Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Logic and Neutrality Reading & Discussion


Image via New York Times.

Today our discussion will centre around Timothy Williamson’s post on the New York Times’ philosophy forum, The Stone: Logic and Neutrality.  His closing paragraph gives an idea of where he takes his thinking about logic as a rational science:

Of course, we’d be in trouble if we could never agree on anything in logic. Fortunately, we can secure enough agreement in logic for most purposes, but nothing in the nature of logic guarantees those agreements. Perhaps the methodological privilege of logic is not that its principles are so weak, but that they are so strong. They are formulated at such a high level of generality that, typically, if they crash, they crash so badly that we easily notice, because the counterexamples to them are simple. If we want to identify what is genuinely distinctive of logic, we should stop overlooking its close similarities to the rest of science.

Williamson makes several points worthy of our discussion, especially following our study of various philosophies of science last week. Please respond to / address a combination of at least three of the following questions in a reply to this post (naturally, look to extend the discussion by commenting, prodding, and pushing the thinking of your peers by commenting on their replies before class time Thursday):

  1. How does the author describe logic? How does his reading align or inform you view of philosophy (from the beginning of the year)?
  2. How would you paraphrase what the author describes as the “power of logic”?
  3. What do you think the authors means when he writes, “logic is not a neutral umpire”?
  4. Summarize one of the author’s “challenges” to logic.
  5. What similarities does the author highlight between logic and science?
  6. Which view of science do you see reflected in the author’s perspective on logic?

17 Responses to Logic and Neutrality Reading & Discussion

  1. vanessaf says:

    The power of logic is being able to take simple steps to make a sound or valid argument. Reasoning allows you to determine whether something makes sense based on the connections of your ideas.

    The author describes logic as not being a neutral empire because the principles of logic can be debated. It would only be entirely neutral if the principles of logic were unable to be questioned. There can be gray areas that no one agrees fully upon.

    Perhaps the author’s view of science is along the lines of, since science can have a high level of generality in certain cases, we are able to agree on conclusions drawn from the practices. Though some findings can be debated (for example, the process used to create those findings is being questioned), there is enough agreement to base our understanding on. Like he mentions about how when logic crashes it crashes bad, the same can be said with science. When scientific findings have such large holes in the results, it will need further proof to convince people or we can see that there are too many flaws in it.

  2. elmira says:

    1. Williamson is against the idea of logic being useless and uninformative. I think he believes that logic may not give us the right answer but it may be able to unveil the wrong answers, which ultimately, narrows down the theories. Even though I’m against the idea of complete truth in every idea, I still think there are parts of this article which seem credible.

    2. Perhaps, when we connect small idea’s together; we can form bigger idea’s.

    3. It is not just black or white, and logic can be debated.

    4. Logic is filled with controversy and if we try and avoid this factor, then there is not much left to discuss.

    5. Logic has many similarities to the rest of science.

    6. Perhaps, some of his views reflect as positism.

  3. clairenicole says:

    The “power of logic” is being able to use reasoning to create a valid point/argument based on your thoughts or ideas.

    When the author says that logic is not a neutral umpire, he means that, though logic is definitely a large part of arguments/debates, it cannot be the middle ground because of the part it plays. Logic picks a side and stays with it, rather than trying to be unbiased.

  4. arden says:

    The author wrote that “logic is not a neutral umpire” by this i believe he meant that logic does not just have one way, and it is not neutral in the way that there can be controversial opinions. he meant that logic is not just set in stone there are differing ways of doing things and the umpire is the philosopher saying that the no one can be neutral everyone has some opinion or bias.

    The author highlight the principle of standard logic, similar to science this is logic with a straight forward answer, all black and white and no grey area.

    in this article i think it is safe to assume that the author believe that logic can be debated and that there is some grey area and that is okay. the idea that standard logic can work in some cases but not all because there are too many things that could interfere.

