Tag Archives: reading

Books: Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington

I’ve recently completed “Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington” by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. I bought 3 analogue books (hardcover, i.e. not eBooks) of these authors translated to Russian more than year ago and only now managed to read one of them 🙂 The fact that these books were lying around for such a long time made me think that I should fully switch to eBooks – it at least saves some free space at home 🙂

In this book wrapped into humor, satire and anecdotes about US political arena you may find quite a few ideas/concepts from formal logic and epistemology which is quite in line with book’s subtitle “Understanding Political Doublespeak through Philosophy and Jokes”. Book actually touches a bit on epistemology, definition of truth, formal logic and quite thoroughly covers common argument fallacies but it is written in a way that you can consume it as an easy read without noticing this.

I especially liked the following in this book:

Chapter with tiny recap of definitions of truth. Book does not discuss in details classical account of knowledge spoiled by Edmund Gettier who introduced cases where classical account of knowledge fails, but it covers correspondence theory of truth (Bertrand Russell), coherence theory of truth (Hilary Putnam) and pragmatic theory of truth (Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, John Dewey). Book also suggest that it seems that former French president Jacques Chirac introduced his own theory according to which words which were said to journalist true if, and only if, they can be “recorded and published in press” 🙂 .

Comprehensive overview of formal and informal argument fallacies covered by this book, which includes: appeal to authority, force argument or appeal to the stick (argumentum ad baculum), thesis replacement or irrelevant conclusion (ignoratio elenchi), appeal to hatred or appeal to spite (argumentum ad odium), argument from ignorance/appeal to ignorance (argumentum as ignoratiam), weak analogy, slippery slope argument, appeal to nature, appeal to human (argumentum ad hominem), appeal to hypocrisy or “you too!” (tu quokue!), mind projection fallacy, quoting out of context (aka contextomy/quote mining), equivocation, appeal to authority (argumentum ad verecundiam), accepting blame with condition, idea of kairos from classical rhetoric (eukairos and kakakairos). who is speaking? (qui dicit?), with this hence because of this (cum hoc ergo propter hoc aka “correlation does not imply causation“), after this hence because of this (post hoc ergo propter hoc) and so on.

What’s important this overview is easy to read. Whether they are fallacies or tricks to use depends on your vantage point 🙂

Selected biographies of some talkers and demagogues in the end of the book. They are funny and reminded me the same historical writing style you can find in “An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2000 Years Of Upper Class Idiots In Charge)” by John O’Farrell.

Tiny bit of critique of “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” for bad use of statistics. Book hints that some of brilliant and unexpected conclusions which made this book bestseller do not seem to be justified, but sometimes we accept something like that just because it unusual and so on, without examining author arguments deeply enough. Actually “Freakonomics” was used to illustrate post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. But stories from that book so appealing to re-tell to others with a bit of suspense before you present conclusions that it is no wonder that this book sales exceeded 4 million copies.

I guess I will move on and finally start reading two other books I bought earlier along with this one – “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes” and “Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between.

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The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

As I’m trying to cultivate a habit of reflecting on whatever information I consume I’m trying to write a blog post on each book I read. Recently I completed “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair which I started to read with no knowledge about the author or plot apart from phrase that “this book propelled author’s political career” or something like this.

I allowed myself a bit of Wikipedia reading once I done with the book and it is interesting to see that there was a “Federal response” to the book by President Theodore Roosevelt who described this book as a “crackpot” because of the writer’s socialist positions. And to quote author of the book on socialism, he said in 1951:

“The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label.”

Upton Sinclair, Letter to Norman Thomas (25 September 1951)

Irrespectively on whether you think socialism is a crackpot or not the book is worth reading unless you are that type of “oversimplify it” person who would never read anything like “Das Kapital” and employ the joke that “this book would have better to be burnt before it had seen the light as it had produced too many bloodshed, revolutions and couple of evil empires” as an excuse to not reading what that bearded guy meant to say to begin with.

First quarter or even half of this book is amazingly vivid description of squalor and hardships of wage worker at the time where wage slavery was a commonplace. But book take you through couple of cycles and unexpected turns through the eyes of naive Lithuanian immigrant to US who hoped to find his happiness doing decent work in The Yards.

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Union Stock Yards, Chicago, 1947 (source)

My initial impression was that it you lack enthusiasm or excitement about your current job or workplace you should read this book it with switch your perception a little bit I’m sure. But as the story goes on and book elaborates on unscrupulous practices of business owners and world of politics you gradually will be returning back to reality thinking that in a way world does not changed as much as our shiny media channels present it to us (and given the fact that you have an ability to select your media channel you may end up living in “echo chamber” of reality of your choice where your view of the world supported by media and evidence which you selected just because it supports your view). Anyhow I had a chance to work on production line just a little bit at some point in my life and thanks god it was not meat production (but there was a chance to end up there at one point of my life 🙂 ) and yes conditions are better but not radically as essentially the model is the same and with overwhelming win of consumerism and demonstrative consumption in society you may feel divide between wage worker and office staff even sharper: I still remember interesting feeling when while signing off from short stitch as a worker on production line I had to get some sign off from person responsible for personal’s food and on that occasion I had to visit administrative personnel canteen donned in my dirty working suit causing glances from neatly dressed administrative personnel. This is one thing to know that some people have separate canteen and sitting in clean office while you doing your shift in the noisy and and dusty environment of production line, and completely another to be exposed to such contrast – I kind of felt the divide and that type of “you don’t belong there” attitude back then. In short working conditions definitely way better nowadays but not as radically different as some dreamers or careless optimists never caring to look around them may think.

After author almost reaches the peak of his depiction of how poor life conditions may destroy one’s optimism, health and even system of values in life book takes unexpected turn. And here I can quote the book I guess:

“They were trying to save their souls—and who but a fool could fail to see that all that was the matter with their souls was that they had not been able to get a decent existence for their bodies?”

The first turn is towards showing dirty politics and defunct society system which I guess would be amazing read for somebody who takes for granted American hyper efficient image of dream state of freedom and equal opportunities which it projects masterfully with barrage of Hollywood movies and what not else. I guess I can recommend “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff for those who need more up to date reality check to contrast image with reality.

And quite unexpectedly (for me, as I don’t read anything neither about author or about the book), our fallen and corrupt by the life on the bottom of Chicago’s society protagonist, which it seems about to die because of his miserable life conditions within a few pages or so, discovers new wonder and purpose and hope – socialism. And this is what is being uncovered in the last quarter of the book giving it a sort of almost happy end if you can call it so giving what had happened to our hero in the first half of the book.

And apart from socialism last jump or twist is on public healthcare in general and eating meat in particular – quite an interesting to see a passage arguing that meat producing industry is largely profit-driven attempt to earn on poor species whose brains not only programmed to be “pattern recognition machines” but, alas, also “pleasure seeking machines” and in more healthy “socialist” society moving away from meat consumption would be sort of natural and unavoidable.

Anyhow this was a strong book which worth reading and to conclude just one more quote from the book to spark your interest maybe:

“And now in the union Jurgis met men who explained all this mystery to him; and he learned that America differed from Russia in that its government existed under the form of a democracy. The officials who ruled it, and got all the graft, had to be elected first; and so there were two rival sets of grafters, known as political parties, and the one got the office which bought the most votes.”

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