Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mediaeval and Modern Logics II

Lest anyone should think that my last post implies that we Scotists can find nothing good in modern philosophy (rather than that we simply regard it as metaphysically inadequate), I offer a corrective text:

Unfortunately there are still neo-scholastic logicians - though happily their number is decreasing - who are convinced that their logic is genuinely scholastic and that it cannot be surpassed by anything that modern logic has to offer. They look askance at the latter's formalism. They are suspicious of its symbolic form. They are afraid of repeating the Cartesian experiment of mixing mathematical thinking with philosophical speculation. Their coldness and openly hostile attitude are not without reason, since modern logic has made its most striking development not only in the hands of mathematicians, but also in the shadow of Positivism. Curiously enough, they seem to share with Kant the firm belief that logic has not progressed since the time of Aristotle. Yet the history of their own tradition should dispel this illusion, for the history of scholastic logic alone gives ample proof of a decided advance beyond the Stagirite's logic . . .

For those who have more than a passing acquaintance with modern logic, it is an accepted fact that this logic has made tremendous strides forward. It is likewise a fact - and one which current research continues to confirm - that these new developments have deviated far less from the logic of the 13th and 14th centuries than from that of our neo-scholastic textbooks . . .

Among the elements shared in varying degrees by genuinely scholastic logic and modern logic, there is one in particular that brings them in close proximity and facilitates a comparison. It is the character of formality, conserved in a much purer form in scholastic logic than in its neo-scholastic counterpart.

- Philotheus Boehner, Medieval Logic: An Outline of Its Development from 1250 to c.1400, Introduction

Boehner proceeds in a useful manner, showing where modern developments are good, useful, and compatible with mediaeval philosophy properly understood, as well as recognizing where the modern systems are allied or bound up with bad elements. He also shows how a "manualist" attitude to philosophy, presenting Thomism as a closed system, an alternative to modern philosophy, doesn't do justice either to the scholastic or to the modern philosophical tradition. This can help us to see how to read both. Vos doesn't really do this, as I recall, his attitude instead being "Scotus is great! All he needs to read modern philosophy!" A more judicious and less breathless approach would recognize that much in modern logic is good but that not much in modern metaphysics is and that these two need to be carefully disentwined to make their respective strengths and weaknesses clear.

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