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Logic & Scientific Philosophy

Math Class Logic – Emily

There is a meme that I’m sure many of you have heard about:

Let us create a syllogism: Emily is a strong, independent black woman who don’t need no man.

Premise 1: A strong, independent black woman don’t need no man.

Premise 2: Emily is a strong, independent black woman.

Conclusion: Therefore, Emily don`t need no man.

Let us examine the syllogism: “a strong, independent black woman” is our middle term, A, and the first premise. “don’t need no man” is our predicate term, B, and the second premise. Finally, our conclusion and subject term, C, is “Emily”.

In this case, the argument is neither true nor valid, therefore not sound, since the conclusion is not logical based on the premises, which are also not true. However, neither premise is true: Emily is not black, therefore not a strong, independent black woman. Also, there is no evidence other than the aforementioned meme than strong, independent black women don’t need no man. Furthermore, if one counts the double negative, it means: “Emily is a strong, independent black woman who needs a man.” The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines “independent” as not requiring or relying on others. One would assume, based on this definition, that an “independent woman” would not need a man, really anything in general.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Math Class Logic – Emily

  1. I don’t think this is an argument. There’s no sign that there is an argument, no use of an indicator word like ‘since’ or ‘because’ that would indicate a premise or conclusion. As you observe, an argument constructed out of the statement would not be very strong at all. So it’s unreasonable to assume the person is making one.

    This is known as the ‘principle of charity’. It’s really important. It means that you should interpret someone’s words in the strongest light possible.

    Another case where the principle of charity applies is in the use of the double negative, ‘don’t need no man’. It is unreasonable to assume that the writer means she needs a man, even though that is what the words actually say. She means “I don’t need a man.” Or, “No man is a man that I need.”

    The strongest, most reasonable interpretation of this meme is that the author is making a *statement*, specifically:

    I am strong, and
    I am independent, and
    I am black, and
    I am a woman, and
    I don’t need a man.

    If you absolutely *must* make this into an argument, what would you do? Probably this:

    I am strong and independent black woman, thus
    I don’t need a man

    As stated, the argument is invalid. But again, the principle of charity comes into play. It tells you that you should *supply* the missing premise as *implicit* in the argument. You can’t criticize an argument just because the author failed to state a premise, especially one she would fee is obvious. So we ask, what premise would make the argument valid? And thus we have:

    No black woman who is strong and independent needs a man,
    I am strong and independent black woman, thus
    I don’t need a man

    This makes the argument valid. We’ve stated it in the strongest way possible. Only now are we allowed to criticize the argument. It’s really hard to criticize now, isn’t it? The second premise is clearly true – just look at the picture! So, the only place to criticize the argument is to criticize the first premise. But what could we do to show that “No black woman who is strong and independent needs a man” is false?

    Posted by Stephen Downes | October 4, 2012, 11:00 am
    • Thanks for your comment, Mr Downes. Thank you for pointing these corrections out; now looking at my post, I see many flaws in it that I missed when I created it in my tired-brain mode. I realize that I didn’t quite phrase this post as it was in my head. However, on your point about the principle of charity and the double negative, I had believed that the double negative fell under the category of fallacies of ambiguity for saying something in such a way that could be interpreted otherwise, even if it’s not what the person meant. Perhaps, if I have the time later, I can rewrite this post with the necessary corrections. Thanks again for your words of wisdom!

      Posted by anafricanswallow | October 5, 2012, 11:20 pm

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