wikipedia is a reliable source, I get stories about how someone edited Michael Jackson's photograph so that he looked like a while, or how people add or delete certain information to suit their humorous or perhaps even unethical purposes. As long as mortals reign on the earth, it seems that there will always be kinds of people who will do strange or bizarre things for a joke or for a piece of silver.

But aside from these stories, it sis important to note that the pages from these articles often remain the same. Once in a while, we see that the information on a page is disputed. But much more often, people tend to agree with the information on a page. People go to Wikipedia as a source because it is what the masses tend to agree on.

In other words, possible for people to agree about things, and the fact that Wikipedia isn't complete and constant chaos is evidence that human beings really can get along and understand one another. In one sense, it is a reliable source of evidence that human beings really can eventually get along and agree. We may of course disagree with one another at first. But when we talk back and forth, when we define and redefine for a long enough period of time, when we genuinely listen to people who have a different viewpoint than we do, we will eventually figure one another out. We will eventually come to a point on which we both agree. We will eventually understand one another. This is what we cannot help running into when we study philosophy.

This is dialectic.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

From Possibility to Necessity?

A few weeks ago, I self-published a book called through PediaPress, a website where anyone can go and self-publish a book by selecting a number of articles from WikiPedia, arranging those articles into chapters and sections, naming those chapters and sections, and then, if desired, writing a Preface, Introduction, or Forward to the book. The book is called Philosophy: A Brief Introduction. There is only one copy of this book, and that copy is in my possession.

Just for fun, here are some scans of the Table of Contents.

So why am I telling you this? I'm not advertising for PediaPress, and I'm certainly not trying to talk myself up for having done something that anyone else could have done. I'm writing because on page ii of the book, there appears an important statement that I neither wrote nor selected, but a statement that enacts what I believe many books on philosophy ought to include in the first place. The statement also exemplifies the purpose of this blog. Here is what it says:
The content within this book was generated collaboratively by volunteers. Please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate[,] or reliable information. Some information in this book may be misleading or simply wrong. PediaPress does not guarantee the validity of the information found here. If you need specific advice (for example, medical, legal, financial, or risk management) please seek a professional who is licensed or knowledgeable in that area. (Slater, Philosophy ii) 
How many books have you read with something like that at the very beginning? I'll be honest: this is the first one. But I think it is awesome how the book asserts its own unreliability. What's awesome about that? Well, philosophy as we usually think about it (which tends to not be the love of wisdom, as I have discussed elsewhere) really is unreliable! Take almost any philosopher. You'll see that he or she gets some things right and some things wrong. (I say "almost any philosopher" because I am assuming that there are some philosophers that get everything right! But more on that in a future post!) Or, take any system of philosophy. Empiricism. Or idealism. It doesn't matter which one. What matters is that, while there is much within most systems of philosophy, there is also a lot of junk. Stuff that just isn't useful. In other words, as quoted above, much of philosophy really is "simply wrong" (Slater ii).

It's subject to revision. And what that means is we need someone or a group of people that are qualified to revise it. But what? What high calliber of human beings are qualified to not only revise philosophy, but to create a system of philosophy that is--dare I say it?--infallible? Is that even possible? Sure, I'm being idealistic here. But I'm also assuming that it is possible. And if possible, then why not necessary?

Of course, the person or people couldn't be a man or a woman, since men and women are human beings, and human beings make mistakes. Either the person or people are not human, or they would have to be something more than human. Unless there's some other way. Like if a human being were to receive divine revelation from God, and then have God Himself testify of the truthfulness of what was revealed.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Subject to Revision?

Why give this blog such a title?

Let me start by saying that, to be perfectly honest, what is discussed on this blog is "filtered," to some degree. As philosopher Wayne Booth once wrote, "[W]e can see only what our equipment allows us to see" (Critical Understanding 33). What people say is filtered through their own understanding of the world, and, while we certainly do our best, we can't claim perfection. We are human beings. That means that some of what we write is subject to revision.

And that's a good thing. It's a good thing because when we have the attitude that what we are and what we do ought to be subject to revision--to improvement--we enable ourselves to see ways in which we can improve. Said another way, one of the worst things we can thing and attitudes we can have is believing that what we say and do is fine the way it is or worse, perfect.

If we do not claim that we are subject to revision, how do we know of our susceptibility to error?

Only by acknowledging that we are human beings and that we make mistakes (though we certainly don't want to be constantly talking about it!) do we put ourselves in a better state of mind to discover truth. What we see changes depending on our attitudes and emotions, and when we're thinking that we're always right, we necessarily blind ourselves so that we are unable to see the instances when we are not.

Subject to Revision does not discuss only writing, but also living. Or, as the Greek proverb says much more eloquently, "As with life, so with words."