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Is a Lack of Unaminity a Good Indicator that an

Inference is Not Purely Deductive (i.e. Logical)?

Deduction has turned out to be much less powerful than was formerly supposed . . . . As logic improves, less and less can be proved.

Bertrand Russell

[Does the passage below imply that logic, considered as a method for arriving at knowledge, is powerless in the absence of “logically primitive” beliefs, that is, of beliefs which cannot be logically derived?]

From the expression of a man’s face we judge as to what he is feeling: we say we see that he is angry, when in fact we only see a frown. We do not judge as to his state of mind by any logical process: the judgment grows up, often without our being able to say what physical mark of emotion we actually saw. In such a case, the knowledge is derivative psychologically; but logically it is in a sense primitive, since it is not the result of any logical deduction. There may or may not be a possible deduction leading to the same result, but whether there is or not, we certainly do not employ it. If we call a belief “logically primitive” when it is not actually arrived at by a logical inference, then innumerable beliefs are logically primitive which psychologically are derivative.

Bertrand Russell

[You can always use logic to get round common sense. For example, former car salesman Al Palladini said, while Ontario Minister of Transport in the Mike Harris government, “Increasing the speed limit on our highways is not necessarily going to make our roads unsafe.” Would you accuse him of being illogical, or would you merely quarrel with his use of logic? What do you think about Bertrand Russell’s and Arnold Lunn’s use of logic (or other kinds of rational inference) in the italicized sentences of the exchange below, as recalled by Lunn in his memoir And the Floods Came, 1942?]

On February 9th, 1941, I found myself on the same platform with Mr. Bertrand Russell. He was reading a paper on “Education for Democracy” before the Washington Open Forum. I had been asked to join the panel consisting of three or four representatives of different schools of thought who were to be allowed to ask one or at most two questions at the end of Mr. Russell’s lecture. I replied that I would not travel all the way to Washington to ask Mr. Russell a respectful question at the end of his lecture, but if I were allowed fifteen minutes to pull his leg I would do my best to put in an appearance.

Mr. Russell spoke for about forty minutes. He began by hinting very discreetly at certain defects in American democracy. He insisted that democracy could function only where there was a tradition of tolerance for minorities.

“If we wish to educate children for democracy,” he said, “we must immunize them against propaganda, we must develop in them the habit of scepticism. It is the dogmatic temper which destroys democracy and paves the way for dictatorship. My own opinions, for instance, may be mere prejudice. It is very important that those of us who are in contact with the young should not encourage them to assume that the particular thing in which we ourselves most fervently believe is the one thing which matters. The most important thing in education is to respect the freedom of the individual. The great religions have all agreed in their emphasis on the importance of the individual. We need to defend anew all forms of freedom, including academic freedom”

The programme of the meeting informed us that the chief speaker was Earl Russell, but that he preferred to be known quite simply as Mr. Bertrand Russell. I began by pointing out that if I were to wander round America describing myself as Lord Lunn Mr. Russell would be very much surprised, and that I resented this aristocrat masquerading as a mister and stealing my democratic thunder. He, Lord Russell, I insisted, would have no ground for complaint if I referred to him as he would be referred to in the House of Lords, as “the noble Lord.”

“The noble Lord has begged you to be sceptical, and has assured you that his own views may be nothing more than prejudices. Had I the time I would be prepared to defend my own beliefs, not because they are mine but because they are true, and because they can be proved to be true. Lord Russell in one of his essays has remarked that there is nothing but prejudice and habit for the belief that the external world exists. You and I belong to Lord Russell’s external world, and I think he should make up his mind whether we exist before telling us how to educate our children. He insists on the extreme importance of the individual, but does not explain why he considers the individual to be important. If a man is, as he seems to imply in many of his books, nothing but a walking combination of chemicals and water, then the individual is no more important than chemicals and water. If he be nothing more than first cousin to the chimpanzee there is no reason why a dictatorship should not put him behind bars. The only rational basis for our belief in man’s right to freedom is the doctrine that man has rights which derive from God. Lord Russell pleads for academic freedom, but as a determinist he denies the possibility of freedom, academic or otherwise. He is identified with the school of thought which insists that we should begin by discovering what children would like to be taught and at what hour it would suit them to be taught. Thomas Huxley, the great agnostic, once remarked that he doubted whether any modern university provided a better education than the mediaeval universities.

