segunda-feira, 9 de maio de 2011



When I started, in the seventies to develop my first criticism to Formal Logic (FL) as a tool for philosophical analysis, I did not know Nietzsche's texts on logic. Surprisingly, I had already written some texts where I said that my philosophy of logic - at least in its critical part - was basically "Nietzschean". Remember also that in the subtitle of "The deleted Logic" ("A Lógica condenada", 1987), a Nietzschean concept such as “extemporaneous” (unzeitgamässige) was already used.

In fact, my criticisms against Formal Logic expressed, in a more clearly and analytical way, the main idea of Nietzsche about logic: the basic and primitive disagreement or mismatch between language and logical forms, on one hand, and the world on the other.

The most striking feature of "Introductions to logic" is their monotony. The theory of elementary logic is presented as a consolidated doctrine, without any huge criticism against any aspect of its standard exposition (as the four Gospels, all different but all telling the same story). I do not mean (which would be factually false) that classical logic is not contested, expanded or diminished, because that is precisely what makes “non-classical” logics. But all disputes, expansions or reductions take always “classical logic” as a reference point (already in the name “non-classic”). Classical logic should be well established so that all these “deviations” could be formulated.

All introductions to logic follow exactly the same pattern : initial chapters on the concept of “logic” and “argument”, clarification on “essential distinctions” (truth and validity, use and reference, etc), some notions of set theory, some information about the official history of logic, some presentation on the calculus of sentences and truth tables, the calculus of first-order predicates, one chapter on deduction and final chapters on the system of identity, meta-logic, and maybe something about non-classical systems or applications of logic in science or in common language. There are many exercises, sometimes with solutions.

I list below some of the statements that are routinely said about Logic, and whose current questioning has constituted, by contrast, the structure of my philosophy of logic in its critical part:

1. The idea that logic is quite general, not referring to any particular object; all objects, whatever their context or type of matter, would be affected by the laws of logic, because these are completely general and with the highest degree of formality. This becomes clear every time the books point out that the contents of the reasoning do not matter, that subjects can be any one, that a reasoning belonging to any subject-matter should be submitted to the same laws of logic. It means that logic, in general, refers to an “object whatever”. (Logic can be diversified in many logics, but each of them pretends to be "general" in this sense; there is not a "logic of contents", as Husserl wanted many years ago). 

2. The idea that, in the application of logic to ordinary reasoning, by making some efforts to build adequate paraphrases, ordinary pieces of reasoning will “fit” more or less naturally within the forms of logic, and its validity could be assessed when formalized this way. It is now commonplace that the logicians recognize the many analytical limitations of the formal apparatus provided by FL; there is no book that does not check for problems, disadvantages and limitations of logical analysis. I think, however, that they do not to correctly size the scope of these problems of adequacy and their relevance to the relations of logic and philosophical analysis. (The problem, then, is not of observation of data, but to the importance given to the results for philosophy).

3. The idea that all lexical connections (lawyer / professional, closed / open, single / married, etc.) should remain outside the scope of logic precisely because they are not generally or strictly “formal”, but connections based on “content” considerations. For FL, it is obvious that the inference passages from, say, “x is green” to “x is colored”, or “x is a lawyer” to “x has a profession”, etc, are not strictly logical passages, because they are not formal but dependent on the meaning of the terms employed.

4. The idea that the elementary logic has a part purely sentential which operates with indecomposable units, and a quantificational part which operates an “internal analysis of sentences”. Whether one starts the exposition by the sentential part and then add the quantificational part, or present the first-order logic with the sentential part as a sub-part, in any case there are two sectors of logic that must be exposed like stable structures. (I speak here only of classical logic, not of advanced projects as “universal logic”. Anyway, the sentential / quantificational linkage is so strong that frequently affects even many “divergent” logic: we have a modal sentential logic and a modal quantificational logic, sentential paraconsistent logic and quantificational paraconsistent logic, etc).

5. The idea that logic was created by Aristotle, developed by medievals, took a “nap” for several centuries and was rediscovered by Frege, with nothing important in the centuries in between (from XIVth to XIXth centuries). 

