Logical Form and the Limits of Thought

Dissertation, University of Toronto (2020)
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What is the relation of logic to thinking? My dissertation offers a new argument for the claim that logic is constitutive of thinking in the following sense: representational activity counts as thinking only if it manifests sensitivity to logical rules. In short, thinking has to be minimally logical. An account of thinking has to allow for our freedom to question or revise our commitments – even seemingly obvious conceptual connections – without loss of understanding. This freedom, I argue, requires that thinkers have general abilities to respond to support and tension among their thoughts. And these abilities are constituted by following logical rules. So thinkers have to follow logical rules. But there isn’t just one correct logic for thinking. I show that my view is consistent with logical pluralism: there are a range of correct logics, any one of which a thinker might follow. A logic for thinking does, however, have to contain certain minimal principles: Modus Ponens and Non-Contradiction, and perhaps others. We follow logical rules by exercising logical capacities, which display a distinctive first-person/third-person asymmetry: a subject can find the instances of a rule compelling without seeing them as instances of a rule. As a result, there are two limits on illogical thinking. First, thinkers have to tend to find instances of logical rules compelling. Second, thinkers can’t think in obviously illogical ways. So thinking has to be logical – but not perfectly so. When we try to think, but fail, we produce nonsense. But our failures to think are often subjectively indistinguishable from thinking. To explain how this occurs, I offer an account of nonsense. To be under the illusion that some nonsense makes sense is to enter a pretence that the nonsense is meaningful. Our use of nonsense within the pretence relies on the role of logical form in understanding. Finally, while the normativity of logic doesn’t fall directly out of logical constitutivism, it’s possible to build an attractive account of logical normativity which has logical constitutivism as an integral part. I argue that thinking is necessary for human flourishing, and that this is the source of logical normativity.

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Manish Oza
University of Western Ontario


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