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Logic and Rationality

What do we mean by 'rational' and 'reasonable'? And the relationship to logic is what?

Context: the notes on this page are set against the background of the philosophy of logic of language (How is sense distinguished from nonsense in philosophy?), and they may not be understood without first understanding that background.

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Logic and Rationality

Query: philosophy is the branch that concerns much about rationality, discuss. Logic is the branch of philosophy that concerns much about rationality.

Philosophy, or "the love of wisdom", concerns much about rationality (i.e. the use of reason alone), but not everything, but only rationality in logic, ethics and metaphysics. Logic concerns all rationality if 'rational' = 'in accord with the rules for correct reasoning'. But that is not all we mean by 'rationality', for there is also the notion of "the reasonable person".

Philosophy -- i.e. the ideas of a "community of ideas" -- says (determines, decides) what is rational and what is not (as it decides what is legal, what illegal, what function, what dysfunction, what health, what disease).

Logic, however, does not say (prescribe), but only describes? Logic describes the foundations of someone's rationality (or its absence: "Here I do not use reason"), e.g. of Wittgenstein's logic of language, its foundation [PG i § 81, p. 126-7] in "the connection between grammar and sense and nonsense" [BB p. 65]. Logic examines a man's way of thinking -- i.e. his way of reasoning (or not-reasoning) -- looking to find whatever is "an unmoving foundation of his language-games" (OC § 403).

It is the task of logic to show whether someone defines 'meaning' via form or via use -- e.g. whether he makes a distinction between contradictions in form and contradictions in sense -- i.e. whether his thinking has any other standard of sense-and-nonsense and truth-and-falsity than contradictions in form (as e.g. the Rationalism Pascal criticizes seems to do).

By the word 'logic' we mean 'the art of correct reasoning'. But not as if logic somehow dictated what is and what is not correct reasoning rather than simply gave an account of the way of reasoning we classify as [call] 'rational'. Logic does not say what is "really" rational but only what a particular "community of ideas" calls rational.

If I recall Russell's notation aright, logical DEF.= rational -- but not as if by 'definition' in this case we meant an assigned meaning (a convention we had prescribed) rather than simply a description of our actual usage (custom, way of life, natural history) [PI § 199] of the words 'logical' and 'rational'.

If any subject says what is or is not "really" rational, that subject is Metaphysics and not Logic or Ethics (which are Philosophy's three parts according to the Stoics) (but not as if these three parts were necessarily separable). And just as there are various accounts of Logic and various different notions about Ethics, there are also very different particular metaphysics.

The query's thesis: "logic is branch of philosophy that concerns much about rationality". Well, but on my grammatical account (i.e. description of the use of words), it concerns the whole of rationality: it itself is rationality.

To say of man, in Moore's sense, that he knows something; that what he says is therefore unconditionally the truth, seems wrong to me. -- It is the truth only inasmuch as it is an unmoving foundation of his language-games. (OC § 403)

Many logics, or not?

And that is what rationality = logic is: The methods a "reasonable person" uses to think. That is the foundation of a "community of ideas" -- but not as if it were impossible for that foundation to change or be revised, at least somewhat (not short of a catastrophe or of madness). But are we going to call the foundations that are particular to different communities -- "logics"? We may well -- in so far as they are rational -- call them philosophies, as e.g. Descartes' rationality which is certain different from Wittgenstein's.

Anything (that can be described) is possible, but not everything is plausible, at least not to a reasonable person. (That is part of what we mean by 'reasonable'.) And, so, is metaphysics plausible? Only in some communities of ideas.

(How I would define the word 'philosophy': its subjects and its nature, both thoroughgoingly rational.)

Threats to sleeping societies

Query: question everything make problem to society.

A query from Saudi Arabia (and limiting vocabulary to restrict thought, as in George Orwell). And so, how shall we parse the query's combination of words? Is the query seeking a social-project (Plato, Apology 30e-31a: Socrates as the horsefly that wakes the sleepwalker up) -- or is it like Cato the Elder's condemnation of Socrates as a disturber of the social order?

