On What Grounds Are You John?

I was thinking about arguments, and Paul Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement. These thoughts weren’t spontaneous: I get accused of various bad forms of argument quite a bit; especially by people who believe themselves to be above such things, and usually right after they have committed one of the same.

For the most part, it doesn’t bother me, but it is quizzical. Not just for the hypocrisy (Hypocrisy is often closer to virtue than vice in my book.), but because my frame of reference for appropriate debate is how it’s done in scripture. It is full of name-calling and ad hominem. Jesus, and all the heroes of the Bible, seems to use the whole range of the argument pyramid in their arguments; even name-calling. In the first conflict between those of the Old Testament, and those of the New, the pharisees approach John the Baptist to be baptized and he quickdraws on them, “You brood of vipers!”

I guess John the Baptist never heard of Paul Graham.

One oft-considered fallacious argument that Graham does not rank is the appeal to authority; though he does sort of slide it under ad hominem. For what I hope are obvious reasons: I love the appeal to authority. It’s probably my favorite.

The remarkable thing about the rejection of authority is not so much, “Where would we be without it”, but, “Who would you be?” The closer we get to the basic facts about who you are, the less we really know and the more we just argue beliefs of ourselves on pure authority.

How do you know how old you are? Do you remember it? Do you know where you were born like you know where you were last week? You were surely there, but you just take it on authority that the month and date and place of your birth is what is actually recorded on your birth certificate.

On what grounds is your name, say, John? You answer to it. You tell people to call you that, but all you know is that people have been calling you that for a long time, and you respond to it. Sure, you can go to some bureaucracy and change your name, and then you can know that your name is Bubbles or whatever, but how can you know before that without resorting to pure authority?

There is at least one thing that is sure evidence of who you are: Your resemblances to your father and mother. If I’ve seen them, I can know whether you belong to them, or not. The entirety of your provable and demonstrable identity rests upon how well others can match you to your parents. And what is parentage but physical and mental authorship?

Turns out there’s a lot more, “You were thought of, and so you are”, than, “I think therefore I am”.

11 thoughts on “On What Grounds Are You John?

  1. “Turns out there’s a lot more, “You were thought of, and so you are”, than, “I think therefore I am”.”

    I dig it.

  2. Wow, a short post. I dig that, too. LOL,.

    But seriously, I liked this part:

    For what I hope are obvious reasons: I love the appeal to authority. It’s probably my favorite.

    It’s actually one of my favorite, as I’ve been told that I tend to be a person moved more by duty than anything else. Not sure if that’s true, but I liked that part nonetheless.

  3. @Empath and Elspeth

    Yes, short post and short paragraphs with you in mind. Fret not: There are big ol’ honkin’ posts still in the works. Probably not the next one though, so enjoy you’re reprieve.


    Understanding who we are based on who we resemble is central to understanding what we are to be doing and why. “I think therefore I am” is a basis for self-reference. The truth is, we couldn’t be aware of thinking unless someone told us that’s what we were doing, nor could Descartes have expressed it unless someone taught him language. More: There is no reason for language unless we begin from the premise that there are others who are trying to communicate with us–that there is an outside of us. If Descartes has devised a way to track his thoughts and separate them from the rest of the motions of the world without relying on others’ language, and others premises of the idea of “thought” he would have better ground to make his assertions. In fact, He’d be God.

    Without the context of someone outside you’re a system. Systems don’t think. The earth does not think, though it exists, and the basis of it’s existence is that we know it as something separate from ourselves.

    And don’t think I don’t know you commented on this one because it’s short!

  4. I like logic.

    HA! Maybe because your main idea was concise and clear, and profound for me. I actually liked your last two posts quite a bit. Maybe everybody needs pictures. Stick one in here and there of flowers and sunsets and the complaints about long posts will go away?

  5. I’ll join in the general chorus on length. Short is good. If you have a long one coming up find logical “chapters” and spread them out.

    On the post itself. I think there is something to be said about “using the whole pyramid”. Calling them a brood of vipers is not fine _if_ that’s all that is done. John doesn’t stop at the name, he piles on the facts.

    There’s also a time and place for it. We can’t jump to the names. The vipers in question had plenty of warning that _something_ was up.

    As to the rest. Down with pure Empiricism! Yes measuring things is nice. Yes it useful. Yes it should be done. But for God’s sake people it isn’t the only method of knowing things and if it was we would be in a sorry state.

  6. @Joanna

    Sunset, coming right up…

    Sunset behind a mountain...of bodies.


    I do try. The last post was 2500 words. If this were a 100,000 word novel, it would have 40 chapters. Not too bad.

    For most of us, most of the time, pure empiricism doesn’t factor into our lives at all. Do you know how many times that I’ve climbed onto a ladder rated for 250 lbs without verifying the rating? All of them.

    And I actually need to.

    ( Arthistory.CC and its contents, text and graphics are copyright © 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996 Wicap Interactive. All Fantasy Images are copyright © by their respectful owners and if you as an author of these images want to be linked or have your name published, just mail me. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

    All History of art information are copyright © Nicolas Pioch, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  7. Down with pure Empiricism!

    Now I’m the one who is hurt….

    Not really. I get the point and agree, the empiricism ad tedium is, well, tedious and is one of the more well worn rabbit trails running through the sphere

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