On logic and Socratic method etc.

Empirical problem versus logical problem

Consider the statements:

(1) Lucky Luke is very quick in his movements, he shoots before his shadow lifts the gun
(2) Garry Kasparov is a great chess player, he has got a special ability to move a pawn three squares in just one move

One would be inclined to mistrust both of these statements. The important thing here though is to see the difference in nature between the statements. The first statement contains an empirical problem, the second statement contains a logical problem. We may also say,
-The first statement is logically/grammatically* possible, but empirically very improbable (it’s a matter for scientists)
-The second statement is logically/grammatically impossible according to agreed upon rules (since a pawn may at maximum move two squares in chess), and thus no matter for empirical/scientific investigation at all

The first statement is dependent on observations, the second statement is dependent on agreed upon rules.

*like Wittgenstein, I speak of logical/grammatical as synonyms or almost synonyms

Breaking the laws of logic? Sure, but it’s not so exciting.

Some people express that it would be something fancy about going beyond logic. I’m skeptic about this. Is it possible to break the laws of logic? I’m inclined to say that breaking the laws of logic, is literally analogous to breaking the laws of chess (however, also I’d like to note that it’s not so easy to speak of logic in a proper sense (for reasons hard to explain)).
If you played chess with a friend, and when it was his turn he took his pawn and moved it three squares in one move, would you be amazed? I think you wouldn’t be very impressed, but rather annoyed. And if you played chess with God and God moved his pawn three squares in one move, how would you react then? Would it be a sign of how powerful he is?

Philosophy about defending rules/logic? No, philosophy about letting others decide, and adopting thereafter.

Philosophers, especially philosophers of the analytical tradition, often seem think that it is their task to defend logic or defending ”proper use of language”. This is problematic, I’d say. Defending logic always means defending certain rules. But what rules should a philosopher defend? The official rules of chess? Rules that scientists have set up about how to use language for their scientific investigations? I’d reply no to that. Rather, I’d say, the rules that the philosopher should embrace, are rules that are approved by the one he is talking to.
We may remind us of the Socratic method. Socrates asked people questions, and used their answers to ask further questions, without making any claims himself. This is the essence of pure philosophy, I’d say. It’s much like an unforced force (using Habermasian term). This also indicates why philosophy is a dialogical genre.
Consider this quote by Wittgenstein:

You can have things now just as you choose. You only need to say how you want them. So (just) make a verbal picture, illustrate it as you choose – by drawing comparisons etc.! Thus you can – as it were – prepare a blueprint. – And now there remains the question how to work with it. (Zettel)

What Wittgenstein says here is much in line with the Socratic method (I’m thinking of making a closer comparison of Socrates and Wittgenstein in a later post). He asks the listener to decide the terms. The one talking to the philosopher may set up the rules herself. I.e. if you want to play chess where the pawn is allowed to move three squares, you can have it that way – and then we can continue to discuss chess according to these terms.***

Henry W. Johnstone tries to explain why the philosopher should play according to the terms of the listener:

Since we cannot decide the validity of a philosophical argument either by an appeal to evidence or to internal consistency, the only alternative is an appeal to consistency with the intention of the original propounder of the argument. The general schema of an argumentum ad hominem is that it is a reply to a previous argument which shows that the first argument “defeats its own purpose”

***(Another quote from Wittgenstein, on similar topic:

One of the most important tasks is to express all false thought processes so characteristically that the reader says, “Yes, that’s exactly the way I meant it”. To make a tracing of the physiognomy of every error. Indeed we can only convict someone else of a mistake if he acknowledges that this really is the expression of his feeling. // For only if he acknowledges it as such, is it the correct expression.
What the other person acknowledges is the analogy I am proposing to him as the source of his thought.)

More on philosophy and chess

Consider now that we play chess according to ordinary rules. What’s the point of reminding of that a pawn may only move one square at a time, to someone who already knew this since before?
There is not necessarily any point. However, it could be if the chess player had a serious concern. Say, he is afraid of that his opponent’s pawn at F5 will move to the spot F8 and thus convert into a queen. We may then remind him of that since the pawn only can move one square at a time, it’ll take at least three turns for the opponent’s pawn to get to the F8 spot – and in that time he can move his own pieces to prevent this from happening.

It’s a bit weird to call ordinary problems of chess philosophical problems, but the problems are of similar kind. Wittgenstein wrote “the work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose”. The method of the chess player is much the same. A reason why problems of chess is not to be considered as philosophical problems though is that one may consider these to be a part of a “normal discourse” while philosophy is “abnormal discourses” (borrowing term from Kuhn/Rorty).


A problem of many philosophers is that they insist on rules (of language) that nobody wants to play according to anyway. They treat it as a “game of knowing rules and instructing about rules”, when in fact it should be more of a “game of playing according to rules that’s being given” (why it should be like this is something we may return to in later posts).

Appendix: Language games of the words “certain”, “possible” and “impossible”

In a strict sense, the terms “certain”, “possible” and “impossible” are empty of content for the empirical scientist. Why? Because nothing appears certain, nothing appears impossible, and everything appears possible (for the enlightened scientist). The answer to any question can be given already before the question is being asked, and thus the answer won’t fill any function. – But yet these terms are used within science. Yes, and that’s because they are used in another sense (perhaps not intentionally). The words certain, possible and impossible are given different meaning within the language game of empirical science, than within the language game of logic.

Within the language game of logic (i.e. mathematics

certain = certain
possible = possible
impossible = impossible
logical law = necessity

Within common language games of empirical sciences (or ordinary language)

certain = very much probable (“beyond doubt probable”)
possible = not beyond doubt probable nor beyond doubt improbable, but somewhat probable
impossible = very much improbable (“beyond doubt improbable”)
natural law / scientific proof = very strong hypothesis

I.e. when someone asks whether it’s possible for Lucky Luke to shoot before his shadow lifts the gun, the implicit question is “is it somewhat probable that he can do this, or is it beyond doubt improbable?”


About Dandre

Former student of philosophy, maths and literature. Now studying master program in sociology. Some thinkers of central interest include Ludwig Wittgenstein, C. G. Jung and Pierre Bourdieu.
This entry was posted in Game theory / game analysis, Logic and science, Metaphilosophy, Wittgenstein and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to On logic and Socratic method etc.

  1. Neil Rickert says:

    My immediate reaction to your first statement (Lucky Luke), is that “shoots before his shadow” is obviously a metaphor, and actually a rather good one.

    My first reaction to the other statement (Kasparov), is “WTF is that even supposed to mean?”

    I agree with your conclusion.

  2. Ortega says:

    Very interesting post and blog. Sadly the last link does not work anymore

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