Logic, thought and action

There are three laws of thought, the law of identity, the law of contradiction and the law of excluded middle. According to some writers the law of identity was not formulated clearly until the middle ages by one Antonius Andreas, a follower of Dun Scotus. But usually Aristotle is credited with the description of the three laws of thought. (Law of identity – everything is identical to itself)
When Hamlet asks ‘To be or not to be?’ he is enunciating a dilemma in terms of the law of excluded middle – everything must either be or not be. The law of contradiction is importantly different – nothing can both be and not be.
Of course there are other formulations of logic, so called fuzzy logics where there are intermediate or undecideable cases or where the logic refers to propositions about the future or are conditional on hypothetical events. And there is an intuitionistic mathematics associated with the Dutch mathematician and logician, Brouwer. He was dissatisfied with the treatment of infinity by finite human beings. I must say, I find the idea of different sizes of infinity a bit rich, but I am told the majority of mathematicians have no problem with the idea. Perhaps they live more of their lives in a Platonic realm than most of us.
Charles Saunders Peirce, the great and difficult contemporary of William James, was the son of Benjamin Peirce, Professor of Mathematics at Harvard. Peirce senior described Mathematics as the science which draws necessary conclusions. His son later described Logic as the science of drawing necessary conclusions. I suppose this means mathematicians rejoice in the techniques they are able to employ, while logicians look for foundational justifications. And later Frank Ramsey described logic as a normative science, which was a remark Wittgenstein puzzled over. Perhaps what Ramsey was driving at was that logic did not explain even if it described rational behaviour, but was rather just another language game, another part of the fabric of our lives. Historically it must have been the other way round, rational behaviour brought logic into view. It seems likely that logic is a hard wired into the nervous system, it works well in a world where decisions need to made quickly. (Philosophers sometimes spend a lifetime failing to make up their minds about certain big questions, which draws attention to how different thought is to calculation, sometimes called ratiocination.)
And just as there can be other geometries than Euclidean, there can be other logics (the various modal logics) than Aristotelian or Boolean.
There is a fourth law, The Principle of Sufficient Reason, which is deeply embedded in how we see and think about the world. “Nothing is without a (sufficient) reason” is not a law of logic ( as David Hume demonstrated) but it is, I submit, the great dogma of the scientific world view. It is important to see that it cannot be used, without circularity, to explain the regularity and predictability of the world, because it has been derived from finding the world is at least in part predictable. Leibniz is credited with formulating the principle, but as far as I can see, he was cavalier in his use of the words reason (ratio) and cause (causa) interchangeably. If this is so, it is probably because his focus of interest was the providential arrangements of God, and the question of free will was not his central concern. The obvious observation to make is that although all causes can be construed as reasons, the reverse is not true. ‘The reason he will visit Edinburgh before the end of the summer is that his mother lives there’ cannot be redescribed as an efficient cause of a journey to Edinburgh.
In my opinion when Hamlet says “To be or not to be: that is the question” his existential agony arises because he can see that there is nothing ulterior to his own decision which will determine how he acts. Not his education, not his inheritance, not the behaviour of Claudius: there is no sufficient condition, he is existentially free. Because he is self- determining, he is self-creating. To put it colloquially, as a criminally insane person once did to me when describing a very violent act, there isn’t a cigarette paper between him doing X or Y. Wittgenstein expresses this well “ Doing itself seems not to have any volume of experience. It is like an extensionless point, the point of a needle. The point seems to be the real agent. And the phenomenal happenings only be the consequence of this acting. ‘I do …’ seems to have a definite sense, separate from all experience.” Mind you, that definite sense is mysterious, just not quite as mysterious as Kant’s transcendental ego.
What is the human soul unless we make or mar it though our own effort? In my next two blogs I shall publish two poems about what I believe.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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