Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


NSA Need Not Look Here

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower of the NSA, is arguably one of the better-known crusaders for privacy. When he talks, people listen, which is why Tech Crunch reports:

According to Edward Snowden, people who care about their privacy should stay away from popular consumer Internet services like Dropbox, Facebook, and Google.

Anthony Ha “Edward Snowden’s Privacy Tips: “Get Rid Of Dropbox,” Avoid Facebook And Google”

The argument is made that those who value privacy ought to stay away from popular consumer Internet services. The argument can be broken down into this:

  1. Premise: People who care about privacy take measures to ensure their privacy
  2. Premise: Popular internet services do not ensure the privacy of their users
  3. Conclusion: Therefore people who care about their privacy should stay away from popular consumer Internet services

First, to determine the soundness of Snowden’s argument, we must ensure that the arguments are true/accurate.

  • Premise 1 can be contested, though is mostly accepted.

  • Premise 2 can be contested. Popular Internet services may not have privacy as their highest concern, it may be argued that Internet services are not antagonistic to privacy. Companies like Dropbox actively encrypt files transferred from you to their servers, and are also encrypted while they rest on their servers as well.

Therefore, the flaw in Snowden’s logic lies in premise 2, stating that popular consumer internet services do not ensure the privacy of their users. Though the form of the argument may be valid, premise 2’s error in its contents damages the truth of its premises, and consequently the conclusion reached.

The reason why Snowden may have come to this conclusion is another argument in itself. Though his idea of ‘privacy’ may differ from those of a layman, he should be aware that not all popular consumer internet services disregard privacy, though many do. This misconception may have come from numerous sensationalist titles of news articles:

The Guardian – “Apple’s Tim Cook attacks Google and Facebook over privacy flaws”
BBC News – “Google urged to change privacy rules by data regulators”
Reuters – “German privacy watchdog tells Google to restrict use of data”
ABC News – “How Hackers Got Private Photos Without Ever Breaching Snapchat’s Servers”
Dailymail UK – “We’re not reading your email or your iMessages’: Apple boss Tim Cook hits out at privacy claims following iCloud hacks”

The links above are just a few examples of headlines denouncing popular consumer Internet services like Google, Facebook, and Snapchat so it’s very likely for people to assume that social media and Internet services don’t have peoples’ privacy in mind. However, because many of these companies’ backbones consist of users’ information, they put in place many privacy measures that users can utilize. Though not saints of any kind, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Snapchat servers themselves rarely get hacked. However, the average consumer does not put privacy as the highest concern, resulting in shared or week passwords for multiple accounts, or the usage of third-party apps resulting in privacy issues unconcerning the companies themselves.

Though Snowden brings up a good point that those concerned with privacy should be more vigilant when approaching social media and internet services, privacy is not always in the hands of the company that holds the information. Though hacks on servers are not unheard of, many times the user themselves are what cause privacy-related problems. And because of that, not all people concerned with privacy should stay away from popular consumer internet services.





The Syllogisms of Seinfeld

Image courtesy of Uproxx

With many of us blogging examples of humour in Logic, this post on the Syllogisms of Seinfeld seemed worthy of sharing here, especially for its examination of examples of logical fallacies being used to specific purpose in comedy:

Roles of Essence — The logic or fallacy used serves as the essence of what makes it funny. In these cases other aspects might enhance the humor, but the logic or fallacy is precisely what makes it funny, such that without it there is no humor left.

Type #1 — Equivocation: the name of the most common informal fallacy used in humor and usually it is the essence of what is funny. Equivocation occurs when two different meanings or senses of the same word(s) are used as if equivalent. In humor equivocation is often played out with two people—where one person says something implying one meaning and the other person takes it as if another meaning was intended.

“I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism purely for the jokes.”
“And this offends you as a Jewish person?”
“No, it offends me as a comedian.”
– Jerry and Father Curtis, in “The Yada Yada”

The Role of Enhancer — the logic or fallacy adds to the essence of what is funny to make it even funnier.

Type #1 — Hasty Generalizations — occurs when a generalization is made from too few cases or, as often seen in humor, when the generalization is obviously not true as a literal statement (a clear exaggeration).

