Tag Archives: Thomas Cathcart

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.”