Review of Macbeth, D. Diagrammatic reasoning in Frege's Begriffsschrift. Synthese 186 (2012), no. 1, 289–314. Mathematical Reviews MR 2935338

MATHEMATICAL REVIEWS 2014:2935338 (2014)
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A Mathematical Review by John Corcoran, SUNY/Buffalo Macbeth, Danielle Diagrammatic reasoning in Frege's Begriffsschrift. Synthese 186 (2012), no. 1, 289–314. ABSTRACT This review begins with two quotations from the paper: its abstract and the first paragraph of the conclusion. The point of the quotations is to make clear by the “give-them-enough-rope” strategy how murky, incompetent, and badly written the paper is. I know I am asking a lot, but I have to ask you to read the quoted passages—aloud if possible. Don’t miss the silly attempt to recycle Kant’s quip “Concepts without intuitions are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind”. What the paper was aiming at includes the absurdity: “Proofs without definitions are empty; definitions without proofs are, if not blind, then dumb.” But the author even bollixed this. The editor didn’t even notice. The copy-editor missed it. And the author’s proof-reading did not catch it. In order not to torment you I will quote the sentence as it appears: “In a slogan: proofs without definitions are empty, merely the aimless manipulation of signs according to rules; and definitions without proofs are, if no blind, then dumb.”[sic] The rest of my review discusses the paper’s astounding misattribution to contemporary logicians of the information-theoretic approach. This approach was cruelly trashed by Quine in his 1970 Philosophy of Logic, and thereafter ignored by every text I know of. The paper under review attributes generally to modern philosophers and logicians views that were never espoused by any of the prominent logicians—such as Hilbert, Gödel, Tarski, Church, and Quine—apparently in an attempt to distance them from Frege: the focus of the article. On page 310 we find the following paragraph. “In our logics it is assumed that inference potential is given by truth-conditions. Hence, we think, deduction can be nothing more than a matter of making explicit information that is already contained in one’s premises. If the deduction is valid then the information contained in the conclusion must be contained already in the premises; if that information is not contained already in the premises […], then the argument cannot be valid.” Although the paper is meticulous in citing supporting literature for less questionable points, no references are given for this. In fact, the view that deduction is the making explicit of information that is only implicit in premises has not been espoused by any standard symbolic logic books. It has only recently been articulated by a small number of philosophical logicians from a younger generation, for example, in the prize-winning essay by J. Sagüillo, Methodological practice and complementary concepts of logical consequence: Tarski’s model-theoretic consequence and Corcoran’s information-theoretic consequence, History and Philosophy of Logic, 30 (2009), pp. 21–48. The paper omits definitions of key terms including ‘ampliative’, ‘explicatory’, ‘inference potential’, ‘truth-condition’, and ‘information’. The definition of prime number on page 292 is as follows: “To say that a number is prime is to say that it is not divisible without remainder by another number”. This would make one be the only prime number. The paper being reviewed had the benefit of two anonymous referees who contributed “very helpful comments on an earlier draft”. Could these anonymous referees have read the paper? J. Corcoran, U of Buffalo, SUNY PS By the way, if anyone has a paper that has been turned down by other journals, any journal that would publish something like this might be worth trying.

Author's Profile

John Corcoran
PhD: Johns Hopkins University; Last affiliation: University at Buffalo


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