“So, what you are saying is that ninety to ninety-five percent of the population is undateable?”
“Then how are all these people getting together?”
– Elaine and Jerry, in “The Wink”

The Role of Mechanism — the logic or fallacy is what gets you from one thought to another. When formal logic takes on the role of mechanism, valid logic is used to get the reader or audience to make a certain inference from one idea to another.

“Well, behind every joke there’s some truth.”
“What about that Bavarian cream pie joke I told you? There’s no truth to that. Nobody with a terminal illness goes from the United States to Europe for a piece of Bavarian cream pie and then when they get there and they don’t have it he says, ‘Ah, I’ll just have some coffee.’ There’s no truth to that.”
– Sheila and Jerry, in “The Soup Nazi”




(no title)


Truth – actual state of matter – applied to premise (if one premise is false, the conclusion is false.)
Validity – correct form – containing premises from which the conclusion may logically be derived.

– Argument/theory is valid
– All of its premises are true

All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
Therefore Socrates is mortal

This argument is valid because the conclusion is true, along with the premises, and since the premises are true, this makes the argument sound.

An example of an argument that is valid, but not sound:

All birds with wings can fly
Penguins have wings
Therefore penguins can fly

Since the first premise is false, the argument, even though is valid, is not sound.


Correct example: Pro




The argument of this example is not true, due to the premises being incorrect. The premises are not true, therefore makes the argument not sound. The conclusion of this syllogism however is valid, as the conclusion follows from the premises.





A fallacy is an argument/ statement based of false or invalid interference.

Penguins are black and white
Some old tv shows are black and white
Therefore some penguins are old tv shows



Red Light, Green Light

A while ago, my dad was waiting at a red light when he was hit by a car from behind. The driver hit my dad’s car with a solid amount of force, causing it to bump into the car in front. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. That is, no humans were injured. Both the front and back of my dad’s car was more or less totaled, and car that hit my dad was also damaged. Funny thing was, my dad’s car was very much dented in the front, meaning that the car in front of him had been hit with considerable force. However, the driver did not stop after the accident. He (or she) simply drove away when the light turned green. He (I’ll use “he” from this point on) would of definitely felt the jarring bump and heard the crunch, but neither caused him to stop and inspect the damage. This part of the story brought about much speculation when my dad told everyone what happened. The driver that took off would have held no responsibility and would only be given enough money to repair his car if there was any damage. He held no blame. There was no reason to be afraid to stop… unless he was afraid of the people who would be at the scene. More specifically, the police.

This was more or less the point where the listeners of my dad’s story reached. If the driver chose to continue driving and get away, it must have because he wanted to avoid the police. Moreover, he did not want the police to identify him and his car.

The driver had stolen the car he was driving.

Therefore, he drove away from the accident to avoid the police.

This is an example of a logical fallacy, and more precisely, a false cause fallacy, or post hoc.

Event x causes event y:

x = the driver stole the car

y = he drove away from the accident to avoid the police

Under the presumption of the driver being a car thief, his act of driving away seems to make sense. However, the conclusion is an assumption, an unjustified reason to the action. Just because the driver didn’t stop, doesn’t mean he was avoiding the police. He could have been running late, so he chose not to stop. He could have decided not to stop because he knew the accident was not his responsibility. In driving away, he placed more distance between himself and the police, but that does not mean that was his intention.

The action of driving away from the accident is given a false cause. Though “y” is true, “x” is but a guess attempting to fill a gap in the unknown. Thus, a fallacy is created.



Vonnegut Logic

No names have been changed in order to protect the innocent. Angels protect the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.

-Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box (1999)

The writer is deciding whether or not to change the names of real-life people as he incorporates them into his story. He justifies his decision with his statement that places the protection of the people in the hands of angels, rather than his own. I decided put the statements into the form of a disjunctive syllogism.

Either by changing their names when they’re used in fiction, or by NOT changing their names when they’re used in fiction, the innocent is protected.

By angels following their Heavenly routine, the innocent is protected.

Therefore, by NOT changing their names when they’re used in fiction, the innocent is protected.

A= changing their names when they’re used in fiction

B= NOT changing their names when they’re used in fiction

C= innocent is protected

D= angels following their Heavenly routine

Either A or B is a C

D is a C

Therefore B is a C

(I may or may not have spent a considerable amount of time choosing the form in which Vonnegut’s point would make the most sense.)

