10 October 2008

Boyle's paper on Kant's logic is terrific

I am sick as a dog at the moment, but I managed to haul myself to the Modern Philosophy Workshop this morning. The paper was "Kant on Logic and the Laws of the Understanding", and it was very illuminating. Boyle's presenting a paper on sortals at the Contemporary Philosophy Workshop on monday; that also looks good, though I haven't read the paper for it yet.

Conant was at the workshop this morning, which was nice; he mentioned that the paper seems to slide between two sorts of oppositions: Kant's view of logic vs. Frege's view of logic and Kant's view of logic vs. the "post-Hilbertian" view of logic that Conant actually thinks is what you most commonly come across nowadays (he specifically mentioned Brandom, Belnap, and some other guy at Pitt that Boyle studied under). Boyle conceded the point, modulating the claim of his paper to the claim that Frege's view is an illuminating waystation between Kant's view of logic and the post-Hilbertian view which is not regnant.

I found the notion of a "post-Hilbertian" view of logic very agreeable, and the term is apt. The idea is that logic is a "purely prescriptive" science; you have the various axiom systems etc. and the question of whether a given system has anything to do with things like "truth" or "reason" or "inference" is a concern which is outside of the purview of logic. The parallel is of course to Hilbert's view about geometry: You have the various geometries that geometers study, and the question of which (if any) describe a physical space is not something geometry is concerned with. (I recall hearing that Frege wrote a letter to Hilbert complaining about this, and Hilbert basically rolled his eyes in response.)

I took a good deal of other notes, but I mainly wanted to just throw a post up before I forgot, and in case the paper isn't online forever. Easily the best paper on Kant and logic that I can recall coming across.

edit: Note the strikethroughs.On a jarringly unrelated note, newly-hired U Chicago professor Ben Callard is terminally ill. Cancer. He just found out, apparently; he held class on monday, and didn't seem that sick to me then. (He'd said he had a doctor's appointment right after class; he wasn't sure if he was going to end class early or what, since he really felt terrible. He did not end class early, and the general consensus was that the class was starting to take form and looked like it would be fun -- I know of at least three people who weren't enrolled in the class who were planning on continuing to sit in, just because the discussions were good -- including me. Callard was doing a good job leading the discussion, keeping it going interesting places, etc.) But, apparently he has inoperable lung cancer, and not very long to live. (The longest I heard was "less than a year". I won't repeat some of the things I heard, but I heard nothing good on this front. edit: Practically everything I heard on friday was groundless. See above post.) The Callards had their second child this August. Cute lil' guy. Suffice to say, today's news was horrifying, is horrifying, on all sorts of levels.

Friday was an eventful day.


Duck said...

Wow, that's awful about Professor Callard. My condolences to all. I do hope you yourself are getting proper medical care (and staying in bed when you ought)!

I'm not sure I'm grasping the upshot of the discussion of logic here. What should we take away from it? Bottom line it for me here, I'm a busy man. 8-)

Daniel Lindquist said...

I've not been running a fever, so I've just been attributing everything to the change in weather. I normally don't feel well when things suddenly get cold, and they certainly did that on tuesday. (They've warmed up again some since.) I'm feeling better today, so that's good. I've definitely gotten enough sleep recently.

The upshot of Boyle's paper, at least one of the main points, is that Kant's talk of logic and related matters really does hang together pretty well: it's not crazy that he'd think that the Table of Judgements was complete when it only had syllogistic forms, or that he'd focus on categorical judgements, or that he'd pretty well ignore singular judgements entirely. If you take Kant's faculty-talk seriously, and look at it in the context of the scholastic tradition that it originated from, then Kant's discussions of logic really hang together a lot more coherently than anglophone commentators have noticed. Admittedly, this is a bit of a "scholarly" point, since Boyle doesn't want to argue that we should somehow "return" to Kant's conception of logic, but I really enjoyed seeing a lot of loose threads in Kant get tied together. In the discussion, it became clear that the sort of faculty-talk he drew attention to in the context of the theoretical use of the understanding and the influence of sensibility was also relevant when looking at how Kant describes the will and inclinations in his practical philosophy. For instance, I can now see why Kant would closely associate a "holy will" with a will lacking in sensible inclinations, rather than a "holy will" just being a will which was not driven to act by mere inclinations on any occasion. (Interestingly, one of the points that falls out from this is that Kant's faculty psychology is incompatible with the Incarnation; the sole reason he gives for rejecting the possibility of the divinity of Christ in the Religionbook is that we can't represent to ourselves what it would be for a finite mind to possess a holy will. Before, I thought that Kant had just slipped up here, as he seemed to be sliding around in some of his discussions of "radical evil" earlier in the book.) These sorts of issues also make it clear just how radical Hegel's criticisms of Kant were on these fronts, since Hegel has nothing but scorn for "faculty psychology", the idea that the mind might be made of "various powers which stand alongside one another". The Kant championed by McDowell and Conant and other fine folk is, then, perhaps an even more Hegelian Kant than is generally recognized. (Again, this is perhaps mere scholarship. But I find it to be interesting scholarship, in the sense that I enjoy hearing about it.)

