Language and Rhetoric
Language is a critical part of all our lives and a focal point of the FC lecture. How we express ourselves by our use of grammar and rhetoric can increase other's confidence in our competency, or, as the saying goes, listen to someone and they will tell you what they don't know.
Choosing your words carefully before speaking is crucial. Once something is said, there is no rewind, no delete, no getting it back. And as we know, pronunciation matters.
Language is a symbolic logic system. There is a subject and a verb: a something that has something happening to it. We can dress up our sentences with fancy adjectives and adverbs to aid in the rhetorical description of these somethings and what happens to them, but the truth is, sometimes it's how you say something that drives home its intended meaning. Consider the volume of your speech. If you yell, compared to whispering, both convey a meaning independent of what words are used, over-excitement or keeping a secret. If you don't hesitate, you are confident, well-rehearsed and more likely to be believed. Having conviction, and a circumscribed amount of positivism and passion in your communications will let others see that you not only believe in what you are saying, they should too. Rhetoric is an important device to attract the attention of people for some purpose, but is not the only thing that convinces others.
Arguments and Truth
Beyond rhetoric, we have to consider the truth of statements. This brings us to argument analysis. An argument is defined as a claim or statement supported by some evidence. The first part of an argument is the hypothesis. The second part (sometimes unstated) is the implication or assumption. Last is the conclusion. For example:
P = hypothesis, Q = conclusion :: P implies Q
Framing this argument mathematically:
x = 6 implies 2x = 12
This argument can also be restated:
if x = 6, then 2x = 12
We can say that the implication of the argument is valid whenever Q is true whenever P is true. However, if Q is false when P is true, the argument is invalid. For example:
if x = 0, then 2 + x = 5
If you are still reading, you are probably wondering how this is of any practical value. Considering the dearth of truth in today's internet culture and how much information we must sort through, we need a way to decipher arguments as true or false, valid or invalid.
To verify a source of information is sometimes tedious, but always worth the effort. Usually we are given some fact, event xyz occurred on date abc to person 123. These are verifiable. A person may then make the argument that person 123 is a victim of some crime, or that event xyz occurred differently than reported.
Claiming that a person is a victim requires proof of a crime and without evidence, the argument is hollow and invalid. Claiming that an event was misreported without supporting that claim with evidence is an equally bad argument. They are, without evidence, false. These conclusions are not facts, they are statements without evidence and are easily analyzed for truth or falsity based on evidence. The implications are that because the person making these false claims has conviction and is a savvy rhetorician, you should believe them. But these are nonetheless not facts. They are opinions lacking evidence. Truth matters. Facts can be verified. Opinions are like...well I'm sure you've heard the phrase about what everyone has one of.
The point is that if you want to believe something, that is your right, and no-one can take that belief away from you. If one observes the horizon appears straight and concludes the earth must be flat, we can buy that person a Flat Earth Society t-shirt. Beliefs do not always translate into facts. Unlike some beliefs, facts are measurable and can be proven.
What are some ways to verify an argument? We can test the assumption or the evidence: In the example above, the assumption is that the horizon's appearance is representative of the entire planet. The evidence is the person's vision and his or her comparison of the horizon to other straight objects. We know that that the length of the horizon is much different than objects we can handle and this apples to oranges comparison leads to flawed reasoning. It is also ignoring relevant evidence, like watching the sun's shadow as it moves over a well, if the Earth were flat, the shadow would not change shape as it passed over the well.
Identify flawed reasoning with these techniques:
- Does the argument compare categorically different things? Are apples being compared with oranges?
- Is an over-generalization being made based on too small a sample size?
- What, if any, relevant evidence is being ignored?
- Is the argument confusing cause with effect?
- Are there bad assumptions that lead to bottlenecks or failures in a plan based on an argument?
Keying in on these will arm you with multiple perspectives to better understand whether you can buy into an argument or an plan of action based on some argument by verifying its evidence's truth.
The fact is, without methods to validate an argument, Masonry would never admit members, either through the petitioning process or thereafter into the lodge room for degree work. We make statements of fact and create conclusions based on implications of those statements to advance candidates through our degrees, verifying every step of the way that a certain state of affairs exists.
By understanding how arguments work, and diving a bit deeper into logic, we can begin to see the wisdom, truth and beauty of the Supreme Grand Architect of the Universe. Otherwise, we are trapped in the darkness of sophistry and deception, grasping for what is true, but never laying hold of facts, only beliefs and unverifiable opinions, unstable as the sands of the sea twice-in twenty-four hours, when the tide ebbs and flows.
Summit Lodge #213