Thursday, September 29, 2011

Logic: a guy thing?

One of the commenters yesterday apparently suggested that all this obsession with logic is ‘a guy thing’. Hmm. I strenuously try to avoid any form of political correctness, but what if I had asked whether sewing was ‘a girl thing’. Public flogging? Roasting? Actually I know a lot of female logicians, e.g. Catarina Dutilh-Novaes who blogs here, who is not only a logician but a specialist in medieval logic, nothing better than that. The late Elizabeth Anscombe was famous for her rigorous argumentation, so much so that C.S. Lewis (supposedly) abandoned his career as a philosopher theologian for Narnia, after being soundly defeated by her.

In logic and reasoning, there is no male and female, for logic involves thought, and assuming we are thinking (and not spewing out a meaningless word salad), we cannot think illogically.
Thought can never be of anything illogical, since, if it were, we should have to think illogically. . . . It used to be said that God could create anything except what would be contrary to the laws of logic. —The truth is that we could not say what an ‘illogical’ world would look like. . . . It is as impossible to represent in language anything that ‘contradicts logic’ as it is in geometry to represent by its coordinates a figure that contradicts the laws of space or to give the coordinates of a point that does not exist [Wittgenstein, Tractatus 3.03]
Perhaps there are male/female differences when it comes to the art of persuading. Men persuade in various, often unsubtle ways. Females, and in particularly my wife, persuade by asking questions a bit like those computer dialogue boxes with radio buttons: “Shall we leave at 6:30 or 7:00 tonight, Yes/No”. With the difference that the computer dialogue box has a default marked so that if you hit return, you get the default, and I think there is no female equivalent of this.


Pamela said...

I was not referring to logic when I wrote "Maybe it's a guy thing?" I was referring to the discourse style of the all-male commenters on your (Edward's) blog site.

I refer you to the research of sociolinguist Deborah Tannen of Georgetown University. She has written extensively, both academically and in numerous popular books and articles, on differences in discourse styles. Her large body of work over many years includes analysis of style differences between such groups as men and women, boys and girls, mothers and daughters, New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers, researchers across different academic disciplines, and more, as well as commentary on political and public discourse ("the argument culture").

You can google Tannen's name and find plenty of things to read.

My comment came from observing the male-dominated conversation about my article in response to your blog post that critiqued it. The comments made me recall some of the research showing that boys' and men's conversation typically serves different purposes than girls' and women's, hence there is often much misunderstanding, based on the perceived purpose of a conversation or discussion and style of language interaction.

In general--and of course that does not mean all or all the time--young boys, all the way into adulthood, use language very differently than young girls and women do. One observation I recall reading years ago was the jockeying for position and establishment of status that characterize much of boys and men's conversations, which is very different from how women tend to approach discussion.

It interested me that some comments from men that were posted on the Psychology Today site where my original article appeared did not at all resemble the style of comments on your site. A few male commenters on that site offered thoughtful inquiries into what my point of view actually was/is (apparently without your preconceived idea of what my response would be), with a subsequent, respectful sharing of their own perspective and openness to dialogue. (By "respectful" I mean a priori treating me as an intellectual equal, not some meant-to-be-demeaning label they reflexively tagged on me.)
Edward's blog had a very different style of discourse.

So, again, my comment was not about logic, but about discourse style. My perception of the discussion on your site is that it is more about the commenters asserting their own status as superior thinkers and logicians than it is about fruitful intellectual inquiry. I suspect this has to do, at least in part, with differences in male/female conversational style and in differences between the accepted discourse style of philosophy and other domains of inquiry where creativity, not linear logic or grammatical analysis, are given higher value.

Pamela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pamela said...

One thing also I will add. Tannen's research does not take the view that one discourse style is better than another. They serve different purposes and have different effects. (I think she does, however, make a case for shifting our "argument culture" to one more conducive to mutual understanding. I haven't read that specific material.)

I am not saying that the style of discourse on your site is "wrong" or "bad." I'm sure it has a place within your usual contexts. I am, however, saying that for purposes of intellectual inquiry outside the [what we might call] "logical philosophical debate culture," your site's discussion style does not seem either as productive or respectful as some other approaches (as exemplified by some comments on the other site).

Edward Ockham said...

Sorry the spam filter keeps rejecting your comments. I have deleted the duplicates and preserved the ordering.

Pamela, if you find it doesn't accept, just leave it and I will pick up when I look at comments. Sorry about that.

Edward Ockham said...

Pamela, most of the people who read this blog are logicians, or interested in logic, so that would explain the difference. I don't think it's a male thing. A female logician would have said the same.

There were some elementary logical mistakes in what you said, both here and on your blog, and people were merely pointing this out.

I agree that men and women often use language differently. But they can't use logic differently. That is fundamental.

Logicians aren't interested in asserting a superior status. They have a concern about the validity of arguments, and about truth - they can be obsessive about this, and I apologise if anybody, including myself, stepped over the mark. As I say, a female logician would have made exactlyh the same points.

With every kind wish,

Edward :)

Edward Ockham said...


>>Tannen's research does not take the view that one discourse style is better than another.

This is the sort of thing that is guaranteed to drive any logician apoplectic. Logic isn't dialectic or rhetoric where the aim is to score cheap points. The point of logic, the whole and entire point, is to establish the conditions for the validity of arguments.

They often fare quite badly in public debate where their opponents will employ the sorts of tricks and fallacies which it is their concern to point out.

I will read up on Tannen.