Friday, April 9, 2010

Field on Normativity and Logic

In "What is the Normative Role of Logic" Field argues that you can't understand logic descriptively as (eg. the project of studying necessarily truth preserving syntactic manipulations), and so are forced to a more normative conception of logic (logic is the study of how one ought to reason), by the following dilemma.
-classical logics can't state a general truth predicate (if they could, we could inductively argue for the soundness of logic, and hence a consistency proof for logic L in logic L, contra Godel 2)
-non-classical logics which can state a general truth predicate, sometimes fail to preserve truth, in some degenerate cases (in places where good reasoning wouldn't lead you to in the first place).

So (Field says) the only people who can *state* the descriptive criterion for being a logic, deny that logic has to have that property.

But I think there's a gap in this argument: why should you have to be able to state your criterion for what a good logical system is, *in the formal language of that logic*? In particular, why can't the anti-normativitst about logic reply like this:

A. Classical Logic Version:

Logic is the study of formal systems of syntactic manipulation which are truth preserving for various fragments of our language (e.g. english sans any truth predicate, english sans any repeated application of the truth predicate). Practically speaking, this is all we need for almost every purpose except philosophy of logic and truth. And the moral of Tarski-Godel considerations above is that this is all we can get.

Formal, exceptionless, rules for truth-preserving reasoning are great when you can get them (i.e. for limited fragments of our language) but what Field has shown, is that we can't get any such rules that apply to the informal notion of truth (as opposed to the notion of truth-of-a-sentence-in-L, for various restricted L)

Admittedly, taking this route involves giving up the traditional and somewhat attractive Fregean idea that logical principles are fully general, and hence would apply to all possible reasoning, but - at least- this seems way less revisionary than the normative relativism about logic where Field winds up.

B. Non-Classical Logic Version:

It was indeed wrong to say that logic studies patterns of inference that are always truth preserving. Field is right that Logic studies patterns of reasoning that are truth preserving "where it counts". But "where it counts" doesn't mean something normative like 'with regard to premises that one could be justified in believing', but rather, something descriptive like 'with regard to premises that people are likely to every actually accept'.

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