Thought Itself

The History of Philosophy, Logic & The Mind with Eric Gerlach



Aristotle’s Categories & The Hunting of the Snark

I have been developing my theory that Aristotle’s categories fits the order of characters and events of Wonderland and The Looking-Glass.  In the process, I realized that The Hunting of the Snark has ten characters with no individual names but whose jobs start with B, and that each could fit with Aristotle’s ten categories, types of being, as well.  If Carroll used Aristotle’s categories to plot out Alice’s adventures, it is not unlikely that the Snark works like a logic puzzle.  In his Game of Logic, Carroll similarly listed buns, babies, beetles and battledores (an early badminton racket) as examples of things, also known as beings.  In Carroll’s introduction he says his work shows he is incapable of nonsense, and this brief but instructive poem includes precise arithmetic truth and natural history, both which apply to Aristotle’s categories.

Edward Guiliano pointed out that the Bellman looks like Father Time and carries a school bell for lessons.  The best candidates for each  of Aristotle’s categories are: the Bellman is time, the Boots is place, the Maker of Bonnets and Hoods is position, birth and death, the Barrister who dreams of the pig’s trial is relations, the Broker who values the goods is quality, the Billiard-Maker who chalks his own nose is action, the Banker is state, the Beaver who knits lace is passion, the Butcher who carves things up, dresses formally for the fight and teaches the Beaver addition is quantity, and the Baker who leaves everything on the beach, wears many layers, bakes brides cake, doesn’t lie, forgets his specific name and fades away, vanishing without a trace in the end is substance.

The Slide Between Some & All

Alice_in_Wonderland_Arthur_Rackham Mad_Tea PartyOne of the recurring ways we get into conflicts over communication is something that has been called the Slide Between Some and All.  I ran into this problem years ago when I began digging into the dialog between Alice and the Mad Tea Party of Wonderland, and since then I have seen it come up again and again in person and in politics.

In Wonderland, Alice tells the March Hare that she says what she means and means what she says.  Alice is only talking about one thing that she said, but the Mad Hatter attacks her as if she is saying that meaning what she says and saying what she means are always the same thing in each and every case.  Alice’s words could be interpreted either way, leading to the two conflicting interpretations.  Alice was only talking about something she said, but the Hatter thinks she is talking about everything she says.

all men are alikeIn the wake of Gamer Gate, the hashtag #notallmen became popular among those who think feminists unjustly vilify all men when complaining about particular incidents of sexism and harassment.  If someone says, “Men harass women“, are they saying that all men harass women or some men harass women?  It could be interpreted either way.  Those who are hostile to feminism hear it as an attack on all men, while those who are sympathetic to feminism hear it as an attack on some men, but not all men.  Those who want to defend men from some women interpret the words as speaking of all men in general, and those who want to defend women from some men interpret the words as speaking of some men in particular.

sonia sotomayorWhen Sonia Sotomayor was being considered for the Supreme Court, some Republicans (but not all) took issue with her having said that she would make an excellent judge because she is a wise Latina.  Was Sotomayor saying that she is wise like all Latinas, and thus wiser than white Republican congressmen, or was she saying that she is one wise person, who is also Latina?  It seems that some (but not all) Republicans who are afraid of Latinas criticizing white guys took it as a universal claim, like the Mad Hatter did Alice, while those who were sympathetic to seeing a Latina on the bench took it as a particular claim about Sotomayor herself.

Black_Lives_Matter_protestAs the Black Lives Matter protest movement began, some (but not all) who were outside the movement said that the movement was racist against white people, and some (but not all) tried to popularize the counter-phrase All Lives Matter, which was denounced by the Black Lives Matter activists.  Does “Black Lives Matter” mean that only black lives matter, or that black lives matter, or should matter, like other lives?  It seems that those who are hostile to the movement took it the first way, and those who are sympathetic to the movement took it the second way.

seigeIt seems when we feel that we are under siege, we interpret others as making all or none claims that have to be fought, and when we are sympathetic, we interpret others as making some or some-not claims, allowing for counterexamples and exceptions.  If we are under attack in a fort, we do not ask how many of the enemy should be allowed in, or to what extent.  If we are inviting the enemy in for negotiations, then we consider degrees of difference, and how much to make allowances.  This may be an open problem with communication that has no end.  We can never entirely define context, nor does there seem to be an end in sight to the arguments and hostilities between people.  However, we can increasingly become aware of how we get into conflicts with others, and how we can interpret things we and others say differently.

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