The laws of society are set by a ruling class, and these laws are obeyed by the ruled classes -- and that is why questioning everything may "make a problem/s for society", because by 'society' we mean all social classes; and an attack on the ideology of the ruling class therefore has the effect of being an attack on every social class: it disturbs the entire social order, everyone who is complicit in maintaining it, from the rulers to the ruled.

Revolutions that affect the ideological foundations of society, just as revolutions in thought, are difficult to accomplish. Just because someone says "Look at things this way!" doesn't mean that people will (CV p. 61).

Precepts that guide how man lives his life

Query: life principle, Question everything.

If what the query means by 'life principles' is the precepts that guide an individual's life, then shall we say that Socrates' life principle was Question everything?

No, because that principle is too broad: rather, for Socrates: Question everything in logic (i.e. question everything about definitions of words or "things", although in most instances for Socrates that is a distinction which makes no difference) and ethics (how man should live his life), but not e.g. in physics (Plato, Apology 19c-d) and maths (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 7, 2-3) and theology (Plato, Phaedrus 229e).

Two precepts from Augustine: "Whatever is not done from love is not done as it should be done" and "He only errs who thinks he knows what he does not know." From Socrates and Wittgenstein: "If a man knows anything he can explain what he knows to others, and when he does this he does not tell others less than he knows himself." These are guides to how I should think (philosophize) and live my life that I have adopted.

The Problematical, the Undefined, and God

Query: undefined thing is God.

Wittgenstein: "We feel that there is something problematical about life, which we call its meaning." -- Might not we say instead "... which we call God", as if to say that by the word 'God' we mean 'the answer to the riddle of existence' (i.e. the "meaning" of existence)? I don't know -- do we use the word 'God' that way?

Query: what is the question without answer?

In this context, all the "eternal questions" might be replaced by the single word 'Why?' That is what I want to say, that there is a moment when everything seems both astounding and impossible, and then there is only a single unanswered question -- but it is unanswered because we cannot (but why "cannot"?) even describe what an acceptable answer would look like. And that means that, by definition, an answer is not logically possible -- although that is only because we ourselves have made it impossible (cf. Z § 259). But instead we speak of the limits of human comprehension, asking "if man can think God's thoughts". Whether or not that notion is entirely self-mystification, I don't know. Whatever else it is, it is characteristic of a particular kind of mind, but not of every human mind, maybe not even of every philosophical mind (depending on what we are calling philosophy of course).

Vanitas vanitatum expresses mere disillusionment, not the deepest depth of perplexity.

Query: life is the question without an answer.

Not every question is without answer, and if it were then we would not have the concept -- i.e. rules for using the word 'question' that we do in fact have. If by the word 'life' the query means 'the riddle (mystery) of our existence', then our life is indeed that question, if that is, the answer to that question is the answer to all the eternal questions, which it may or may not be. Albert Schweitzer: "One cannot explain life ... All we know is that there is one thing -- to be alive. And another state: not being alive." But, again, why "cannot"? That is the question for logic of language here.

"... that all species were created independently, and are immutable"

I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed ... from a point of view directly opposite to mine. (The Origin of Species xv)

By a 'point of view' we mean a 'way of looking at things' -- but Darwin was addressing his remarks to naturalists rather than to religious dogmatists. He was not contrasting a scientific with a dogmatic-religious way of looking at things.

Nonetheless, in the general context, I'd say that I rather envy those whose world-picture is that God created the earth and all the life that is in it to be just as it is and to live just as it does. There is, for me, a beauty in that dogmatic-religious view of the creation that is absent from Darwin's theory, a theory which, precisely because it is a scientific theory, does not satisfy the human longing for metaphysical-mystical knowledge -- i.e. knowledge of "what is beyond what man can perceive".

