I have this friend named Nate- and if you don’t know him, then I don’t know what to tell you. Move to Minneapolis, maybe? He’s worth getting to know. Nate is a lifelong learner, a logician par excellence, a grade-A theologian (the happy kind), and overall one of the smartest guys I know.
At any rate, Nate and I talk every once and a while, and I find it so encouraging and inspiring that I think some of those ideas ought to be passed along. Since I don’t think Nate uses the internet much, it falls to me to disseminate some small portion of his knowledge and wit.
By way of introduction, let me talk about one of Nate’s favorite things: the lowly syllogism. A syllogism in logic is a form of argument consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. Take the following as an example:
-All men are mortal (Major premise)
-Socrates is a man (Minor premise)
-Therefore, Socrates is mortal (Conclusion)
As Nate would say, the neat thing about syllogisms is that if the premises are true, so is the conclusion. In other words, given correct premises, you have an airtight conclusion. No logical loopholes. It’s not that easy, of course; premises that everyone agrees with are hard to find.
Now here’s where things get fun: according to Nate, in a standard syllogism, every first premise (major premise), is either the conclusion of another syllogism or the conclusion of an inductive line of reasoning.
To break that down using our example, we’ll have to look at premise number one: “All men are mortal.” This gets used often when introducing syllogisms because it is so self-evident. But how do we know that all men are mortal? I haven’t died yet; am I mortal? What proof do I have?
Inductively, the answer can be had by touting out the statistics- historically, the vast majority of men who have lived on this earth have also died. That’s a good precedent, but it has it’s own problems, as all inductive arguments do- least of all because there are always exceptions (7 billion of them right now, in fact).
Deductively, we could set up another syllogism with our statement-in-question as the conclusion, but that just advances us down the turtle-stack one more step (or one more turtle, depending on how you like your metaphors). What of the first premise in the next syllogism? Madness lies not far down that road (Incidentally, it’s not hard to see now why Satan is considered a logician).
If anybody is still with me, here’s where things take a turn. Nate said that every major premise is the conclusion of another argument, either inductive or deductive- that means that logic stretches back into an infinite regress of arguments, right? And each of those has premises or observations which may be invalid- we simply can’t be sure. Suddenly this “airtight logic” isn’t what it was cut out to be. I want my money back.
We can take this and go the way of all flesh, or we can go into the house of the Lord like David, and see some things click. “I AM” says God Almighty, and not a single angel or demon, philosopher or mathematician can say a thing in retort. God is not a syllogism; he is not a conclusion, an observation, a hypothesis, a guess, or an experiment. He is. He is the Premise, our great Unmoved Mover, the Creator of the ends of the earth- he does not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
Why does logic work? Why are there self-evident truths floating around? Because God is. Let all mortal flesh keep silence.
2 thoughts on “The Nate Files: An Introduction”
I really liked this post, especially the punchy ending: “Why does logic work? Why are there self-evident truths floating around? Because God is. Let all mortal flesh keep silence.”
P.S. Nate sounds an awful lot like Aristotle in “Posterior Analytics” with his infinite regress point. There is nothing new under the sun; still, a fresh voice – bearing fresh conviction – is always needed. Much appreciated, Mr. Stanley. 🙂
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