Art of Rational Conjecture

Logic in discourse

For those who know where the title of this article comes from, I shall go ahead and spoil it for the others. I didn’t coin this, it was Bertrand Russell, famous philosopher of the last century.  I’m only dropping his name here so that I’m not accused of plagiarism and because what I’m going to talk about is influenced from “Art of Philosophizing”, which is a collection of essays he wrote about philosophy.

Part of this book introduces basic elements of logic, mainly “inductive” and “deductive”. Why bring it up in my blog? Because it is an incredibly well-written introductory book. Hardly more than 90 pages, depending on the publisher and the language written. Rather than give you a literary critique of the book, I will transpose what some of its teachings mean to us. In a way, I’m giving you an introduction to an introductory work, which in my view, can’t get much more basic.

How do you do logic? You do it at every moment, every time you look at something and you analyze it or you speak with a friend and you interpret their tone of voice or their non-verbal communication. You do it when you wake up and you look outside, telling yourself: “It’s going to be another shitty day”, due to the massive downpour. Logic is in our everyday discourse, in how we interact with another and how we interact with our mind.

Now, of course I’m not going to posit that the mind is outside of the brain. The mind here is defined simply as our perception and our senses. As you are reading this, your powers of deduction might be telling you where I’m going, whereas the induction has you just following me, to see where this goes and form your own conclusion from that.

The person performing deduction will possibly skip all the way to the bottom of the page, to see what I have written in my conclusion. Inductive readers will instead carry on, taking in my words and my points, making neat little lists in their minds, to ensure that they’ve understood everything. Very analytical, mechanical readers, these inductivists.

No, for the purpose of this article, I will begin with its title. How do we rationally conjecturize about things? Surely, conjecture cannot be rational as it does not have all the facts! While this is incorrect, conjecture itself is not portrayal of facts but rather demonstration of one’s understanding through simple discourse. We are not making a scientific analysis of a phenomenon, we are discussing it. The formation of an argument begins with such conjecture. Even scientific arguments are guilty of conjecture, especially the deductive ones. Yet, deduction on its own is not a crime, when it is done well.

Sometimes, hypotheses are necessary to look for something or other. At least, they are necessary when we know not where else to look.

Deduction

So let’s begin with deductive discourse or the initial part of rational conjecture. Philosophical training provided by the various educational systems will initiate students to “logic” as seen by the greek logicians. The famous syllogism that illustrates the deduction method as it existed with greek sophistry is as follows:

  1. Men are mortal.
  2. Socrates is a man.
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

This logic may seem adequate to describe such a situation, but it will fall short in other circumstances where such variables are not readily available. A proper deductive method will have us work from a more substantial premise.

  1. Men who are shot bleed.
  2. You are a man.
  3. Therefore, upon being shot, you will bleed.

Although the deduction above is a little violent, it works a little better in terms of deduction. Then again, what if the person is wearing a bullet-proof vest? What if they are not in fact a man? Does that mean that only men bleed when they are shot? As you can probably see, the issue with deduction exists in the premise. It may appear too vague or too specific, and thus it will be the first target of any opposition to it.

In which case, the argument devolves into a series of hypothetico-deductive suggestions provided by one to another and then no one can actually have the upper-hand. Such is sophistry, without rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of controversy or rather, the art of sounding right. It is not to be confused with being right, although you certainly can be right while using rhetoric. A person with sufficient rhetorical mastery will be capable of making even the silliest of arguments sound right. Evidently, the stratagem may not work as efficiently with others of similar intellectual fortitude.

Those with great rhetorical power, historically, are those who have the ability to manipulate the masses by simply providing the right arguments for them to accept what is being said as truth. It has to apply to a form of logic inherent to said masses. Therefore, the person with rhetorical skill knows how to purposely manipulate a debate in their direction, normally through deduction.

To explain the historical segment of my argument, I’d direct you to great Greek leaders of the ancient democracies, in Pericles and Themistocles. Other cases of Greek citizens swaying public opinion by the sheer power of rhetoric exists in the historical documents of the Greek civilization, normally reported by Thucydid and Plutarch. (source)

It is said that despite the mechanism of ostracism in place in ancient Greece, some people have been able to sufficiently sway public opinion in a given direction. In order to sway someone in a specific direction, you must induce the deduction you wish for them to make. That is the purpose of rhetoric.

As you can see, the two types of logic are interchangeable within human discourse. So while I’m at it, let’s go toward induction.

Induction

There is a french expression, “induire en erreur”, which transliterated to english would give something like “induce into error”. That is the principle behind rhetoric. While the person performing rhetorical manipulation might be wrong, they will induce an incorrect deduction into the mind of their interlocutor, so as to seem to be right.

So, in order for me to convince you of something obviously wrong, I have to induce this false notion into your mind, by tossing at you various, seemingly unrelated “facts” until you come to your own understanding of what I’m trying to say. That is how people can be convinced, for example, that despite overwhelming scientific evidence, the Earth is still flat, and that it is preposterous to say otherwise.

