It’s Only Logical

It’s only logical

Easter 48

One of the most iconic television programs of the twentieth century was “Star Trek”. The franchise was so popular is inspired a movie series and remakes. The main crew of the series was a representation of several of the more prominent ethnicities found on earth in the twentieth century although the movie took place several centuries later in outer space. Without hesitation, I have no problem is saying the most memorable character was Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-alien who often illustrated with one sentence, decades of mankind’s shortcomings and philosophies based upon unerring logic.

Aristotle has proposed a system of logic but by the nineteenth century logic was thought to be laws that governed thought. Aristotle saw learning as one of three things: theoretical, practical, or productive. Logic was the reasoning we used to prove the truth of our learning. One of his more famous examples illustrated this using what he termed a “syllogism”. A syllogism was the assumption derived from two statements, called the extremes and a connecting or unifying statement which linked the two extremes called the middle. Two extreme statements are “All men are mortal.” and “All Athenians are men.” The middle statement would be “Therefore all Athenians are mortal.

In the late nineteenth century, however, a German philosopher challenged this way of defining logic by pointing out that logic itself is objective. Gottlob Frege maintained that logic was independent of human thinking. Logical truths were objective truths and they existed whether or not we believed them. Frege’s thinking proved that mathematics was logical and that we do not prove it so much as we discover it. This led to Bertrand Russell turning to linguistic philosophy and the philosophical analysis of language.

Frege led to the world in learning that truth always existed. Certain facts remained whether we believed them as truth or not. “Insufficient facts always invite danger. Change is the essential process of all existence.” Words spoken by the fictitious purely logical character Mr. Spock summed up the findings of philosophy.

Russell’s analytical philosophy led to the beginnings of Logical Positivism. This field of study proposed that the true meaning of a statement could be determined by asking “What do we have to do to establish the truth or falsehood of this statement?” According to Russell, “the method consists in an attempt to build a bridge between the world of sense and the world of science. The sense of reality is vital in logic.” Ludwig Wittgenstein followed Russell and maintained “the meaning of a word is its use in language.”

Philosophy continued in the twentieth century as a field of disagreements and different avenues followed. It became prominent in its influence upon governments as well as in the everyday living of mankind. At the center, it remained the quest for more knowledge. Soren Kierkegaard, a prominent twentieth century philosopher, explained the difficulties in philosophy. “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. … The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think.”

In the twentieth century philosophy again turned to examining that which could only be experienced. “I exist, and all that is not “I” is mere phenomenon dissolving into phenomenal connections”, stated Edmund Husserl. Husserl developed the field of philosophy known as Phenomenology, a field which concentrated only on that which was personally experienced. Unlike existentialists who sought to discover life through the meaning of their own existence, Husserl asked “What is the meaning of Being?”

Interestingly enough it was a Nazi philosopher, forbidden after World War II to teach for six years, that perhaps gives us the greatest connection back to the ancient philosophers and the reason for philosophy itself. Martin Heidegger, though of some Jewish descent, joined the Nazi party and became the first National Socialist rector of the University of Freiburg. It was this disqualification and punishment after the war ended, based upon his activities in the Nazi party, that led many to discount him as a great thinker. Such action challenged the purpose for the study of philosophy.

Wittgenstein had stated that he felt one shortcoming of philosophy was its dependence on what he called “picture theory of meaning”. He used the analogy of a blank canvas and a landscape scene. Although very different, the blank canvas can be made into an accurate representation of the landscape through the use of paints (and talent). Words derived their meaning from their usage. This has certainly been proven in our modern times. The word “sick” once only referred to illness; not it is a compliment and means very fashionably good.

For me, these advancements in philosophy give heart to the quest of world peace and solving many of the problems of mankind. Mr. Spock once said “Without followers, evil cannot spread.” Certainly we must defend ourselves against annihilation but perhaps our greatest weapons are not those that harm but those that can teach and improve. The German, Jewish Nazi Heidegger banned for a time, said a remarkable summation of the philosophy begun centuries earlier, the first question man sought to answer: “Man alone of all beings, when addressed by the voice of Being, experiences the marvel of all marvels: that what-is is.” After all, it is only logical.

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