Thursday, December 07, 2006

GKC on Logic and Truth

A friend asks about logic and truth. I have turned to GKC to provide an answer. His mathematics, logic, and science is superlative, and this excerpt ought to be required reading for anyone who expects to use such words in work or play.
--Dr. Thursday

Logic and truth, as a matter of fact, have very little to do with each other. Logic is concerned merely with the fidelity and accuracy with which a certain process is performed, a process which can be performed with any materials, with any assumption. You can be as logical about griffins and basilisks as about sheep and pigs. On the assumption that a man has two ears, it is good logic that three men have six ears, but on the assumption that a man has four ears, it is equally good logic that three men have twelve. And the power of seeing how many ears the average man, as a fact, possesses, the power of counting a gentleman’s ears accurately and without mathematical confusion, is not a logical thing but a primary and direct experience, like a physical sense, like a religious vision. The power of counting ears may be limited by a blow on the head; it may be disturbed and even augmented by two bottles of champagne; but it cannot be affected by argument. Logic has again and again been expended, and expended most brilliantly and effectively, on things that do not exist at all. There is far more logic, more sustained consistency of the mind, in the science of heraldry than in the science of biology.... There is more logic in Alice in Wonderland than in the Statute Book or the Blue Books. The relations of logic to truth depend, then, not upon its perfection as logic, but upon certain pre-logical faculties and certain pre-logical discoveries, upon the possession of those faculties, upon the power of making those discoveries. If a man starts with certain assumptions, he may be a good logician and a good citizen, a wise man, a successful figure. If he starts with certain other assumptions, he may be an equally good logician and a bankrupt, a criminal, a raving lunatic. Logic, then, is not necessarily an instrument for finding truth; on the contrary, truth is necessarily an instrument for using logic - for using it, that is, for the discovery of further truth and for the profit of humanity. Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.

GKC, Daily News, February 25th, 1905
Quoted in Maycock, The Man Who Was Orthodox
(Emphasis added by Dr. T.)

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes is a good idea, (and a time & confusion saving thing), to start reading an author or a thinker not from his immature beginnings, but from his mature end, preferably by first reading a book that summarizes all his life work and ideas, if there is such a book or work.

    The same, to some degree, applies to Chesterton, although he was one of the most consistent thinkers. Not that his earlier works are not valuable and full of insight, but he “matured” after he was forced to follow up the Heretics with his Orthodoxy. The conclusion Dr. Thursday highlighted is formulated as a paradox, and logically, (or syllogistically), it does seems like a false or at least very confusing statement.

    Hopefully, most Christians will see and understand in that statement the paradox of their Faith and Reason -- We need faith in true things, as well as correct logic, to find more of the truth or to confirm our initial faith. But for a modern rationally thinking man of science, it is like a slap in his face, and he needs a more “mature” explanation.

    So it is interesting to compare the piece Dr. Thursday posted, with, let’s say, Chesterton’s understanding of logic in St. Thomas Aquinas. Here Chesterton goes deeper, and realizes that the correct logical method, determined by correct philosophy, is indeed essential when trying to find or acknowledge the “higher” or the “highest” truth.

    Here are two brief excerpts from St. Thomas Aquinas which demonstrate what I am trying to say:

    “This brings us to the other difficulty; that of logical method. I have never understood why there is supposed to be something crabbed or antique about a syllogism; still less can I understand what any-body means by talking as if induction had somehow taken the place of deduction. The whole point of deduction is that true premises produce a true conclusion. What is called induction seems simply to mean collecting a larger number of true premises. or perhaps, in some physical matters, taking rather more trouble to see that they are true. It may be a fact that a modern man can get more out of a great many premises, concerning microbes or asteroids than a medieval man could get out of a very few premises about salamanders and unicorns. But the process of deduction from the data is the same for the modern mind as for the medieval mind; and what is pompously called induction is simply collecting more of the data. And Aristotle or Aquinas, or anybody in his five wits, would of course agree that the conclusion could only be true if the premises were true; and that the more true premises there were the better.”

    “But St. Thomas had the scientific humility in this very vivid and special sense; that he was ready to take the lowest place; for the examination of the lowest things. He did not, like a modern specialist, study the worm as if it were the world; but he was willing to begin to study the reality of the world in the reality of the worm. His Aristotelianism simply meant that the study of the humblest fact will lead to the study of the highest truth. That for him the process was logical and not biological, was concerned with philosophy rather than science, does not alter the essential idea that he believed in beginning at the bottom of the ladder.”

    Wild Goose


Join our FaceBook fan page today!