This argument is invalid. It does not follow the form of a disjunctive syllogism, therefore is a formal fallacy. Because the writer cannot eliminate A or B, or simply chooses not to, he adds a D to create the conclusion he wants. In terms of truth, the second premise may or may not be true, as the existence of angels is very much up for debate. Under these circumstances, we will say this is false, creating an untrue conclusion. The writer is simply providing some sort of justification for not changing the names of the people he includes in his books. For all these reasons, the argument is not sound.

In this case, we are dealing with Kurt Vonnegut. In my humble opinion, it is simply Vonnegut throwing out a perfectly defendable reason to say “Watch me not care.”



Peter Parker Does Not Like People Looking At His Face. Because of Reasons.

Someone concealing their identity is doing it for nefarious reasons.

Spiderman conceals his identity

Therefore, Spiderman has nefarious reasons.

As a syllogism, this is valid:

A(someone concealing their identity) is(doing it because of) B(nefarious reasons)

C(Spiderman) is A(someone concealing their identity)

Therefore, C(Spiderman) is(doing it because of) B(nefarious reasons).

However, this syllogism is not true, as anyone familiar with the character of Spiderman can tell you. While the second premise is true (Spiderman does, in fact, wear a mask), the second one is not: Spiderman wears a mask to protect his enemies hurting the people close to him, something that is generally agreed to be far from nefarious.

The logic that J. Jonah Jameson, as well as many other authorities in the Spiderman mythos, use to justify their persecution of the web-slinger is an example of a logical fallacy, more specifically a fallacy of sweeping generalization. The first premise takes something that is true for some parts of a category, and makes into something that is true for all of a category.

In this case it takes the category of people who conceal their identity, and says that it’s true in all cases that they have nefarious reasons for doing so. While this is true for some them–bank robbers, for instance–it is certainly not true for all. While this is a valid syllogism, it is neither true or sound.

Also, J. Jonah Jameson can be little bit crazy. Look at those eyes. It’s terrifying.



She Turned Me Into a Newt!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrzMhU_4m-g?rel=0&w=560&h=315]



The peasants in this video believe the woman is a witch. Why? “She looks like one.”

This, however, is not good enough for the knight, Sir Bedevere, a man of science. He proposes a simple way to determine her guilt.

What do the people do with witches? Burn them.
And what  burns, other than witches? Wood.
Well then, why do witches burn? Because they’re made of wood.
How do we find out, then, if she is made of wood?
Does wood sink in water? No, it floats.
What else floats in water? A duck.

So, logically…
If she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood.
And if she’s made of wood, she is therefore a witch.

To summarize:

1. All witches are things that can burn.
2. All things that can burn are made of wood.
3. Therefore, all witches are made of wood. (1 & 2)
4. All things that are made of wood are things that can float.
5. All things that weigh as much as a duck are things that can float.
6. So all things that weigh as much as a duck are things that are made of wood. (4 & 5)
7. Therefore, all witches are things that weigh as much as a duck. (3 & 6)
8. This thing is a thing that weighs as much as a duck.
9. Therefore, this thing is a witch. (7 & 8)

There are many ways that these premises are invalid and this argument unsound, which have been further deconstructed here. But even at a glance, we know that not everything that burns is made of wood, weighing the same as a duck does not guarantee flotation, etc.

In the Monty Python world, this kind of logic exists often. It helps to introduce the type of humour used in Python as well as how ridiculous they can be. I find Monty Python’s use of humour to be quite entertaining and effective.



Our Entire Existence Hinges on a Salamander

Humans drive a rare salamander, and themselves, toward extinction – latimes.com


The L.A. Times published an article only today about a rare salamander, the ajolote (or axolotl), and how they are being driven to extinction by human pollution and introduction of nonnative species in the canals of Xochimilco near Mexico City. The ajolote’s incredible ability to regenerate limbs, heart cells, and fragments of its brain was also heavily stressed, as well as the possible beneficial application in human biosciences.

And if you don’t think that could have some application in the human biosciences, your own brain could use a tuneup.

But the article makes the jump from “oh hey that might be cool, that would be nice and helpful to have when we have medical emergencies” to “OMG THE HUMAN RACE WILL BE ELIMINATED IF WE DON’T RESCUE THIS SALAMANDER”:

…we wind up killing off the one creature that can save us as a species.

