28 October 2007

A Halloween Column

A few words, appropriate to the season, about logic and the spirit of defiance.

My expectation is that my next entry into Pragmatism Refreshed will have to wait until November 1,m Thursday, by which time of course the Great Pumpkin will have risen, rewarded Linus for his fidelity, and gone on his way.

In the words of a 19th century German logician, Christoph von Sigwart (1830 - 1894): "No amount of failure in the attempt to subject the world of sensible experience to a thorough-going system of conceptions, and to bring all happenings back to cases of immutably valid law, is able to shake our faith in the rightness of our principles. We hold fast to our demand that even the greatest apparent confusion must sooner or later solve itself in transparent formulas."

The "we" in the second of those sentences is the western post-Renaissance scientific spirit, inclined to put facts into tables and draw conclusions, then impute those conclusions to God or (what is the same) the nature of things.

As Dostoyevsky knew, as his "underground man" expressed with eloquence at about the time that Sigwart was writing those words, there is also that within "us" that rebels against the "transparent formulas" in which "we" have such faith. So let the thorough-going system of conceptions have the other 364 days of the year. This one is given over to defiance, to sensible experiences that aren't so sensible, and aren't interested in "solving themselves." To flights on broomsticks and knocks on the door though nobody is there.


Henry said...

Here is another Dostoevsky quotation that seems relevant; it is from _Memoirs of the House of the Dead_ (Part 2, ch. 7), which is Dostoevsky's semi-fictional account of his years in a Siberian prison camp: "Reality is infinitely diverse, compared with even the subtlest conclusions of abstract thought, and it does not allow of clear-cut and sweeping distinctions. Reality resists classification."

madaugust2001 said...

My grandfather expressed a similar sentiment to me once when I was a young boy many years ago. On a trip into the Big City (Chicago)one day to see a ball game, we ran into some very strange people. After our encounter, Grampa just shook his head, looked at me with a rather puzzled expression on his face and said,

"If ya don't see it here, it just ain't."

I think my grandfather was trying to say the same thing as Dostoevsky in his own way.......

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.