Category Archives: Commonplaces

Constructing Illustrative Parallels

In my last post, I claimed that there are three typical ways we use analogies: basic comparisons, ordered-pairs, and illustrative parallels. In this post I will explain how to construct an illustrative parallel, which is a powerful means of proof.

The Pattern

An illustrative parallel reasons from a particular example (the source) to a particular conclusion (the target). The process combines inductive reasoning (from the particular example to a general statement) and deductive reasoning (from the general statement to the particular conclusion) as shown:

I am fascinated by the inductive-deductive process that the mind goes through when reasoning by analogy, such as in the parables. For example, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:14-15, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” The source (“no one lights a lamp to put it under a basket, but to give light to the house”) inductively implies the general intermediate conclusion that what is meant to illuminate something should not be covered, and that it is uncovered not in order to display itself, but something else. So when he deductively makes the particular conclusion in verse 16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” we understand that we should do good works, not to shine a light on ourselves, but that men might glorify God.

Construction

Inventing good analogies can be difficult, but we can be helped using the pattern above. Say that you want to use an analogy to respond to this challenge: “Why study formal logic? Everyone can already reason!” You could argue that the study of formal logic helps to improve our reasoning skills by providing standards to distinguish between good and bad reasoning. This is your target. It can be deduced from the general statement that studying a language art can provide standards by which we distinguish between the proper and improper use of that art. Given this, we must then invent a source, a different example of the general statement, and one that is preferably more familiar that the target. What familiar language art provides us with such standards? English is a good example; the study of English helps us improve our speaking and writing skills by providing standards to distinguish proper English from improper. The basic analogy could then be simply stated: “‘Why study formal logic? Everyone can reason.’ That’s like arguing, ‘Why study formal English? Everyone can speak!’”

Imitating the Masters

Jesus is, of course, the Master of analogies, as of all other forms of argument. But there are also many lesser masters from whom we can learn this art. My favorites include C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, and Doug Wilson. Here are some of my favorites:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen; not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” ― C. S. Lewis

“The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” ― G.K. Chesterton

“Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.” ― Mark Twain

“We have no structure any more. We have no shared creed. We do not know what we are here for. It makes no sense to speak of our inherited ‘shared values,’ or better yet, ‘core values.’ If they are arbitrary, shared values are worthless. If they are arbitrary, core values are simply located where our intestines are, and are full of the same thing.” ― Doug Wilson

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” ― Anne Bradstreet

What are some of your favorite analogies? Leave a comment!

Limitations of Logic

Limitations of Logic

“Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism… In battle is is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism (such as  Gaius and Titius would wince at) about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element.’ The head rules the belly through the chest.” — C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

 

 

#20 – Failure and Success

“If at first you don’t succeed then skydiving definitely isn’t for you.” – Steven Wright

“We are never defeated unless we give up on God” – Ronald Reagan

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo Buonarroti

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” – Ben Franklin

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value” – Albert Einstein

#19 – More Christmas

“Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people only once a year.” – Victor Borge

“Roses are reddish, violets are bluish. If it weren’t for Christmas, we’d all be Jewish.” – Benny Hill

“When we were children, we were grateful for those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?” – G. K. Chesterton

“Most people want Jesus as a consultant rather than a king.” – Timothy Keller

#18 – On Christmas

“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child Himself.” – Charles Dickens

“Christmas is the only time of the year when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ” – Bart Simpson

“When death is thick upon the world, our lives are thick with play. We laugh because there is something that death does not know or cannot remember. That is Christmas.” – Nate Wilson

“There was only one Christmas; the rest are anniversaries.” – W. J. Cameron

 

#17 – On Reading

“Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.” – Edmund Burke

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” – Attributed to Mark Twain

“Outside of a dog a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx

#16 – Happy Thanksgiving!

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” – 1 Chron. 16:34

“Be happy with what you have, and there will be plenty to be happy about.” – Irish proverb

“Baskets of fruit are heavy.” – Doug Wilson

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Never eat more than you can lift.” – Miss Piggy

“I’m in shape. Round is a shape.” – Hans Leidenfrost