Everyday Life in a Philosophy Department?
This book, by a former President of the American Philosophical Association,
could be viewed as an unusually erudite blog
or as an unusually reader-friendly monograph.
I will discuss parts of his analysis elsewhere (xxx crossref: not yet written); here I simply wanted to list all the examples he chose.
I say "wanted to" because there turned out to be so many that I have used only the parts
(Introduction; Chapters 1 and 3) that seemed closest to the "everyday life" theme.
Aside from this (and some "details" specified below) I have recorded all of his
examples, as quotes (italitics) or paraphrases.
I have placed the examples into 4 categories; the categorization and ordering is mine, not the author's.
Aside from the first category, the author presents them as hypothetical
examples, although of course one could find real-world instances of most of them.
Finally, recall the book title is Luck, not Chance.
Specific historical events
- Disasters: plane crash, plane hijacking, ship sinking, rain wreck, tornado --
victims or lucky escapes.
- the terrorist whose bomb explodes in the car en route to [planting it]
- escaping unscathed from an explosion thanks to the shielding of someone else's body
- bank robber recognized by guard at previous crime
Notes for a historical novel?
- Political victims: aristocrats of the French revolution, kulaks of Stalin's USSR; Holocaust.
- winning an heiress in competition with another suitor.
- survive Russian roulette.
- striking oil on one's own land.
- snake bite -- when happened to have a penknife.
- contracting [a cold] on the evening of one's opening night performance
- You are heir to a great estate by auspicious fortune, but you are lucky when you
inherit it just in the nick of time to save you from bankruptcy.
- your secret benefactor's sending you that big check ...
- home locale becomes a war zone
- stumbling upon a treasure
- [leaving an] area just before the earthquake struck
- potential victim saved because a would-be assassin missed the bus
- being wounded by an assassin who mistakes one for someone else
- injured as bystander in political demonstration
- you were inadvertently delayed and just missed crossing on the Hindenberg
- hit by falling icicle
- fighter pilot hits ejector button instead of defroster
- burglar who breaks into a house just before its owner returns well-armed from a bear hunt
- the painter who produces a [long-sought] effect ... by throwing his brush at the
picture in a fit of rage ...
- coming down with a disease for which a cure has just been discovered
- author whose biography of a celebrity hits the bookshops just as its protagonist is
enmeshed in a highly publicized scandal ...
- scam victim accidently profiting
- the winner of a lottery who decides to build a dream cottage on Krakatoa
Conventional examples of luck
- general unpredictability of life -- one might become ill or poor;
- chance events
that in hindsight initiate a successful career;
- falling victim to crime;
- dropping /finding $100
- winning lottery; casino games; winning horse race bet; raffle
- airplane passenger moved to first class
- stock market fluctuations
- accidental fall
- minor accidents;
- auto crash
- struck by lightning [where danger not predictable]
- chance meeting leads to romance
- the youth whose proposal of marriage has been accepted by the girl of his dreams
- lost wallet returned unpilfered
- marrying drunkard who then reforms
- actually being punished for a crime for which most guilty people aren't
- failing to recognize a good investment opportunity
- selling one's securities on impulse just before a crash
- eating at a restaurant on the evening the soup went wrong
- neighbor's son takes up drums when you place house for sale
Details of example listing
Most of his examples are very non-specific, in the style
the passengers of a plane that crashes, or a ship that founders in a storm;
I have included those, but not the extremely vague ones such as
if a chance development averted an apocalyptic epidemic -- or a nuclear war --
where the "chance event" isn't even implicit.
Also omitted is one clearly artificial sequence designed to demonstrate a point.
Several examples are repeated with minor variants, and I did not show such repeats.
He distinguishes between lucky and fortunate
(xxx cross-ref discussion elsewhere: not yet written) so I have not included
examples he categorizes as the latter.
The book's subtitle says .... in Everyday Life and it's clear that in the
chapters cited the author does perceive he's talking about
contemporary everyday life (some other chapters are more explicitly historical or
more analytical). Recall also that I've have given all his examples from those
chapters, not a (perhaps biased) selection.
In presenting this material in talks I cannot resist showing the
"Notes for a historical novel?" list and making some comment like
"well, everyday life in a Philosophy department sure seems more exciting than in a
Statistics department"; and then showing extracts from
searches for "chance of" in Bing
References to chance in blogs which provide some insight into
how people really do think about chance in everyday life.
The contrast is striking; I am not talented enough to write a descriptive
paragraph analyzing the difference, beyond commenting that real life is somehow
"more textured" than the rather cartoonish fiction, and beyond recalling some Victorian schoolgirl doggerel:
Miss Buss and Miss Beale
Cupid's darts do not feel.
How different from us
Miss Beale and Miss Buss.
(Anon, about 1884)
Now in one sense I am merely being humorous. You and I both know the author did not
intend his examples to be literally "everyday life"; instead, he was interested in the abstract ideas
surrounding luck and just made up
illustrative hypothetical examples as he wrote.
But in another sense I am perfectly serious. The author is adopting a style of intellectual enquiry
where he starts with abstract ideas and then invents hypothetical examples to illustrate the ideas;
whereas I am the kind of "naive empiricist" who believes one should start with
real examples and then contemplate what abstract conceptual structure to build,
based largely on the examples.
(xxx cross-ref discussion elsewhere of SGSDMSU: some guy sitting at a desk making stuff up;
as if Linnaeus worked with hypothetical species).
Anyway, the book provides a nice illustration
(real not hypothetical!) of the dangers of SGSDMSU, in this case
(1) the choices reflect the author's personality:
the overall patrician Eurocentric style, as well as the "historical novel" atmosphere;
(2) the choices show the author shares the ordinary person's fascination with unlikely dramatic
events rather than with statistically
likely instances of good or bad luck;
(3) when you make up a lot of stuff, you inevitably get some stuff wrong;
for instance, one should not
cut into a
snake bite with a knife.