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Tautology isn't just a good idea, it's also the law.
August 13, 2002 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Tautology isn't just a good idea, it's also the law. From the "Berkeley Sure Is Nutty" Department: "In a philosophical effort to come up with a city law that no one could ever break, conceptual artist Jonathon Keats wants Berkeley to legally acknowledge Aristotle's law, commonly expressed as A=A."
posted by monosyllabic (46 comments total)

 
Won't that piss off the existentialists and will they try to break it? If so, how will we know if they break it? What will the legal punishment be for saying that A = stupid artist?
posted by insomnyuk at 12:34 PM on August 13, 2002


Maybe they could legislate that everything be stamped with this.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:40 PM on August 13, 2002


I think we need another New Deal for the new millenium, to put such obviously idle people like these to work (as well as all the other unemployed people here in the Bay Area).
posted by Down10 at 12:54 PM on August 13, 2002


What will the legal punishment be for saying that A = stupid artist?

There is a misdemeanor fine of $0.001 for breaking this law. I'm not sure if simply saying something would be considered a violation though, it would probably have to be proved in court that A=stupid artist.
posted by reverendX at 12:56 PM on August 13, 2002


Somebody call the Rand Institute....

Jonathon Keats is old Ayn's new intellectual heir!
posted by davros42 at 1:01 PM on August 13, 2002


One guy shouted that Keats needed therapy.
Keats offered to do sidewalk therapy with the man, who stomped away in frustration.

Ha, I find that to be quite hilarious.
posted by Scottk at 1:02 PM on August 13, 2002


Keats explained that a simplistic law challenges society's notion of what laws are, why they are made, and why we follow them.

Or maybe this law is the perfect example of Berkeley politicians overstepping their boundaries, creating invasive and pointless laws in response to all problems: actual, perceived, or even unfathomable. Maybe passing a law isn't always the best solution, eh Keats?

Also, I hope no one is planning on doing any experiments with quantum physics at Berkeley.
posted by toothless joe at 1:02 PM on August 13, 2002


wait, what does "a" equal?

in addition, if "a" represents the position of a subatomic particle, must a always equal a? how can we be sure?
posted by elsar at 1:03 PM on August 13, 2002


nice, two quantum physics refutations within one minute of each other.
posted by elsar at 1:04 PM on August 13, 2002


But how can you know they occurred within a minute of each other if you know exactly where they happened?
posted by toothless joe at 1:09 PM on August 13, 2002


Wait, is this Jonathon Keats the same one who did this other piece of conceptual art? (Why do I remember these things?)
posted by furiousthought at 1:10 PM on August 13, 2002


Sweating in a three-piece wool suit, bow tie and penny loafers...

Oh my lord, it's that Jonathon Keats. I went to college with this guy. Used to make his own absinthé.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:11 PM on August 13, 2002


I'm about 99.99% sure I went to college with Keats - how many philosophically minded people who wear bow ties and are somewhat insane live in San Francisco? Seeing as Matt Walker also went to the same school, and Alex George taught there at that point, I would put that closer to 100%.

Anyway, if it is John, he was - among other things - a noted conservative on campus. Once during his freshman year he got dead drunk, passed out, and his roomates wrote "666 I am a Democrat" on his forehead with some kind of indelible marker. Very nice guy though.

Also, I don't he's principally a conceptual artist: he edited SOMA and wrote a novel (which I heard is quite good, with some steamy sex in it).

My concern with this law is that as people try to break it - and you know they will - they will either (a) develop split personalities, (b) be forced to develop new and more irritating philosophical systems which people will try to talk to me about at dinner, or (c) rewrite the basic rules that govern the universe and turn this reality into a Buffy-like hell dimension.
posted by fluffy1984 at 1:14 PM on August 13, 2002


Man, if only forum 2000 were alive, they'd have a field day with that article...
posted by blindcarboncopy at 1:15 PM on August 13, 2002


Fluffy1984: I knew you too. This thread is walking on my grave.

As with any philosophical question, A=A is already generating scholarly debate. The proposed law has been vetted by Yale philosophy scholar Matthew D. Walker, and noted Amherst College logician Alexander George has praised A=A as "the simplest of identity's properties."

These are, indeed, fake citations. Or at the very least, partners in crime.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:24 PM on August 13, 2002


Used to make his own absinthé.