"Lord, what a pity! It's God's will, of course -- not we made the world, but it's a pity, brother! When a tree is withered, or a cow dies, we're sorry to see it. But what do you say, good man, to the whole world perishing? What good, Lord Jesus? And the sun ... and the sky, and the woods ... and the rivers ... and the beasts -- surely all these were made, adapted, fitted to one another. Each for its own work, each in its own place.... And all this will perish!"

"It's a pity, brother! Lord, what a pity! The earth, the woods, the sky ... the beasts and birds!... all these were made, adapted to their uses, each has its mind! And all will perish.... But most luckless of all are we men!" (Chekhov, The Reed, tr. unnamed)

The speaker is an old man and his view is of course sentimental, for it does seem to be that in the natural world, in the natural order, that behind everything beautiful there is something ugly, e.g. that behind the life of one lies the death of another, as rot and decay underlie the beauty of the seashore. (The old man of the story thinks he is seeing the decline of all life, that the fish are now smaller, the game less plentiful than it used to be, and this indicates to him that the world is coming to an end.)

The Victorian mind. Studying nature as an act of worship. Ordinary people doing this. And then afterwards not at all. God being known by the beauty of the things He has made (Wis. 13.1-5). The fusing of two conceptions (two definitions, picture-grammars) of "God the Creator": (1) The Bible's religious picture of the Creation, and (2) Bonhoeffer's metaphysical "God as a working hypothesis" picture.

With acceptance of Darwin's theory God's act of Creation, forever unchanging ("species independently created, and immutable"), is no longer useable as an explanation of the natural order of life (because it appears not to be consistent with all known data), and with the loss of the "God as a working hypothesis" conception, the worship of nature as God's Creation, loses its former charm, and disappears.

First believing that the Bible's account of God the Creator creating the world is revealed natural history (The Bible as "the literal word of God"), but then believing that the religious revelation has been shown to be inconsistent with the data of man's experience ... Thus if the Bible's account of the Creation is to be saved, man's interpretation of the nature of that account has to be revised, because otherwise it becomes at best a mystery, at worst a refutation of the veracity of the Bible.

Inter-meshing religion/religious myth ("God the Creator", as in the Bible's Book of Genesis) with metaphysics/non-science ("God as a working hypothesis") -- the consequence of that picture-entanglement resulting in the discrediting of both those pictures by Darwinism (i.e. the ideology that uses Darwin's picture of life-evolution not as a scientific theory, but as an anomaly-proof dogma, as in "evolution is not a theory but a fact").

Calling the Bible's account of the Creation "fantasy" shows no awareness that scientific theories are also "fantasies" -- i.e. imagination added to a selection of data: the data looked at (organized, modeled, mapped) in one way rather than another. A scientific theory is not knowledge of ultimate reality, if indeed there is such knowledge. What the Bible's account is not is science, but neither is science mysticism -- i.e. knowledge of what is essentially outside man's experience ("It is by faith that we understand ... that things we can see came in to being through what we cannot see" (Heb. 11.3)), if there is such a place.

Defining "things", "abstract objects", "intangible objects"

Query: Plato, theory of knowledge as developed in Theaetetus.

By a "theory of knowledge" -- do you mean speculation about what knowledge really is? How to reify/hypostatize a conceptual tool -- the word 'knowledge' is turned into some thing (an object? a phenomenon?) about which it is possible to have a real definition! But there is only a verbal definition of that word, unless you want to call an account/description of that word's grammar a "theory"?

But a theory does not simply state "what everyone knows and must admit" (Z § 211; PI § 599), does it. It is, rather, a way to select and organize the facts ("what everyone knows" e.g. about the rules of the language we speak). Sometimes by 'theory', however, as in metaphysics, we mean an unverifiable speculation about what something "really" is (or, in other words, a picture to which nothing in our experience of the world corresponds -- in so far as we can know that anything does correspond to it).

Defining "things", "abstract objects", "intangibles", rather than "mere words". -- Nebulosity of nebulosity; all is nebulosity and needless self-mystification.

