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THE ILL-CONCEIVED UNIVERSE.
Logic deals, as we have seen, with the mutual implications of relations. If the object A possesses the permanent
quality B and the object C does not, we know The that A and C are not identical.
Thus the presuniverse.
ence of a certain relation of subject and attribute in one case and its absence in another proves the absence of a certain relation of individual identity. These are the relations concerned, but we can reason as we do about them only because we already know or assume that there are such things as separate individual objects, that these objects can have qualities, that qualities can be more or less permanent, that we are capable of recognizing the difference between qualities that are permanent and those that are not, and so
These assumptions and probably a great many more form a sort of background for the reasoning in question. They constitute as it were the universe in which the relations specified in the syllogism exist, a universe without which they would lose entirely the significance which they now possess. It is a universe which human beings naturally take for granted; but if in the world to come we should discover that there are really no such things as separate individual objects and no such relations as those of subject and attribute, then we should be compelled to revise all our rules of logic and reason in some other way. A simple syllogism which seems to us now to be perfectly valid would then be seen to be absolutely inconclusive. Indeed it would seem so inconsequent as to be utterly incomprehensible unless we could remember our old earthly point of view—the universe in which we reasoned—and judge the argument from that standpoint. We could then say: 'Assuming the fundamental relations of things to be thus and thus, the reasoning is perfectly valid; but then these are not the actual relations; the blunder rested upon a wrong conception of the background or universe, and it could not be corrected until that conception was outgrown'
In this example the relations which I have supposed to be improperly assumed are amongst the most fundamental relations of all reality. That is why the falsity of the assumption would involve the worthlessness of all our rules of formal logic. The universe of discourse included only relations common to the whole of the actual universe. Of course we human beings never in this life can test these most fundamental assumptions of all, and I suppose them to be questioned only for the sake of illustration. But as a matter of fact most of our reasoning is about matters in some special universe, where not only these but a great many other relations are taken for granted. That is why it is so difficult for any one but an expert in that particular field to criticise the logic in any scientific or other technical argument. In even a game of whist, for example, it would not be possible to infer anything about your opponent's hand unless you knew the rules of the game, and even then the very perfection of your reasoning might lead you astray if you supposed he was playing the long game when as a matter of fact he was playing the short. So one might solve no end of chess problems with great ingenuity, yet get them all wrong, if he supposed that pawns always moved straight forward, that a queen could move like a knight, or that all the chessmen moved like checkers.
A more serious example of the sort of thing I have in mind is found in Plato's “ Phædo”. Many students who read Socrates' argument for the immortality of the soul, there given, say that where the parties to the dialogue seemed to find the argument more or less conclusive, they can find no argument at all; or at least no connection between the premises and the alleged conclusions. The trouble is that they do not realize the conceptions of life which Socrates and his friends accepted as a matter of course. Throughout the dialogue it is assumed, for instance, that every living thing, whether animal or plant, must have a soul to give it life—to animate it. If to this is added the further assumption that new souls are not created, does it not follow that life would have ceased to exist ages ago unless the soul which animated one individual were reincarnated after the death of that individual in some other, and so in in sæcula sæculorum.. Thus by getting back into Plato's universe—into the conceptions which serve as a background of the argument—we find sense where otherwise we find only nonsense; and if his argument seems to us inconclusive it is only because his universe seems unreal.
Another instance of the same kind is found in the controversy between Locke and Leibnitz about innate ideas. Locke said it was absurd to suppose that the mind contained a set of ideas ready-made from birth, though we had no conscious knowledge of some of them until a great many years afterwards.
Leibnitz replied that it was much more absurd to suppose that such ideas as those of right and wrong or of cause and effect could be conveyed into the mind through any one or all of the five senses. And so the discussion proceeded, the adherents of each champion seeing the absurdities of the other. The conflict was necessarily interminable until in a later age it was realized that the advocates of both views assumed the same false universe, for everybody assumed that in some way or other the mind contains a kind of things called ideas which must have got there in some way or other. But it is really just as absurd to ask how the mind comes to contain its various ideas as to ask how a frog comes to contain its various jumps.' A frog does not contain things called jumps; it merely acts in a way we call jumping; and the mind does not contain things called ideas; it thinks.
So again with the deistic controversy about the possibility of miracles. Both sides took it for granted that the world had been wound up and started like a clock; but the deists said that God the clockmaker never intervened by a miracle to disturb its running, while the orthodox said he did. The question was one of intervention or non-intervention; and it did not occur to either side that nature was after all nothing but a visible and tangible aspect of God, not something separate with which perhaps he might not be able to interfere.
And so it goes through the whole history of philosophy. Each age is dominated by some particular conception of the general constitution of things; and in that age the mutual relations of any particular facts are necessarily conceived with reference to the assumed nature of the whole of which they are parts of the background from which they stand outof the frame into which they must fit. In the next age there is a new conception of the background-a new metaphor, perhaps, to express the deepest relations of things, -and the reasoning that before had seemed absolutely demonstrative now seems almost childish.
In the cases just inentioned the assumption of the universe in question was unconscious and practically inevitable. The same assumption of a universe is made consciously in the old Fallacy of Many Questions, e.g.: ‘Have you cast
you left off beating your father ?' 'Is the king of Eutopia dead ? ''Why did you take my purse ?? ' Have you got over your fit of temper ?' etc. Here of course the assumption is that you have had horns, that there is a king of Eutopia, etc., and it is impossible to answer either “ Yes' or 'No' to the question without seeming to admit the assumption. *
* Sometimes the Fallacy of Many Questions is committed to the em
your horns ? '
Å Confusion of Universes occurs when we introduce into any universe something which cannot possibly be subject to
the relations by which that universe is distinThe confusion of guished, or when we introduce some other relauniverses.
tion which is inconsistent with them. All kinds of absurd questions rest upon such confusion. If you ask whether this triangle has eaten its dinner, I can hardly say even 'No' without seeming to admit your absurd assumption that a triangle is the kind of thing that eats a dinner. Here of course there is an improperly assumed universe; but the assumption involves a more or less obvious incongruity. In his book on “ The Nervous System and the Mind”' * Charles Mercier points out with admirable clearness a somewhat less obvious incongruity of the same sort.
“ It is not to be denied that there is a large amount of writing about the mind, and about the connection of the mind with the body, which is, strictly speaking, nonsense. ... Such propositions are neither correct nor erroneousneither true nor false. They are nonsense. instance. Try to think of a feeling passing along a nerve. We often speak familiarly of a toothache shooting along a nerve; is this an accurate expression ? Take the nerve. Dissect it out. Lay it on the table before you. It is a gray thread, four inches long, made up of fibres bound together. Now take a toothache and set it running along the nerve. You cannot. Why ? It ran along the nerve, you said, when it was in the body; why cannot it do so now ? Because, you will say, the nerve is no longer connected with barrassment of the questioner instead of the person questioned. Many of the typical Irish jokes belong to this class, such for example as the story of the Irishman who was being tried for assaulting a Chinaman in front of the Palmer House and had arranged with a friend to prove alibi. He conducted his own defence and when the time came to question the witness he put in some preliminary flourishes and continued : • Then, Patrick Murphy, on your oath, sir, where was I when I struck the Chinaman in front of the Palmer House ?'
* Macmillan, 1888,