Experiment-Driven Rationalism

Synthese 203 (109):1-27 (2024)
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Abstract

Philosophers debate about which logical system, if any, is the One True Logic. This involves a disagreement concerning the sufficient conditions that may single out the correct logic among various candidates. This paper discusses whether there are necessary conditions for the correct logic; that is, I discuss whether there are features such that if a logic is correct, then it has those features, although having them might not be sufficient to single out the correct logic. Traditional rationalist arguments suggest that the necessary conditions of thought are necessary and sufficient conditions singling out the correct logical and mathematical theories. In the contemporary debate, Chalmers advocates a view along this line. Jago, analogously, suggests that the necessary conditions for thought—or, as he calls them, our basic epistemic expectations—single out a family of logical and mathematical theories. Warren and Williamson, on the other hand, argue that there are no necessary conditions of thought. I argue that there are necessary conditions for thought, and these are necessary but not sufficient conditions to be the correct logic; indeed, these are features that all logics—correct or incorrect—share. No view we can understand is ruled out by the necessary conditions for thought, but we cannot understand quite any view. Human linguistic and conceptual abilities are genetically constrained, and these constraints are our best guide to the boundaries of logic. Arguing for this, I tackle two dogmas of modern rationalism: namely, the view that the biological constraints of human cognition have no bearing on the boundaries of the epistemic space, and the view that the boundaries of thought coincide with the boundaries of language.

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