Absinthe eh? Now that explains everything.
posted by insomnyuk at 1:25 PM on August 13, 2002


"Why do you need a law to say that?" asked one passer-by."

Makes proofs in symbolic logic a lot easier, for one thing.

I would support a law like that, to tell the truth. I am occasionally dumbfounded in conversations with people when they don't accept tautological truths, such as a shoe being brown or not brown. I'd enjoy living in Berkeley if it meant people who pull relativist cop-outs had to pay a fine, or get dope-slapped, or something useful like that.
posted by Hildago at 1:30 PM on August 13, 2002


I love the mayor's quote: "I haven't a clue what that means," Dean said of Keats' proposition That's funny.

Berkeley has so many screwed up things going wrong with it, why do they waste their time on this crap? Although I know the City Council isn't in on this one, I'm sure they'd vote for it if it were to come to that! My Mom's been on the council for years and she could tell you stories about it that would make you cry. The council is full of crazies and hypocrites and just basically juvenile screwed up people. What starts at the top apparently trickles down (or perhaps...the other way around?)
posted by aacheson at 1:31 PM on August 13, 2002


toothless joe Or maybe this law is the perfect example of Berkeley politicians overstepping their boundaries, creating invasive and pointless laws in response to all problems: actual, perceived, or even unfathomable. Maybe passing a law isn't always the best solution, eh Keats?

Umm, didn't you read the article? Keats isn't a politician, he's a conceptual artist. He's not even from Berkeley, but rather SF.
posted by signal at 1:32 PM on August 13, 2002


That Matt Walker? He's at Yale now? Oh, hell. Pink, fluffy, I didn't know either of you but I did know Matt. I never put that piece together. But I knew there was a reason bells went off here. Yeah, this article is a total prank job if not just entirely made up.

Christ on a stick, it's the Amherst College 1990-1994 reunion thread. Anyone else hiding? I'm pretty freaked here.
posted by furiousthought at 1:39 PM on August 13, 2002


blindcarboncopy: ayn rand already had a good time with "a is a" in forum 2000 archives. found in this thread... "Girls talk too much"
posted by alicila at 1:42 PM on August 13, 2002


how many philosophically minded people who wear bow ties and are somewhat insane live in San Francisco?

Hundreds, I'd imagine.
posted by ook at 1:45 PM on August 13, 2002


Berkeley has so many screwed up things going wrong with it, why do they waste their time on this crap?

There's also a proposal that would ban the sale of coffee that is not fair trade, shade-grown or organic. "'If we begin to regulate the many details of so many people’s lives we are either going to be a nanny government or big brother, I don’t know which,' said City Councilmember Miriam Hawley, District 5."

I work in Berkeley. And I drink coffee.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:45 PM on August 13, 2002


signal: Well, even though he's not technically a politician, he is at least acting like one by proposing legislation to the city council. I was simply ascribing a different symbolic meaning to his "artwork". As for the location of his residence, I thought Berkeley was part (or at least a suburb) of San Francisco. It doesn't seem like a meaningful distinction to me.
posted by toothless joe at 1:47 PM on August 13, 2002


"rewrite the basic rules that govern the universe and turn this reality into a Buffy-like hell dimension."

There are some who might argue this has already happened.

"These are, indeed, fake citations. Or at the very least, partners in crime."

I bet the Discordians are in on this. Where's Robert Anton Wilson to make a quippable soundbyte for the press?

"Berkeley has so many screwed up things going wrong with it, why do they waste their time on this crap?"

I'm assuming that's Keats' entire point. The local gov't is wasting so much time on piddly spit. Keats is basically calling the entire law system a sham. Not just Berkeley's local government, but the entire concept of government in general. This is very much the equivalent of a college philosophy professor pounding on a table for an entire lecture screaming "This is not here!" Keats conceptual art argues that Law as modern day society accepts it doesn't really exist. It's a subjective construct that has been devised, a series of *things* we subject ourselves to because we fear the alternative of chaos, but Keats is arguing that even something as simple as "A=A" doesn't apply in the subjective reality humanity has created for itself.

I think it's a great idea. I'd sign up if I could.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:51 PM on August 13, 2002


furious, amherst '94 here. this thread chills me to the bone. hadley (http://www.amherst.edu/~polisci/arkes.htm) is very happy with this thread, i would imagine.

the opinions stated here do not represent those of amherst college, its alumni or the five college consortium.
posted by elsar at 1:53 PM on August 13, 2002


I can't believe nobody has said this yet:

A=B


so there. does that mean I get a ticket?

