Re: The foundation of reason

Dan Fabulich (
Fri, 05 Mar 1999 08:21:15 -0500

At 03:47 AM 3/5/99 -0600, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
>2.3: How does the logic ground in conscious experience?
>Next, we consider rational thought, science and logic. Throughout this
>whole page, I've been arguing using (what is arguably) science and
>But does it make sense to assume that a world exists external from our
>minds? To create theories which provide opinion-insensitive
>predictions for relating parts of observed reality, or relating past
>observations to future relations? To test theories by making predictions
>and comparing them to experimental observations? Sadly, many people
>don't. But the people who do are the ones who can make fifty stalks of
>wheat grow where three grew before, build great towers of glass and
>steel, vaporize cities, set foot on the Moon.
>There are all kinds of explanations for reality. I believe in science. I
>believe in science simply because science has resulted in
>technology; science displays the power to alter the world
>rather than epiphenomenally explaining it, and that's what
>makes it relevant to me as a means of relating choices to
>future qualia. The useful explanation is the one that tells you how to
>change something. And according to my qualia of memories, that means
>science and intelligent thought.
>Any other justification is hokum. If waving hands and uttering strange
>whispers got results, and elaborate experimental setups never produced
>anything useful, I would believe in magic instead of science. If Ouija
>boards produced better predictions than calculus, I would junk
>mathematics. Any other way would be superstition.

You've basically restated epistemological pragmatism here. While I LIKE epistemological pragmatism a great deal, it's not at all obvious to me that you've answered the more important question of why I should accept logic. You've provided me with a logical justification for science, but not for logic itself.

Unfortunately, not even pragmatism can provide sufficient justification for believing in logical "consequences." You may discover this rather quickly if you try it! Consider this question from the perspective of the skeptic of logic, much like Hofstadter's Tortoise: OK, so I accept P and I accept P->Q. Why should I accept Q? Rules of inference, you say? Why should I accept them?

Pragmatism can't help us here, because a logical skeptic can accept all of our premises and still disagree with our conclusions. Any proof we provide in defense of logic is just a proof; if the question you're trying to settle is "Why should I believe proofs?" then hearing a proof on the matter probably won't satisfy you.

Pragmatism fails especially badly in this case, since there are a whole lot of people who flat out reject the validity of logic and get along passably well nonetheless. A cartoonish version of Zen philosophy might be defined by rejecting the principle of non-contradiction. (Or, rather, simultaneously accepting it and rejecting it, to be more precise. And no Zen philosophy would very well stand to being "defined," but hopefully you get my meaning here.) If you're going to go about saying that all Zen is wrong, then you're going to have to provide something even more basic than pragmatism to do it.


               -THEN WHAT DOES-