The Forms of Logic -|- Educational Philosophy Theory

The Forms of Logic

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The most important aspect of the Critique of Pure Reason is Kant’s criticism of logic:

"That Logic has advanced in this sure course, even from the earliest times, is apparent from the fact that, since Aristotle, it has been unable to advance a step, and thus to all appearance has reached its completion." (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, p. 8).

An important part of Kant’s inquiry concerns the nature of thought-forms in general, and particularly the the forms of logic. Where do they come from? What do they represent? How far do they reflect the truth? It was to Kant’s credit that he asked these questions, although he did not provide an adequate answer, being content to leave that to his successors. This question really goes to the heart of the fundamental question of all philosophy—the relation between thought and being, between mind and matter. Like Hegel, Kant had a very poor opinion of formal logic, a "specious art...which gives to all our cognitions the form of understanding." (Critique, p.68) Kant was the first one to distinguish between Understanding (Verstand) and Reason (Vernunf). Understanding is the lowest form of rational thinking. It takes things as they are, and merely registers the bare fact of existence. This is the basis of formal logic, and also "common sense" which takes things to be just as they seem.

The process of thinking does not stop at the level of understanding, that is, the mere registering of facts. Reason goes beyond what is immediately given to our eyes and ears, breaks it down into its constituent parts, and puts it together again. This is the role of the Dialectic. Up until Kant, the art of dialectics had been virtually forgotten. It was regarded as mere trickery and sophism, the "logic of illusion". It was Kant’s great achievement to restore dialectics to its rightful place in philosophy, as a higher form of logic.

Kant attempts to put human knowledge on a sound basis, by insisting that it must be based upon experience. However, this is insufficient. Initially in the process of cognition, we are confronted with a confused mass of data, with no logical thread or necessary connection. This would not be generally thought of as real knowledge, still less scientific knowledge. We expect something more. In order to make sense of the information provided by the senses, it is necessary for reason to be active, not merely passive:

"They (the natural scientists) learned that reason only perceives that which it produces after its own design; that it must not be content to follow, as it were, in the leading-strings of nature, but must proceed in advance with principles of judgment according to unvarying laws, and compel nature to reply to its questions. For accidental observations, made according to no preconceived plan, cannot be united under a necessary law. But it is this that reason seeks for and requires. It is only the principles of reason which can give to concordant phenomena the validity of laws, and it is only when experiment is directed by these rational principles that it can have any real utility. Reason must approach nature with the view, indeed, of receiving information from it, not, however, in the character of a pupil, who listens to all that his master chooses to tell him, but in that of a judge, who compels the witnesses to reply to those questions which he himself thinks fit to propose." (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, pp. 10-11.)

There is an important difference between the way that Kant and Aristotle understood the laws of logic. For Aristotle, these were laws of things, whereas, for the idealist Kant, they are laws of thought only. The nub of the matter is that, for Kant, the Law of Identity, for example cannot be found in the objects themselves. It is merely applied to them by consciousness. Thus, for Kant, logic is only a convenient method for ordering and classifying things, whereas dialectics derives its laws from the real world, and applies them back again. This mistaken conception of Kant has been carried over into modern logic and mathematics, where it is often asserted that laws, theorems, etc., are only formal ideas which are used for the sake of convenience, but which have no real relation to the objective world.

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