Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

ATTRIBUTE AND CLASS

Frederic Brenton Fitch*

The role played by symbolic logic is coming to be increasingly important in contemporary American philosophy. The effect of this trend will possibly be to give rise to new types of philosophy as radically different from the philosophies of the past one hundred years as symbolic logic itself is different from the narrow and inadequate logic of Aristotle, or from the ambiguous "logic" of such writers as Hegel and Bradley.

Symbolic logic is a relatively new science, having first arisen, in anything like its modern form, in the writings of George Boole around the middle of the nineteenth century. Naturally it meets with strong opposition from those who do not have the technical training to understand it, and from those who feel that, though science has made great advances by use of mathematics, no analogous advance, by similar use of exact methods, is to be expected in philosophy. There is also the mistaken supposition that value concepts (e.g., those of ethics and esthetics) cannot be handled by symbolic logic and that all use of symbolic logic indicates a return to a hopeless materialism and skepticism. Quite the reverse is actually the case. The only way that mankind can develop an ethics and a philosophy commensurate with its achievement in building the atomic bomb is to make full use of symbolic logic in criticizing and correcting the past systems of ethics and philosophy and in constructing new and better ones. To do anything less than this is very much like trying to do research in modern physics while using the old Roman arithmetic that lacked even the number zero. Symbolic logic provides us with as exact a technique for dealing with qualitative and quantitative concepts as modern mathematics provides for dealing only with mathematical concepts.

Very extensive research is now being done in symbolic logic. The present essay is designed to assume little or no familiarity with this field on the part of the reader, but there will be numerous references to

____________________
*
Born in 1908. Ph.D., Yale University, 1934. Guggenheim Fellow, 1945-46. Member of the faculty of Yale University since 1936. Consulting editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic, and author of numerous articles in that and other journals. Co-author with C. L. Hull , C. I. Hovland, and others, of Mathematico-Deductive Theory of Rote Learning ( 1940).

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