(and yes, I know what a tautology is, blah blah blah, it's a joke)
posted by jaded at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2002


I'm putting my money on prank here. John was not exactly libertarian, but he'd be more likely to be doing this to make fun of the stupid things people try and regulate than for any other reason. The only thing I remember him wanting to ban was paperback books, which he blamed for the downfall of Western civilization.

Of course maybe he's hoping the people of Berkeley reject the proposal, proving that Berkeley not only rejects nuclear weapons and various ecologically harmful activities but actually rejects the fundamental basics of logic and rationality as well.

As a way to spend a day, putting on a bow tie and irritating people on Telegraph Ave. actually has a fair amount to recommend it. Beats television at least.
posted by fluffy1984 at 1:59 PM on August 13, 2002


Man, if only forum 2000 were alive, they'd have a field day with that article...

The Ayn Rand discussions got a little old, but I really miss Bitter Crack Baby (TM).
posted by Galvatron at 2:00 PM on August 13, 2002


I think what jaded meant to say was: A != A. You can bill me the $0.001 via PayPal.
posted by jjg at 2:02 PM on August 13, 2002


A friend of mine just pointed this out to me in email when I brought this topic up with him: "I especially love that what they don't mention is that all modern philosophy... basically anything since Thomas Aquinas... begins with the denial of this law..."

Keats argument isn't sound, but his point is to challenge the very concept of modern law. He's not saying the "A=A" law needs to be on the books, but questioning whether all the laws already on the books measure up to that of greek philosophers.

It's sheer genius.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:05 PM on August 13, 2002


Berkeley. It is what it is, I guess.
posted by precipice at 2:30 PM on August 13, 2002


I think what jaded meant to say was: A != A.

Of course, if you passed a law that A != A, then, logically, anyone could prove him- or herself innocent of any crime, no matter the evidence against him....
posted by mattpfeff at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2002


I always thought A is for Apple, B is for Boy, and of course C is for Cookie.

And that's good enough for me, dammit.
posted by Stan Chin at 3:37 PM on August 13, 2002


Of course, if you passed a law that A != A, then, logically, anyone could prove him- or herself innocent of any crime, no matter the evidence against him....

Or anyone could be found guilty, no matter how innocent they are...
posted by Neale at 4:39 PM on August 13, 2002


This quote "...The San Francisco Arts Commission once paid him to do portraits, and because he can't paint, draw or take good photographs, he took fingerprints instead..."
Told me all hope for humanity was lost. And so was the fire from the end of my cigarette when I bumped it on the table from laughing because this has to be a joke.

Besides, this Keats fellow sounds more Platonic than Aristotelean. You know, more the lecturer of the Academy than the student.
posted by Cedric at 5:39 PM on August 13, 2002


How can A=A? One of them is on the left of the equals sign and the other is on the right!
posted by poseur at 5:53 PM on August 13, 2002


Berkeley. It is what it is, I guess

Yeah!
posted by semmi at 7:01 PM on August 13, 2002


A friend of mine just pointed this out to me in email when I brought this topic up with him: "I especially love that what they don't mention is that all modern philosophy... basically anything since Thomas Aquinas... begins with the denial of this law..."

Hmm, I've read quite a bit of modern philosophy, but have never encountered a denial of this law. I would be very interested to read any such denial your friend could refer to.

A priori, I'd say that anyone who seriously denies Aristotle's law does not understand what the law means.
posted by epimorph at 8:46 PM on August 13, 2002


A=c=c=A. A =the speed of light" A~=A. A=A, A doesn't equal variable "A".

Can someone give a definitive proof of this? It's equivilant only to stating that, "The statement I am making absolutely equals the statement I am making.".
Define all the equivilant conditions that prove it. Was the time you read that the same time? How do we look at transcendential theory?

I'm too tired but I wanted to butt in for some thoughts.
posted by effer27 at 9:36 PM on August 13, 2002


Someone ought to ask Joseph Kosuth to complicate the town meeting where they debate this one.
posted by apollo3000 at 9:59 PM on August 13, 2002


Can someone give a definitive proof of this? It's equivilant only to stating that, "The statement I am making absolutely equals the statement I am making."