Well, a bit more than a bit, based if only on its form ("Plato's theory of knowledge as developed in the Theaetetus"), I doubt that anyone but a professional philosopher (Sophist) would assign the query's task, for surely no free man -- i.e. no man who is free to dispose of his time as he sees fit -- would assign the task to himself, certainly not if he fancied he would accomplish it by searching the Internet. (Of course, 'I doubt' means 'I don't know'.)

At the end of the Euthydemus, Plato contrasts "professors of philosophy" (Sophists) with "Philosophy herself", and he simply notes that in every profession most people who practice that profession either are mediocre or bad at it. And it is this way with professors of philosophy -- and people who write about philosophy -- too. But that does not make philosophy itself bad.

Query: with reference to different conceptions, what is philosophy?

Rather than the nebulosity of different "conceptions", speak instead of different projects in philosophy? On the other hand, haven't I myself given my own account of what I think philosophy to be, an account which is different from both Wittgenstein's and Waismann's accounts.

Query: why we need to study history in an etymological aspect?

Nay, what we need is to study history in an epistemological aspect: How do we know what did and did not happen? And how are we -- or should we -- set up categories for dividing history into epochs.

A blunder that big is no blunder | The laws of gods and men

Wittgenstein's maths example: "For a mistake, that's too big." What does it mean? It means that it isn't a mistake, but that something else is being done in this case. (A mistake that big is not what we call a 'mistake'. That many exceptions to a rule is not what we call 'exceptions to a rule', because a rule with nothing but exceptions to it is not a rule, not what we call a 'rule'.)

The laws of gods and men

Laws are like spiders' webs: good for catching the weak, but the strong pass right through them. (Anacharsis the Scythian, to Solon)

In other words, mortal law is imposed on the weak but not on the strong. And that is one way the laws of man contrast with the moral laws of God spoken of by Antigone in Sophocles.

CREON: And thou didst indeed dare to transgress [my] law?

ANTIGONE: Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the Justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven. For their life is not of to-day or yesterday, but from all time, and no man knows when they were first put forth.

Not through dread of any human pride could I answer to the gods for breaking these. (lines 449 ff. of Jebb's translation)

ANTIGONE: And if my present deeds are foolish in thy sight, it may be that a foolish judge arraigns my folly. (c. line 473?)

ANTIGONE: ... there is nothing shameful in piety to a brother ... Hades desires these rites.

CREON: But the good desires not a like portion with the evil.

ANTIGONE: Who knows but this seems blameless in the world below?

CREON: A foe is never a friend -- not even in death.

ANTIGONE: 'Tis not my nature to join in hating, but in loving. (c. line 511? ff.)

And there is another way in which the laws of man contrast with the laws of God, that as in the Russian saying: "The law is an axle -- it turns the way you please, if you give it lots of grease." The laws of God are not.

Every human institution (Justice included) will stretch a little, if you only pull it the right way. (The Moonstone i, 11)

Note: Every human institution, and 'justice' = 'man-made law, judges and courts'.

The Scythian sage Anacharsis -- [According to the Soviet encyclopedia, the name 'Scythia' was used by classical writers (7th-2nd centuries B.C.) to name the area north of the Black Sea] -- said that under Solon's new constitution] the wise would plead and the fools would decide.... no lasting justice can be established for men, since the strong or clever will twist to their advantage any laws that are made; the law is a spider's web that catches the little flies and lets the big bugs escape. (Will Durant, Life of Greece (1939), v, p. 117, from Plutarch's Life of Solon if I recall aright)

But Diogenes Laertius credits this idea to Solon himself: "He compared laws to spiders' webs, which stand firm when any light and yielding object falls upon them, while a larger thing breaks through them and makes off." (Diog. L. i, 58, tr. Hicks)

Press headline: "Are they victims of unethical justice?"

How can justice be unethical? Only if 'justice' = 'the laws and/or law courts of man'.

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