Amuses

Periodic table

The one thing I used to love about chemistry was its periodic table. It ticks all the boxes: clean, concise, clear, colourful and complete. I was not very good at chemistry – well, not the first time around, in my Dutch Grammar school. That was because I could not get my head around the idea that you have to learn the periodic table (and more besides) off by heart, in the same way that you have to learn your tables of multiplication. Second time around, in my UK school, I quickly made up for old laziness and became quite good at it. So good, that they suggested I’d take a fifth A-level. Suggested is too weak a word, in fact. They wept (almost) and raved (a bit). But I declined. I knew there came a point in chemistry where things become too abstract to my liking (which is when I get frustrated and have to put many hours in working through examples).

I would have loved one of the big mugs with the periodic system on it, but as you now understand, I was not entitled (having dropped Chemistry after O level). Alas. So imagine my delight when I ran into the “periodic system of arguments” (see header image of this post). It has recently been constructed by a guy called Wagemans (Dutch or Belgian I assume), partly in collaboration with the university of Dundee. You might wonder just how I came across this? Well, from my previous post you know I had been going crazy over finding the right approach to finding and storing information about philosophical subjects. There are lots of aspects to this question, but one I did not (much) touch on, is which tool to use to map arguments. Now if you think I might be a bit crazy in my quest for knowledge, I am certainly not the only one. There is a wonderful site where someone has been collecting and reviewing all mind-map software in the world. Here I came across OVA+ which is an ontology-based mapper for arguments. It is developed on top of an argument specification interface which these guys also developed. Specifications are useful because once everyone is using the same one, you can change tools without having to change your data. Like LibreOffice and Microsoft, because of generally acknowledged document interchange format specifications.

I started to play around with this tool, but found out quickly that it uses a classification of arguments which I was not familiar with. And that is how I eventually ended up with Wageman’s periodic table for arguments. Which, I will say it again, I am in love with. I could never remember the long list of types of logical arguments and fallacies with wonderful Latin names like “ad hominem” or “a Minore ad Majorem” because there seemed to be no structure to them. This periodic table of arguments is the structure: clean, concise, clear, colourful and (hopefully) complete. I have done a rehash of the information and papers, with information and pictures mixed in from other sources. If you like, you can have a look on the concepts-side of my blog: click here for a direct link.

The general idea is this.

  • Take any argument, and decide on what is statement to be proven, and what is the evidence; separate them out (write them in separate sentences if necessary). For instance: I am taking the washing inside because it it starting to rain. The statement “I am taking the washing inside” is what is to be proven (x); the reason I do this, the premiss, is because it is starting to rain (y).
  • Next, decide on the subject and the predicates. Remember from school? The subject of the first sentence is “I” , the predicate is “taking the washing in”. The subject of the second is “It” or “Rain”, the predicate is “starting to rain”.
  • Next decide if the subjects are the same. They are not. Decide if the predicates are the same. They are not.
  • That means this argument belongs to the gamma-quadrant (=lower left) of the periodic table, which is of the form q (the to-be-proven statement, that I am taking the washing inside) is true because r (the premiss, that is is starting to rain) is true.
  • Now decide what kind of statements q and r actually are. The choices are: statement of fact(F), of policy(P= should, could, must) or of value (V). In this case, I would say that q is a policy statement, as it is my policy not to want to get the washing wet; whereas r is a statement of fact. This gives the argument the right to the colour purple (each 2-letter combination of F, P and V) has its own colour.
  • Now we have a complete classification: this is a 2nd order subject argument with a fact and a policy, shortened as “2 sub FP”. It may be an argument from consistency (the only purple block in the lower left quadrant), but as Wagemans has not elaborated on that one yet, I cannot be sure (I have written to him about it but he is on holiday).

I am excited about this, because it works just like my old biology field guide of which I was inordinately fond as a child. I still miss it, but good old internet remembers it:

So, what have I learned? Well, there are people as mad as I am who spend their time constructing beautiful models out of chaos. Plus, I now have a method to recognise any argument and work out its internal structure, without having to resort to a long list of curious names which I cannot remember anyway. Great. One problem down, a million-minus-one-or-two to go.

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