Essays on Logic and Language

Essays on Logic and Language

Essays on Logic and Language

Essays on Logic and Language

Excerpt

By Margaret Macdonald

VIEWS about the nature of philosophy and philosophical method do not appear to permit of demonstration. As Mill said of a similar topic, 'it is possible only to give considerations capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its consent to the doctrine'. The method of science is justified in practice. The scientist shows that he has the correct method for discovering new facts by indisputably presenting more and more of them. No one would dispute that we know more about physics, chemistry, and psychology than we did a hundred years ago. The philosopher has no such means of conviction. For one of the points at issue is whether he discovers any facts at all. He may recommend a philosophical method, but whether he convinces will depend as much on his audience and the general climate of opinion as on his own reasoning. For there seems to be no accepted criterion of when a philosophical question has been answered and what satisfies one generation, it seems, does not satisfy another. But everyone who was not satisfied that the problem of combustion had, in essentials, been settled by Lavoisier would rightly be considered incompetent or irrational. We are not even sure whether this is because philosophical questions are more difficult than scientific questions or because they are not questions at all. Certainly, we have not decided what sort of questions they are. I wish to invite, or strengthen, your consent to the view that philosophical propositions are not factual but verbal. That is itself a bald and misleading statement. I shall try to recommend it with the help of an example. Philosophical questions, it is suggested, arise from certain apparent peculiarities of ordinary statements. E.g., 'This is red' and 'That is red', yet they are not two colours but 'the same colour' (problem of universals); 'We have both got toothache but I can only feel my own' (problem of solipsism); 'That is a mirage though . . .

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