knowledge and logic
About two or three years ago, I took a class on Nietzsche. Although I had heard plenty about Nietzsche I never could actually spell his name until I took that class. My philosophy professor did his dissertation on Nietzsche, which was called "A Buddhist Interpretation of Nietzsche." He said he had been reading Nietzsche since high school. Early on in the semester, I came to the realization that Nietzsche was an irrational nutcase, and I couldn't for the life of me understand why anybody took him seriously as a philosopher. My initial impression of Nietzsche was confirmed as the semester went on.
My professor opened up an email discussion for the class so that we could talk about whatever we wanted by emailing the whole class. Lots of interesting conversations and debates went on in there, and I found myself to be in the minority in most cases. I often criticized Nietzsche's sloppy arguments or lack of arguments, pointing out the many logical fallacies he committed, and I was constantly criticized for doing so. My philosophy professor seemed to think it was inappropriate to apply logic to Nietzsche, and he seemed to have the majority of the class convinced that logic was a matter of personal preference, and that I was merely arguing from a western biased point of view.
Since logic was so undervalued in that class, it was difficult to advance any sort of arguments. All of my arguments made use of logic. I often put them in formal form, such as disjunctive syllogisms, modus tollens, modus ponens, transitive, etc. My arguments were ineffective, not because anybody could find a flaw in my reasoning, or because anybody thought my arguments were unsound, but because they rejected the laws of logic they were based on. So all of these arguments always boiled down to the validity of logic.
Logic wasn't the only thing being attacked. My professor also attacked the correspondence theory of true, the notion that language can convey true information, and the whole notion of objective truth in general. It seemed the class was willing to accept this nonsense uncritically, and I often found myself just shaking my head.
In my frustration, I finally wrote a long email to the whole class defending logic. I said to them, "What I want to do is persuade you that logic applies to the real world, that it is necessary, that it is objective, that knowledge is possible, and that language is adequate to convey true information."
Since some of these issues have come up here in my discussions with Steve and Dale, I thought I'd reproduce a lot of that email here in the blog. Some of it probably needs to be rewritten, so I may edit parts along the way. That all depends on how lazy I am and how badly I think something needs to be rewritten. I don't know how much conversation this will generate since just about everybody who makes comments here seems to be reasonable people who basically already agree with me on these issues, but I think this email will give everybody a lot of insight into how my mind works. Dale once suggested I post something about my thought process. Although this may not really fulfill that suggestion, I think it will be a significant step in that direction.