Does Anyone Have the Slightest Idea What Any of This Means?

I read this whole thing but I still can’t really make sense of it. I like to read things that challenge my mind and make me think, especially things I don’t know the answer to. I like to read opinions that are opposite mine, and then I go over to my side and see what our people are saying against these arguments. I even spend time on my enemies’ sites. I spent quite a bit of time on pro-Israel sites recently. The weird thing about that is that after a while, it starts to get under your skin. You get brainwashed. I found myself starting to support Israel for a while, so I stopped reading. I encourage all of you to do this, though.

Consider reading the material of the other side that is completely opposite to what you believe. If it starts making you want to support them, you may want to quit, but at least expose yourself to their arguments. And I have found by doing this that conservatives are actually right on a few things these days, mostly in the cultural sphere. And I am almost a Communist! But I’m not going to reject an idea just because it’s conservative. If conservatives are right, so be it! Hell, if the fascists are right on something, I’ll support that view.

Thing is they’re hardly ever right on anything, but I’m always willing to consider that they might be. Also if you understand your enemies’ arguments, you can understand their motivations and them themselves better. And when you understand them better, you understand your own side better.

Most stuff I read doesn’t really challenge my brain too much. So I do like to read mindbenders that are hard to read or hard to understand. For some reason, I find literary fiction to be among the hardest things that I read in terms of truly understanding it. There’s so much packed in there and you have to pay attention to every sentence and make little pictures in your mind. You really have to pay attention to every word, every sentence! Nothing quite taxes my mind like literary fiction. Pure theory also taxes my mind.

Recently I have been reading sociology theory. I’ve dipped into Durkheim’s Suicide and The Division of Labor in Society. They were both very hard to understand, but they were both quite intelligible. Same thing: they both packed in so many ideas in so short of a space. Each sentence was packed with ideas, often more than one at once.

So when I saw this, I decided I would tax my brain with this stuff. Problem is I hardly understood any of what this guy is talking about. These are reviews of a book Morris Raphael Cohen called A Preface to Logic. It’s philosophy, hardcore philosophy. I must say that philosophy is the most taxing of all. It’s taken me til my 60’s before I could understand Hegel, Nietzsche, and especially Sartre. I still hardly understand Sartre. And I even understand a bit of Kant, and can’t nobody understand that guy. This goes to show you that in some ways you indeed do get smarter as you age.

If any of you dare to read this, let me know if it makes any sense to you at all. It’s Philosophy, particularly the branch of Philosophy called Logic.

Morris Raphael Cohen (1880-1947) was an American philosopher, lawyer, and legal scholar who united pragmatism with logical positivism and linguistic analysis. He wrote other books such as Reason And Nature, An Essay On The Meaning Of Scientific Method, The Faith of a Liberal: Selected Essays, Studies in Philosophy and Science, etc.

He wrote in the Foreword to this 1944 book, A Preface to Logic :

“This volume does not purport to be a treatise on logic. Whatever slight contributions I have been able to make to the substance of logical doctrine have been made elsewhere. What is attempted in the studies that form this volume is an exploration of the periphery of logic, the relations of logic to the rest of the universe, the philosophical presuppositions which give logic its meaning, and the applications which give it importance.

If this voyage of exploration does not settle any of the domains surveyed, I trust that it may at least dispel some doubts as to the existence of these domains and perhaps persuade some who are now inclined to waiver that here are fertile fields which will richly repay honest intellectual labor.” (Pg. x-xi)

He explains in the first chapter:

“The employment of special symbols instead of the more familiar symbols called words, is a practical convenience rather than a logical necessity. There is not a proposition in logic or mathematics that cannot be ultimately expressed in ordinary words (this is proved by the fact that these subjects can be taught to those who do not start with a knowledge of the special symbols). But practically it is impossible to make much progress in mathematics and logic without appropriate symbols.” (Pg. 8)

He states:

“Mill’s method of agreement and difference has a limited usefulness as a method of eliminating the circumstances which are not causal, and thereby helping somewhat in finding the true cause. But it is to be observed that the efficiency of this method depends on our fundamental assumption as to what circumstances are relevant or possibly related causally to the given effect. If the true cause is not included in our major premise the ‘canons of induction’ will not enable us to discover it.

