Sunday, February 24, 2013

Weinberger on Reasoning

On p. 93 of Too big to Know Weinberger argues that the following argument:
All men are mortal
Socrates was a man
Therefore, Socrates was mortal
"has become the standard example of how to know something." This is not entirely false. Up to the end of the middle ages, philosophers accepted this kind of reasoning as the standard example of knowledge. Yet, this kind of syllogistic reasoning already came under fierce attack in the early modern period. Accordingly, it has long been discredited as "the standard example of how to know something. Take Take Francis Bacon, who argued in 1620 that this kind of logic is inadequate and can serve "rather to fix and give stability to the errors which have their foundation in commonly received notions than to help the search for truth. So it does more harm than good." He argued that "true induction" from particulars represented the way forward. And inductive knowledge is in many ways more representative of knowledge today than deductive logic—to say nothing about the developments of deductive logic date back to Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein.

Weinberger seems to identify "long form arguments" with deductive arguments, using Darwin as a point of reference. He not only fails to recognize the inductive dimension of this work, he also claims that there is something wrong with long-form arguments because the "Internet is shortening our attention spans." And that's why books are obsolete. We need a network. This is a very poor argument, based on faulty premises. I have tried to show before that the conclusion is just as faulty and misleading.

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