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Logic & Scientific Philosophy

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.”

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Discussion

One thought on “Vonnegut Logic

  1. I wouldn’t call this an explanation. Explanations look a lot like arguments, but instead of showing that a proposition is true, they explain *why* a proposition is true.

    No names were change. *why*? Because the angels will protect the innocent.

    Explanations are judged according to different criteria. We already know that whatever is being explained is true. We ask questions like, ‘is this the best explanation?’, ‘can the explanation be tested?’, etc.

    Posted by Stephen Downes | October 7, 2012, 4:32 am

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