FOM: Philosophy and platonism

Michael Zeleny zeleny at
Mon Jan 24 17:39:50 EST 2000

Robert Black wrote:
>Mark Steiner Wrote:
>>Stephen G Simpson wrote:
>>>Michael Zeleny writes:

>>>>As Gottlob Frege has taught us, logic is a branch of ethics.

>>>Could you supply a reference to where Frege says this?

>>How about Grundgesetze, Introduction:
>>       ...and here what is fatal is the double meaning of hte word
>>"law".  In one sense a law asserts what is; in the other it
>>prescribes what ought to be.  Only in the latter sense can the laws
>>of logic be called 'laws of thought': so far as they stipulate the
>>way in which one ought to think.

>If that makes logic a branch of ethics, it makes *every* science a
>branch of ethics, since Frege's very next sentence reads: 'Every law
>which asserts what is can be understood as prescribing that one
>should think in accordance with it, and is therefore in that sense a
>law of thought'.

I shall take as my text the passage from a didactic draft on the
nature of logic, already partially quoted by Stephen Ferguson:

"[Compared to psychology...] Logic has a closer affinity with ethics.
The property `good' has a significance for the latter analogous to
that which the property 'true' has for the former.  Although our
actions and endeavours are all causally conditioned and explicable in
psychological terms, they do not all deserve to be called good.  Here,
too, we can talk of justification, and here, too, this is not simply a
matter of relating what actually took place or of showing that things
had to happen as they did and not in some other way.  Certainly we say
*`tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner'*, but we can only pardon what
we consider not to be good."

I agree that it is a rank oversimplification to say that Frege taught
logic to be a branch of ethics.  However expatiating on the essential
complexity of their interdependencies, well served by Wolfgang Carl's
book on Frege's theory of sense and reference, need not obscure the
validity of my simple analogy between the deliverances of pragmatism
and politics.

The modal aspect of Frege's position is that, which concerns me most
in our context.  He takes the norms of logic not as teleological, in
the sense of directions towards the attainment of scientific knowledge
or the assertion of statements that are certain and universally valid,
but as apodictic, in the sense of existing unsituatedly, timelessly,
and independently of relation to any goal.  This view stands in stark
contrast to the foundational approach of Penelope Maddy, whose stance
of beginning with what mathematicians actually DO strikes Martin Davis
as exactly right.  Supposing that the Thousand-Year Reich had lived up
to its name, we might be living in a world where all research in ZFC
were suppressed as "Judaische Wissenschaft".  Contrary to the starting
point delivered under this scenario, I like to think that the facts of
mathematical foundations would remain invariant under the vagaries of
political fashion.  It could be objected that the triumph of National
Socialism lacks the virtue of actuality, demanded by Maddy and Davis.
Unfortunately, there can be no assurance that foundational mistakes of
comparable gravity are not perpetrated under the Novus Ordo Seculorum
in the name of funding efficiency or institutional inertia.  Hence it
seems to me that by anchoring their fundamental beliefs in the shoals
of the Whig Interpretation of History, the pragmatists are no more
entitled to define truth than the politicians are, to define justice.

Mikhail Zeleny at
All of old.  Nothing else ever.  Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.
Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.               -- Samuel Beckett

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