  5. Cassidy says:

    The author’s thoughts are extensive regarding logic. His connection between logic and science highlights its entirety as a way of thinking. Logically we can put together the factual correctness, validity, and soundness of a theory or an idea. I interpret “[l]ogic also helps us recognize our mistakes, when our beliefs turn out to contain inconsistencies” as saying how logic can disprove theories if it isn’t proving them. I agree that “[l]ogic is not a neutral umpire” because I don’t believe in definite lines. The gray area in our lives far exceeds the black and white. With the raining example, if a few drops fall from the sky it can both be raining and not raining at the same time. My logic would conclude that if water falls from the sky it is raining, but if only a few drops are falling then the area in which “raining” can be applied to is relative to time and space. In this article, I see the authors view of logic and science as congruent. Logic is just as scientific as science is logical. We rule things out based on observable or measurable things (science) but in science we use logic to disprove things that cannot be true. They are dependent on each other. So the author notes the close relationship between logic and science, giving logic a lot of credit for our lives.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I think that the author of the article describes logic as a method of understanding consequences based on knowledge that we have accumulated over time. Logic helps us determine when something is ‘wrong’ even though it is unable to tell us what is wrong specifically. I believes this to be related to my initial thoughts of philosophy being like rugby because rugby is a collection of skills and experiences that help make the best decision given the circumstances.

    I think that the best way to paraphrase the author’s description of the ‘power of logic’ is that there are different levels that need to be achieved in order to create a reasonable argument. This argument must posses levels of understanding and reason that only logic can provide.

    One of the challenges of logic described to us in the article is the law of excluded middle. I think that this rule is very black and white with no room for colour. I think that fuzzy logic is a justification of not having a logical answer to big questions. The law of excluded middle also fails to include the future, therefore fuzzy logic once again is used to supplement the lack of information. I think this challenge is very broad and specific to each topic it addresses.

  7. Catherine Sutherland says:

    I enjoy how the author expresses his views on Logic and how we cannot know whether our statements are ultimately true depending on how we view a situation and our own personal beliefs. The power of logic in his mind is that we learn simple logistic reasoning only to build from that and understand more accurate assumptions of a logical argument.

    By logic being uninformative, he states:
    “If I believe that no politicians are honest, and that John is a politician, and that he is honest, at least one of those three beliefs must be false, although logic doesn’t tell me which one.”

    It strikes me that we could change what we think are facts which are determined whether we believe that no politicians are honest or that he is honest. Logic doesn’t assist the truth behind my beliefs, therefor not allowing me to believe what is true or false. This ties in to my thoughts on how Philosophy is determined by how we interpret things.
    I believe he grows on the topic that their is no grey area, that logic is black and white in most situations which diverges logic into teams where theories are the players and the argument is the game.
    How he connects this logical point of view to science is that their are a lot of principles and factors to both which affects the results in all situations. The science of logic is portrayed in his writing that it makes me understand that he understands logic in a way that is a part of every other type of science while standing as its own type of science.

  8. jessicafan says:

    When the author writes, “logic is not a neutral umpire” I think that he is suggesting that logic is something that aids in the outcome, rather than something stating all the rules and giving guidelines. By being a neutral umpire, there may only be black or white, excluding all other possibilities in the middle, which is against what the author believes in.

    Some similarities that the author highlights between logic and science is that both are factors to the result of a situation, where logical theories and science are stepping stones to lead to the solution. They both can be controversial at times as well,

    Although I could be completely wrong, it seems to me that perhaps, the author might be positivist as he tries to convince that logic’s close similarity to science should not be ignored. However, the author believes that controversy should exists in logic, thus contrasting positivism’s idea of having only ‘valid knowledge.’ In that case, it leads me to assume that the author may be a postmodernist as he considers more than one possibility of the reasoning of logic. His view of science may be a mixture of different views.

  9. Samson says:

    Let me start this with a deep and eloquent quote:
    “AAAAAAAAAAAAA???” – All of us, at some point.

    Honestly, at this point in time I’m not sure if I have the tools to align the author’s view of logic (or even MY view of logic,) with the metaphor I created in my What is Philosophy presentation. Logic feels like a tool that can be wielded to really pull an argument either way, but relating that to a treehouse is… Jeez.

