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  1. #1
    ODN's Crotchety Old Man

    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Location, Location
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    Are Logical Laws Descriptive or Prescriptive?

    A conversation taking place in another thread is really interesting to me, because it centers on a phenomenon I’ve come across few times when talking about logical laws and so on.

    The phenomenon is something like this:

    In my experience, atheists or agnostics tend to hold that “logical laws” are abstracts invented by humans to express brute facts that we observe in and about nature. That is, they are tools we have invented to give an abstract assignment to things we observe in the world. Yes, the words we use to describe what we see are in fact properties of nature, but the words describe nature. They don’t prescribe it. That is, I don’t see that logical laws are things that exist apart from nature; I don’t see that they are ‘pre-existing’ or ‘external’ rules against which nature was designed.

    On the other hand, theists tend to hold that logical laws are things that transcend nature; that they are things to which nature conforms, rather than human-invented expressions that help us describe and communicate the things we observe in nature. I get the sense that they see these rules as things that are discovered – not about nature – but rather, about reality itself. They view them as (perhaps) a sort of existing, metaphysical ‘template’ against which all possible words can be created.

    [NOTE: It is not my intention to incorrectly describe anyone’s views, general or otherwise. Indeed, the whole point of this thread is to discuss these things and learn. So please bear in mind that the views I’ve described above are my best guesses relative to the state of mind I was in when I created the thread.]

    What I’d like to have happen in this thread is a dialog about this topic. I’m not married to any particular position, and I don’t want this to turn into a point/counterpoint antagonistic sort of contest. But for the sake of discussion I have to admit that what I described as the atheist/agnostic view is the one that most resonates with me.

    So, to start it off, I’ll describe some reasons why I think I prefer the former over the latter, and I hope to hear some of what you guys think.

    When I think about a logical law, I try to think about how it corresponds with nature. For example, the law of identity says that a thing is itself and nothing else, and so when I think about that, it seems to correspond with the brute fact that I am not my keyboard and it is not me, etc. But when I think about these “rules”, I DO see them as describing fundamental aspects of nature. But I DON’T see that they transcend it. They ARE nature itself, and it seems to me that if nature were different, the rules would be different.

    Bear in mind that this is a space where I go very much by how I “feel” about these things. That is, when we’re talking about brute fact of nature, the conversation tends lay at the very base of what it means to “know” something, so I don’t feel like I’m in a position where I can be especially persuasive (unlike a conversation where, say, I had to show that I was born in the United States or something). As it relates to empirical data, we’re at the very boundary of knowing and assuming. I think this is important because, when people are talking at this level concerning things they know, there’s a good opportunity to gain some insight into how others see the world, and what aspects of nature appeal to them and why.

    Alright, I hope that made at least some sense.




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