Tag Archive: contradiction

Without criticism no progress

But the most important misunderstandings and muddles arise out of the loose way in which dialecticians speak about contradictions.

They observe, correctly, that contradictions are of the greatest importance in the history of thought—precisely as impor­tant as is criticism. For criticism invariably consists in pointing out some contradiction; either a contradiction within the theory criticized, or a contradiction between the theory and another theory which we have some reason to accept, or a contradiction between the theory and certain facts—or more precisely, between the theory and certain statements of fact. Criticism can never do anything except either point out some such contradiction, or, perhaps, simply contradict the theory (i.e. the criticism may be simply the statement of an antithesis). But criticism is, in a very important sense, the main motive force of any intellectual development. Without contradictions, without criticism, there would be no rational motive for changing our theories: there would be no intellectual progress. [424]

Consistency is paramount

A consistent system … divides the set of all possible statements into two: those which it contradicts and those with which it is compatible. (Among the latter are the conclusions which can be derived from it.) This is why consistency is the most general requirement for a system, whether empirical or non-empirical, if it is to be of any use at all.

Besides being consistent, an empirical system should satisfy a further condition: it must be falsifiable. The two condi­tions are to a large extent analogous. Statements which do not satisfy the condition of consistency fail to differentiate between any two statements within the totality of all possible statements. Statements which do not satisfy the condition of falsifiability fail to differentiate between any two statements within the totality of all possible empirical basic state­ments. [72-3]

Critical control over our scientific debates

Deductive arguments force us to choose betweeen the truth of their conclusions and the falsity of (one or more) of their premises. Inductive arguments do not. This, in and of itself, does not show that anything is true or false. But if an argument is deductively valid, then we simply cannot, without contradicting ourselves, deny its conclusion unless we also deny (one or more of) its premises. In this way, deductive arguments enable us to exercise critical control over our scientific debates. [105]

The most precious human tool

There is no other species on Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works. It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be. The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true. Humans everywhere share the same goals when the context is large enough. And the study of the Cosmos provides the largest possible context. [276]

Nasty little facts of logic

Although science is a social institution, it is not just another social institution. The social institution of science is obedient to special imperatives because it undertakes to explore and explain the world, to in some sense use the world as the ultimate test of its results. Science institutionalises what we know as empiricism, the attempt to learn from experience. The spine of learning from experience is logic: if we have two inconsistent statements, one of them must be false, its negation true. This uncomfortable logical fact, so often allowed to be disregarded or even flouted by other social insti­tutions (e.g. in politics and religion), has to be taken seriously in science. The republic of science makes it difficult to evade or flout contradiction, hence the detection of one is an incipient crisis. [18]