    Even then, I think it does work with the author’s metaphors, and how he really looks at logic as something that is not inherently neutral, even if at first glance it can be looked at (and even dismissed,) as irrelevant in the fate of the argument. Will the argument stand up to the test of counterexamples and pick aparts? Those in the neutral party will say that as long the argument is properly logically constructed, only facts can be picked apart, but even the logical ordering of events can have a play in it.

    It’s like, and I am definitely stealing his example for this, but when the author spoke about Fermat’s Last Theorem, it kind of struck with me. To paraphrase, the idea is that the pieces to solve the theorem were already there, mathematically solved and waiting, and that the part that was actually left was how to logically order it to confirm the soundness of the theorem.
    Which, yeah, is a PART of what logic is (validity and all,) but I also think it steps beyond that, even if I can’t quite make that connection now.

    And while I can’t tell you what view of science is reflected by the author’s view of logic, I can tell you this much: it’s not nihilistic, and it’s not instrumentalist.

    If you want to know why you have to reply.

  10. brie says:

    The author says logic does not supply any information of its own, it only rules out inconsistencies. Logic is uninformative meaning it doesn’t supply any information and I agree logic just directs us in the proper direction; it helps extract and handle non-logical information. Logic doesn’t supply it guides. He describes logic as building blocks or steps in the guidance of our theories. This does align with my metaphor for what is philosophy as being a snowflake because I described the snowflake starting off and building up snow as it falls just like logic guides the philosopher’s thoughts in the correct way and help build onto your theories. This leads to why logic isn’t a neutral umpire, Timothy states that logic doesn’t sit in the fuzzy middle it choses a side to be on for example something either “is the case or isn’t”. Logic has to pick a side like it’s a player in the game. The umpire in baseball has to make the call of either out or safe there is no neutral call.

    To summarize one of Williamson “challenges” to logic and being basically the only one I understood well was when he said logic is the law of excluded middle, meaning logic is either yes or no. But many philosophers have stated something called fuzzy logic, this was adopted for boarder line cases ei; when it’s raining ever so slightly but it’s not considered fully raining this is fuzzy logic because its in between. This law also fails to predict with certainty future events or circumstances that could be possible.

  11. Taylor says:

    Throughout the article the author expresses his thoughts on logic as not being ” a neutral umpire”. The way I interpret his words were that nothing is all black or all white, there are grey areas, not everyone will see eye to eye. This relates very closely my philosophy presentation, that philosophy is like music, not everyone has the same taste in music as you. Everyone’s opinion can be different.

    I believe Science and Logic go hand in hand. In order to understand a logical idea, we must look at the factual correctness, validity, and soundness of an idea or theory. Although it may not lead us to the right answers, the power of logic helps us eliminate the inconsistencies and helps us to progress further to finding them. In the article, the author writes, “Logic is just not a controversy-free zone. If we restricted it to uncontroversial principles, nothing would be left. As in the rest of science, no principle is above challenge. That does not imply that nothing is known. The fact that you know something does not mean that nobody else is allowed to challenge it.”

  12. asmith says:

    1. The author describes Logic as being the thing that separates opposing theories and imposes the basic rules for arguments. Logic is about the correctness of an argument and it’s facts rather than being content it self. With this thinking, it could be reasonable to say that logic could be uninformative but help us deal with information.
    4. The challenges that logic faces is that it is not controversy-free and everyone can have their own idea of what is logical. An argument could seem wrong/offensive but still be logical yet some people would refuse to believe it/be shocked by it though if there were no controversy, there would be nothing left to argue about.
    6. Logic, as viewed by this author, is not related as closely as believed to science. Logic is just about proving that arguments can be correct but also proved wrong. He views logical ideas as just being theories, not concrete fact. It can true until it is proven wrong.

  13. Dana says:

    As said by the author: logic is built upon other pieces of logic, creating a web of ideas all strung together. It is also stated that “logic is not a neutral umpire”, because logical principles are debatable and questionable.

