Monday, December 27, 2010

Logic 101-Logical Absolutes

"Logic 101" is a new series that will attempt to illustrate some of the logical fallacies that many arguments, especially those regarding religion, fall prey to during a debate. 

I feel that it is important when having a debate to have a solid grasp of logical principles. While some arguments may seem iuntuitively convincing, we need to understand the fallacies that are leading you from the path of reasonable claims to the field of irrational conclusions.

So many discussions get mired in stagnancy because people unknowingly violate logical principles. Those conversations can, therefore, never bear rational fruit because of that fundemental misunderstanding.  Further, I felt it was unfair to deride those claims as irrational unless I made an effort to demonstrate how to avoid those pitfalls beforehand.

Before I get into the discussion myriad of fallacies and how to avoid them, it is important to set the tone by mentioning the oft referenced but rarely understood "logical absolutes".

The first thing that we need to get out of the way is that these rules (especially the third one) applies only to formal logic where definitions in question have been clearly defined.

I can not emphasise this enough. 
Without clearly defined terms it becomes impossible to make any logical debate work within the cloud of logical uncertainty that misunderstood terminology will create.
Once these definitions are established, then these are the three tenets by which every argument MUST abide or else they will suffer from being self evidently wrong.

ALL claims must adhere to these three rules called the "Logical Absolutes":

1.  The Law of Identity -  Something is what it is, and is not what it is not.  Aside from the equivocation fallacy (which would be covered by clear definitions at the start) this is absolute.  Things simply are what they are, and are not what they are not.  They have a clear set of properties and a very specific nature.  Something can't defy its own nature.  That is a logical absolute.

i.e.- A rock is a rock, and not a fish.  Pretty easy to accept.

2.  The Law of Non Contradiction - Something can't be both true, and not true. 

 i.e.- A chair can't be entirely made out of wood, and yet made out of entirely NOT wood.  Again, this is pretty easy.

3.  The Law of Excluded Middle -  A statement is either true, or false with no middle ground.  It is often cited that paradoxical statements need to be excluded from this rule, but that is false.  Statements like "This statement is false" violate logical (LED) principles and are, therefore, NOT valid and logical statements.  Any proposition which asserts its own negation is not logically consistent.  This kind of statement is called the Liars Paradox.  We will exclude these arguments for the informal reader.

Very dry stuff but very necessary for any logical discussion.

So to summarize, every claim must:

  1. Clearly define terms;
  2. Ensure that we don't posit claims which violate the pre-defined nature or assert properties which are contrary to previously asserted properties of that claim;
  3. Don't make contradictory statements; and
  4. Don't ride a middle ground between true and not true.  Any statement that is a logical statement is either true or false. 
There is our argument box.  Clearly (and easily) defined.

Let's try to stay within it.

Next in Logic 101:  The Strawman!


  1. I think you missed a couple Jay, existence and consciousness...

    "Existence exists is an axiom which states that there is something, as opposed to nothing. At the core of every thought is the observation that "I am aware of something". The very fact that one is aware of something is the proof that something in some form exists -- that existence exists -- existence being all that which exists.

    To grasp the thought, "I am aware of something," you must be conscious. Existence is axiomatic because it is necessary for all knowledge and it cannot be denied without conceding its truth. To deny existence is to say that something doesn't exist. A denial of something is only possible if existence exists.

    To exist, an existent (an entity that exists) must have a particular identity. A thing cannot exist without existing as something, otherwise it would be nothing and it would not exist. In the statement "something exists", the something refers to the axiom of identity and the exists refers to the axiom of existence. They cannot be separated and are like two sides of the same coin or two ways of understanding the same axiom."

    These three axiomatic principles, Existence, Identity and Consciousness are easily encapsulated in the sentence...

    "There is something (existence) of which I (identity) am aware (consciousness).

    Good start Jay, I look forward to reading more. Bring on the Strawman!!! :D

  2. Those are philosophical axioms. And they are not absolutes. There is solopsism which would say that ONLY I exist. Which negates the actual definition of "I", and there is a position that you can't even logically show ones OWN existence.

    There is an agreement however that those things are taken as axiomatic so that conversation can actually take place so that we can avoid epistemilogical arguments (they are not useful in everyday conversation)

    I understand your meaning but logical absolutes are not the same as philosophical axioms.

    We agree on axioms BASED on a logical conversation.
    Logical absolutes are the only statements that can never be ignored because without them, language can't make sense.

    Any suggestions for the one after strawman?

    Ad Hominem?
    Argument from ignorance?


  3. Logic is nowhere without the philosophical backbone to give it context. Logic in a conversation with a person who would claim that nothing can be known or proven is useless.

    I personally like the Argument from intimidation myself, but those other two are good too, and hey, it's not as if you are going to run out of time.

  4. I couldn't agree more Martin. But we aren't talking about the context of arguments nor the backbones that give them substance, merely the tools with which to have them.
    The most basic are the logical absolutes.
    Argument from intimidation? Fun, but not always effective.
    Strawman is up tomorrow. Any other suggestions?

  5. Is the law of excluded middle ground really in debates?
    The theorem of Goedel shows that some statements are not decide-able: a statement may be true but nobody can prove it... it doesn't make it false...

    1. But asserting "this statement is unprovable", is false because all statements are implicitly true, at a meta level, not just via self-reference, which always comes AFTER one holistically evaluates the truth of a statement, which is always implicitly assumed when it is read.

    2. Sorry, truth in a statement (as we are referring to it) refers to how it reflects reality. There are any number of statements that are false when deconstructed as an assessment of reality. This is aside from the point of the post. The post is an instructional on the logical absolutes.

  6. Whether a statement is provable or not, the fact remains that it can not be both true and false at the same time. Your comment doesn't address the point of the article. The point is to give people a starting point in conversation so that they can understand logical fallacies. If they violate the logical absolutes, the only thing to do is start over.