I took Conant's comments about a "post-Hilbertian" view of logic as showing that contemporary thought about logic tends to disregard the idea of a "true logic" entirely, just as Hilbert didn't care a whit about what a "true geometry" might be. In practice, I think this gives one a principled reason for refusing to draw inferences which seem to be mandated "by the logic one is using" -- even if all of the inferences one has heretofore drawn can be happily modeled using classical logic (so that every "if then" sentence one has used can be represented by a statement employing a material conditional etc.), then one doesn't thereby commit oneself to holding that judgements like "If I'm sitting in a chair, then the holocaust happened" as being true ones (despite the fact that the holocaust happened and I am currently seated). I've noticed that in some contemporary discussions of non-classical logics (especially involving dialetheism) defenders of classical logic claim that some people, such as scientists who work with an inconsistent theory about electrons, "just aren't aware of what the logic they employ commits them to". This sort of talk is nonsense on a post-Hilbertian view of logic, as I understand it. The question of which inferences are good inferences and which judgements are true judgements is not a matter for logic. (Though a logic may be useful for laying things out for us so that we can decide whether some complicated inference is valid. For instance, if the claims involved include a great many negative terms (not, none, no), many of which are nested in odd ways, then we might not be able to tell "at a glance" quite what is being said, though we don't regard the words or syntax used as foreign. We can hold meaning constant, in this restricted sense, and use logic (a logic which we regard as helpful with the particular meaningful terms we're using) to make things clearer to us. I take this to be something like what Brandom means when he calls logic "the organ of semantic self-consciousness".)

If this is a good way to think about logic, then, for example, there's no reason to include logical beliefs in Levi's "urcorpus". For logical beliefs don't play the sort of foundational role that they were supposed to on the Kantian or Fregean view (where they're the "laws of the understanding" or the "laws of truth" or somesuch). They're explicative vocabulary, not explanatory vocabulary, to speak alliteratively. Since I tend to think that removing the notion of an "incorrigible truth" entirely from Levi's system is going to be helpful when trying to exploit pragmatism as an anti-skeptical strategy, this strikes me as noteworthy.

Incidentally, I have read the last chapter of your dissertation; I just haven't found/made/imagined time to respond to it. I think I see what you're getting at with Wittgenstein, and that bit does seem interesting and novel (or at least it's new to me); I'm not at all sure I follow the Nietzsche stuff. I'll have to look at the chapter again to say anything more definite.

Duck said...

Thanks, I think I get the idea. I've never been sure what to think of "faculty psychology" in Kant or elsewhere. You have to talk that way to deal with what Kant actually says, but then you're kind of reduced to saying things like McDowell's claim that no, "spontaneity is active in receptivity," which leaves us wondering what the point of distinct "faculties" was in the first place. And it does seem weird to talk of "various powers which stand alongside one another," whatever that even means. OTOH – while I do think Fodor is a nutcase – I always thought his book The Modularity of Mind had some good points. And of course at *some* point you have to engage with neuroscience, and that aphasia stuff is quite suggestive. (Still, "faculties"?!)

I think I'm fine with a "post-Hilbertian" view of logic as you describe it here; the alternative doesn't sound very Davidsonian (even given what Davidson himself says; I take him to be committed more to attributing rationality in general to interpretees, not any particular logical truths). If the informant doesn't draw "inferences which seem to be mandated 'by the logic one is using'", then maybe he's not "using" that logic at all. I also think I can see how Frege's view could be a sort of "waystation" on the way to such a view. Interesting.

I generally agree about what you say about Levi; my use of his pragmatism is pretty, shall we say, free (and corrigible!). I hadn't thought about the specific role of logic there, but in general I guess I think that assigning a proposition the status of "logical truth" (a/o/t some other kind) is analogous to believing a proposition (a/o/t doubting it). So (an analogue to) infalliblility would be better than incorrigibility there, even if in the epistemic context, logic is traditionally supposed to be the latter. The idea about using it to "make things clearer" is surely pragmatist in spirit.

Glad you can make something out of my chapter. The Nietzsche stuff in there is indeed a bit ragged. I have another paper on that which might help (after I give it a badly needed overhaul). In general my version of "perspectivism" is pretty straightforwardly Davidsonian; it's just unusual to see the latter in play in overtly Nietzschean contexts. Let's get back to this later. Now go read von Mises or whoever.

Daniel Lindquist said...

I thought Boyle did a pretty good job laying out what he thinks Kant's understanding of a "faculty" (or "power") is. In a sense, the various mental powers do stand together (in our case at least) -- the understanding cannot actualize itself without the deliverances of sensibility, and the role the faculty of sensibility plays in the general system of the mind can't be explicated without noting its interaction with the understanding. But, for Kant, the fact that we have these faculties "alongside one another" is accidental: other beings might have an understanding which worked without a faculty of sensibility (which is how Kant thinks a divine intellect would function). Importantly, he thinks that in each case the same type of faculty would be involved. This is where things start to get... problematic.

