Philosophical Arguments
Ryle (Gilbert)
Source: Ayer - Logical Positivism
Paper - Abstract

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The paper is Gilbert Ryle’s (Wikipedia: Gilbert Ryle) Inaugural Lecture as Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford, given in 1946. It starts off with a positive appreciation of his predecessor R. G. Collingwood (Wikipedia: R. G. Collingwood). Collingwood is discussed extensively in "Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History: A Philosophical Enquiry".

Extract 11 – “The Problem” (Full Text)

  1. Philosophers have in recent years given much consideration to the nature, objectives and methods of their own inquiry. This interest has been due partly to a certain professional hypochondria, since the conspicuous progress made by other studies has induced in philosophers some nervousness about the scale of their own successes. Partly, also, it has been due to the application of modem logical theory to the processes of the mathematical and the inductive sciences, which has automatically led to its application to philosophy.
  2. The exposition of the logical credentials of different sorts of scientific conclusions has posed in a bright if painful light the corresponding question about the foundations of philosophical doctrines.
  3. My object is to exhibit the logical structure of a type of arguments which are proper to philosophical thinking. It makes no difference whether these arguments are used polemically in controversies between philosophers or peaceably in private philosophical reflection. For arguments are effective as weapons only if they are logically cogent, and if they are so they reveal connections, the disclosure of which is not the less necessary to the discovery of truth for being also handy in the discomfiture of opponents. The love of truth is not incongruous with a passion for correcting the erring.
  4. Philosophical arguments are not inductions. Both the premises and the conclusions of inductions can be doubted or denied without absurdity. Observed facts and plausible hypotheses have no more illustrative force in philosophy than is possessed by fictions or guesses. Nor have either facts or fancies any evidential force in the resolution of philosophical problems. The evidential force of matters of fact is only to increase or decrease the probability of general or particular hypotheses and it is absurd to describe philosophical propositions as relatively probable or improbable.
  5. On the other hand philosophical arguments are not demonstrations of the Euclidean type, namely deductions of theorems from axioms or postulates. For philosophy has no axioms and it is debarred from taking its start from postulates. Otherwise there could be alternative philosophical doctrines as there are alternative geometries.
  6. A pattern of argument which is proper and even proprietary to philosophy is the reductio ad absurdum. This argument moves by extracting contradictions or logical paradoxes from its material. It is the object of this discussion to show how this is possible and why it is necessary.
  7. First it is expedient to distinguish the strong reductio ad absurdum from the weak reductio. The latter form is used in some of Euclid's demonstrations. He demonstrates the truth of a theorem by deducing from its contradictory consequences which conflict with the axioms of his system or with consequences drawn from them. It should be noticed that this argument proves only either that the required theorem is true if the axioms are true or that both are false, that is, that the contradictory of the required theorem is not compatible with the axioms. The strong reductio consists in deducing from a proposition or a complex of propositions consequences which are inconsistent with each other or with the original proposition. It shows (to express it in a fashion which will have to be amended later) that a proposition is illegitimate because it has logically absurd corollaries. The proposition under investigation is shown to be not merely false but nonsensical.
  8. To prove that arguments of this type belong to philosophy it is enough to mention that it would be proper for a dissentient philosopher to try to demolish this or any other philosophical assertion by exhibiting contradictions latent in it. I am not trying to prove that no other types of argument are proper to philosophy.
  9. On first consideration it will seem that arguments of the type reductio ad absurdum can have only a destructive effect. They may be effective in demolishing silly theories and thus possess, besides the pleasing property of defeating opponents, the useful one of clearing the site for subsequent constructive theory. But it will be felt that no demolitions can result in the erection of a new dwelling. I hope to disarm any such objection by showing that (to use another metaphor) reductio ad absurdum arguments are neither more nor less nihilist than are threshing operations. Or, to change the picture again, the position will be maintained that philosophical arguments of the type described have something in common with the destruction-tests by which engineers discover the strength of materials. Certainly engineers stretch, twist, compress, and batter bits of metal until they collapse, but it is just by such tests that they determine the strains which the metal will withstand. In somewhat the same way, philosophical arguments bring out the logical powers of the ideas under investigation, by fixing the precise forms of logical mishandling under which they refuse to work.

Extract 2 – “Crucial and Cardinal Ideas” (Full Text)
  1. Though all abstract ideas alike are liable to generate philosophical puzzles, some demand priority in philosophical examination. Of these one class consists largely of the new theory-shaping ideas which are struck out from time to time in the fields of science, criticism, statesmanship, and philosophy by men of genius. Genius shows itself not so much in the discovery of new answers as in the discovery of new questions. It influences its age not by solving its problems but by opening its eyes to previously unconsidered problems. So the new ideas released by genius are those which give a new direction to inquiry, often amounting to a new method of thinking.
  2. Such crucial ideas, being new, are at the start unco-ordinated with the old. Their potency is quickly recognized but their logical powers have still to be determined, as, correspondingly have those logical powers of the old ideas which have yet to be correlated with the new. The task of assimilating the new crucial ideas into the un-fevered blood-stream of workaday thought is rendered both more urgent and more difficult by the fact that these ideas necessarily begin by being exciting. They shock the settled who execrate them as superstition, and they spell-bind the young who consecrate them into myth. That cloud and this rainbow are not dispelled until philosophers settle the true logical perspectives of the ideas.
  3. Quite distinct from these, though often integral to them, are what may be described as philosophically cardinal ideas, those, namely, the logical unravelling of which leads directly to the unravelling of some complex tangle of interconnected ideas. Once these key-ideas are charted, the geography of a whole region is, at least in outline, fixed. No general clue can be given for predicting which ideas will turn out to have this catalytic power. To discern this is the privilege of philosophic genius.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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