Catarina Dutilh Novaes: Logic as Social Practice | Who Shaves the Barber? #27

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Catarina Dutilh Novaes

The practice of logic is not an eternal given. It has a history. The logical tradition, as we know it, began as debating practices in ancient Greece. Catarina Dutilh Novaes examines the implications of this historical insight and from it develops a dialogical account of logic: deductive logic is an inherently conversational and social practice, even when engaged privately. This has huge implications for any theory of what logic is and what it should be.

Dutilh Novaes also investigates the cognitive impact of formal logic. Formalisms, she argues, are best seen as cognitive tools, which aid both in calculation and in counterbalancing belief bias. But, as with logic, she doesn’t view cognition as primarily an internal affair. Rather, she presents an extended view of cognition, in which cognitive processes are inseparably integrated with the external world.



Topics discussed

0:20 – Catarina Dutilh Novaes: chronology of work
9:30 – Dialogical account of logic (historical, cognitive, and philosophical approaches)
15:30 – Why did we forget the dialogical origins of logic? (philosophy in the mind v. in debates)
22:54 – Is logic less important than we thought?
26:10 – Normative status of deductive logic
40:49 – Genetic fallacy and genealogy
48:52 – Conversational nature of philosophy (inner dialogue and the inner skeptic)
57:55 – Incorporating empirical findings
1:00:09 – Extended cognition
1:07:00 – Debiasing – confirmation bias and making new discoveries
1:12:38 – Social epistemology of argumentation


Catarina Dutilh Novaes (homepage)
The Roots of Deduction (C.…

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Qualifying the Simulation Argument: Extra Possibilities

simulation argument

The “Simulation Argument” was first proposed by Nick Bostrom in his 2003 paper “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?“. While typically taken to argue that we are, in fact, living in a simulation, Bostrom’s argument actually argues that one of the following three possibilities obtains (quoting from Bostrom’s paper):

1 – “The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a ‘posthuman’ stage.” (Elsewhere, Bostrom refers to the “posthuman stage” as “technological maturity”, which is the term I’ll use here.)

2 – “Any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof).” (Bostrom later refers to these as “ancestor-simulations”.)

3 – “We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.”

The three possibilities suggest the rough outline of the argument. If we don’t go extinct before reaching technological maturity (option 1), then we almost certainly will reach technological maturity (ie, a stage at which we’re able to run ancestor-simulations). At that point, it’s possible there’s some reason we likely won’t run these simulations despite being able to (option 2).

But if there isn’t, and there’s no reason to think it unlikely for a species like ours to reach this point, then we have to consider the possibility that this has happened before and that we’re a simulation. The remaining step is to realize that any given species might create thousands upon thousands of these ancestor-simulations and that each of those may create thousands of their own.…

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Against Rorty on the Usefulness of Ontological Debates

Rorty ontology
Richard Rorty, cover of Contingency, irony, and solidarity.

I’m a big fan of Richard Rorty. His book Contingency, irony, and solidarity (CIS) was one of the books that led me to inquire into philosophy more rigorously (ironically enough — sorry Dick!).

But there’s something that’s always bugged me about Rorty. He uses pragmatist insights to label entire subjects “not useful”. The following quote was recently brought to my attention:

The question that matters to us pragmatists is not whether a vocabulary possess meaning or not, whether it raises real or unreal problems, but whether the resolution of that debate will have an effect in practice, whether it will be useful. We ask whether the vocabulary shared by the debaters is likely to have practical value. For the fundamental thesis of pragmatism is William James’ assertion that if a debate has no *practical* significance, then it has no *philosophical* significance.

So my objection to the “realism versus anti-realism debate” is not that the debtors are employing sentences that are devoid of meaning, nor that they are using terms that do not designate substantial properties. Rather, that the resolution of these debates will have no bearing on practice. I view debates of this sort as examples of sterile scholasticism. I regret that such a large part of English-language philosophy in the twentieth century was devoted to questions of this type.

— What’s the Use of Truth? (Richard Rorty)

(An aside: for all his insistence on deflating these debates, Rorty’s not always consistent in whether his position is deflationary about the debate or withinthe debate.…

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