Participation and equivocation

1.) Here’s a sophistry:

To burn a book, a thing must be hotter than Fahrenheit 451

No mob of angry Nazis is hotter than Fahrenheit 451

Therefore, no mob of angry Nazis ever burned a book.

The sophistry is that, if one wanted to prove the conclusion that the Nazis didn’t burn books (or prisoners, for that matter) the argument is worthless, since it would involve an equivocation on the word “burn”. In the first premise “burn” is said of an instrument or secondary cause; in the conclusion it is said as a primary cause.

But suppose we wanted to have a super-precise language that could make equivocations like this clear. Say that we added an “el” to the end of any word that was a secondary cause. Then the first premise would be “To burnel a book, a thing must be hotter than 451.” and the conclusion would be that Nazis don’t burnel books, which everyone already knows, but nobody much cares about.

But note that even if we did this, we could still immediately conclude that if something was burneling something, then something was burning it too. And so even if we tried to clarify the equivocation, we could still make the inference.

2.) On this sort of analysis, the Five Ways start with moverels, causels, necessariels, goodels, and intentionels. But the preferred way to deal with this sort of inference is to conclude to an equivocal term.

3.) It’s important to stress just how different the equivocals are: if something scissorels or cutels it is hard, metallic, inanimate, non-responsible,  manual, etc. But one can find none of these qualities in something that cuts.

4.) Deep Blue didn’t beat Kasperov, it beateled him.

5.)  The Chinese Room is the claim that the guy is in the room is talkeling Chinese. This isn’t just true of verbs. Natural things are composed of actel and potency; God is act. Again, we wouldn’t need the mystical sounding “God is not a being among beings” trope, we could just say “God exists, the universe existels”

6.) But this starts to make clear why the “el” suffix can’t work. We know and name the secondary things first, but we don’t know them as secondary. I can’t start off saying that the things around me existel, even though this is exactly what I would name them after giving a cosmological argument that proved that God exists.

7.) This is why the desire for a language without equivocations and even the desire to avoid every equivocation in an argument is misplaced and unnecessary. In fact, such a desire would make metaphysics impossible.


1 Comment

  1. thenyssan said,

    June 20, 2014 at 7:07 am

    It’s a nice illustration. Why not attach the el clitic to primary causes (other than a copyright infringement on Origen)? That avoids your language concern in 6.)

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