[lit-ideas] Re: Univocal philosophy as the value of transcendental claims?

  • From: Eric Dean <ecdean99@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 4 Jan 2009 04:13:09 +0000

John McCreery, assuaging his philosophical conscience, offers the possibility 
that 'transcendental' might be interpreted as characterizing the sorts of 
truths which can be demonstrated with what mathematicians call indirect proofs, 
i.e. proofs that work by assuming the contrary and demonstrating that it leads 
to a contradiction.

John's suggestion prompts a couple thoughts.  First, the mathematician's 
indirect proof only works because mathematics and the terms in which it is 
expressed have been set up to ensure that the laws of logic apply 
unequivocally.  Consequently, if one can demonstrate that A is false, one has 
demonstrated that not-A is true.  Moreover, if A implies a contradiction, then 
A must be false, thereby demonstrating that not-A is true (the structure of 
indirect proof).

The same cannot be said unequivocally of assertions about human behaviors, if 
only because the referents of the words in sentences about people are 
intrinsically ambiguous (unlike the language used to express mathematics).

Second, as I understand the notion of transcendental analysis, as Walter has 
expounded it, indirect proof would in fact be a viable form of argument for 
demonstrating transcendental truths.  I say that because I believe that 
arguments involving necessary conditions (which are a component, as I 
understand it, of Walter's conception of transcendental analysis) are 
intrinsically arguments about things that obey the laws of logic.  It would 
make no sense to me to say that x is a necessary condition of y, but that not-x 
may also occur when y occurs.  That would seem to vitiate the meaning of 

In my view, however, that is simply another reason for doubting the 
meaningfulness of transcendental analysis because transcendental analysis, as I 
also understand it from Walter's exposition, is about human competences and/or 
discourses, and I do not believe that human competences or discourses are 
expressible in the sort of unambiguous terms that must be in place for the laws 
of logic, or modal arguments about necessity, to work.

The orderliness needed to make indirect proofs work can be imposed.  Thus, to 
take the example Phil Enns uses, one might say, unequivocally, "If x was a 
theft, then it was wrong" and protect the accuracy of that assertion by saying 
that if x is not wrong, it must not have been a theft.  One might imagine that 
as an indirect proof that theft is wrong, for example.

However, one might also imagine that as simply a way of gerrymandering the 
meaning of the term 'theft' to preserve the legitimacy of the moral stricture 
"theft is wrong".  Other ways of preserving the stricture involve exceptions -- 
e.g. theft is wrong unless ... (fill in the blank with your preferred 
exculpating circumstances).

In my opinion it all comes to the same thing in the end.  Universal assertions 
of moral obligation are always at best guidelines, never the sort of 
unequivocal rules that would underwrite indirect proofs.

Hoping John's philosophical conscience would not be unduly strained by 
endorsing these remarks...<grin>

Regards to all,
Eric Dean
Washington DC

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