Found on a website…

ARI has shipped 1.1 million books as part of the “Free Books for Teachers” program. So if the books have a lifespan of four to five years, then four to five million students are reading Ayn Rand’s novels in their English classes. By the end of the decade, over seven million kids will have read Ayn Rand.

Aside from the fact that I think it’s scary someone wants kids to read Rand (I think her greatest accomplishment is that she wrote thick books) this is also a great example of what we philosophers like to call a ‘fallacy.’

Aside from working on the thesis, getting well and moving offices (and who says a man can’t multitask) I am slowly building up a store of new examples for PHIL105, the class I am ‘triumphantly’ returning to in the summer semester.

So why is this a good example, you might ask? And has it anything to do with Conspiracy Theories? The answer to the latter is no, unfortunately (unless you think the actions of the ARI are malacious, covert and out to achieve some ignoble end). In regards to the former question, well…

The arguer assumes that the unsolicited books are going to be put to use in the classroom. This is, of course, not necessarily the case. I’m no expert on North American schools, but I suspect they have a curriculum, assigned texts and, of course, limited teaching time. Most teachers tend to select books based upon their knowledge of the work, how useful they think it has been in the past, et cetera. A new, unsolicited text, unless highly recommended, probably isn’t going to creep into the reading list. Sure, some whackjob teacher might end up using it, but I suspect a lot of them will end up in the bookstall at the school fair.

What kind of fallacy is this an example of? It’s an example of insufficient evidence; the arguer assumes that, by the end of the decade, over seven million kids will have read Ayn Rand. Structure-wise, it looks a little like this:

P1. ‘The Fountainhead’ is available as an assignable reading in sixty-two percent of New Zealand secondary schools.
Therefore, probably,
C1. It has been found useful in many New Zealand secondary schools.
Therefore (probably),
C2. ‘The Fountainhead’ might be a useful assigned reading for secondary-aged children.

Yes it might, but might does not imply is (somewhere, out there, a philosopher giggles).

This kind of fallacy is common; the fact that five million copies of a certain book have been sent out to schools throughout a country is just an empty claim if there is no further evidence or theory to base an argument about. You might as well argue that as Bibles are found throughout a majority of houses in New Zealand then most New Zealanders are Christian. The former does not imply the latter without further justification.

Enough of that. Work to do. Back to the paucity of postings.

As Seen by Rachel Hunter

I’m currently reading “Unexplained New Zealand: Ghosts, UFOs and Mysterious Creatures” by Julie Miller and Grant Osborn. It’s “interesting” thus far; i’s just a catalogue of haunted sites from post-colonial New Zealand with little theory as to how and why. Chapter Three, however, is a collection of sightings by celebrities. It doesn’t present the material explicitly as “And here are famous people you admire who claim to have seen ghosts; must be something to it” but the implication is there. We get a litany of celebrities such as Peter Jackson, Sir Edmund Hilary and… Rachel Hunter. I can’t really judge her as an expert; I’m no follower of former fashion models, but whilst these people might well be examples of New Zealanders who have excelled in their field I can’t really imagine them to be examples of clear and critical reasoners. Hilary, for one, has been responsible for some fairly weird statements about conservation, eco-tourism and the like (and made the unfortunate mistake of not condemning outright the theory that the Celts got to New Zealand first).

I’m not sure whether I’ve written about the fallacious appeal to authority and I’m not sure I need to. Some of us will remember the ad for painkillers fronted by one of the actors from “The Flying Doctors:”

Hi, I’m not a doctor but I do play one on TV. When pain persists I use…

I don’t seem to recall it lasting particularly long; I think the public rightly found it laughable. Still, such appeals seem to fool certain parts of the population and it’s probably because we value celebrity in a fairly obnoxious way (which could be cultural or it might just be a biological urge; evolution has done some funny things to the development of our psyche (he says in such a way that it seems to suggest it could have been formed otherwise)). Beliefs, such as those found in ghosts, which are usually frowned upon seem to gain some kind of weird, context-specific, justification if you find out so-and-so also believes it. This seems true of Conspiracy Theories; much is made (on the interweb) of the fact that Charlie (sorry, Charles) Sheen not only thinks 9/11 was an inside job but that he believes it so fervently that he wants to narrate the third edition of “Loose Change.”

Convinced? I wasn’t….That’s what people like me think, anyway.

Hmm.

(A short note, seeing that I’ve just finished the book. It seems that a lot of sightings of anomalies are often made by the same person and this seems suspicious, but as I was deliberating what to make of it there was a section on the catching of the record-breaking colossal squid that was caught a few years back off the coast of Aotearoa and the skipper of that trawler was responsible for catching the last record-breaking colossal squid. Sometimes these things happen; no one said probability theory was intuitive.)

Postscript

I wrote this post several days before Sir Edmund Hillary died. I make no apologies for the tone in re his intellect. He did do great things with ‘Citizens for Rowling,’ after all.