One of the things that professors of philosophy and logic should teach very early on is the importance of the distinction between a “universal” affirmative proposition, such as “All bloggers are boring,” and a “particular” affirmative proposition, such as “Some bloggers are boring” or, to put the latter a bit more carefully, “At least some bloggers are boring.” Another thing is the importance of expressing that distinction when failure to do so may be significant.
Bringing this up is a reflection of but one part of a broader concern I have, that the level of political discourse in today’s United States is being negatively affected by a lack of knowledge of, or concern for, the requirements of elementary logic.
A recent case in point appears in the November 23 post by Keith Burgess-Jackson, “Journalism,” to his blog, well, Keith Burgess-Jackson. The post reads:
The dishonesty of the mainstream media continues apace. It’s a fact that American Muslims celebrated the attacks of 9-11, as the Washington Post reported at the time. How many did so remains to be determined. Donald Trump is far more honest than the typical “reporter.”
To state it as Professor Burgess-Jackson does, as “It’s a fact that American Muslims celebrated the attacks of 9-11,” leaves it, however, somewhat ambiguous as to whether the fact being asserted is that all American Muslims celebrated the attacks of 9-11 or merely that at least some American Muslims celebrated the attacks of 9-11. I myself would be surprised if either it turned out that all American Muslims celebrated the attacks or it did not turn out that at least some did.
Similarly, if some denizen of the far left were to state, “It’s a fact that American Republicans celebrated the Oklahoma City bombing,” that too would leave it somewhat ambiguous as to whether the fact being asserted was that all American Republicans celebrated the bombing or merely that at least some American Republicans celebrated the bombing. I myself would have been surprised if all American Republicans had celebrated it and equally surprised if it did not turn out that at least some did.
Now, assuming that it turns out that not all, but at least some, American Muslims celebrated the attacks of 9-11, the question might then be raised of how many did. As Burgess-Jackson rightly, at least on the assumption at hand, observes, “How many did so remains to be determined.” That observation seems to suggest that Burgess-Jackson himself entertains some doubts about how well-founded the rough number, “thousands” or “thousands and thousands,” advanced by Donald Trump earlier this month is:
Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/us/politics/donald-trump-syrian-muslims-surveillance.html
That makes Burgess-Jackson’s claim that “Donald Trump is far more honest than the typical ‘reporter’” a bit mysterious, for if making a statement that may be false is not in and of itself proof of dishonesty, still neither is it one of honesty.
Until next time.