Customer Review

January 26, 2015
This superficial pop book can perhaps be passably entertaining to equally superficial readers, but to serious readers it is above all yet another illustration of how self-styled champions of logic are often the most inept people you will ever meet at practicing the "vigilance of reason" (p. 248) that they supposedly espouse.

To prove this I shall quote one specific case. It is very typical in that the authors believe themselves to have cleared up confusions and fallacies by introducing various logical explications, whereas in reality they themselves are the ones who have created the confusions and fallacies, the reason for this being precisely their reliance the simplistic and dogmatic logical schemes they employ: instead of clearing up misunderstandings, as is ostensibly their purpose, this logical single-mindedness is in fact the source of all the misunderstandings in the first place.

The example I shall use to illustrate this typical pattern of logical stupidity is the authors' critique of Kuhn. The authors first give an accurate description of Kuhn's conception of the relation between data and theory in science:

"Scientists believe in physical theories that best fit the available data, but they also reject data that are inconsistent with well-established theories. Thus scientists take neither as a starting point; instead they reason in two directions at once. They believe in theories because of data and data because of theories ... In fact, says Kuhn, a scientist's particular observations presuppose the theory. The scientist takes neither as a given." (p. 147)

Kuhn summed up this mutual interdependence of data and theory by saying that "circularity is characteristic of scientific theories" (p. 302). Anyone who is not a logician will find this a very apt description of the above. So far so good.

But logicians are too stupid to understand this commonsensical and unproblematic state of affairs. Instead they believe themselves to detect a "blunder" in it:

"In arguing that competing scientific theories are circular, Kuhn assumes that the data of scientific theories are premises. This, in our view, is a blunder. If a scientist's data were premises, this would mean the scientist was assuming that all the data were true. Yet Kuhn insists data are often suspect and that an experienced scientist knows this." (p. 148)

The stupidity of this passage is baffling: of course Kuhn never assumed that the data of scientific theories are given premises in this sense---such an assumption would be profoundly incompatible with his entire outlook, as the authors themselves point out.

If the authors were rational beings this obvious contradiction might have suggested to them that they might have misunderstood Kuhn, or at least that it would be in order to supply some evidence (which of course they do not do, since none exists) for their ludicrous claim that Kuhn made such an assumption.

But the authors are not rational beings, they are logicians. And logicians believe that they possess a superpower of thought that non-logicians cannot have. So to a logician it is not at all a cause for pause to ascribe blatant contradictions to their opponent; instead of asking themselves whether they have understood his views correctly, they think it's no wonder he said such blatantly incoherent things since he didn't possess the superpower of logic.

The authors go on to supposedly rectify "Kuhn's error" (p. 148) by explicating a non-circular logical scheme for scientific theory choice. In typical logician fashion they avow that their account is "admittedly delicate" and that "we don't mean to suggest that working scientists" follow this logical scheme explicitly (p. 155). With these kinds of statements logicians are supposedly showing humility and admitting the limitations of their arguments, but in reality they are more than anything revealing their inflated hubris: in effect they are apologising with feigned humility for the fact that their reasoning is so advanced that no non-logician can be expected to grasp it.

In supposedly correcting "Kuhn's error," the authors do not dispute anything about Kuhn's account of how scientific theory choice works---anything, that is, except the use of the appellation "circular." In other words, they do not disagree about any matter of substance. They do not dispute in any way that theory and data are interrelated in the manner described above. Obviously when Kuhn called the process "circular" this was all he meant, as any non-logician would find perfectly clear and sensible.

So when the authors speak of "Kuhn's error," the "error" in question has nothing to do with how scientific theory choice works but only whether it should be called "circular" or not. And, being logicians, the authors believe they have a monopoly on deciding what "circular" means. They cannot conceive of the possibility that someone might use this word in an informal sense that is perfectly sound and clear to everyone, albeit a sense that doesn't correspond to the definition of this term in formal logic.

To the authors, their minds crippled by logical dogmatism, the term "circular" simply must mean a deduction from premisses to conclusion and back to premisses. Since no other sense is conceivable in the logician's single-track mind, it follows that Kuhn must have "assumed that the data of scientific theories are premises," even though this is obviously absurd and completely antithetical to everything else he ever said.

Thus we see in this episode the sad irony of the naive logic-crusaders that populate so many departments of philosophy: they think their marvellous logic reveals and resolves profound errors in the works of others, when in fact it is rather the direct cause of the absurd stupidity of the logicians themselves.
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