Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Logic, language and metaphysics

A long piece from Maverick today about existence and the 'Continental' school of philosophy, which he contrasts, mostly favourably, with the 'analytic' or 'Anglo American analytic' school. At the heart of his argument is the idea that the analytic philosopher prefers the 'thin theory' of existence because he lacks some sense or intuition of existence "that philosophers as diverse as Wittgenstein, Maritain, and Sartre share, a sense or intution he fells must be bogus and must rest on some mistake".

A wider point that I believe that he has raised elsewhere is that the analytic technique or 'logic' in the wider sense, cannot usefully engage with metaphysics proper.

I disagree – at least if 'metaphysics' is understood in its properly philosophical sense (and not its other sense of New Age mysticism, crystals, and sitting cross-legged and chanting 'OM' and all that).

Another term for 'metaphysics', used by the scholastic philosophers, was 'first philosophy'. 'Philosophy' on its own meant any scientific study or systematic account, which is why 'natural philosophy' is so-called. So metaphysics is a type of philosophy – the primary type, prior to and higher than any departmental branch of the subject. As for philosophy, the subject began in Greece as a method of getting knowledge about the universe without appeal to any revelation, to myth, or religious knowledge of any kind,but only byeason. There's a nice piece about this in the Logic Museum here.

Note the avoidance of appeal to revelation. Why? Because revelation depends on something being revealed, a state of mind that may be accessible to some, but not to everyone. The starting point of true philosophy is not some state of mind or thought or idea that is available to some, but not to everyone capable of thought and reason. Nor is it some religious text or authority, or anything of that sort. The starting point of philosophy is propositions that are clear and self-evident to everyone who thinks or reasons, without appeal to any religious sense or das mystische. The end point is propositions that are derivable from the primary ones by some process of reason or logic. Hence the appeal by analytic philosophers – and scholastic ones – to clear definition, and to logical principles.

All of this involves language, of course. If you can't say it clearly, you can't say it at all. And the point of logical principles is to distinguish valid reasoning from mere disconnected sentences. This can only be done by rules that apply to the use of language. Philosophy is essentially linguistic. Even the long passage the Maverick quotes from Sartre is expressed in words, in language. Either (1) Sartre is arguing from basic assumptions to a conclusion, or (2) he is trying to express those basic assumptions alone or (3) he is trying to use language as a form of prayer or chanting 'OM' to get us into some kind of trance state so some truth will be revealed to us. Only the first two count as philosophy.

I expect the Maverick wants to deny this. My point is: if he does, he is not really doing philosophy, properly so-called. We can't do philosophy without viewing reality through the lens of logic and language.

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