She was known for her work in logic, a male-dominated subset of the male-dominated field of philosophy, and was hailed for her work in quantified modal logic, which considers the role words such as “all,” “every” and “some” play in different modes of truth such as possibility, impossibility and necessity.
Obituary of Ruth Barcan Marcus, philosopher
Like Adolf Eichmann, my buddy Bill thought he was only following orders when he went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of single malt scotch for $65. His wife had told him to make sure they had everyone’s preferred liquor for a dinner party. Some of his friends drink scotch, he thought; all of those friends are males who prefer expensive single malt scotch; ergo he must buy a bottle of expensive single malt scotch if he wanted to be able to hold his head high when he walked into his club the next day. And have some in reserve for future parties and personal use. You can’t argue with logic like that.
“How much did it come to?” his wife asked as he unpacked the beer and wine and the one bottle of hard liquor.
“Two hundred dollars,” he said.
“In round numbers.”
“How did you spend so much?”
“We didn’t have any scotch–it was $65.”
“I didn’t tell you to spend that much.”
“No, but you have to if you want good scotch, not like your Uncle Jack, who thinks Seagram’s 7 is the pinnacle of sophistication.”
“I don’t know good from bad, but you just blew a hole in my party budget. Now I’ll have to cancel the floral centerpiece.”
“Flowers are gone in a week, good scotch lasts . . . until you drink it.”
“We have taxes coming up soon, you know.”
“Listen,” he said. “Everybody I know only drinks single malt scotch.”
“Everybody, or just those beings who occupy the possible universe of men who will be getting sloshed on your largesse.”
To say that Bill was stunned by this deft one-and-a-half pike turn of logic would be an understatement. He didn’t even know what it meant.
“Where’d you come up with those intellectual fireworks?”
“There was a feature in Woman’s World by this philosopher, Ruth Barcan Marcus.”
“In between the ‘Lose 40 lbs by Arbor Day!’ feature and the Lobster-Chocolate Upside Down Cake recipe?”
“They’re taking on a more serious tone. Did you know they once ran a cartoon by Con Chapman, the eminent former philosophy major who wrote this post?”
“I know the guy, he’s a closet highbrow. He wouldn’t stoop so low. Anyway, as I was saying, it was single malt scotch or nothing. All blended scotch sucks.”
“You mean all blended scotch that you drink out of necessity because you don’t have enough money to buy the snootier single malts.”
“I don’t mean that, and you can’t prove I like single malts because they’re more expensive.”
“Synthetic propositions are by their very nature not susceptible of logical proof.”
“How’d you guess? Would you mind polishing the napkin rings?”
“I’d mind, but not as much as some husbands would,” he said as he picked up the silver polish.
“Those husbands . . . do they exist in the realm of possibility, impossibility, or necessity?”
“None of the above. They live in a land free of quantified modal logic.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Let’s Get Philosophical!”