Following each step of this routine exposition, my own presentation of logic could be summarized (not monotonously I hope) in the following five items:

1. Against over-generality.

I believe that the statement 1 is false. In the choice of “logical terms” (connectives, quantifiers, etc.), there is already a choice of one type of object in which logic is especially concerned. The specific type of object that FL studies is an object not affected by temporality, causality and by the real processes of the empirical world. But not all objects in the world are of this type. Why the “object whatever”, independently from the different thematic areas, should be a timeless object?  I would say, however, that if temporality is missing, this proves that Logics is not dealing with the “object whatever”, but with a very peculiar type of object (almost all objects in the world are affected by temporality). 

2. Against supposed material adequacy through paraphrases.

I believe that the counterexamples and difficulties that logicians often find in the implementation of FL schemes when applied to ordinary reasoning and philosophical discourse have a much greater importance than the logicians are willing to accept, in its power to undermine the usual presentation of logic as an analytical instrument with philosophical interest. The paraphrases “reduce", sometimes with brutal artificiality, the variety and richness of forms of objects to pre-determined logical schemes. The devices which logicians make use to obtain the “fitness” and the relative arbitrariness of paraphrases, full of crucial decisions about the most “successful” translation, show that FL is much more inadequate than philosophers using logic usually think. It is important not just insisting on the inadequacies, nor analyzing isolated cases of inadequacy, but situating the criticism of structural inadequacy based on these observations in a wide and radical range of reflection.

(For these two first topics, see my Mexican paper "Is really Logic topic-neutral and completely general?")

3. Against the exclusion of lexical forms.

Nothing more typical in philosophy than the connections between lexical pieces of language in a broad sense (not just the “analytical” connections studied in the analytic literature, but connections of all sorts that are at the interface between dictionaries and encyclopedias).  If  FL targets a type of “generality” leaving entirely aside by principle the lexical connections as being “materials”, one of the most interesting features of the ordinary reasoning will be let aside. The introduction of formal studies on lexical connections may have to change substantially the entire presentation of logic. It is false that the lexical connections are purely material: many linguists and my collaborator Olavo L.D.S. Filho  showed that lexical connections may be regarded as formal in the light of further analysis beyond those offered by FL, analysis working with networks of lexical pieces searching for formalizable structures. This point is the strict counterpart of item 1: since usual logical forms of FL are not as “formal” and “general” as they claim to be, the lexical connections are not as material and “extra-logical” as commonly assumed.

(For this topic, see our book Lexical Inferences and interpretation of nets of predicates ("Inferências Lexicais e Interpretação de redes de predicados"). Our own research was done in the same years as Robert Brandom was developing his thoughts on "material inferences" in his books "Make it explicit" and "Articulating reasons," and much of what he says about material inferences we have said about lexical connections. Our criticisms go against the logicians who intend to apply logic in philosophy, and Brandom is certainly not one of these logicians).

4. Against "classical logic" as a fixed point of reference.

Therefore, the construction of logical theory, if our primary concern is philosophical, could start from the lexical connections. The connection of at least two predicates could be considered as the act of inauguration of logic: the inter-sentential connections and quantification may come later. If the connection between “x is green” and “x is colored” is formally established, the connections between these two sentences (“x is green and x is colored”, “x is green or x is colored”, “if x is green, then x is colored”, etc.) and generalizations about their content ( “For all x, if x is green, then x is colored”, “There is an x such that it is green and colored”, etc.) may be derived from those primitive predicate connections.  On the other hand, if this connection does not exist, the sentences and quantifications will not occur. The idea is that the usual logical connections (sentential and quantificational) can be considered as derivatives if we reject the idea of considering lexical connections as material or non-formal. (This is an idea that we  developed with complete independence from Brandom, who also insists on it).

