Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Having read as much Plato as I have, about 21 of the 36 known works, I think I'm pretty good at defining everyday words that usually don't require definition. One of the first things I had to do as a teacher was to get my students to name some mammals, which was pretty straightforward according to the method of division from The Sophist. Today, I was supposed to define a machine to 9-year-olds with a tenuous grasp of English. In the event, I just let them draw pictures of bicycles (and taught them the etymology just for fun). Still, I unknowingly went through a mind-numbing Platonic exchange while thinking about how to define a machine.

"What is a machine?"
"A machine is anything made by humans."
"But Adeel, is it not so that not all things made by humans are machines?"
"How so?"
"Well, the Temple of Hephaestus is a man-made, but is it a machine?"
"It is not."
"Or the lyre played by Hippias' boy? Is that a machine?"
"It is not."
"Then what shall be said of machines to distinguish them from other man-made objects?"
"I think it is not unwise to say that machines will be those man-made objects which have moving parts and perform some function. Is that not so?"
"It is."

I have to amuse myself somehow.

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