Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Arrogance of Logic

"Love is reckless in giving away, oblivious as to what it gets in return." -Gandhi

The above quote comes from the reading for our second philosophy seminar, it is my favorite sentence in a while. This post is about a spin-off thought from our first philosophy seminar meeting. For the first week we read a bit of Hobbes and Rousseau, the exact content is not integral to this thought. One thing that the professor pointed out to us was that, when establishing his view of the origin of human society, Rousseau criticized Hobbes' alternative construction for assuming that the specific modes of thought and action prevalent in Hobbes' time were indeed universal human norms, independent of time and context.

One of the things that I most appreciated about Hobbes' work was his adherence to sound, rational thinking throughout most of his argument. However, thinking about this near when I thought about my professor's point, it occurred to me to wonder, is our (my?) belief in the use and universality of logic a reflection of logic actually being useful and universal, or more a reflection of the context of my upbringing? As a citizen of a technologically advanced nation, as an academic, and especially as a mathematician/philosopher by training, reason plays a huge role in my interpretation of information and my general outlook on life. In light of this, it would be hard to conclude that my appreciation of it was independent of my life being steeped in it, something that is hardly true of many, both those living today and especially those from pre-Enlightenment historical periods.

Reason is not the only source of guidance which we have available. Many rely on methods such as intuition, emotion, or spirituality to reach their decisions. Although it is beyond me to know if these are separate paths, or aspects of the same, it is fairly clear that they often produce non-logical, or even illogical, results. Furthermore, I, the self-proclaimed champion of reason, often make use of all of these sources to influence my daily choices, significant and trivial. I cannot even argue that reason provides the best results, there being no evidence to support this and even the term 'best' implies some non-logical ranking to outcomes. While reason may provide the best method to accurately predict the outcome of various actions, at least for a small time into the future, we should not confuse prediction with either control or desirability.

Personally, I am leaning toward attempting to use reason to clarify or implement decisions that originate through other thought processes than pure logic. I think it is important to recognize the importance of these illogical sources, but at the same time, the only chance we get to truly affect our lives is through consideration of our actions and their desired/expected consequences. This, to me, is the essence of the old saying, "an unreflected life is not worth living." I welcome your thoughts on the importance of logic, both in one's personal life and in historical perspective.


elfarmy17 said...

I would say that logic is a tool to be used while making decisions based around the other things you listed (emotions, intuition, spirituality).
Spirituality, for instance, often dictates a person's values. Logic is then employed to determine whether or not a course of action will likely fit those values.
Same with emotion: "If I do xxxxxx, that will make me happy (because it falls in with my values), therefore I will do it."

Logic is like the vertical line test for the function of intuition. If I have a sudden impulse to throw my iPod out the car window (I'm not upset in any way- I just suddenly want to), that's intuition. Logic tells me that's a dumb, entirely irrational idea, so I don't do it. The relation is not a function.

Kenny said...

Elfarmy: I haven't really fleshed this thought out much, but it seems reasonable that sometimes we are happier if we just do things, rather than attempt to figure out what will make us happy logically. What if the iPod has been subconsciously weighing on you lately, and your urge to just throw it out the window is your attempt to free yourself? I like the reference to the vertical line test, mathematics represent, and I thought of your blog when I started the post with a quote