Although I'm a professor of dogic, I've not had much to say about it so far on this blog. This is partly because I've been busy helping the humans with their strike, and partly because I've been pre-occupied chasing squirrels.
Now that the leaves are returning to the trees, the squirrels are finding it easier to hide, so I have more time to think about my subject. Here I am being thoughtful:
I've been thinking about one of my favourite arguments:
But there's a problem. Imagine a sceptical cat came along (cats tend to be sceptical). The cat says to you "how do you know that it's time for your dinner?" I go through my argument using modus ponens. But the cat says, "fine: but how do you know that the conclusion is true if the premises are true?" I woof that modus ponens is valid. "But how do you know that?" I insist that if the premises are true the conclusion must be true, and that if this holds that form of argument is valid. This does hold, so the form of argument is valid.
"Aha", says the cat, "you've used modus ponens to justify modus ponens: if the conclusion is true when the premises are the argument is valid; the conclusion is true when the premises are, so the argument is valid. But I wanted to know whether modus ponens is an OK form of argument to use, so your justification does nothing to persuade me."
Lewis Carroll, who wrote the Alice books, once told a story about a tortoise which is quite similar to mine about the cat. You can read it here. Myself, I don't think I can answer the cat, and I don't think that I need to. Using modus ponens to reason is just part of what it is to follow the rules for using the word 'if', accepting modus ponens goes hand in hand with understanding 'if'. And as I've said before, I don't think we need to provide a philosophical account of rule-following, for cats or for anything else.
One of my humans works as an equality and inclusion co-ordinator. She says that my blog is neither equal nor inclusive because I don't say much about non-humans. I think this is unfair. I say a lot about squirrels, ducks, and human philosophers. She says yes, but I talk about them, I don't allow them to speak for themselves. The male human is a bit of a lefty and says that I have a typical liberal colonialist attitude. I don't know what this is, but I don't think that I can eat it.
Anyway, they want me to put things right by hosting a guest post by some cats. Cats! This post is by Fritz and Erwin and has been sent across by Rachel.
We are Erwin and Fritz. We are a bonded feline pair, which is not quite the same as an entangled pair, but does mean that we’re not always sure where one of us ends and the other begins. Our humans reckon Erwin does most of the thinking, but it’s possible that they don’t understand how the connection between us works. Like one of our humans, we know a lot about quantum physics – in fact, we have two famous physicists named after us (Erwin and Fritz) – but that’s off topic for this blog.
Anyway, our physicist human doesn’t appreciate feline company while he works, so we spend more time with a theologian. We appreciate her company, and she seems to appreciate ours. She chases the things that she’s interested in (which appear to include footnotes, meanings and arguments); and we chase the things we’re interested in. There’s an old poem about this kind of feline-human working relationship, called ‘Pangur Ban’.
We like this poem because it points out something humans often seem to forget: that not every problem, or prey, matters equally to everybody. And it’s often interesting to ask why this particular problem (or prey) matters now, and to whom it matters.
It’s obvious to us that it’s really important to find, catch and destroy our toy mice. And real mice too, of course. Our humans seem to think our pursuit of toy mice (as well as moths, leaves, shadows, curtains, etc) is a silly game, and our pursuit of real mice is a very bad idea. But our theologian human also seems to think that some of the arguments other theologians pursue are like silly games (to be fair to her, she doesn’t say that much herself, because she gets tired of people making jokes about angels on pinheads) – and some are very bad ideas (you should hear her on the subject of premillennial dispensationalism, or dispensational premillenialism, whichever way round the pair goes).
Cats don’t find the variety of different human pursuits surprising, because we are creatures of habit and place. We suspect that habit and place – call it “context”, if you like – make a big difference to what problems matter to which humans. But humans tend not to notice this. Perhaps they should lift their heads from their own pursuits more often and take time to understand what other people, or even other species, are bothered about, and why. We cats stop and do this frequently – usually after the prey has got away, and while washing our faces.
We even have some thoughts about the “problem of evil”, which some humans are fond of pursuing, and which looks to us like a silly game. We’ve heard that at least one of Lola’s humans agrees with us.
Mental walkies with Lola,