Tuesday, May 07, 2013

And Stop Calling Me Shirley

Speaking of nonexistent connexions once again: as a non-academic, an autodidact, and a Bear of Very Average Brain besides, I'm always on the lookout for the givens in an argument, the unfounded and unquestioned assumptions from which the rest of the assertions flow. Like we learned in geometry class, it doesn't matter how many elaborate steps follow in a proof if your given is flawed. On that note, I can appreciate the usefulness of Daniel Dennett's little heuristic:

Not always, not even most of the time, but often the word “surely” is as good as a blinking light locating a weak point in the argument. Why? Because it marks the very edge of what the author is actually sure about and hopes readers will also be sure about. (If the author were really sure all the readers would agree, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning.) Being at the edge, the author has had to make a judgment call about whether or not to attempt to demonstrate the point at issue, or provide evidence for it, and—because life is short—has decided in favor of bald assertion, with the presumably well-grounded anticipation of agreement. Just the sort of place to find an ill-examined “truism” that isn’t true!

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