PNC Ground Shifts to the Side of the Subject– Conventionalism III
To set myself the task “weed this patch of periwinkles” I may need to use language. The two popular weeds there at this season are dog violets and a native vine I don’t know the name of. Getting to the nub of that weed-vine among the thicket of periwinkle vines and pulling out the former without pulling out the latter is a challenge. Names and language do not seem to be enlisted in executing the task; they enable only my report of this work. The weed-vine and the periwinkle are of different leaf shape and color. Tug gently on the end of the weed-vine reaching for the sun. You won’t be able to see the weed-vine you’re tugging but a few inches before it disappears (leafless in this portion of it) among the thicket of periwinkle vines hugging the earth and putting down their roots continually along their way. But as you tug on the weed-vine, you’ll be able to find with your other hand that single vine being tugged. It is tightly tensed and in synchrony with any rhythm of tugs you apply with the other hand. Repeat from there, and eventually you arrive at the nub of the weed-vine and pull out that vine by the root.
Pause at a step in which you have the single obscured weed-vine in each hand. Pull with the one hand, feel the pull in the other. That is a perceived connection between two distinct events. At this point, philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Hume and Kant stick up their noses. Not Locke.
That applied force can be conveyed along a vine is a physical necessity. That different things in general (as example, weed-vines and periwinkle vines) are not same things is another type of necessity, logical necessity, however neatly it coincides with physical necessity. Logical necessity holds unconditionally and in all contexts. What I’ve called physical necessity is traditionally taken to be necessity under some sort of limiting conditions, and this necessity has been called a contingent connection, reserving necessary connectionfor logical (and other formal) necessity. The real distinction, I think contrariwise, should be in what aspects of things we are accessing and the different ways these two aspects are accessed.
Peikoff 1964 points out that Locke avoided the contingent/necessaryterminology. Locke instead applied probable/certainto the division. We have seen in my section Aristotle II that Locke maintained we have by sensory perception instances of the general fact that different things are not same things and that a thing is never both A and not A at the same time and in the same respect. Philosophers, including Peikoff in 1964, are correct to fault Locke’s blurring under probable/certaina clear understanding that ampliative inductive generalizations over perceived instances do not suffice to land the absolute necessity in general principles of logic or pure mathematics. Peikoff notes on page 218 the parallel criticism in Hume’s famous dictum that we do not find in sense perception any necessary connection between distinct events (distinct impressions,in Hume’s own parlance and perspective). Countering Hume’s quandary, Kant attempted a radical subject-sided formulation of necessities such as the necessity in a principle of causality, a reformulation in which Kant would have objective temporal order of distinct events get the necessity of that order from a necessity of causal structure demanded by human mind. (Cf. Peikoff 2012, 32–33.)
Locke had fogged up by his softening of the distinction between (i) the physical necessities one can sense and manipulate with the weed-vine in one’s hands and (ii) formal and metaphysical necessities. Nevertheless, I maintain Locke right in taking (i) to be the driver of (ii) and not the other way around, as philosophers from Plato to Kant and beyond would have it. British empiricism has its good sense even if it was never good enough.
Locke was not really of one mind in this. Peikoff lays out an opposite strand also inAn Essay Concerning Human Understanding: IV 3.31, 4.6, 4.8, 9.1, 11.13–14. “What is Locke doing in such passages as these? He is now contrastingeternal truths and existential truths. The former are to be discovered only by ‘the examining of our own ideas’, and ‘concern not existence’ . . .” (222). Peikoff points out that the likes of platonist Cudworth or Leibniz had also maintained such a division, but for them consideration of our own ideas accesses the eternal truths as immutable relations in the divine understanding. Eternal truths such as the laws of identity and noncontradiction, as well as the essences of existing things, are givens to the human mind, independently of our self-examinations accessing them. But for an empiricist such as Locke, rejecting that rationalism, and joining considerable nominalism (the conceptualist wing of nominalism) concerning universal ideas to the empiricism, the divide between matters of fact and the eternal, formal truths can make conventionalism concerning the ground of logic “almost inevitable” (223).
The leading German spokesman for conventionalism in science, geometry, and logic in the early years of the twentieth century was Hugo Dingler: “The application of the law of contradiction rests on my free will. . . and this is just what is called a stipulation [Festsetzung]” (1919, 14-15; quoted in Carus 2007, 120n14). “There is no other way to guarantee the general validity of a law other than its stipulation by the will” (1919, 13; Carus 119). Peikoff would not likely have known much about this history in 1964, much beyond, that is, what Popper wrote against it in his 1934 The Logic of Scientific Discovery. I want to point it out because although Dingler rejected as unfounded Kant’s basis of the necessity in geometry as arising from synthetic a priori judgments and Kant’s picture of how certain laws are a priori conditions of the possibility of any experience (Wolters 1988). Dingler is nonetheless a redo of Kant, of the first Critique,with conscious choice (of alleged conventions) replacing Kant’s mandatory structure in any sensory intuition and in any conceptualization of things external to mind. Though crucial, fundamental organization of mind on Dingler’s view is voluntary, and although Kant would shake his head over such free play as that, it remains that the organization is an a priori condition for the possibility of any experience or knowledge.
Carnap will resist such radical conventionalism in the 20’s and 30’s. I’ll return in the next installment to the course of Logical Empiricism and the role of (still overextended) conventionalism in their characterization of logic and in the characterization by Dewey and by C. I. Lewis. I expect to yet dig into the fate of conventionalism concerning logic to the present day. Jumping out of chronological order, just now I want to be sure to mention—to show that conventionalism in logic remains a current and a concern in philosophy today—the section 6.5 “Logical Conventionalism” in Theodore Sider’s Writing the Book of the World (2011 Oxford).
Carus, A. W. 2007. Carnap and Twentieth-Century Thought – Explication as Enlightenment.Cambridge.
Dingler, H. 1919. The Foundations of Physics: Synthetic Principles of Mathematical Natural Philosophy.Union for Scientific Publishing, Berlin and Leipzig. (In German.)
Peikoff, L. 2012. The DIM Hypothesis.New American Library.
Wolters, G. 1988. Hugo Dingler. Science in Context2(2):359–67.