“The great centuries which gave Europe her noblest art and architecture, in which were founded the great European universities, were dominated by educational ideals very different from those which the noble Lord has propounded. The mediaeval thinkers believed that it was important to decide for what purpose a man had been created before deciding for what he should be educated. Instead of organising Gallup polls to discover what boys would like to be taught they used the stick as an accessory in teaching them what it was intended they should learn, with the result that they produced scholars, whereas today we are slowly drifting down towards Moronia.

“Lord Russell, like another distinguished visitor to this country, Mr. H. G. Wells, is a survivor from the great debunking age. These ‘Prophets of the Dawn’ debunked religion, patriotism, and traditional morality, but left a void which the dictators proceeded to fill. Nature and youth abhor a vacuum. If you drive out sense you prepare the way for nonsense. The debunkers have done very well—all too well, and the rebunkers are now busy filling the void with ideological nonsense.”

The noble Lord made a most entertaining speech in reply. He was nettled by my suggestion that he was responsible for Hitler, and explained that Hitler and Mussolini would be delighted to imprison him. Of course they would. Rebunkers have always sent debunkers to the guillotine or the concentration camp after they had served their purpose.

“The noble Mister,” said Lord Russell, “implies that all he learnt in the days of his youth was learnt under the menace of the stick. His education appears to have been neglected, and I regret that I have not been provided by the committee with the instrument which would enable me to complete it. The noble Mister, in his remarks about free will and academic freedom, has ingenuously confused the philosophical and the commonsense use of those terms. It is true that I recommend scepticism to the young, but I have also urged people to cultivate the faculty which enables us to distinguish varying degrees of probability. For instance, it is not demonstrably certain that the noble Mister exists, but I consider it sufficiently likely to believe it to be worth while to refute the arguments of the hypothetical Mister.”

[Can the age-old debate about whether there is really a conflict between God’s omniscience (and omnipotence) and man’s free will be settled by pure and unadulterated logic? Does logic have any part to play? In the first two passages below there is agreement between JR, a fire-breathing atheist, and Arnold Lunn and his wife, two theists, that God’s omniscience does indeed conflict, or appears to conflict, with man’s free will. In the next two passages Bertrand Russell (a hard atheist) and Bryan Magee (a soft atheist) seem to be agreed that God’s omniscience does not conflict with man’s free will. Which group do you side with?]

If we accept the dubious premise that an omnipotent, omniscient God exists, then free will is merely an illusion. God knows beforehand what our choices will be including those choices which may not only be imprudent, but pernicious and insidious. Indeed, an omnipotent, omniscient God must be an accomplice before and during the fact to every human miscue and transgression, as well as being responsible for every non-moral defect and deficiency in the universe.

(from JR’s website Free Thought Pages)

Some little time before I was received my wife said to me, “I can’t think how you can become a Catholic without finding an answer to the points which you put in your letter to Father Knox about the difficulty of reconciling omnipotence and free will.”

To this I replied, “If God came into this room and said to you, ‘I am omniscient and you’ve got free will,’ you would have to accept both statements.”

“No, I shouldn’t,” said my wife; “I’d assume that I hadn’t heard him correctly.”

The reader will realise from this retort that it is not easy to emerge victorious from a theological discussion with my wife.

Arnold Lunn

We do not think we were necessarily not free in the past, merely because we can now remember our past volitions. Similarly, we might be free in the future, even if we could now see what our future volitions were going to be. Freedom, in short, in any valuable sense, demands only that our volitions shall be, as they are, the result of our own desires, not of an outside force compelling us to will what we would rather not will. Everything else is confusion of thought, due to the feeling that knowledge compels the happening of what it knows when this is future, though it is at once obvious that knowledge has no such power in regard to the past. Free will, therefore, is true in the only form which is important; and the desire for other forms is a mere effect of insufficient analysis.

Bertrand Russell

Foreknowledge is not the same as predeterminism (in the sense of determinism). If it is possible for a being, let us say a God, to know what is going to happen in the future there is no more of a problem about his knowing that at some particular time in the future I am going to decide, entirely of my own free will, to do a particular thing than there is about his knowing any other kind of future event. Future free decisions, future free choices, are neither more nor less future than other future events: if there can be knowledge of future events at all then no special problem is raised about knowledge of future choices.

Bryan Magee

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