I recall once reading an article by a Kantian (I think it was Robert Hanna) that quoted the opening few sentences of "Mind and World", about how Kant wasn't trying to draw our attention to "a special class of thoughts, the empty ones" and then said "No, that is exactly what Kant was trying to do. Thoughts without intuitional content play an important role in his discussions in the Transcendental Dialectic...." and then from there on out it was a wild, speculative adventure in metaphysics, with no inkling of what was supposed to remain of interest in Kant's thought for anyone now living. I'm inclined to think that something like this is probably true for Kant's talk of "faculties": what he meant is something none of us would want to retain nowadays.

This sort of historical/historicizing problem is of course not unique to Kant, but comes up in the history of philosophy/the use of historical philosophers generally. I'm inclined to just cede the point to Hanna or whoever the historian in question is, and let McDowell keep telling us about his (fictional) Kant. (My preceptor mentioned the other day that he regards his dissertation as engaged in a basically Aristotelian project, but he has to watch himself because if he says that in his dissertation his readers start jumping on him with "But what Aristotle meant was...". I suggested he claim to be doing work that was "inspired by Aristotle" instead, so he could say the opposite of what Aristotle did and still claim some sort of Peripatetic heritage.) If doing violence to a text makes it more interesting, well, then that makes it more interesting. It is of course possible that a more principled defense of one's reading could be made, so that, say, one argues that Kant really should not have maintained a neo-scholastic conception of the faculties of the mind given his other commitments, or Kant really should not have left open a problematical role for "empty thoughts" given the results of the Deduction, but I'm generally in favor of just being cavalier about things like that. They're nice when you can get them, but not necessary, and they generally seem to involve a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to bang out.

I need to get ahold of that "Experience, Norm and Nature" volume, to read McDowell's responses. I know some of the essays in there take McDowell to task for loose use of historical philosophers (or at least they try to -- I recall deVries's Sellars article not being very good as a reading of Sellars, and Westphal's essay is loose). I'm curious how McDowell responds to those sorts of criticisms, now that he's more explicitly staked out positions on how to read Kant/Hegel etc.

I agree that Davidson really did mean to talk about rationality generally, as opposed to particular logical truths. I've noticed that he never discusses nonclassical logics or the revision of logic in his published papers, but when the issue comes up in interviews or w/e (as in his interview with Dummett) he's open to the idea of, say, dropping the law of excluded middle in cases where it seems to cause trouble. He said he usually worked with classical logic "because it was simpler". That sort of attitude just isn't compatible with judging rationality by (in part) whether or not someone accepts as true "the logical truths". But it's the latter that shows up in his essays. Sigh.

I suspect that, like with Davidson's non-discussion of Wittgenstein, Davidson held back from writing what he really thought about logic because he wasn't confident enough that he'd worked it all out. Since he wasn't willing to defend his reading of Wittgenstein against everyone else's, he didn't write about it at all; since he wasn't confident that he'd figured out The Right Way To Talk About Logics, he just left up the appearance that he followed Quine in dogmatically clinging to classical logic. I recall, in the interview with Lepore which is reprinted in "Problems of Rationality", Davidson mentioned he would try to have an essay entirely worked out before he'd actually start writing it, and sometimes he'd never start writing an essay because he'd stumble on something in the course of trying to work it out in his head. I suspect that this is what happened with Wittgenstein and the revision of logic.

On assigning something the status of a "logical truth" and infallibility/incorrigibility etc.: I really do need to go back to Graham Priest's "Two Dogmas of Quineanism" and work out what I really think about his proposal there. Priest wants to defend the analytic/synthetic distinction, while allowing that any sentence is revisable (or can be held back from revision come what may). In particular, he tries to defend a view such that if a proposition is analytic, it's analytic that it's analytic (analyticity is reflexive) while still allowing that judgements of analyticity are revisable. Which is an interesting sort of position to stake out, since if analyticity is a purely analytic matter then it's not obvious what could warrant revision of that sort of judgement in the future (since, ex hypothesi, these judgements are just those whose evaluations aren't affected by the deliverances of experience). IIRC, I don't think his view can be made to gel with the indeterminacy of translation (which would damn it in my eyes), but, like I said, I really need to write something about that essay to get things clear for myself. It's a good essay, though.

J said...

In other words, back to debating the status of ye olde synthetic a priori, and then like deciding if Kant really overturned those vull-garians like Hume (and even Locke), who more or less says you have a brain, eyes, and perceive something like external reality, and logic (and mathematics for that matter) grew out of interaction with that external reality.............

or granting some force to the german witch doctors, argue that the synthetic a priori (including the magic of the syllogistic!....) is like cognitive, man. ...the reason for Frege's platonic aspects really due to lack of knowledge of cognition and perceptual mechanisms (as Quine in his more pragmatic moments also suggests........)

Metaphysics electives for the peoples.......(leave the veneration of pedants to those stiffs in the mass graves of china)

J said...
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