PHILOSOPHERS FASTENED ONTO DEDUCTIVE LOGIC AS THE WAY TO WISDOM
We are told that the first philosophers thought that, to arrive at true knowledge, they first had to start with axioms (I think that’s the right word) which are self-evident postulates that couldn’t be wrong, and then use deductive logic on them to reach further truths. They didn’t use their senses because these had sometimes fooled them; and because their mathematics, which had been so successful at gaining knowledge, consisted of deducing from axioms (from here).
I think that perhaps the first philosophers had pulled themselves away from a tradition in which one received Truth from the gods (via the poets), so it was just too independent a step for them to suddenly go out and do observations and experiments. So they sat in their chairs and did deductive logic.
Here is an example of deductive logic: ‘All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal.’ And another: ‘If I think, I must exist. I think. Therefore, I must exist.’ Aristotle called such brilliant arguments ‘syllogisms’.
Did Aristotle really say that this was all that Philosophy amounted to? It seems incredible. Did Philosophy through the ages remain dedicated to deductive logic alone? It seems incredible. Due to my alienation from the philosophical cast of mind, and my inability to credit the amazing things I thought they were saying, I still don’t know! I can’t work it out. If that was all Philosophy ever did, it could only have produced tautologies or truisms. Why wasn’t this obvious?
Surely Philosophy must have graduated to doing more than that. But then I read that Descartes, in the early 1600s, was still dedicated to deduction, and so were the Rationalists of the 18th century! No, I can’t yet credit this simple fact in the History of Philosophy. If Philosophy did graduate, what did it graduate to? What does Philosophy do now? Or did part of it just start metamorphosing into Science from 1500 AD onward?
I am able to grasp that Science is different from Philosophy in that it uses inductive logic to draw provisionally acceptable ‘laws’ from observations and experiments (although I think this understanding of science has been contradicted by Popper, and he has been contradicted by yet others.).
How was it that some people in Ancient Greece took the fateful first step of seeing Wisdom as consisting of logicking, mathematics and science? They called it Reason, and they were called Philosophers.
I get the idea momentarily from somewhere that poetry was in ancient times the natural way to express matters of profundity and ultimacy. That included the gods and their myths. Then along came Philosophy with its Reason and this was in prose.
Perhaps one can say that Philosophy from the beginning was seen as a holy duty to abolish the human and the human-like. They started by removing the gods, who behaved like bad humans, from explanations of how physical things worked. And, since the 19th century, they’ve been taking the human out of how the human mind works. It is an attempt to find natural, material causes rather than supernatural intentional acts.
As I remember, many thinkers since Ancient Greece have seen the role of literature as merely to put across in lively form the great truths of Philosophy or of Religion. Dilthey in the 1880s reached deeper in saying that, while science deals in causes, the humanities provide understanding of what motivates individual human selves. Leavis’s views on ‘sensibility to human life’ take one closer than does Dilthey, I think, in understanding what is wrong with Philosophy (although Leavis himself didn’t put it forward as a criticism of Philosophy).