    The “power of logic” progressively becomes clear when bringing together basic steps into a series of reasoning, the idea of logic (seemingly pointless at first) becomes less and less credible.

    The author connects a logical POV to that of science, as there are both factors and principles thus affecting all situations. The science behind logic is explained as a subcategory of science, while standing alone as a type of science.

  14. meldoy says:

    Williamson describes logic as almost a building block to reach a conclusion, or well, that’s what I thought he meant. Philosophy is not solid, and is not factual because everyone has a different opinion. It’s not like science where the hard facts are solved with a formula. It’s more natural and flowing in a way, without numbers and data. Sorry I’m rambling, this isn’t even part of the question?? Anyway. I guess his view aligns with mine; I said the sun helps us “see” the “truth” or helps us understand better, the things we don’t understand. The sun, and philosophy are both building blocks to help us grasp the unknown.

    On to the topic of “logic not being a neutral umpire”, Williamson is correct in his statement. Philosophy and logic are neutral, when they are floating around not being grasped at by minds. But when they are, the human mind is biased, one way or another. We twist philosophy to follow our own terms and thus, it is not “pure” anymore. Even the philosophy that’s “floating around” is biased. If there is no mind to shape it, is it even philosophy? Is it a thought? Is a neutral third party that we are unaware of, holding the secret to the universe? IDK man.

    Some similarities the author highlights between science and logic, lead back to the first question: that they are both stepping stones towards the truth or answer. And that’s all for today folks it’s lunchtime.

  15. Kimya Ebrahimi says:

    This is very late….
    1/2/3. He is saying that logic “is not a neutral umpire.” Basically what I think he means by this is that people who preform logic are the players in the game AKA they are on one team (they aren’t just going to join the other team in the middle of the game lol) and they are not neutral. In contrast a neutral umpire wouldn’t be rooting for a specific side, they would simply be neutral, bring in that middle ground. When someone says a logical argument he or she is usually fighting for one side saying wether it is sound, valid or factually correct (like we learned in class). He also says that philosophy can be informative and not only can bring out truths but brings out the flaws of things, leading to better understandings. Logic shows us a different perspective buh bringing up the opposing arguments.
    4. I think one of the challenges are the middle logic. What is not called fuzzy logic. It’s hard to fight something like. For example, when he gave the example of the rain: it’s either rain or it’s not … but how about if its raining very small amount? How would you state that?
    5/6. I believe logic and science go hand in hand and that is also what the author thought. Without logic you would never question science, not allowing us to find many of the scientific theories we have today and are still continuing to question.

  16. alexr27 says:

    1) The author finds logic as a handy tool that is used to formulate agreements, but that these agreements aren’t always guaranteed due to logic. This is to some extent my view of logic since the beginning of the class. I too believed that with a logical argument a rational side of the discussion would emerge and agreement would be settled, but, not always because people sometimes are either stubborn or ignorant and refuse to listen.

    2) The power of logic is used to destroy someone else’s arguments, or to strengthen one’s own argument.

    3) He means that logic doesn’t stay neutral as arguments are being tossed out, rather logic sides with the argument that has the most reason and sense.

    4) That if an argument is logically proven to be wrong it crashes and self-destructs very notably and because of this its’ similarities to science should no longer be overlooked.

    5) That because logic can consistently be proven wrong, the only way to prove it to be right, is by testing out several times, and perhaps using the scientific method to distinguish whether a logical argument is truly logical and true or not. Just like science, logic needs to be tested.

    6) Positivism.

  17. stikkysaladtong says:

    1. The way I saw this article, I gathered that Williamson wanted logic to be more than just the general consensus of knowledge. He wants it to be more of an element of arguments rather than opposing or helping.
    2. Links can be formed with small ideas to form bigger ideas. Like an idea transformer.
    3. Logic can be skewed into bias for either party very easily.
    4. A paradox cannot exist, it has to be neither or both, it has to be one or the other. There is no realm where logic can be applicable to many truths at one time.
    5. Both science and logic are concepts to be formed into fully fledged ideals and thoughts.
    6. I see a big mix of views. Most definitely positivism and idealism.


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