The error here, is not in a lack of education but in a lack of proper induction from those who know the truth. Knowing a fact is not the same as understanding it, however. That is why so often, these people are not open to being converted back to reason, because the arguments put forth by their opposition are often impolite, insulting and infantilizing. They believe themselves to be obviously of superior intellect.

In order to get them to admit anything, we must therefore stroke their intellect, by feeding it things that they can accept. That is how the rhetorical trek of induction begins. You could do this with any one person by slowly directing them toward the big picture. Let’s go with the following situation, by Socrates, as written of by Plato:

Situation

Now, as you can see, Socrates plays with the boy’s mind in this scenario quite well, in making him accept certain propositions without the slightest bit of doubt or skepticism. The boy comes to think he knows things which he does not. That is why in the situation where we are being taught things, we normally suspend our judgement, so insofar as we are welcoming to being taught things, we will not doubt what is being taught to us.

Unless of course, we know better already. In such a circumstance, doubt becomes the initial reaction, and if doubt can be quelled by providing enough authority in our statements as to appear to be right even to a person who knows about the subject matter which we are talking about, then we can convince them of anything.

In epistemology, similar stratagems have been used by Edmund Gettier, with the notion of Justified Belief.

“The case’s protagonist is Smith. He and Jones have applied for a particular job. But Smith has been told by the company president that Jones will win the job. Smith combines that testimony with his observational evidence of there being ten coins in Jones’s pocket.”

Now, this is exactly as Socrates presents the situation of the square to Meno’s slave. For example, we have to presume that Smith’s deduction is that whoever gets this job is going to have ten coins in their pockets. It turns out Smith himself has ten coins in his pockets! So he gets the job.

Therefore, did Smith know who was going to get the job?

Well, first of all, the President is the foremost authority in a company, so it should fall within reason that if the President says “Jones is going to get this job”, he by all means should! Now, in my view, the addition of 10 coins in Jones’ pockets as a valid reason for one to believe whoever gets this job has 10 coins in his pockets, is a little bit stretchy. It does not in fact form a “justified true belief”, because it is nonsensical to presume any human being in his right mind would count the coins in a man’s pockets and make the logical assumption: “He who has 10 coins is getting the job.”

Rather, a justified belief would have been: “Because the President of the company I applied at has told me so, Jones is going to get the job.”

If anything BUT this happens, then Smith might be in his right mind to feel like he’s been fooled! What kind of game is this President playing, anyway? It is this form of problem that is being cast out in front of us to challenge logic, but in itself, it defies reason. If in order to present an epistemological obstacle, we must defy reason, then the obstacle becomes the problem itself.

A world set in such an epistemological reality might as well be a madhouse. Yet, the idea behind such a problem is that it defies our conception of knowledge. As in: What is knowledge? What is belief? Induction helps in that regard, because deduction requires induction prior. How can I know that a bird is a bird? I will not deduct it from observation, I have to understand what it is to be a bird. I do not immediately understand that the bird’s wings are what keep it in flight for such long periods of time. At that, I possibly do not understand that it is flying!

Induction is empirical, it works with the animalistic side of our beings. It is our senses, our perception. It cannot go very long without deduction, however, because if we were to work exclusively from induction, we would be like chickens in a barn, waiting to have our heads wrung by the farmer. 

That is exactly what happens when a person with sufficient rhetoric ability causes you to firstly accept a false premise and then cuts off your head, your reason, with the conclusion, by which you will be brought to deduce a false belief, which you will presume to be justified, having been convinced of such.

In closing

There is much for everyone to learn from philosophical analysis of discourse, through logic, both deductive and inductive. I have but given you the basics here, and even that is not saying much. Throughout this article, I have linked to several texts that may help you both reinforce your intellectual fortitude and understand logic a little better, in terms that are understandable for the everyday person, and not simply a matter of mathematical proofs.

We can be easily fooled via logic, because it is what leads us to believe things are what they seem. Skepticism can only work if our logical abilities are sharpened enough not to cut through everything, but to at least not be dulled by the first tomato that is thrown our way. Because even in being skeptical we may abuse, to the point of doubting even in ourselves for things which would defy reason if they were untrue.

For example, if we were skeptical of the laws of physics, to the point of not believing in them, we would have to be able to explain why certain things work the way they do, as it is currently understood by these same laws. If the laws were wrong, we would be able to fly some days and some days no. What would taste a certain way one day would taste another the other day.

Take heed to ensure that your knowledge of things matches the lengths to which you will defend or attack them. Otherwise, you can always try convince others that you’re right, even if you aren’t…

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One thought on “Art of Rational Conjecture

  1. That is very easygoing,authentic,inspiring and penned eruditely to give a glimpse of reasoning process in our mind. More appreciating aspect is relating philosophy in our everyday life and using it as a tool for higher mental faculties to be achieved and sharpen

    Like

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