Thursday, September 22, 2005

logic and language

The argument was made in class that logic was invented right along with language, which implies somehow that if we had just redone language, we could’ve also undone logic. If it is the case, however, that language actually conveys true information about ideas, then logic does not apply merely to language, but also to ideas, and if ideas can actually correspond to reality, then logic also corresponds to reality.

We can easily know that language actually does accurately convey ideas because the negation of that is self-refuting. The claim that “Language cannot convey meaning,” is self-refuting when understood. If language could not convey meaning, we would not be able to really understand what the statement meant or what the speaker meant by saying it. If Nietzsche makes the claim that language cannot convey meaning, and if we believe him, then it’s pointless for us to read him since we have no hope of understanding what he was trying to convey to us.

The fact that language conveys meaning is obvious. The other morning, I did another thought experiment with a co-worker named Donna. I said, “Donna, look at the TV,” and she turned her head and looked at the TV. Then I said, “Donna, look back at me,” and she turned her head and looked back at me. I had an idea of what I wanted her to do in my head, and I used language to convey that to her. Either my language accurately conveyed my thought to her, or else it was just a huge coincidence that she did exactly what I had envisioned. Which is more reasonable to believe?

One person in class rightly pointed out that language is a created system of tokens. A statement represents an idea, but it is not the idea itself. One proposition can be stated in a variety of different ways. You can state a proposition in different languages, and you can write it several times on a sheet of paper, but you’re still talking about the same proposition. The usefulness of language is in the fact that it can actually correspond to reality. Now if language can correspond to reality, then so does logic. If you claim that logic is a function of language, and that language corresponds to reality, then logic must also correspond to reality.

If logic did not apply to the real world, there would be nothing to prevent you from building a house that was bigger on the inside than the outside. Married bachelors might be as common as either single or married people. You could even exist and not exist at the same time. Everyone, including eastern philosophers who claim to subscribe to both/and thinking and reject either/or thinking use logic every day of their lives. Nobody walks out into moving traffic because they know it’s either them or the car, not both.

We would not be able to infer anything through deduction if not for intuition, for we must be able to recognize and know the laws of logic before we can use them. So logic and deduction depend on our intuitive knowledge.

[I might also point out that while a person can say things like "four-sided triangle," or "married bachelor," no such entities can exist in reality. You can say, "My cat is pregnant, and the same cat is also not pregnant," but your cat can't actually be both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time and in the same sense. That's because logic is not merely a function of language. Nor are the laws of logic merely laws of thought. They are laws of reality. It is because logic is a function of reality that we must think logically if our thoughts are to have any correspondence with reality.]

Next: Knowledge by sensory perception


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