Posted by DNW on 2011/10/13
This short posting is not really about Aristotle’s Organon.
It is instead, a delayed acknowledgement of some comments made to me by, I think, AOTC.
AOTC (again, I think) had referred with some approval to the work of someone named William Lane Craig. I was not familiar with Craig prior to that reference, and I based my response on the viewing of a couple of linked videos. One in particular, involved Sam Harris, who stupidly did much of Craig’s work for him.
In subsequent weeks though, I have had a little time to view a few more YouTube videos of Craig, and I find that he is quite famous in certain circles. I even came across part of a debate moderated, apparently, by William Buckley.
Thus, I have now been able to form a better idea of what Craig is doing in these various debates and discussions over the grounding of moral propositions, and the ultimate (for lack of a better term) nature of reality.
And my opinion is that Craig is in large part engaging in some very basic – for a philosopher – and one would think very requisite kinds of analysis of the arguments of those with whom he is having these discussions.
It shouldn’t be surprising. What is surprising is, that it is. In these debates, this journeyman-like work, seems typical of only Craig.
In fact, speaking of journeyman-like, Craig very often goes to great pains to point out that what he is in many cases doing is considering not whether the conclusion of his opponent’s argument is specious or sound as a stand-alone proposition, but merely whether the statement his opponent is making validly follows from the form or the content of the argument which he is presenting as entailing such an assertion.
This is, or should be, completely unexceptional; as it should constitute a minimum standard for debate among men of serious purpose and sincere intentions.
What is baffling is how little effort his opponents expend on any formal analysis the arguments. What they seem to imagine is that true conclusions somehow follow from empirical observations or data, regardless of the form of the argument. In debate, they snottily wave their supposed commitment to empirical method and their evolving factoids about, and expect everyone to simply salute and fall in line, or be deemed troglodytes.
Craig on the other hand, engages in the actual work of forensics; examining whether the conclusions these men purport as following from the premisses they present, do in fact logically follow.
This often leads not to an absolute conclusion pro or con as regards the resolution of the topic, but to an agnostic situation regarding the status of the proposition mooted. But with Craig, at least an examination of the argument has been conscientiously performed according to commonly understood and commonly accepted rules of inference, such as modus ponens, modus tollens, and the hypothetical syllogism, to name just a very few.
I mention these formal rules in particular because unlike murky accusations regarding the commission of an informal fallacy, which are so cheaply leveled in debates, these rules of inference are well established and not subject to interpretation or dispute. It is one thing to try and score a debating point by tossing out an accusation that your opponent has committed some named fallacy of relevance or ambiguity; it is quite another to repeat his complete argument and reveal through a known rule of replacement, how your opponent has committed, say, the deductive fallacy of affirming the consequent. That, is a great deal more intellectual work.
Placing aside the ultimate status of the questions Craig finds himself discussing, from what I have seen, by using the tools and the discipline of logic, he argues with a diligence, and therefore an integrity, that his opponents sometimes seem to lack.
Maybe they feel these techniques of forensic interpretation and clarification are unnecessary and obsolete. Maybe they know they are right, so they figure, “Why go to the effort of logic-chopping?”
Maybe Craig, they figure, while a credentialed professor, is not a physical scientist; and so, neither he nor his tool kit, need be taken seriously.
No maybe about this though: Craig is humble enough to take his work seriously, and to use the tools he has in earnest when examining whether or not the claims made by his opponents are sufficiently grounded according to the rules of reason.
If they were not so arrogant, they might learn something from his example.
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