Nothing special about people

Continuing with my occasional posts on baralbion‘s philosophical questions, today’s topic is:

All living things are the summit of creation to date. There’s nothing special about people.

This is a good example of a text that appears to state a fact as premise and draw from it a conclusion that is inescapably true or at least strongly supported by the premise. A common example of such reasoning often given in text books is the following:

1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore Socrates is mortal.

It is important to distinguish the form of logical arguments from their content. The same is true of sentences in ordinary language. Like ordinary sentences, logical arguments also have their grammar. It is possible to get an argument wrong by making a mistake in its grammar or structure. In such a case, we cannot say anything about the truth or falsity of its conclusions. All we can say is that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise or that the premise doesn’t support the conclusion.

Another point about logical arguments is this. When we say that the conclusion is “true” what we mean is that the argument is grammatically correct and that the conclusion therefore follows from the premise. We do not mean that the conclusion is “true” in relation to some other measure such as our experience of the world.

Going back to Socrates in 1 – 3: the conclusion (Socrates is mortal) is “true” in the logical sense because we can see that it follows inexorably from the premise (All men are mortal). Is it “true” is a general sense? We can’t tell. In order to prove it true in a general sense we would have to wait until the end of time and see whether there were any men who did not die – something that is hardly possible.

Taking the sentences providing the topic for this essay, do they present an argument and a correct conclusion? We can rewrite them thus:

4. All living things are the summit of creation to date.
5. There’s nothing special about people.

Sentence 4 is the premise. If, like me, you have a picky mind, you may object that while “summit” implies some sort of process or progress towards improvement, “creation” implies the opposite, that things, once made, stay as they are, and that this incurs an internal contradiction. Is that fatal? Perhaps not: maybe the author of the argument believes he can justify this form of words.

Is 5, then, a valid conclusion from 4? No, unfortunately not. There is no link showing why we should or should not regard people or any other species as “special”. Nor does the premise contain anything about “being special”. 5 therefore does not follow as a conclusion from 4. In other words, as an argument it is ungrammatical and the conclusion is therefore neither “true” nor “false”.

Note that the failure of the sentences as an argument (and I don’t even know that it was intended as such) does not mean that the opinion expressed in it is shown to be “wrong”. Without necessarily subscribing to it in all details, many animal rights supporters would strongly agree with the opinion expressed. In other words, as an opinion, it stands on its own merits and we can accept it or reject it according to our personal views.

My own view? I sympathize strongly with the sentiment expressed but accept that as it stands it is a succinct statement of a view point (a good topic for an essay) rather than a developed argument in favour of the opinion that it presents.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Nothing special about people

  1. baralbion says:

    Oh dear, if I’d known I was going to be taken so seriously I’d have been more careful. As it is, I intended no consequential link between my two sentences. I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to produce a relevant syllogism: the thought won’t fit.

  2. SilverTiger says:

    Sorry, I possibly didn’t make it clear that I had my tongue in my cheek was overdoing it on purpose.

    At the same time, I thought it might be interesting to try to write a simple piece on logical arguments as this subject seems to confuse people.

    Email SilverTiger

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