If anyone thinks that I have understated the case for these canons of induction as methods of discovery, let him discover by their means the cause of cancer or of disorders in internal secretions.” (Pg. 21)

He comments on the Logical Positivism of Rudolf Carnap:

“Carnap and others deny that any unverifiable proposition has meaning… We do not ordinarily think that the meaning of anything is identical with its verifiable consequences. All sorts of statements are ordinarily deemed significant or meaningful without it ever occurring to us to undertake their verification.

Such is the case, for example, with ordinary suppositions, invitations, statements of problems, expressions of doubt, questions, statements of immediate perception, and statements of logical implications. Surely these and other types of intelligible statement have meaning without being verified. I say to someone, ‘Consider the case of a man drowning.’ This is an intelligible statement that does not call for verification.” (Pg. 57)

He observes:

“Recent psychology seems to justify the doubt, expressed long ago by Burke, as to whether people who understand what is meant by right, liberty, justice, etc., have any corresponding images other than the words or sounds, and whether even more concrete concepts universally arouse any other images in the course of ordinary rapid conversation or reading.” (Pg. 68)

He points out:

“Consider the usual illustration of induction given in our logic texts, viz., that of the sun rising. Is it true that the more often we have seen it rise the more probable it is that we will see it rise again? If that were the case there would be a greater probability of the man who has been it rise 36,000 times living another day, than the man who had seen it rise 3,600 times—which is absurd. Mill, himself the strongest defender of the claims of induction, admitted with characteristic candor that in some cases a few instances are far more probative than a much larger number of instances in other situations.” (Pg. 106)

He argues:

“Conclusions are necessitated by the premises because if we follow certain rules of logic all alternative conclusions are shown to be impossible. By ruling out certain possibilities of premises and conclusions we achieve determinate results. In this development of limited possibilities lies the fruitfulness of logic. Mathematics is thus productive as well as deductive. It is an exploration of the field of possibility just as truly as astronomy is an exploration of the field of stellar motions.” (Pg. 181)

Cohen’s book, though more than seventy years old, may still interest modern students of Logic looking for an introduction to the “principles” of the subject. Although Cohen was unrivaled in contemporary American philosophy for the diversity of the subjects with which he occupied himself, it is from Logic that he draws the basic principles that enable him to survey so wide a domain with such a unity of view. Early in life, through the study of Russell’s Principles of Mathematics, he became convinced of the reality of abstract or mathematical relations.

That pure mathematics asserts only logical implications and that such logical implications or relations cannot be identified with either psychological or physical events but are involved as determinants of both seemed to him to offer a well-grounded and fruitful starting point for philosophy. It at once ruled out for him the empiricism of Mill, since relations if they exist in the mind only, cannot connect things external to the mind; it also ruled out for him the Hegelian effort to locate relations in an absolute totality that is beyond human understanding and therefore of no explanatory value.

On the positive side, the doctrine, since it constitutes a ground for the procedures of scientific method generally, permitted him to take full advantage of the remarkable developments of modern scientific thought. It led him also to return to what constituted the concern of classical philosophy before it became preoccupied with the problem of knowledge – mathematics, physics, biology, psychology, ethics, law, art, and religion.

In philosophy proper it enabled him in the course of his extensive writings to raise almost every metaphysical question of importance, and it resulted in the composition of his book Reason and Nature, one of the few inexhaustible philosophical volumes written in America.

When the second edition of Russell’s Principles of Mathematics appeared in 1938, Russell pointed out that the Pythagorean numerology:

“…has misled mathematicians and the Board of Education down to the present day. Consequently, to say that numbers are symbols which mean nothing appears as a horrible form of atheism. At the time when I wrote the Principles, I shared with Frege a belief in the Platonic reality of numbers, which, in my imagination, peopled the timeless realm of Being. It was a comforting faith, which I later abandoned with regret.”

