Monthly Archives: May 2017

What is a syllogism?

It came to my attention last week, that I often use a word in class that many people don’t have a clear understanding of . That word is ‘syllogism’. The word itself dates back to ancient Greece and is a combination of two parts – ‘syll-’ (derived from ‘syn-’ meaning ‘with’ or ‘together’ – for example, ‘syllable’, ‘syllabus’, ‘syllepsis’, ‘synthesis’, ‘synthetic’, ‘synoptic’, ‘syntactic’, etc) and ‘-logos’ (meaning ‘reason’, ‘word’, ‘idea’, ‘theory’ or ‘discourse’ eg ‘logic’, ‘psychology’, ‘geology’ (and almost any other science you care to name), ‘logocentric’, ‘logorrhoea’, etc.), so that the word ‘syllogism’, etymologically speaking, means a combination of distinct ideas. The word itself was first used by Aristotle in his Prior Analytics, which is also the source for the term ‘logic’.

For Aristotle, logic had two meanings: dialectic and analytic and it was the latter meaning which was understood in terms of syllogism. Aristotle’s theory of syllogism effectively defined the field of logic for over two thousand years. His key texts in logic were widely used during the Roman empire, but after the collapse of the empire in the 5th century AD, these texts were lost in the Latin Western Europe. However the texts were preserved in their original Greek in the Eastern Byzantine Empire and after the rise of Islam in the 8th century AD, many of these texts were translated into Arabic. The dispute between the Platonist Avecinna and the Aristotelian Averroes was an important stimulus to the development of medieval philosophy, especially the theology of Aquinas. It is only since the start of the 20th century that philosophers such as Frege, Russell, and Quine have discussed non-Aristotelian (syllogistic) forms of logic.

Despite its long history, a syllogism has a very precise meaning. It is the connection between two propositions (known as premises) which imply a conclusion. A classic example of a syllogism is as follows:

Socrates is a man

All men are mortal

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

The first two propositions are the premises; the final proposition is the conclusion. The conclusion follows logically from the premises. In technical terms, the conclusion is deduced from the premises; and this deduction is indicated by the expression ‘therefore’.

There is much more that can be said about syllogism – its components and conditions, for example – but to understand that the relationship between the three propositions is a logical relationship (as against, say, a temporal relation – eg ‘This happened, and then that happened, and then something else happened’ as so often occurs in narrative or story telling – is to understand the key feature of the syllogism.


Should humans be allowed to marry robots?

What is marriage? We all know what it means, don’t we? Traditionally it has been conceived as a legally recognised union between a man and woman. This is still the accepted view amongst a large number of Christian and conservative people. However in recent years, there has been a move to allow gay and lesbian people to marry – commonly called ‘same sex marriage’. This move has prompted a lot of debate about the nature of marriage. Is marriage to be defined exclusively in terms of its traditional connotation reflecting past values and arrangements or should the definition be extended to include more modern relationship arrangements?

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalised same sex marriage across the US. In its decision, the court emphasised that in a free society, individuals have the ‘fundamental right’ to choose the relationships that they pursue. No doubt this debate will rage for many years to come, although it may, in time, become a side issue.





Poster for 2017 Brisbane sexpo

Over the last decade, the development of robots has occurred so quickly that it is difficult to keep up with the changes that keep taking place. On the one hand, the appearance of humanoid robots are becoming more and more lifelike while on the other hand, the development of AI is creating a semblance of intelligence which is difficult to distinguish from the human mind.

AI programs are currently world champions across a number of games including chess, Go, and Jeopardy, and the development of AI programs which are emotionally intelligent are reaching the point where they may soon passed the equivalent of the Turing test for emotions. Also the development of humanoid robots have reached the point where life-like companion and sexual robots can be purchased for a reasonable price.





Man with robotic sex doll                                           French woman with robot she wishes to marry

It appears to be a foregone conclusion that humans will have sex, and sexual relationships, with robots in the not too distant future, perhaps 15 to 20 years. Many android robots for this very purpose are already in prototype development and this prospect already seems very appealing to some humans. Certainly the possibility of this development within 20 years, will have important implications for the prostitution and sex industry. Further, the prospect of ‘loving’ relationships between humans and robots may only be another 15 to 20 years after that.

When these two technologies – humanoid robots and emotionally intelligent AI – converge (say between 10 and 20 years), we will have humanoid entities which are sentient. Sex with these robots will be fairly well common by that time and, given that human nature is what it is, it is inevitable that some people will wish to marry their robots. This raises some interesting philosophical questions.

Will governments be able to prevent human to robot marriage? Assuming, for example, that a male human wishes to marry a female robot, there can be no argument that this is a male-female union. It will be objected that the intention behind the idea of marriage is that it is only humans who can be married. But if this intention is no-where clearly expressed as such, then it remains only an assumption.

Perhaps the more pressing point behind the concept of marriage is that is a choice, a contract entered into, between two rational beings. But if the issue is one of sapience, then there is no reason to assume that robots cannot be as intelligent as, if not moreso than, humans. And if this is the case, then the current dispute about same-sex marriage will, in the future, be irrelevant. Not only might we have human to robot marriage, but perhaps even human to AI marriage. Now that would be something to see.