An Email I Sent to Peter Wolfendale
I was reading your post about neorationalism on your website, Deontologistics, and it provoked my mind in relation to what I’ve currently been looking into. I’ve been reading Robert Hanna’s Cognition, Content, and the A Priori and in the book, Hanna argues that pure general logic, which captures the a priori essence of logic, solves what is called the logocentric predicament, which I’m sure you have heard of before. If you have not, or want specification of what I specifically mean here you go: the logocentric predicament simply puts forward that in order to justify logic, one must presuppose and employ logic, therefore making logic a process that in a certain sense undermines itself. That logic is (viciously) circular is quite the predicament. Now, Hanna argues that if pure general logic really does capture the a priori essence of logic then it is the theoretical primitive, and therefore, the explanatory and justificatory conditions for pure general logic are that it is presupposed. From this, Hanna, therefore, concludes that the logocentric predicament is actually a proof/justification of pure general logic in that it demonstrates that pure general logic is presupposed by logical processes of thinking (inference, reasoning, etc.). Now, of course, one could argue that this supposes logic and therefore doesn’t actually solve the predicament. But, Hanna could easily respond by saying “Yes, it does suppose logic, that is the point” as well as “It isn’t supposed to solve the predicament, the predicament is its proof.” Nevertheless, the thoughts I have had about logic recently have only gotten more and more confusing as I fall further and further down into the skeptic rabbit hole (trying to find when it ends, assuming it does). Now, today, I was watching a video on YouTube critiquing presuppositionalist apologetics. In the video, the video’s creator says, “If our most basic methods of reasoning are not justified, then we have no assurance that any of our inferential beliefs are justified.” Now, this caused me to think about the relation between reason (and reasoning), inference, and logic. Inferences can be sort of discarded in that they are conclusions that come about through reasoning. Therefore, reason (and reasoning) and logic come to the forefront of our thought. One may say “But what about truth?” Now, truth is not really something I care for. Nietzsche effectively shows how worthless of a notion it really is in that there are moral suppositions behind it (and specifically the will-to-truth). Essentially, and I’m sure you know this, what Nietzsche puts forward when he says, “Why not rather untruth,” is simply what I call the problem of alternatives which is basically what ethics is. Why do one thing over another? Why value x over y? Why value truth over untruth? Any standard which cannot surpass (i.e., solve) the problem of alternatives then relapses into some arbitrary and supposed normative standard which it will be used to prove, showing the epistemic and normative untenability of the standard. So, we then must see what solves this predicament. Simply, only reason(ing) and logic get past it. Why? Again, simply, the problem of alternatives is a problem deduced through logic, through reasoning, through inference (though inference has already been discarded in the sense that reason[ing] and logic supersede it). That illogic is the binary opposite of logic can only be deduced through first supposing that logic is to be valued before illogic, and that unreason is the binary opposite of reason again supposes that reasoning has been undergone to reach the problem and thus the positing of the problem supposes that we value reason over unreason. Following this, we can turn the question around toward Nietzsche and say to him, “Mr. Nietzsche, why not rather untruth?” in the sense that he never actually escapes the problem of alternatives, as I have dubbed it. Now, ultimately, two implications come out of the problem of alternatives and its relation to reason(ing) and logic: 1. there is a possibility that reason and logic suppose a normative standard and 2. a sort of transcendental/presuppositional type argument and its status. So, let me address the first implication. I argue that reason and logic do not suppose a normative standard in that the very raising of such a predicament supposes logic, and this leads us to the second implication: the transcendental/presuppositional argument sort of being made here. By this, all I mean is that logic and reason are being recognized as the necessary conditions for the statement “logic and reason have a normative standard behind them.” Now, transcendental arguments aren’t really indicative of anything when it comes to practical/performative contradiction, as they would only indicate that a particular set of behaviors are inescapable within argumentation. Nevertheless, it could be argued that Hanna’s usage of pure general logic solves this issue of normativity in that, for Hanna, it is not only that we presuppose pure general logic, but that we must presuppose, that we ought to presuppose it. This would be the movement from the transcendental argument which tells us nothing other than a particular set of behaviors are inescapable within argumentation to the transcendental argument (Hanna’s argument) that it is not only a fact that we presuppose pure general logic but that it is a (moral) norm in that we must presuppose it, in that we ought to presuppose it. So, that normative standard which logic and reasoning would be presupposing is pure general logic. Still, though, there is a simple question that lies at the root of all of this: “Where does theorizing start?” This question has preoccupied my philosophical investigations from day 1 and, while I spent some considerable amount of time also studying Bataille (almost a year, and about 2000 pages on his work and extrapolations from his work), I feel I only get ever closer to the answer every day. I feel that neorationalism could be a part of the answer in that reason(ing) is still around, next to logic. You say, in your post “On Neorationalism,” “there is no intuitive purchase on reason’s own structure, possibilities, and limits. Reason is not what you think it is. Reason is not rationalization. Reason is not reasonable.” This is all very intriguing, and what is even more intriguing is that you do not disassociate reason from reasoning, which is clear from the fact you say, “Reasoning is something that is done” and then speak, in the same paragraph, about “reason’s own limits.” From this all, I just ask your thoughts on this impasse I’ve reached which I call the problem of ordering. Essentially, the problem of ordering just looks at presupposition and orders of them. Ultimately, those two things we can identify to be at the beginning of the ordering of statements, and their presuppositions are reason and logic. And we can conclude this due to the fact that 1. identification itself is a logical cognitive operation 2. reasoning and logic will have to be employed to come to any conclusion about “what is to come first,” so to speak, and 3. reason and logic are the only two things which get out of the problem of alternatives, at least, relatively unscathed, again, so to speak. Essentially, I just come to ask you about what you think comes first? Does logic come before reason (and thus reasoning)? Or is it that reason (and thus reasoning) come before logic? One could argue that it is reasoning in that reasoning doesn’t necessarily have to be valid, whereas some conceptions of logic require it to be valid. Hanna could argue that pure general logic actually solves the problem of ordering in that it is the primitive theoretical on both the level of is and the level of ought. But, again, the operation to deduce pure general logic supposes logic and reasoning, which, of course, is the whole point, but, nevertheless, my mind still questions the ordering. Give me your best thoughts on this! I am very excited to read your book The Revenge of Reason as I hope it will address some of the fundamental concerns I hold when it comes to philosophy (and more specifically those fundamental concerns which I have outlined in this email).