Many of the disciples, however, refused to give up the faith and have busily defended the doctrines of the first edition against those of the second. Cohen long before the appearance of the second edition had detected this shift in Russell’s thought. He remarked that with the publication of the Principles, Russell became his Allah, and that Mohammad has kept the faith, even though Allah himself has perhaps somewhat departed from it.

Perhaps no more bitter controversy has been engendered in the mathematical-logical field than the dispute touched upon briefly by Russell in the passage quoted above.

“What is all this frog-and-mouse battle among the mathematicians about?”

even Einstein paused to ask. Its ramifications were extensive, and the militancy of contemporary Logical Positivism is current evidence that the questions still evoke strong partisanship. Cohen in the present volume pays his respects once again to this and numerous other controversial matters, related more to the metaphysical foundations of logic than to the traditional technical themes.

Logic, for him the most general of all the sciences, attempts to isolate the elements or operations common to all of them. From this it follows that the laws of Logic have no contraries which possess meaning or are applicable to any possible determinate object, a condition which is not true of the special sciences, the systems of which have contraries which are abstractly possible. Cohen’s view is that the distinctive subject matter of Logic is formal truth and that such truth is concerned with the implication, consistency, or necessary connection between objects asserted in propositions, the relations generally expressed by if-then necessarily.

This conception of the subject matter of Logic, although an accurate description of the basic content of classical Aristotelian Logic, has many assailants. In fact it is argued today, so unsettled is the whole matter, that there is no ground for asserting that Logic has any subject matter. Against such a delimitation of the subject matter of formal Logic as that attempted by Cohen, the objection is offered that it is a deduction from a particular philosophy and that the field of Logic should not be determined by such partial considerations.

Cohen’s position avowedly is an expression of his philosophy of Logical Realism. But since his conception of Logic can be deduced from many philosophies – although not all the interpretations which Cohen puts upon the various logical doctrines can be so deduced – the validity of the conception should be judged by other considerations. If a true philosopher is one who has grounds for his belief, then Cohen assuredly in the present case qualifies for that distinction; however, since a true conclusion can follow from a false premise, his understanding of logic is not undermined by a disproof of his philosophy.

The argument that there is no ground in the present condition of logical knowledge to hold that Logic has a distinctive subject matter is an admonition of caution and as such undoubtedly has merit. But in the absence of the construction of a non-Aristotelian Logic in which the contraries of the principles of contradiction and excluded middle are assumed to be true and from which valid inferences can be drawn, we may assume that logical truths have been discovered and that their study is the subject matter of Logic.

Notwithstanding the fact that Cohen’s emphasis is upon the abstract qualities of Logic, he has always been careful to disassociate himself from Logical Positivism, which maintains that formal Logic deals with linguistic expressions without any reference to sense or meaning. This attitude of the logical positivists is a development of Hubert’s Formalism, according to which mathematics is a game played according to simple, definite rules with meaningless marks on paper. Mathematics is held to be comparable to a game of chess.

It is said that chess players do not ask what a particular game “means,” although at some future day, the game may acquire a meaning if it should be interpreted in terms of law, economics, or religion. However, the analogy is not strictly accurate, since today the result of a game of chess may mean that A is better than or equal to B in chess-playing ability. In his application of Hubert’s Idea to Logical Inference, Carnap uses the example of meaningless symbols: From “Pirots karulize elastically” and “A is a Pirot,” we can infer that “A karulizes elastically” without knowing the meaning of the three words or the sense of the three sentences.

Cohen denies that this is so. He points out that Carnap admits these are sentences only because we assume that “Pirots” is a substantive, “karulizes” is a verb (both of these terms being plural in the first sentence and singular in the others) and “elastically” is an adverb describing a way in which a process takes place.

“These expressions [Cohen writes] are therefore not entirely meaningless as would be undiluted gibberish. If instead of “Pirots” we put “the members of any class of objects” and instead of “karulize elastically” we put “are members of another class” we have as an inference that “a member of the first class is necessarily a member of the second class.” And this I submit is the actual meaning which Professor Carnap’s example suggests to anyone to whom the inference seems a valid one. This statement applies to all possible objects irrespective of any of their specific or differential traits but assuredly is not therefore entirely meaningless.”

