The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Friday, April 07, 2006


"Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before." - Tremendous Trifles

I am not, as they say, and "early riser". Thus my commentary might be a bit skewed.

One way to take the quotation is that miserliness is a stop along the path to burglary. My pocket dictionary returned this for "miser":

"A stingy hoarder of money and possessions (often living miserably)"

The parenthetical phrase sent me to the OED to see if the "miser" in "miserable" was directly related to "miser" the noun above defined. The test results were positive. "Miser" came to mean what it does, because the poor wretch would rather live...well, wretchedly rather than spend money to live in even moderate comfort.

Thus the miser has a values inversion--for details see Mortimer Adler's Desires: Right and Wrong--which is the same *fundamental* problem as the burglar. It's only that the miser--mirabile dictu--burgles himself.

Now it would be a fallacy to say that the "industrious" individual who follows Ben Franklin's maxim: early to bed and early to rise was a miser just because he shared a key trait with a miser. In Aristotelian logic it's called the fallacy of the undistributed middle. Consider.

1. The miser is an early riser.
2. The industrious man is an early riser.
3. Therefore the industrious man is a miser.

is no more valid than

1. I am a man.
2. Elvis is a man.
3. Therefore I am elvis.

On the other hand...there is more to logic than deductive logic. In inductive logic we often say that the *probability* of an entity have more in common with another is raised by its sharing some properties in common. It's the basis for all analogical reasoning. A is like B in this respect, so probably A is like B in other respects. This plant has the same kinds of buds as that medicinal plant, so perhaps it is medicinal as well. Of course inductive logic always leaves open the possibility of error--unlike deductive logic when the premises are known to be true--you might just die if you are wrong about those buds.

This is why inductive logic is combined with Decision Theory--the calculus of acting under uncertainty, of weighing risks. If you are going to die anyway, then trying the buds might be your best option. So while we cannot infer for certain that an early riser is miserly rather than industrious, I personally am a little suspect. If I were to find my self an early riser, I'd at least have consider the risk that I'm going down the path to miserliness. Just a word of caution for my more, er, industrious friends.

If you would like a real treat of an essay defending the, um, less-industrous life. See Henry David Thoreau's Life without Principle.


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