4 Attempts to Rethink Logic jeremy heis



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Attempts to Rethink Logic



jeremy heis

To appear in The Cambridge History of Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (1790-1870) (Cambridge, 2011)


The period between Kant and Frege is widely held to be an inactive time in the history of logic, especially when compared to the periods that preceded and succeeded it. By the late eighteenth century, the rich and suggestive exploratory work of Leibniz had led to writings in symbolic logic by Lambert and Ploucquet.1 But after Lambert this tradition effectively ended, and some of its innovations had to be rediscovered independently later in the century. Venn characterized the period between Lambert and Boole as “almost a blank in the history of the subject” and confessed an “uneasy suspicion” that a chief cause was the “disastrous effect on logical method” wrought by Kant’s philosophy.2 De Morgan began his work in symbolic logic “facing Kant’s assertion that logic neither has improved since the time of Aristotle, nor of its own nature can improve.”3

De Morgan soon discovered, however, that the leading logician in Britain at the time, William Hamilton, had himself been teaching that the traditional logic was “perverted and erroneous in form.”4 In Germany, Maimon argued that Kant treated logic as complete only because he omitted the most important part of critique – a critique of logic itself.5 Hegel, less interested in formal logic than Maimon, concurs that “if logic has not undergone any change since Aristotle, . . . then surely the conclusion which should be drawn is that it is all the more in need of a total reconstruction.”6 On Hegel’s reconstruction, logic “coincides with metaphysics.”7 Fries argued that Kant thought logic complete only because he neglected “anthropological logic,” a branch of empirical psychology that provides a theory of the capacities humans employ in thinking and a basis for the meager formal content given in “demonstrative” logic.8 Trendelenburg later argued that the logic contained in Kant’s Logic is not Aristotle’s logic at all, but a corruption of it, since Aristotelian logic has metaphysical implications that Kant rejects.9

Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find a single nineteenth-century logician who agrees with Kant’s notorious claim. However, this great expansion of logic – as some logical works branched out into metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, and psychology, while others introduced new symbolic techniques and representations – threatened to leave logicians with little common ground except for their rejection of Kant’s conservatism. Robert Adamson, in his survey of logical history for the Encyclopedia Britannica, writes of nineteenth-century logical works that “in tone, in method, in aim, in fundamental principles, in extent of field, they diverge so widely as to appear, not so many expositions of the same science, but so many different sciences.”10 Many historians of logic have understandably chosen to circumvent this problem by ignoring many of the logical works that were the most widely read and discussed during the period – the works of Hegel, Trendelenburg, Hamilton, Mill, Lotze, and Sigwart, for example.

The present article, however, aims to be a history of “logic” in the multifaceted ways in which this term was understood between Kant and Frege (though the history of inductive logic – overlapping with the mathematical theory of probabilities and with questions about scientific methodology – falls outside the purview of this article). There are at least two reasons for this wide perspective. First, the diversity of approaches to logic was accompanied by a continuous debate in the philosophy of logic over the nature, extent, and proper method in logic. Second, the various logical traditions that coexisted in the period – though at times isolated from one another – came to cross-pollinate with one another in important ways. The first three sections of the article trace out the evolving conceptions of logic in Germany and Britain. The last three address the century’s most significant debates over the nature of concepts, judgments and inferences, and logical symbolism.


1. Kantian and post-Kantian logics


Surprisingly, Kant was widely held in the nineteenth century to have been a logical innovator. In 1912 Wilhelm Windelband wrote: “a century and a half ago, [logic] . . . stood as a well-built edifice firmly based on the Aristotelian foundation. . . . But, as is well-known, this state of things was entirely changed by Kant.”11 Kant’s significance played itself out in two opposed directions: first, in his novel characterization of logic as formal; and, second, in the new conceptions of logic advocated by those post-Kantian philosophers who drew on Kant’s transcendental logic to attack Kant’s own narrower conception of the scope of logic.

Though today the idea that logic is formal seems traditional or even definitional, nineteenth-century logicians considered the idea to be a Kantian innovation. Trendelenburg summarized the recent history:12

Christian Wolff is still of the view that the grounds of logic derive from ontology and psychology and that logic precedes them only in the order in which the sciences are studied. For the first time in Kant’s critical philosophy, in which the distinction of matter and form is robustly conceived, formal logic clearly emerges and actually stands and falls with Kant.13

General logic for Kant contains the “absolutely necessary rules of thinking, without which no use of the understanding takes place” (A52/B76). The understanding – which Kant distinguishes from “sensibility” – is the faculty of “thinking,” or “cognition through concepts” (A50/B74; Ak 9:91). Unlike Wolff, Kant claims a pure logic “has no empirical principles, thus it draws nothing from psychology” (A54/B78). The principles of psychology tell how we do think; the principles of pure general logic, how we ought to think (Ak 9:14). The principles of logic do not of themselves imply metaphysical principles; Kant rejects Wolff and Baumgarten’s proof of the principle of sufficient reason from the principle of contradiction (Ak 4:270).14 Though logic is a canon, a set of rules, it is not an organon, a method for expanding our knowledge (Ak 9:13).

For Kant, pure general logic neither presupposes nor of itself implies principles of any other science because it is formal. “General logic abstracts . . . from all content of cognition, i.e., from any relation of it to the object, and considers only the logical form in the relation of cognitions to one another” (A55/B79). In its treatment of concepts, formal logic takes no heed of the particular marks that a given concept contains, nor of the particular objects that are contained under it. In its treatment of judgments, formal logic attends merely to the different ways in which one concept can be contained in or under one another. (So in a judgment like “All whales are mammals,” the word “all” and the copula “is” do not represent concepts, but express the form of the judgment, the particular way in which a thinker combines the concepts whale and mammal.)

