24 June 2007

Buridan's ass

Heard in the classroom
Some of you may have heard about this in a philosophy, theology or psych class. It's kind of a philosophical mind game. The idea is not new and has been around for centuries, initially articulated by Aristotle. Aristotle used an example of a man, equally positioned between food and water, remained unmoved because he was as hungry as he was thirsty.

Taking the idea a bit further, Buridan's ass is the paradox named after the 14th century French philosopher, Jean Buridan, which states that an "entirely rational ass, placed exactly in the middle between two stacks of hay of equal size and quality, will starve since it cannot make any rational decision to start eating one rather than the other." Buridan also stated, however, the will could delay the choice to study the outcomes of the choice.

Heard on the street
Personally, I never really believed the ass was rational. I think the hay stacks are obfuscating the real choice, that being between life and death. The dumb donkey either eats or starves. Not hard to see the better of the two choices here. That the hay stacks are equal, actually makes them no choice at all. One is neither better than the other, nor is it a choice of one being different than another, since in both cases you are merely choosing parts of the same.

This relates to a math problem in many respects. Algebra. Once you can group like objects together and assign them one variable, you are further on your way to solving the problem. Instead of having fruits, vegetables, desserts and such, you group them all together under the heading of "Food" and move on with the rest of the equation.

Pro-choice and pro-life are not equally good positions. They, the analogous haystacks, are so dissimilar morally, philosophically, religiously, in their outcomes, and in their effects, that they cannot be lumped together. These positions are not of equal "quality." Most people would define death as a bad, maybe not even in a moral or religious sense, but to not be on the planet to do as you please -- for those folks who follow that kind of thinking -- would find that being dead isn't so good. Partying is better than not existing. So, the opposite is true; life is good. Then, there is no dilemma here, no room for fence sitting. Buridan's ass would have to move in one direction -- life, over the other -- death.

Unless he wasn't a rational ass to begin with.


Terry Nelson said...

I feel like an ass for not leaving comments - had to say it!

Good post!

swissmiss said...

Carrying over the theme from your narcissism post, maybe this was written with you in mind!! LOL!

Terry Nelson said...

I knew it! I have a list and your name is on it! ;)

swissmiss said...
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