A slight intermission in that Thoughts on Theory series.

I asked some philosophers I knew to keep an eye on me as I wrote those three posts about idealism. So far I’ve made two mistakes, and I need to look at how to correct them as I go along. I’m still learning (always), but I want to briefly and informally spell out what those issues are:

Contrary to what I wrote at the beginning of Part 3, and contrary to what I thought I read in David Stove’s essay, I’ve been told there are some non-tautological conclusions you can draw from tautologies, however also that my general point stands, or at least it’s obvious what I’m getting at. I need to clarify my thought here regarding how tautologies function in formal logic (a difficult prospect for me) and on what basis my point really does stand if it is not some simple axiom of logic like “you can’t draw non-tautological conclusions from tautologies”. So that my PHIL friends might help me if they have time or inclination, here is Stove’s claim in excerpt:

There is an important special case of the truth that necessary truths have only necessarily-true consequences: namely, that tautologies only have tautological consequences. Again, it can be, and has been, expressed in different ways.
But of course it is one thing to know a certain general principle, and another to recognize its application in every particular case. It is only too easy, as everyone knows, to fail to see the application, in a given case, of some general rule which we know perfectly well. This is most common, perhaps, where the rule is a moral one, and the case is a case of our own conduct; but the same thing is common enough where the general rule is one of fact, or logic, or whatever. A physicist may be satisfied of the truth that energy is conserved, but fail to see that his own pet theory or invention requires that it be not conserved. A logician may be guilty, in a particular case, of what in general terms he recognizes as a fallacy. And so on.
Just so, the fact that philosophers all know that necessary truthes have only necessarily-true consequences, and tautologies only tautological ones, is no guarantee that they will always bring this knowledge to bear in cases where they should. It is still perfectly possible that they will mistake a particular argument, say, from a tautological premise to a contingent conclusion, for a valid one.
Not only is this possible: it is a temptation to which everyone, including philosophers, is constantly exposed. For we all want, as it is perfectly reasonable to want, our conclusions to be as interesting as possible, our premises to be as certain as possible, and our reasoning to be as conclusive as possible. And who cannot see that this threefold want, if it is not restrained by our own better knowledge, will sometimes lead us to imagine these three desiderata have all been maximally satisfied at once: for example, that some non-tautological conclusion has been rigorously derived from a tautological premise?

– p136, Idealism: a Victorian Horror-story (Part Two), The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies. Basil Blackwell. 1991.

Okay. Immediately I can see I’ve really bastardised this, and used importantly different language to Stove. He’s made mention of “necessary-truths” and contingency. I need to give this some thought, and if you’ve been reading you might like to as well, because we’re in a similar position here.

The other issue is that by omitting the broader historical context for Berkeley and Kant, I’ve made them out to be much less progressive than they are, in fact, I’ve sketched them up in my c800 word posts far too close to the worst of the post-modernists. Berkeley and Kant were both defending a tradition of monism against the mess that is dualism. That’s what my next post must be about, in order to put this right, but before I can make that I need to finish reading Georgi Plekhanov’s “The Development of the Monist View of History” so I can be roughly accurate.

So that’s how things stand. 🙂

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