17.676 logical and human thinking

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Mon Mar 01 2004 - 11:21:23 EST


               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 676.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Mon, 01 Mar 2004 16:06:34 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: logical and human thinking

In The Idea of a Social Science (2nd edn., Routledge, 1990), pp. 125f,
Peter Winch has the following to say about a common reaction to logical

>Part of the opposition one feels to the idea that men can be related to
>each other in their actions in at all the same way as propositions can be
>related to each other is probably due to an inadequate conception of what
>logical relations between propositions themselves are. One is inclined to
>think of the laws of logic as forming a given rigid structure to which men
>try, with greater or less (but never complete) success, to make what they
>say in their actual linguistic and social intercourse conform. One thinks
>of propositions as something ethereal, which just because of their
>ethereal, non-physical nature, can fit together more tightly than can be
>conceived in the case of anything so grossly material as flesh-and-blood
>men and their actions. In a sense one is right in this; for to treat of
>logical relations in a formal systematic way is to think at a very high
>level of abstraction, at which all the anomalies, imperfections and
>crudities which characterize men's actual intercourse with each other in
>society have been removed. But, like any abstraction not recognized as
>such, this can be misleading. It may make one forget that it is only from
>their roots in this actual flesh-and-blood intercourse that those formal
>systems draw such life as they have; for the whole idea of a logical
>relation is only possible by virtue of the sort of agreement between men
>and their actions which is discussed by Wittgenstein in the Philosophical
>Investigations. Collingwood's remark on formal grammar is apposite: 'I
>likened the grammarian to a butcher; but if so, he is a butcher of a
>curious kind. Travellers say that certain African peoples will cut a steak
>from a living animal and cook it for dinner, the animal being not much the
>worse. This may serve to amend the original comparison'. (7: p. 259.) It
>will seem less strange that social relations should be like logical
>relations between propositions once it is seen that logical relations
>between propositions themselves depend on social relations between men.

The same of course carries over into the apparent strangeness of
computational formalisms as means of expressing the relations among
cultural objects: however unlike, the unlikeness of these formalisms is of
our making, therefore unlike only in particular respects, i.e. not utterly,
absolutely foreign. The difference, then, is more like the difference
between a Labrador and a Terrier than between a cat and a chisel -- i.e.
capable of telling us something significant about the compared things.



Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk


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