5. Against official history of logic.

Last but not least: throughout the history of philosophy, there were many philosophers who had intuitions about the interaction between forms and contents within the construction of a logical theory; these thinkers presented profuse criticism against so-called “full generality” of logical structures, advancing considerations about how contents could be formally studied. Hegel, John Dewey and Edmund Husserl are, for example, three modern philosophers who constructed logical theories in this direction and were completely excluded from the official history of logic. Many other philosophers (notably, Descartes, Locke and Kant), during the “dark period” which is usually considered (monotonously and without criticism) as one in which “there was nothing valuable in logical terms” (the long period between XIV and XIXth centuries), had critical ideas against the unilateral way of conceiving formality of logic (in its scholastic or modern Aristotelian form) and advanced constructive insights about other ways to present logic. Obviously, this suggests a history of logic quite different from what we have today.

(For all these topics, see my early book from 87, The Deleted Logic (A Lógica Condenada)).

I continued presenting my ideas in other geographical areas of discussion. These ideas were presented in France and Mexico with more receptivity and interest than in Brazil, where they were totally ignored. The foregoing are accounts of one of my earliest investigations in the area. Of course logic has developed extraordinarily in recent decades and some of my old criticism may have lost some of its impact; but I believe they still apply to much of what is done in logic, especially in introductory work.


More recently, I have been studying what I call a negative approach to argumentation in the field of so-called "informal logic", developing a kind of pessimistic argumention theory parallel to my negative ethics. Here I briefly outline this negative approach.

At some point of our philosophical practices and activities, after attending multiple philosophical debates and participated in countless meetings, colloquiums, congresses and seminars on classic and contemporary philosophy, we begin to see as extremely implausible that someone – even a scholar highly competent in his/her area – could pretend that his/her ideas on any philosophical matter (on ethics,  logics, epistemology, metaphysics or politics) are something more than just one possible way of approaching the problems from an specific perspective on the topic, among hundreds of others. It seems to be very implausible that a 21st century philosopher still supposes that what he presents is simply the only resolution or the right answer to the addressed issues; that all other solutions and answers are simply “wrong” or even absurd or dishonest, according to the vehemence of discussions and the arguers’ politenes. 

Many European philosophers have been presenting their complaints about the unending and inconclusive nature of philosophical debating when compared to scientific ones. Kant considered as a “scandal” the spectacle of philosophical diversity and the “lack of agreement” around at least some few consensual truths, a situation that Kant regarded as a sign of “imperfection” of the metaphysical-oriented philosophy, preventing philosophy from advancing into the way of science. In the preface of the “Prolegomena”, Kant reacts against the arrogance of metaphysics, that intends to be the “queen of sciences” but fails in establishing a unique and not arguable long-lasting principle as any other science does. 

But Kant’s and other philosophers’ complaints about the endless disputes in philosophy presuppose an attitude concerning argumentation that seems to be the same as the one assumed by the philosophers they criticize: each one believes, in spite of the diversity of approaches, to have reached some unique truth on the matter in discussion. The discourse of philosophers, pre and post Kantian, modern or contemporary, is full of expressions such as “x is completely wrong in saying this”, or “Such sort of position is, nowadays, totally overcome in Philosophy”. Although one may read Kantian critical philosophy as an attempt to lay bare previous philosophical discourse, removing the mask that made it look like a science of knowledge, Kant also thinks to have rendered the “right solution” to the addressed problems. 

He thinks, for example, in a similar style of “dogmatic” philosophers he contests, that, in the practical domain, Greek moral philosophers were mistaken when they put morality on the domain of happiness, or when he states that the morality must be rooted in the apriorism of reason and duty and not in experience. The same could be said of other philosophers who complained about the diversity of philosophies and the lack of definitive solutions to problems, as we can find in Bertrand Russell’s or Max Scheler’s writings among many others; they also presented their positions as true and the opposite ones as wrong (Scheler thought that materialism was mistaken and Russell that Bergsonian intuitionism was objectively dangerous and harmful). 

In all this we see a prevalence of a certain kind of approach in philosophical argumentation which I call the “affirmative approach”, consisting basically of thinking that philosophical queries have a solution, or, at least, an adequate treatment amongst many others that are inadequate and wrong. What we notice, even on “great philosophers” in classic and present times, is a remarkable concentration on their own position, a strong belief to be rendering the adequate approach to the debated questions, rejecting, sometimes summarily, the alternatives. The affirmative approach sustains also a meta-philosophical view of the plurality of philosophies as a scandal and a mistake which must be "resolved" some way.  

