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As an engineer, I am used to thinking logically in a very narrow sense. In everyday life, I often come across claims that are passed off as logical, but instantly trigger my bullshit detector. Yet, because I am not trained in philosophy, I have a hard time articulating exactly how they are flawed. This morning I saw the following quote on a bus poster on my way to work.

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world. (C. S. Lewis)

What I'm concerned with here is not the existence or non-existence in itself of another world (presumably heaven), but the argument being made for it, which I think is absurd. My question is: as a philosopher, how would you go about picking this (or a similar) statement apart?

What I find particularly hard is the following: on the one hand, it seems to me that for fruitful philosophy (as opposed to science), logic needs to be understood in a somewhat broader sense; otherwise, we would be restricted to science. On the other hand, if logic it is understood too broadly, we quickly get to the point where, especially when dealing with complex issues such as the human condition, almost anything can be phrased eloquently and/or vaguely enough that it appears logical.

My initial thoughts on the quote above are as follows:

  • The word "reductionist" immediately comes to mind.

  • The poster is an appeal to emotion, aesthetic and authority. It's trying to make you feel better about yourself by quoting a famous person using nicely-designed graphics.

  • This is not logic but wishful thinking. It could be rephrased as "If I find myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most comforting explanation is that I was made for another world [that I will eventually inhabit]".

  • An equally logical (but less comforting) explanation would be that I have some desires that will remain fulfilled forever. Tough luck for me.

  • The conclusion rests on the premise that any desire that I have must eventually be fulfilled. This premise is neither self-evident nor proven from other true premises.

  • The quote, at least in its context, is referring to 'good' desires - perhaps unconditional love or an existence rid of suffering. But the logic would equally apply to sinister desires: what if I desire total power and control over all other humans? Does it mean that I'm destined for a world in which I can do whatever I want? If only good desires are allowed, then this is cherry picking.

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    Related idea: "deepity" youtu.be/DKPhy03zNsU coined by D. Dennett – Dave Oct 18 '16 at 19:08
  • @Dave likewise, "crisis of significant assertion" – Mr. Kennedy Oct 18 '16 at 21:31
  • "logic needs to be understood in a somewhat broader sense; otherwise, we would be restricted to science." What do you mean by that? broader sense than what? there's a big difference between logic and (empirical) science. – user20153 Oct 18 '16 at 22:24
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in the passage you cite, the word "logical" does not mean logical. it means something like sensible or satisfactory. this is a very common use of the term in ordinary speech; we often call things that don't make sense to us "illogical" when what we really mean is "nonsensical" or the like. but this is a misuse of the term if you mean genuine logic. Logic is not in the explaining business. the central concern of logic is the notion of consequence (note: not truth), or maybe inference, depending on whom you ask. So Lewis might say "the inference from my unsatisfiable desires to the proposition that I am made for another world is logically valid; moreover it is the only logically valid inference from those premises". The problems with that should be fairly obvious (from a logical perpsective).

what sense there is in the original quote comes from content, not logical form. and logic is about form, not content.

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A teacher said once that we can understand any discipline as a conjunction of three elements: science, technique and art. Science is the theoretical knowledge (how are musical chords built or what is the best material to make shoes). Technique is the practical knowledge (moving the fingers to play chords, or being skillful to make a shoe). The last one, art is complex: it is related to transfer your feelings to others (playing a song that can make others dance or cry or making very comfortable shoes).

Any discipline requires from all three. Some disciplines may be more artistic or scientific than others, but none is pure.

Philosophy is not an exception. You need the theory (formalisms, knowledge, history), technique (using reason, logic, rhetoric to join theoretical elements) and art (being skillful to get an interesting/surprising/ironic/whatever point of view and communicating it).

What I'm doing here is my way of getting to you in a way that I can impact you, give you an answer and make you think. You did the same with the phrase you saw before. I confess you impacted me, so you are on the right track, and yes: it is not easy. But here comes an important part of this lesson from my old teacher:

Practice. I'm also a guitarist who spent years working on those three areas. Know a lot of musical theory. Spend at least one hour a day practicing the guitar. And of course, play for others, and listen their reactions.

Therefore, it is practice on those three areas which will help you being able to approach any idea.

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The logical argument is refutation.

By Lewis' declaration, if a person were to either be totally satisfied with this world, are they made only for this world? What if someone were completely incapable of desire, are they made for nothing?

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Picking something apart is usually done by making the logical connections in the text and the concepts it mobilises explicit. I will try to do a bit of both in a very informal manner, by suggesting questions that might be asked of the author.

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.

There are quite a few angles from which this might be challenged. For instance:

  • What is desire, and what does it mean for a desire to be satisfied? Some ways of conceiving desire are simply not compatible with the other assumptions of the quote...

  • ... for instance, the implication that the existence of desires unsatisfiable in this world means they must be satisfiable in another world hinges on desires being necessarily satisfiable. But why that must be the case? It is worth noting that an easy way to escape this question might be answering "my desires are all satisfiable because God is good, and so it created me in just the right way." In this context, that would be quite clearly circular. Surely the author wouldn't slip up in such an obvious way...

  • ... except that the idea of there being another world in the quote is introduced by an entirely unnecessary "I was made". Even if we granted that there might be parallel realities in which all of our desires might eventually be satisfied, why would that involve ourselves being made by some creator?

  • It is also worth mentioning Sensii Miller's simple strategy of raising the possibility of denying the antecedent of the implication. What if, after careful inspection of myself, I found that all my desires are, in fact, satisfiable in this world? Does that mean that perhaps another world is not necessary for me, after all? Or is it enough for a single person to have unfulfillable desires to establish that there is another world for everyone. Oh, by the way: am I really able to be sure of what my desires are, and whether they are satisfiable?


There is plenty of philosophical work from various perspectives about desire that might prove relevant to the issues being raised in this Q&A. Just to leave up in the air the first author that crossed my mind while reading your question, here is a quote from Spinoza:

Note.—This endeavour, when referred solely to the mind, is called will, when referred to the mind and body in conjunction it is called appetite; it is, in fact, nothing else but man's essence, from the nature of which necessarily follow all those results which tend to its preservation; and which man has thus been determined to perform.

Further, between appetite and desire there is no difference, except that the term desire is generally applied to men, in so far as they are conscious of their appetite, and may accordingly be thus defined: Desire is appetite with consciousness thereof. It is thus plain from what has been said, that in no case do we strive for, wish for, long for, or desire anything, because we deem it to be good, but on the other hand we deem a thing to be good, because we strive for it, wish for it, long for it, or desire it.

[Ethics III §9, scolium]

On a closing note, it is also worth mentioning that psychoanalysts would agree, and have lots of fun with, your observation that "[an] equally logical (but less comforting) explanation would be that I have some desires that will remain [un]fulfilled forever."

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