But is this Carnap’s point? His position in fact is that in order to determine whether or not one sentence is a consequence of another, no reference need be made to the meaning of the sentences; it is sufficient that the syntactical design of the sentences be given. Cohen seems to admit this when he grants that “A karulizes elastically” follows from the premises. Before he made that concession, surely it was not necessary for him to translate the nonsense words of Carnap’s syllogism into his own meaningful sentences.

Although Carnap’s position is not answered by a demonstration that if a certain consequence is deducible from the manipulation of sentences possessing only a syntactical meaning, then a meaning otherwise than syntactical can be read into the sentences, it does point the way to the principal defect of Positivist logic. All that Carnap says may be true, but we are still faced with the problem of giving language a material application. It is of the essence of language from the point of view of science that it communicate meaning with respect to matters which are true or false.

If we start with, “If X, then Y,” the problem is to arrive at, “If Socrates, then mortal,” and not, “If Socrates, then immortal.” If Carnap’s conclusion that Logic is nothing but syntax were true, Logic would lose its scientific significance. Professor Carnap’s effort to meet this problem through his method of obstensive definition reveals the real difficulties of his position. Cohen’s importance in contemporary thought is due as much to his application of the methods of science to problems of human existence as to his technical contributions to philosophy.

Since Hegel, Cohen and Jordan were the only philosophers of standing who concerned themselves extensively with the problems of the legal ordering of society. Thus he rejects altogether the view that since science can deal only with the facts of existence, judgments of what ought to be are so arbitrary that no science of norms is possible. He insists that the essence of science consists of the formulation of hypotheses based upon the best available knowledge and anticipating new situations which can be experimentally tested so that greater determination can be achieved. He maintains that this procedure is open to ethics.

An ethical system, he argues, can achieve the status of a scientific system if adequate hypotheses as to what is good or bad or what is necessary in order to achieve certain ends are developed. This position seems unassailable as far as it goes, but does it answer the real difficulty? It disposes of those who maintain that facts are the starting point of inquiry, but what of those who admit that facts are the ends to be achieved by inquiry and who still deny the possibility of a science of ethics on the ground of the complexity of the subject matter or that of the ultimate irrelevance of ethical judgments to life on this earth?

The hypothetical-deductive system has yielded extraordinary knowledge of the physical world, but that process has been successful in part at least because of the ability of the physicist to simplify and deal only with ideal entities. Where the scientist has not been able to simplify he has failed, as in cancer research. We do not know if the method of simplification, i.e., the pursuit of the implications or effects of one single aspect or factor of a situation, is available in ethical inquiry in any significant sense, since the nature of human conduct may be such that it will not yield to that technique.

Furthermore, since we see no ground for such action we do not today pass judgment on the goodness or badness of the universe, the evilness of volcanic eruptions, or the practice of slavery among the ants. Whatever our preferences may be, Cohen’s argument does not negate the possibility that ethical judgments of human conduct may be just as irrelevant as evaluations of the physical universe. This argument does not foreclose the possibility of a technology of ethics founded on unsystematized preferences and ends in which normative judgments to that extent possess relevance.

But a science of ethics demands as a prerequisite a determinate system, a condition which the complexities of conduct may make impossible. Cohen’s present volume is devoted, as can be seen from the foregoing, to an analysis of problems lying on the borderlines of Logic and not with the customary subject matter of the usual treatises. Since his writing is distinguished by an admirable clarity, his argument can be followed with ease by the intelligent reader. All the topics which he discusses are the subject of radical inquiry in philosophical circles.

They embrace such matters as the nature of propositions, the theory of meaning and implication, the overlap of logical classes, fictions, the statistical view of nature, Logic and the world order and a chapter on probability which is a valuable supplement to the discussion of the same topic in Reason and Nature. These topics may seem innocuous but they harbor questions the analysis of which has led within recent years to actual assassinations of human beings, and the framers of political programs have found it expedient to take official notice of them.

As a whole the volume is one of the best existing statements in the field of Logic of the point of view of that branch of American philosophy which deals with its subject matter through the methods of science.

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