Famously, Epictetus had an exchange with someone on the necessity, credibility and utility of logic:
How is logic necessary?
When someone in [Epictetus’] audience said, Convince me that logic is necessary, he answered: Do you wish me to demonstrate this to you?—Yes.—Well, then, must I use a demonstrative argument?—And when the questioner had agreed to that, Epictetus asked him. How, then, will you know if I impose upon you?—As the man had no answer to give, Epictetus said: Do you see how you yourself admit that all this instruction is necessary, if, without it, you cannot so much as know whether it is necessary or not? [Cf J. C. Wright]
However, many today miss the point. J C Wright picks up:
The difficulty the postmodernists have with the discussions of the role of reason, is that they accept the categorical fallacy that no categories exists aside from science (which is objective) and faith or opinion (which is arbitrary).
They reason in this fashion: Science, either empirical or rational, assumes a verification principle. Whatever is not open to verification is not science; and whatever is not science is arbitrary. Ergo whatever is not open to verification is arbitrary. Again, the laws of logic (such as modus ponens) are not open to verification; ergo, by modus ponens, they are arbitrary.
Of course, science depends for its own credibility on the first principles and duties of reason but as we see many, today, are inoculated against seeing that. JCW continues:
The problem is that another category of thought does exist: wisdom. A thing can be wise without being scientific. There is reasoning that exists larger than and including scientific reasoning: this is called natural reason or common sense. Scientific reasoning includes empiricism and axiomatic logic.
Empiricism has won such high regard that modern intellectuals dismiss axiomatic logic as unscientific (in other words, they take the axiom that axiomatic logic is not empirical; they take whatever is nonempirical to be mere opinion; and they conclude by Barbara [a syllogistic structure] that ergo axiomatic logic is mere opinion. The irony that they themselves use axiomatic logic to reach this conclusion, is, of course, lost on them).
With logic gone, natural reason is dismissed from academic discussion, and, with it, serious ethical reasoning. Common sense is banished from the discussion, and, with it, common sense. Wisdom is banished from the discussion, and, when it flies, all that is left is nonsense, either angry (Nietzsche) or despairing (Sartre).
Hence, of course, much that has gone wrong today.
And, it explains why when it is pointed out, correctly, that certain inescapable first principles and duties of reason are just that, inescapably, so self-evidently true and antecedent to proof, certain objectors wish to reject. Often, with the dismissive remark, one has not “proved” the matter.
But that’s the problem.
These are antecedent to proof and any attempt to prove pivots on them.
These, are where rationality starts.
To dismiss them, therefore, is to default to the irrational.
As, we are unfortunately seeing. Sad, but a sign of our en-darkened times. END
6 Replies to “JCW on the need to face inescapable, necessary first truths”
JCW on the need to face inescapable, necessary first truths
KF, thank you for the introduction John C. Wright. I heretofore had never heard of him. I’ve been on his blog since reading your post, and I’m in love. Much appreciated, sir, and hope you are well!
No one is disputing the value of logic but, like any formal system, if it is to be anything other than an intellectual exercise, it’s utility must lie in its capacity to model observable reality from which it is ultimately derived. Nothing else matters.
Wright is confusing postmodernism (which is confusing in itself) with logical positivism and its unverifiable principle of verifiability.
I don’t share your apocalyptic pessimism but I do think humanity is facing unprecedented challenges, both external and internal. Can we take action to mitigate the damage we are causing to the environment on which we and all other living creatures depend for our survival? Can we rise above the tribalism which seems to be causing our societies to fragment rather than moving towards the co-operation we need to find ways for us all to survive. If we are constitutionally incapable of doing that then the future could be bleak, assuming there is a future for us. There are no guarantees.
AD, we shall see. KF
Sev, I find that generally speaking a lot of science is taken almost naively, and that its verification procedures are indeed taken as pivotal. Very few po mo — actually, ultra-modern — people are prepared to walk away from the scientific domain . . . start with our prescription glasses and PCs. This does lead to patterns much as he says. Next, the issue here is antecedent to formal logical systems. I think it is fair comment that our civilisation is behaving in suicidal ways, on many dimensions. KF
F/N: JCW continues:
Do we see the trouble that has been let in the door?