Archive for the ‘Philosopher’ Category

“God” is unclassifiable

October 21, 2007

Every proper name represents an object of a certain kind and belongs to one or more classes of objects that can be defined.  Thomas Aquinas can be classified as a medieval theologian, philosopher, and a human being.  “Zeus” and “Apollo” are proper names that designate unique objects, but they are also objects that belong to the class known as gods worshiped by the ancient Greeks, a class that includes Aphrodite and Pallas Athena as well.

When we use “God” as a proper name, we are using it to designate an object that is not only unique, as every other singular individual is, but one that is also unclassifiable.

How to Think about God by Mortimer J. Adler

Great Book = Interesting Information + Arguments

July 29, 2007

What is the longest argument you’ve ever made? What is the longest argument you’ve ever read?

By an “argument” I mean: collect together some information nuggets, show how they are related, and then draw a logical conclusion from them.

Most of the (engineering) books I read are oriented toward providing information and techniques, not toward forming arguments.

Recently, however, I have been reading two outstanding books:

— Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

— Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred Whitehead

And through careful reading I have become aware of the arguments being made in these books.  I say “careful reading” because their arguments aren’t immediately obvious, at least not to me.

After reading a page I pause and reflect on the ideas presented.  Slowly I am seeing how the arguments are being constructed.

In Smith’s book the arguments are well contained; at the end of each chapter he ties together the various parts of the argument.  Whitehead’s arguments are more complex and subtle; they can span multiple chapters.

Whitehead’s book is on mathematics.  It occurred to me, “Why are there arguments in a book on mathematics?  Shouldn’t it just contain information and techniques, like my engineering books?”  I’ve been puzzling over why I like Whitehead’s book so very much, particularly since I am not especially interested in mathematics. Now I think I know why: because it contains both information and arguments.

The realization that I have come to is that I like books which contain both interesting information as well as arguments.

Whitehead was both a mathematician and a philosopher.  Smith was both an economist and a philosopher.

A philosopher is a master of arguments.

I think great books are those that contain interesting information and are also philosophical (i.e. contain arguments).

In our sound bite society we don’t see many long, elaborate, elegant arguments.  That’s a shame.