Thursday, April 19, 2012

On the misunderstanding of logic

Maverick claims a great misunderstanding in my earlier post about the usefulness of logic. I don't think so. Maverick's original post, as I understand it, was an objection to the principle of addressing the small questions of philosophy because the 'big questions' are just too difficult, and probably without resolution. His objection is that the small questions are also "widely and vigorously contested", and so this supposed advantage of pulling in our horns is lost, "and we may as well concentrate on the questions that really matter, which are most assuredly not questions of logic and language"

My reply was twofold. First, the 'little problems' are assuredly not without resolution, at least not if Ockham is right. Now Bill's point may not be that there is no uncontroversial resolution of the little problems. I.e. he is not claiming that they are insoluble, but rather that there is no widespread agreement or consensus on how to resolve them. I reply, Ockham's point is about the understanding of logic. There may be disagreement about his resolution, but that is because those who disagree fail to understand logic.

Second, Ockham's point is that the little problems and the big ones are connected. Resolution of the simple, logical problems opens a door to the larger problems (for example, the problem of the Holy Trinity).
… the gateway to wisdom is open to no one not educated in logic. [...] For it resolves all doubts, dissolves and penetrates all the difficulties of Scripture
This addresses Bill's point that the big questions "are assuredly not questions of logic and language". Ockham says that they are, or rather, that the big questions can be resolved by addressing questions of logic and language.

Whether Ockham is right about the understanding of logic is of course widely and vigorously disputed. See, e.g. "The Failure of Ockham's Nominalism".  But that is beside the point. The fact that the both the big and the little questions are widely disputed is not in itself a good reason to go for the big questions.  If you truly believe that the little questions can be resolved and, even better, are a doorway to understanding and resolving the big ones, then that is a good reason to take the little ones first.  The existence of popular disputes, misunderstandings and confusion is not in itself a good reason not to tackle their root cause.

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