Syllogisms for the timid

(A->B)\>(B->A)Today I shall be conducting a lesson in logic for the fearful. Having observed at first hand the deleterious effects of mild peril on the rational abilities of the trembling classes, I think it’s only fair to start from the very start. So, what is a syllogism? Defined by Aristotle, a syllogism is the basis of deductive reasoning, in which a conclusion is inferred from two premises. For example:

  1. All men are mortal.
  2. Socrates is a man.
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Seems fine, right? And indeed, mortals and minor television celebrities alike have been using such inference systems (whether wittingly or not) since the birth of civilisation, or at least since their shows got greenlighted (-lit?). Of course there’s more to it than this; quantification and set theory get involved, but if you can comprehend the above example, you’re fully equipped to enter into philosophic debate with the best of them. Indeed Socrates, as implied above, is quite dead – you have the upper hand over one of the finest minds in history.

Of course, as with any fine tool, the syllogism is open to abuse (“I placed the can-opener in my rectum all the better to grip the handle, officer”). Consider the following example, beloved of politicians and football managers:

  1. Something must be done.
  2. This is something.
  3. Therefore, we must do this.

This faulty yet plausible-looking reasoning has landed us at various points with the Millennium Dome, the 3-day week, the asymmetric mullet and the sweeper formation. Dangerous, n’est-ce pas? Oh, my friends, you have no idea.

I come at this point to the very fulcrum of my lesson, the personal experience which drove me to attempt to educate the quivering masses. A very specific line of reasoning, the example runs (as best I can tell) thus:

  1. Terrorists exist.
  2. They have hair.
  3. Therefore, we should take away Simon’s shampoo.

Over the course of a 48-hour sojourn to Dublin, I have been relieved of: one bottle of Loreal Elvive shampoo; one bottle of Garnier Fructis shampoo (purchased, with official blessing, to replace the former); two bottles of Mint Source shower gel; and one can of Nivea under-arm deodorant (“Silk” fragrance). In this manner, apparently, was the safety of the British Isles preserved for another slightly smelly day.

Timid people of the world; hear me! My shampoo does not threaten you with anything more worrisome than blinding glossiness. The number of times my hair wax has successfully exploded a jet full of innocents can be counted on Abu Hamza’s right hand (oops). That one time I laid waste to an opulent and arrogant western civilisation using only my armpits was indeed an unfortunate incident, but I have learnt from my mistakes, and moved on. Please, I beg of you; let me shower in peace, and stop placing the logical can-opener that is syllogism in the metaphorical rectum of your fear. It just makes it, and me, smell shitty.

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