If we adopt this affirmative point of view in argumentation, it is at least strange that for so many centuries philosophers have not yet found the “correct solutions” to the classical problems of philosophy (what is knowledge, what are the foundations of morality, what aesthetic emotion consists of, and so on). How far philosophers’ incapacity or the “intrinsic complexity” of the problems can be advanced as sound explanations of this fact? Is it reasonable to provide ad infinitum such same answers to the question of the diversity of philosophies? 

By contrast, it seems plausible to start thinking that, perhaps, “there are” philosophical problems in a different sense as “there are” chairs in this room; or that there is nothing to “discover” in philosophy in the same sense as we could discover, say, a misappropriation of money in a construction company. The risk in sticking to the affirmative approach in argumentation could be of not understanding what philosophers had been effectively doing for centuries. Maybe they were not looking for something perpetually missing. 

This meta-philosophical concern about the diversity of philosophies is what allows me to formulate the negative approach in argumentation. This approach is explicitly contrary to the prevailing affirmative approach. The negative approach does not visualize the plurality of philosophies as a problem that would have to be solved and overcome, but as one of the most conspicuous characteristics of the activity of philosophizing; the multiplicity of perspectives is not a mistake committed by philosophy, but its most natural development, since thinking the world and the human can never take place in one direction.

Negative approach aims to encourage the attitude that we assume when we learn to “look around” beyond our own stances, seeing the alternatives and decentralizing our own viewpoint, abandoning the intention to occupy the privileged space of unique truth. The negative approach prefers to place the own position and perspective within a very wide and complex holistic web of approaches and perspectives, that speak and criticize mutually without discarding one another, although each position may fiercely maintain its own perspective and assumptions, supported on defensible grounds. 

After many years getting involved in all sort of philosophical discussions, I noticed that the usual affirmative ways of argumentation in philosophy – and not only in the West – have condemned us to a kind of endless and mutually accusing confrontation. Each party aims to dispose of (and, many times, destroy) the opposite party, sometimes hastily and without understanding the other’s proposal in all its assumptions and objectives, more concerned about formulating the own position than truly trying to understand the other’s point of view, generally reduced to a rough simplification and, sometimes, to a scarecrow. The fact that each position is fully aware of its own accuracy and of the other’s inadequacy and error seems to contain a powerful element of self-deception that deserves profound meta-philosophical consideration. 

What we notice, for example, when we get involved in ethical discussions on procreation, abortion or death penalty or in logical debates on analyticity, non-classic logics or lexical connections, is that the opposite positions are perfectly tenable, although they are not the positions that we ourselves prefer to take. We understand that our position about, for example, abortion, comes from a set of previous assumptions, preferences, dislikes, past experiences, education and so on, all elements and circumstances that oriented our choice of categories, concepts and modes of reasoning that certainly should greatly differ from the set of arguments of our interlocutors in a dialogue about the matter. Anything we can present about controversial topics like these would be normally opposed or refused by the other party through all kinds of objections. Opposition is not an anomaly, but the current form in which philosophy develops

Two human beings engaging in a discussion about philosophical questions are going naturally and per force to differ in substance and method in almost any topic at issue. What is the point in trying to impose the own perspective? I saw no reason for trying to destroy the other’s lines of thought, regarded as absurd, untenable or even dishonest. A question of ethics of argumentation is at stake here. In order to face this state of affairs, it seems important to modify our attitudes concerning the positions that we cannot or do not want to assume, challenging the usual affirmative way of setting forth philosophical ideas as a kind of mortal battle where the other is an adversary, or even an enemy, and truth a kind of trophy. 

We must ask, as a demand ethical and logical at the same time, if philosophical discussions could be seen other way, more congruent with the appalling fact of the diversity of philosophical perspectives across the centuries on any kind of subject-matter; we must see if a metaphilosophical diagnosis better than simply the “complexity of problems” or "philosophers’ incapacities" is at hand.  


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