This article continues to tell us that the ajolotes are imperative to our survival:

What do you care about some slimy, unprepossessing little critter in another country? Plenty. Or you should, if you care about yourself and your progeny on this planet.

…even if you think (idiotically) that human survival isn’t dependent on the survival of the chain of creatures great and small who share our ecosystem…

…there’s every chance that the very species we just laid waste and sent blithely into extinction may be the very one that holds the key to save us from ourselves…

Nice work, people of Earth.

I find several fallacies going on here, and correct me if I’m wrong. First of all, I see judgmental language – insinuating that something is wrong with your brain if you don’t agree with them. This also pops up again when the article calls you idiotic if you don’t believe that human survival depends on other creatures in the ecosystem, something important to their argument. Secondly, there is an appeal to emotion when the writers of the article imply that if you don`t care about the ajolote, you don’t care about “yourself and your progeny on this planet”. Finally, there is an example of what I think is an ad hominem attack:”Nice work, people of Earth.” They blame the people of Earth (you included) for the near-extinction of the ajolote which, in their argument, means the extinction of humanity.




Cliche Quotes

Not all that glitters is gold. That is, unless you’re Smash Mouth or a rich lady in a Led Zeppelin song. The aforementioned quote is quite a famous and rather cliche one featured in the likes of Shakespeare’s plays and Chuck Norris jokes, and many things inbetween.

At a glance one may say yes, the statement is logical. I mean, this argument just breathes soundness. Or does it?

To turn this statement into a syllogism one may arrange it so that it says:

Not all that glitters is gold

Gold glitters

Therefore, gold is not all that glitters

Bam. Valid. I’m sure we can all agree that not all that glitters is gold, however, looking at the other premise now begs the question: does gold really glitter?

And the answer to that, dear readers, is not always. Here is an example of a fallacy of presumption, where it is assumed that all gold glitters when gold, particularly in its raw and impure form, does not always glitter. So then, how could one save this syllogism?

Not all that glitters is gold

Gold does not always glitter

Therefore, gold is not all that glitters

It’s interesting because even though one of the premises are untrue, the conclusion that can be drawn is the same for both syllogisms.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHFxncb1gRY]



A Fallacy of Sherlock Holmes

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever left, however improbable, must be the truth.”


This is famously stated by the character of Sherlock Holmes, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes is known for his investigational skills, and I can look at this quote and understand how it could be practically applied and effective. However, from a purely logical stand point, I also see flaws in this approach.


After sifting around on the internet for more information about this quote, and reading the opinions of several fellow bloggers, I began to see an obvious hole in the argument. However, it was only when I tried to fit it into a syllogism (using the disjunctive form) that I saw it exactly.


Essentially, the disjunctive syllogism of this quote would go like this.


Either solution A, B, C, D, or E is true.

Solution B is not true.

Solution C is not true.

Solution D is not true.

Solution E is not true.

Therefore, solution A is true.


This syllogism, on its own, is valid. If there is a finite number of possible solutions (five was an arbitrary number I chose for the purposes of this post) then the approach that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever left, however improbable, must be the truth” is not only valid, but sound. If there are a certain number of possibilities, and all but one are proven to be false, then the one remaining must be true. Makes sense.


Yet this is where the problems arise. I quickly realized that for myself to be able to put the quote into a formal syllogism, I would have to decide on a set number of possible solutions. Yet how can one ever determine that they have considered every single solution? One may go over the practical solutions, the ones which seem the most likely, but one cannot say without a shadow of doubt that they have considered and disproven every single possibility under the sun. Even if the person, in this case Sherlock Holmes, missed a single possibility, then he cannot say that solution A is true. What if he missed solution Z? As suggested by the quote itself, we are to believe that only ONE solution can be true. Following this rule, solution A and solution Z cannot both be true. In this way, the great detective would be committing a formal fallacy.


However, I am also not going to say that this means of coming to a conclusion is not useless. In many situations, the possible solutions an individual could come up with on his own could be broad enough to cover all the likely options, and once all the impossible solutions were ruled out, the one left over may have a very high chance of being “true”. Yet to say “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever left, however improbable, must be the truth” is not valid. There is not a finite number of solutions, so not every solution but one can be ruled out, and that means that a single conclusion can never be reached.