I don't know.. maybe someone can, but all the proofs I've ever done have assumed identity. I think that's as safe an assumption as you can make to build a system of logic on. I'd sure hate to live in a universe where it wasn't true. Well, I would or I wouldn't, tautologically speaking.

Also, nitpick-wise, I think the law says not that "The statement I am making absolutely equals the statement I am making," but rather that "The statement I am making is the statement I am making", because of something I vaguely remember being called the Indiscernability of Identicals, two things can be equivalent but not identical.
posted by Hildago at 11:52 PM on August 13, 2002


Can someone give a definitive proof of this? It's equivilant only to stating that, "The statement I am making absolutely equals the statement I am making."

"A=A" isn't about statements (unless you were to say a given string of phonemes is identical to itself, or something like), it's about objects.

Pick an object -- a rock, say. Can you conceive of any possible way that THAT rock could not be itself? No. THAT rock could not be some other rock, or a tree or something -- if it were, it wouldn't be THAT rock.

As for the speed of light, whatever speed it is, it is THAT speed, and not some other speed. The fact that scientists may have thought it was a speed it wasn't doesn't mean that it actually was a speed it wasn't.
posted by mattpfeff at 6:06 AM on August 14, 2002


Hmm, I've read quite a bit of modern philosophy, but have never encountered a denial of this law. I would be very interested to read any such denial your friend could refer to.

I'll make an amateur suggestion --

They may be referring to Kant (who has been credited with founding modern philosophy). My guess is that they are referring to Kant's self-proclaimed "Copernican revolution" in philosophy, in which Kant argued that one's knowledge of (for example, a chair) Chair A (the phenomenal A, or Ap) is not identical to Chair A in itself (the noumenal A, or An). Kant argued that one's knowledge and understanding require the use of categories which are present a priori in the mind.

In contrast, realists would hold that we just comprehend things as they are; that is, one experiences an object (Chair A) as itself, just as it is, without this experience being determined a priori by mental categories.

So for Kant and after, Ap != An.
posted by apollo3000 at 12:31 PM on August 14, 2002


At the beginning of this thread a couple of people mentioned quantum mechanics, but as far as I can see it doesn't raise any new problems for tautologies.

I think the people are probably confusing different conditions for a theory of meaning. Presumably tautology is a necessary condition for any such theory, because if "A" isn't "A" then names are useless. Quantum mechanics adds additional conditions - measurements associated with non-commuting operators are mutually exclusive, for example (are there others?).

But there's nothing in what I've just said that means that quantum mechanics somehow invalidates tautologies. "The position of particle p at time x" is still "the position of particle p at time x". The additional constraints on a theory of meaning imply that "the position and velocity of particle p at time x" is not well defined, but that doesn't raise any new questions for tautologies. To use a famous example, "the king of france" is "the king of france" just as much as "the position and velocity of particle p at time x" is "the position and velocity of particle p at time x" - both are problematic for theories of meaning, but both are equally valid as tautologies.

Incidentally, there's nothing special about quantum mechanics in raising questions about meaning. Special relativity, for example, also requires that the user qualify observations (you need to specify a four vector in an inertial frame to identify an event).

Also, I don't think "a shoe is either brown or not brown" is a tautology - it's not a simple assertion of identity as it appeals to the law of the excluded middle.

And finally, it would be very difficult to find a denial of this law in any meaningful philosophy because it is so fundamental to any theory of meaning. Your best chance is to look at more "mystical" philosophies (ie those that don't rely on logic). While the comment about Kant is a decent reflection of his ideas (afaik), it's not connected with tautology as much as theories of perception - theories that take things like tautology for granted. If tautology failed to hold then even Cartesian doubt becomes meaningless - if "I" am not necessarily "I" then how can "I" meaningfully questions what "I" think?

(All imho - I'm no philosopher. I suspect no-one'll ever read this, it being a late contribution to the thread. But if someone does spot a silly mistake in what I've said I'd like to know...)
posted by andrew cooke at 5:32 PM on August 14, 2002


ps On the shoe question, I'd say it's an analytic statement, not a synthetic one. But if I understand correctly, there's no reason for all analytic statements to be tautologies (although they can be reduced to tautologies by appeal to, for example, the law of excluded middle).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:40 PM on August 14, 2002


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