Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reified Beans


I’ve been reading this book on economics called Wealth and Poverty by a guy named George Gilder. This is not my usual turf, but I was drawn into it by a bunch of different things it would take too long to explain. It’s a good book. Talks about distinctions between “supply” oriented and “demand” oriented economics and the philosophical ideas behind both. Yawn. But this book turns out to be pretty good because this guy is a good writer. He appreciates the taste of words.

What I’ve found especially interesting so far is this one section where the author goes over what he calls “fallacious modes of reasoning.” Even if you have no idea what he’s talking about, you’ve got to like that combination of words, don’t you think? Sounds like a song title from an east coast indie band.

So. One of those “fallacious modes of reasoning” he talks about is the act of “misplaced concreteness” or “reification.” I didn’t remember hearing that word before. It’s where you treat something abstract as if it was a real thing instead of an idea, and the worst example of this kind of thing is when we create a label for something we observe and then use the label as if it’s the cause of the thing. A common way of explaining this is with the idea of gravity.

1. We notice that when we let go of a pencil it falls to the ground.
2. We call the “pull” that takes the pencil to the ground “gravity.” “Gravity” is the label.
3. Someone says, “why does the pencil fall to the ground?”
4. We respond by saying “gravity.”
5. No real knowledge or understanding has taken place. Nothing has been explained. A label has been falsely used to “explain” something. The label of “gravity” has been reified.

Here’s the truth. No one really knows what pulls the pencil down. We can only explain the conditions under which it may fall.

I heard a theologian at a conference once say, “You say it’s gravity. I say it’s God.”

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2010

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