Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sorites arguments.

Sorites arguments attack the fuzziness of certain concepts to prove they are at best arbitrary.

The term sorites comes from the Greek word for heap. If I put one grain in bowl and ask if that is a heap, you will answer no. If I put another and repeat the question, you will still answer no. If I continue to add grain, it will clearly become a heap. But as a general rule adding a single grain to the bowl does not transform a non-heap into a heap or we would have to allow that two grains constitute a heap which does not match the meaning of the word. Defining a heap as consisting of at least 50 grains does not help because why not 49 grains? On what basis was 50 chosen? A heap then is a fuzzy concept, at best something socially constructed and agreed upon for fairly arbitrary reasons.

Sorites arguments are relevant when dealing with issues such as the age of consent or the age a child is legally considered an adult. In the West social (as opposed to biological) adulthood is generally agreed to be age 18. It has varied over different times. The Christian Church of the Middle Ages considered the age of accountability, when a person could be tried and even executed as an adult, to be age 7. And yet nothing magic occurs upon our 18th birthday. We do not go to asleep as a 17th year old before our 18th birthday and wake up magically physically or intellectually transformed.

I was once banned from a blog for arguing that statutory rape is not the same as actual rape. The blog owner was of the opinion that a teenager raped a girl who was one year younger, and one year under the age of consent, despite the fact that the sexual intercourse was consensual because she had not yet reached the age of reason. I was of the opinion the blogger was an idiot. It did not end well.

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