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Logic (false god)

I realised a long time ago—in my second year at university—that logic just really isn’t that useful. It’s because you can make statements that are logically unsound but still true, and you can make statements that are logically sound but untrue. So, really, what’s the point?

Up till that point I had been interested in logic as an idea—as a panacea. If it was logical it was “good”, and I read books like Schopenhauer’s The Art of Always Being Right and was fascinated by all the logical fallacies he found in various beer halls (that are still used today—in pubs and in forums online).

Yet you can use logic against reality; for example, the logician David Stove liked to point out fallacies in Darwinism. He liked to say things like “Darwinians state a tautology, they just say ‘what survives, survives’”. For logicians, to detect a tautology or similar fallacy is sufficient grounds to reject an argument—“circular thinking”, just like “appeal to authority”, constitutes a logical fallacy.

Stove liked to imply that because Darwinism isn’t logical it isn’t true—except he knew, as a logician, that he could only show the arguments used by Darwinians were not sound, not that the conclusions they reached were necessarily untrue. In fact, why is it that we can watch a certain moth type mottled like sooty chimneys out-breed another moth type from the same species that has paler colouration? That is not to do with logic—it’s to do with observations drawn from life.

There’s a mini Stove cult on the right, particularly the radical right, but Stove is very tendentious and what he is tendentious about are those things that are not about logic but are crucial to the truth—namely, the premises from which you begin your investigation and the facts you select to deploy in your argument (discrimination in facts). These are more important in regards to “the truth” than the form the argument takes.

Stove was, I think, basically a “grumpy old man character”—that was his persona, it was how he gratified himself in the world (how he cultivated appreciation from others). He was a type you often see on the right who, for whatever reason, likes to ruffle their newspaper vigorously and pierce “fads and fancies” of the day—from feminism to Darwinism.

Stove gave his character a logical veneer but it had little to do with a desire to establish the truth. You can tell from the way he writes about Darwinism that he has not given the full benefit of the doubt to or fully understood what his opponents say before he begins his attack—for example, he associates Darwinism with access to food supply and then asks, tendentiously, why, if this is true, parents don’t just eat their babies—the baby being an excellent foodstuff that is immediately available.

Basically, to reason in a proper way you have to be somewhat charitable. You have to understand where your opponent is in actual fact but Stove always caricatures Darwinian arguments in a dismissive and sneering way—he doesn’t enter into the other person’s position imaginatively (not logical) to see where they’re coming from. He was probably a very angry man and he rationalised his anger with logical arguments against popular causes—and he enjoys a high reputation among men who pride themselves as being “difficult and clever” (that’s their game).

Logic is a game, really. In the rules of logical argumentation you’re meant to say “tautology, circular argument—case rejected”. You can even find tables that list all the fallacies and all the potential ripostes—just like worked-out chess games. So if someone makes an appeal to authority, mock them—and it goes on like that for every fallacy. In “the game” it’s enough to identify a fallacy to reject the argument—and yet that has nothing to do with truth or reality.

About a decade ago, in online arguments, it was very popular to have the Wikipedia list of logical fallacies to hand—open in a tab—and then to dismiss an argument because it was fallacious, just scroll down and…*gotcha* ad hominem, case dismissed. Usenet culture had already spawned “Godwin’s law”, a new fallacy (really, just another variant on “appeal to authority”) that claimed an argument became fallacious as soon as the Nazis were raised as an example (“like Hitler”).

I think that this whole culture is leftist—the idea that “I use logic, not prejudice” to make decisions comes from the left. It’s on the left because the left is feminine and narcissistic—and, like women, they’re rule-following perfectionists (so logical). So the idea that “it’s not logical” is sufficient grounds to reject a statement’s truth is amenable to the left—it’s a low-status statement about, say, race not formulated like a scientific hypothesis. So it’s untrue.

It’s social game-playing, playing the “game” debate—a game in which Darwinism can be rejected because it’s based in tautology. It’s “armour meets armour”, just two debate masks trying to find fallacies and “win”—reality is neither here nor there in this game. Ironically, the game itself is fallacious—it’s based on an appeal to authority, the authority that comes about because a statement is formed in a sound logical way (the authority of logic—which is associated with science and reason).

The logical world is perfect and self-contained, flawless—a perfect environment for the narcissistic perfectionist; it can form a complete circuit that can exclude reality altogether.

I like to read books about logic, though—and I recently read a popular manual on logic by a Cambridge don called Straight and Crooked Thinking. It was first published in the 1930s and went through multiple editions until at least the late 1970s—it was said to have sold about 52 million copies and was issued to troops in World War II to help them parse German propaganda.

It was written from an entirely liberal perspective. For example, the author, Thouless, held that the League of Nations was a useful “first try” in an experiment to end and regulate war—with the United Nations being a follow-up to the experiment. It’s a liberal worldview—and the worldview precedes logic and is not based on logic itself.

He takes a statement against “sexual perversity” in a newspaper and rewords it as “love” and claims that is “less emotive”—of course, “love” is a very emotive word; just as much as “sexual perversion”. “These men engage in sexual perversion” or “These men engage in love”—neither is a neutral statement. If Thouless were really neutral he would say “These men engage in sexual activity”—he doesn’t, because even his logic is biased in a liberal direction.

If you have an interest in reality—in truthfulness—and not in playing status games like “the debate game” then it is much more important to pay attention to the premises you start with and the facts you select and the observations you make (and the degree to which you are prepared to be charitable to your opponent and imaginatively enter their position). Observation, intuition, instinct, discrimination, and imagination—these are all much more important than logic and reason; and none are rational.

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