The generality of logic requires this kind of formality because Kant, as an essential part of his critique of dogmatic metaphysicians such as Leibniz and Wolff, distinguishes mere thinking from cognizing (or knowing) (B146). Kant argues against traditional metaphysics that, since we can have no intuition of noumena, we cannot have cognitions or knowledge of them. But we can coherently think noumena (B166n). This kind of thinking is necessary for moral faith, where the subject is not an object of intuition, but, for example, the divine being as moral lawgiver and just judge. Thus, formal logic, which abstracts from all content of cognition, makes it possible for us coherently to conceive of God and things in themselves.

The thesis of the formality of logic, then, is intertwined with some of the most controversial aspects of the critical philosophy: the distinction between sensibility and understanding, appearances and things in themselves. Once these Kantian “dualisms” came under severe criticism, post-Kantian philosophers also began to reject the possibility of an independent formal logic.15 Hegel, for example, begins his Science of Logic with a polemic against Kant’s conception of formal logic: if there are no unknowable things in themselves, then the rules of thinking are rules for thinking an object, and the principles of logic become the first principles of ontology.16

Further, Kant’s insistence that the principles of logic are not drawn from psychology or metaphysics leaves open a series of epistemological questions. How then do we know the principle of contradiction? How do we know that there are precisely twelve logical forms of judgment? Or that some figures of the syllogism are valid and others not? Many agreed with Hegel that Kant’s answers had “no other justification than that we find such species already to hand and they present themselves empirically.17 Kant’s unreflective procedure endangers both the a priori purity and the certainty of logic.18

Though Kant says only that “the labors of the logicians were ready to hand” (Ak 4:323), his successors were quick to propose novel answers to these questions. Fries appealed to introspective psychology, and he reproved Kant for overstating the independence of “demonstrative logic” from anthropology.19 Others grounded formal logic in what Kant called “transcendental logic.” Transcendental logic contains the rules of a priori thinking (A57/B81). Since all use of the understanding, inasmuch as it is cognizing an object, requires a priori concepts (the categories), transcendental logic then expounds also “the principles without which no object can be thought at all” (A62/B87). Reinhold argued – against Kant’s “Metaphysical Deduction” of the categories from the forms of judgments – that the principles of pure general logic should be derived from a transcendental principle (such as his own principle of consciousness).20 Moreover, logic can only be a science if it is systematic, and this systematicity (on Reinhold’s view) requires that logic be derived from an indemonstrable first principle.21

Maimon’s 1794 Versuch einer neuen Logik oder Theorie des Denkens, which contains both an extended discussion of formal logic and an extended transcendental logic, partially carries out Reinhold’s program. There are two highest principles: the principle of contradiction (which is the highest principle of all analytic judgments) and Maimon’s own “principle of determinability” (which is the highest principle of all synthetic judgments) (19–20). Since formal logic presupposes transcendental logic (xx–xxii), Maimon defines the various forms of judgment (such as affirmative and negative) using transcendental concepts (such as reality and negation). He proves various features of syllogisms (such as that the conclusion of a valid syllogism is affirmative iff both its premises are) using the transcendental principle of determinability (94–5).

Hegel’s Science of Logic is surely the most ambitious and influential of the logical works that include both formal and transcendental material.22 However, Hegel cites as a chief inspiration – not Maimon, but – Fichte. For Hegel, Fichte’s philosophy “reminded us that the thought-determinations must be exhibited in their necessity, and that it is essential for them to be deduced.23 In Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre, the whole system of necessary representations is deduced from a single fundamental and indemonstrable principle.24 In his 1794 book, Foundations of the Entire Science of Knowledge, Fichte derives from the first principle “I am I” not only the category of reality, but also the logical law “A = A”; in subsequent stages he derives the category of negation, the logical law “~A is not equal to A, ” and finally even the various logical forms of judgment. Kant’s reaction, given in his 1799 “Open Letter on Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre,” is unsurprising: Fichte has confused the proper domain of logic with metaphysics (Ak 12:370–1). Later, Fichte follows the project of the Wissenschaftslehre to its logical conclusion: transcendental logic “destroys” the common logic in its foundations, and it is necessary to refute (in Kant’s name) the very possibility of formal logic.25

Hegel turned Kant’s criticism of Fichte on its head: were the critical philosophy consistently thought out, logic and metaphysics would in fact coincide. For Kant, the understanding can combine or synthesize a sensible manifold, but it cannot itself produce the manifold. For Hegel, however, there can be an absolute synthesis, in which thinking itself provides contentful concepts independently of sensibility.26 Kant had argued that if the limitations of thinking are disregarded, reason falls into illusion. In a surprising twist, Hegel uses this dialectical nature of pure reason to make possible his own non-Kantian doctrine of synthesis. Generalizing Kant’s antinomies to all concepts, Hegel argues that any pure concept, when thought through, leads to its opposite.27 This back-and-forth transition from a concept to its opposite – which Hegel calls the “dialectical moment” – can itself be synthesized into a new unitary concept – which Hegel calls the “speculative moment,” and the process can be repeated.28 Similarly, the most immediate judgment, the positive judgment (e.g., “the rose is red”), asserts that the individual is a universal. But since the rose is more than red, and the universal red applies to more than the rose, the individual is not the universal, and we arrive at the negative judgment.29 Hegel iterates this procedure until he arrives at a complete system of categories, forms of judgment, logical laws, and forms of the syllogism. Moreover, by beginning with the absolutely indeterminate and abstract thought of being,30 he has rejected Reinhold’s demand that logic begin with a first principle: Hegel’s Logic is “preceded by . . . total presuppositionlessness.”31





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