An Open Letter to James Patterson et. al.

Dear Mr. Patterson (and co-author, and ad writer, and producer),

It is not, in fact, true that “New York has never had a great detective hero” before you gave us the character of Michael Bennett (although your kind thoughts for the NYPD are much appreciated).

Using the most general sense of the word “detective,” for example, it is easy to give the lie to this assertion with a single name: Nero Wolfe.*

Obviously, you did not mean to use “detective” in the broad sense that includes Nero Wolfe (a private detective). Your language, in this instance, is lamentably imprecise. Michael Bennett is not, as such, a “great detective hero” — he is a heroic police detective (and there are, arguably, examples of such persons in fiction about New York as well, but yours may be “greater”). The genus detective only makes sense in your claim when joined to the appropriate differentia.

Such sloppy use of the language does not encourage this avid reader of detective fiction (and slighted Nero Wolfe fan) to pick up your book. It does, however, provide me with a lovely example to use to help my logic students understand the practice of generating definitions by genus and difference. For that, I thank you (or your ad writer).



*It’s worth noting that the name “Nero Wolfe” really represents only half of the counterexample here. The rest is provided by the name of the fabulous Archie Goodwin.


About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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