Some have claimed Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are both works of nonsense, meant to amuse but not educate, but this is wrong. Carroll designed both books to illustrate forms from the history of logic with memorable, emotional and unreasonable characters. While Carroll mocked the work of Boole, De Morgan and others throughout the two tales, both also primarily serve to illustrate and teach central concepts of Aristotle’s work on Logic, specifically his categories and syllogisms, the forms of Logic that Carroll taught and studied for a living.
I actually had the chance to use Wonderland this morning to teach Aristotle’s categories to my Greek philosophy students, and one said that it served well to help her visualize and remember each category, as the examples draw on classic memories and are emotively meaningful. This demonstrates the texts are not useless nonsense or mere entertainment, but lesson plans in logic. My theory is that Carroll believed others would find this list of Aristotle’s categories reversed, but when no one noticed he began the sequel Through the Looking Glass with the idea of mirror-images, reversals and putting a text up to the mirror to show that he was inverting Aristotle’s classic text on logic, and going to use inversions and reversals with logic even more in the second story.
Alice’s first adventure in Wonderland illustrates Aristotle’s Categories, presenting the ten categories in the order Aristotle discussed them but in reverse: passion, action, state, position, time, place, relatives, quality, quantity, and substance. First, the White Rabbit is passion, who acts on Alice. Second, the mouse is action, acted-upon by Alice. Third, the bird’s caucus race is state. Fourth, Alice takes the position of the White Rabbit’s servant and fills his entire house. Fifth, the Caterpillar is time, who accepts change and uncertainty. Sixth, the Cheshire cat is space, who shows Alice exclusive and opposed positions. Seventh, the Duchess and baby are relatives or relations.
Eighth, the Mad Tea Party is quality, with the unsound Hatter and Hare who used the best butter. Ninth, the Queen of Heart’s garden is quantity, with the two, five and seven cards forming an addition problem and the Queen threatening everyone with subtraction. Tenth and finally, the King of Heart’s trial of who stole the tarts is substance, as the tarts are still there substantially but the trial and evidence are insubstantial.
Alice’s second adventure Through the Looking Glass illustrates the syllogistic forms found in Aristotle’s Prior Analytics in an order that shows subalternation twice. The four royal pieces, the Red Queen, Red King, White Queen and White King, are the four corners of Aristotle’s Square of Opposition, a visual presentation of logic popular in Europe for centuries. The White Queen, inclusively open like a child, is the universal positive (All, All, All), the Red Queen is the universal negative (All, None, None), the White King is the particular positive (Some, All, Some) and the Red King is the particular negative (Some, None, Some-Not). In the end, Alice sits as an inclusive-exclusive OR between All and None, as the one who must decide for herself, with her powers of logic and reason, some and some not like an adult between the extremes, as Aristotle advises us in ethics. There are countless examples of syllogistic reasoning in both texts, but here are central examples that show each royal chess piece as an Aristotelian corner.
BARBARA, the Positive Universal Syllogism: If All A is B, and All B is C, then All A is C. If all things are possible to think if you Shut your eyes and try very hard, as the White Queen suggests to Alice, and if all impossible things are things indeed, even if they, unicorns and we are all quite mental, then Alice can think six or more impossible things before breakfast if she shuts her eyes, imagines, and tries very hard, as the White Queen implies but doesn’t say directly, meaning what she doesn’t say syllogistically. In Venn diagram form, if A is entirely B, and B is similarly C, then A must also be C.
CELARENT, the Negative Universal Syllogism: If All A is B, and No B is C, then No A is C. If All ways are mine, as the Red Queen says, and None of what’s mine is yours, as the Duchess moralizes, then none of these ways are yours, is what the Red Queen means but doesn’t say, which we understand and infer quite syllogistically from what is given in her words. As a Venn diagram, if A is entirely B, and no B is C, then no A can be C.
DARII, the Positive Particular Syllogism: If Some A is B, and All B is C, then Some A is C. If the White King says he sent almost all his horses along with his men, but not two of them who are needed in the game later, and if Alice has met all the thousands that were sent, 4,207 precisely who pass Alice on her way, then Alice has met some but not all of the horses, namely the Red and White Knights who stand between Alice and the final square where she becomes a queen. As a Venn diagram, if some A is B and all B is C then some A must be C.
FERIO, the Negative Particular Syllogism: If Some A is B, and No B is C, then Some A is not C. If all things are dreams, as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee tell Alice, and some dreams are untrue or not ours alone, then all things are somewhat untrue, and somewhat aren’t ours alone, which is what Tweedle Dum, Dee and the Red King dreaming silently imply, but don’t say. As a Venn diagram, if some A is B and no B is C then some of A is C. As Aristotle says, if we have only some and no all or none, we can’t draw syllogistic judgements completely, leaving us with only a relative, somewhat satisfying conclusion, just as the Red King silently dreams and says nothing to Alice after she happily dances around hand in hand with both twin brothers.
November 26, 2019 at 8:27 pm
Mr. Gerlach is ON FIRE!!
August 8, 2021 at 11:05 am
Thank you I had just became a new member to WordPress and exploring and trying to learn how to navigate through it all. I had luckily by chance found your site. I have been looking at Lewis Carroll mathematics logic book, and reading the Alice in Wonderland stories to fully understand these concept. Your articles have really given me a foundation to explore this. The Lewis Carroll stories were my first books read as a child. Through your knowledge and eye’s it will help me to explore these concepts making it a little more enjoyable than trying to end up with frustration reading them. Sincerely Michael Thomas Lester
August 10, 2021 at 5:44 pm
Thank you! That is just what I hope for. Many have told me they love but don’t read the stories, and I want them to reread Carroll’s work and see the Aristotle, modern logic and British empiricism in them as a philosophy teacher. It gives them new meaning, and brings insight to many of the jokes that don’t make much sense without the Aristotle lens. I hope it brings you much happiness, and I will continue to tie it all together with how thought and emotions work in human life.