Persuasion, Philosophy, Logic
This carries on from “Shut Up. Read.”
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I read over your letter several times. It may have brought some other issues that we can talk about later in our discussions. For now though I don’t want to muddy the water. Thank you for taking the time to clarify your thinking.
When you first informed me of your change in believing , you said you wish you could believe. But you just couldn’t do it. I wanted to help and I thought this was the best shot at giving you a nudge toward God.
Of course Dr. Wierwille tries to be persuasive. He is a teacher. That is what teachers do. You had some good teachers in philosophy and logic. That seed was planted and eventualy you chose your path. (at least for now). I doubt all of them just handed you a book and said, just read this and it will get you a good grade. And a blueprint for life.
I am familiar with the ideas regarding learning: some best at visual, some auditory etc. I knew there would be many points that you didn’t agree with. I thought we might talk after each session or two, and hash out the good, the bad, and the ugly.
As far as the dvds go, my request is still the same, but I don’t have the heart to keep talking about it. If you feel the need to respond, that is fine. I just have nothing else to add.
I am very thankful that you are willing to read the book. If that is your plan then I do want to point out sections of Receving the Holy Spirit Today that would fit with session 9 thru 12. I will just pick out the minimum needed to complete PFAL, not a whole new area to study. If you have a copy of the book, please email it to me. …
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We don’t have to talk about the issue any more. I just want to say a few things about this paragraph: “Of course Dr. Wierwille tries to be persuasive. He is a teacher. That is what teachers do. You had some good teachers in philosophy and logic. That seed was planted and eventualy you chose your path. (at least for now). I doubt all of them just handed you a book and said, just read this and it will get you a good grade. And a blueprint for life.”
Yes, teachers try to be persuasive. But persuasion can be a tricky thing. There are persuasive Christians of all stripes, persuasive teachers of other religions, persuasive atheists; persuasive Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Nazis. Part of what such examples show is that persuasive people can have contradictory views. This is because persuasiveness is no guarantee of truth. Logic is, though—and I’ll return to that.
Depending upon what is meant by the word “persuasion,” different types of persuasion can certainly have legitimate uses. For example, if I’m trying to explain a concept to someone—whether math to my students, or theology or philosophy or evolution to a friend, or whatever—I may give some different analogies or examples or illustrations of the concept. The aim would be for such things to help the person grasp the concept. It’s important to appreciate, though, that such analogies or examples or illustrations, and such grasping, do not provide reasons think that the concept is true. There are plenty of false concepts that can be grasped. The issues of simply understanding a concept, and believing that the concept is true, are distinct.
So to sort of jump back to Dr. Wierwille, I don’t mean to begrudge him any of the teacher’s tools of explanation or persuasion. It’s just that as someone who disagrees with his conclusions (first with his conclusions that there is a God who inspired the Bible, and second with his conclusions about what the Bible says), I’m going to need some reasons to think that his conclusions are true. I might need help understanding and grasping some of his conclusions in the first place, and for that purpose, I’ll be perfectly happy to consider the analogies and illustrations and examples he offers. But once I grasp his conclusions, and get down to the brass tacks of whether he is right, then I’ll need something more. I’ll need not just any persuasion, but the sort of logical persuasion that can actually support the truth of what Wierwille is saying.
On to philosophy and logic. Yes, I had some good teachers, and yes, various seeds were planted, and yes, there have been effects on my path in life. You may have only been offering that as an example of persuasive teaching, and not intended to say much about philosophy, but I still want to address the perception of philosophy that seems implicit in your words.
On the one hand, philosophy is a distinct, particular thing. It is a discipline, a tradition, a vocation, whatever. I’ll readily grant that philosophy has quirky, contingent, historical particularities. And I’ll readily grant that my exposure to philosophy in college involved the particular dynamics of undergraduate philosophy studies, and of philosophy academia—as well as all the particular dynamics of formal education, and college in particular, and middle- and upper-class young people, etc. In these ways, and probably others, philosophy is just this one particular path, or practice, or thing—among many others.
But on the other hand, when you get to the heart of philosophy, and especially to logic, you’re no longer dealing with just one discipline or path or school of thought. You’re dealing with the laws of thought itself. Logic deals with bedrock issues of determining truth and falsehood, and of moving successfully from true statements to more true statements. And logicians study logic, but everyone uses logic.
Whenever we try to reason, or debate, or argue, or convince, we are using logic. Logical structures underlie all our thought and speech in such efforts.
If you think there is a God, and I think that it is not the case that there is a God, then we naturally realize that we’re disagreeing, and that one of us is wrong, and should change his belief if he wants to be right. We know these things very clearly and intuitively, and logic simply spells out how that works. Logic articulates, for example, the law of non-contradiction: that for any proposition P, it cannot be the case that both P and not-P. If you and I are meaning the same thing when we say “there is a God,” then your affirmation and my denial cannot both be true, because this would be a contradiction. Reality is whatever it is, and is not whatever it is not, and logic basically just teases out ways of articulating this. It’s not some new domain or new practice, but rather just an articulation of what we’re always practicing (or trying to practice) in all domains.
So in this sense, my training in philosophy is not about some particular sort of thought, or some particular path in life. It is about how to take the thinking that we all inevitably do anyway, and do it well. It is about avoiding the many ways that we can accidentally slip from true statements toward false ones, and the many ways that we can hold two beliefs that actually contradict one another, and therefore cannot both be true.
Lastly, as for the thought of professors just handing students a book, so to speak, that might be more common than you think. I’ll offer just two examples. In the foundational logic course I took—Introduction to Symbolic Logic—which is mandatory for all philosophy majors, I loved the material. I enjoyed learning and using the symbols and rules, and it came very naturally to me. The class itself, I didn’t love so much! The professor belabored everything that I was picking up so easily, and, not to be cruel or uncharitable, but the man just had a very annoying, high, nasal voice. Luckily, it was a large class, no sort of grade for attendance or participation was given, all assignments were posted online, and the midterm and final dates were in the syllabus. So I stopped going to class. I learned from the book, happily tore through the work, and finished the course with a note on my final exam congratulating me on the highest, or one of the highest, grades in the class.
Second, there’s law school. There is some variance, but standard legal education is done through what’s known as the Socratic method. Socrates asked a lot of questions, and so do law professors—in such a way that the professors who strictly follow this method don’t lecture, and don’t explain—they just drill you on the cases you’ve read, and the concepts that you should be finding there.
I know that this point about professors handing off books was also not a major thrust, but I just wanted to offer that. …
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P.S. Logic is about what rules preserve truth, and always preserve truth. That’s crucial. There are plenty of methods for thinking and deciding and believing that sometimes bring truth, and sometimes do not. These methods include following gut feelings, sticking to your preexisting convictions, trusting friends, trusting the majority, trusting experts, and believing what seems at first glance to make sense. Each of these methods will often bring truth—but will not always do so. Therefore, none of these methods can guarantee truth. Logic is the science of only and always bringing truth. A logical rule is a logical rule only by virtue of only and always bringing truth. If it can ever possibly bring falsehood, then it’s not a logical rule.