3. Formalism (II); Session Dec. 9, 2014

3.1 After our last session a colleague asked: How in the world can you recommend Frege to beginners? (see 2.9 ff.)

3.2 Well, as you will find out, reading the originals is in no way more difficult than reading secondary literature. The contrary is the case!

3.3 As Bertrand Russell once remarked: Don’t read current handbooks & treatises; turn to the classics. See his Problems of Philosophy, Bibliographical Note.

3.4 It’s even somewhat a cool experience to have a real classic book in hand. Thus there’s nothing to fear.

3.5 Let’s now return to logical Formalism & to the distinction between Form & Content. It goes back to Aristotle.

3.6 And let’s have Aristotle speak for himself (see 3.3).

3.7 But that’s not at all an easy task. The problem is in the translations of what Aristotle supposedly said.

3.7.1 There are other problems, e.g., whether Aristotle is the author of what we take to be his works. But we don’t get into this here.

3.7.2 Readers who are interested in provenance may consult the Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, for instance.

3.8 Back to translation. A general remark: Whenever you are able to read the original language, do not read translations.

3.8.1 Translations always make choices as to meanings of expressions, hence different translations sometimes present very different content.

3.8.2 I often consult the Aristotle translations of the Loeb Classical Library of Harvard UP, 1930s ff., because Loeb also includes the Greek.

3.8.3 More popular is the ‘Oxford Translation,’ a revised version of which was edited by Jonathan Barnes, 2 vols., Princeton UP 1984.

3.8.4 Pagination is the same; references are usually of this sort: page number, column number, line number.

3.8.5 So a typical reference like 24a10-15 is: Page 24, column ‘a’ (left-hand column), lines 10 to 15 (you may see ‘a’ also in superscript)

3.9. Let’s turn to Form & Content then: Aristotle invented what he called a ‘syllogism,’ or what we today call a logical or formal deduction

3.9.1 Aristotle says according to the Loeb translation:

“A syllogism is a form of words in which, when certain assumptions are made, something other than what has been assumed necessarily follows from the fact that the assumptions are such;” Prior Analytics 24b18-20.

3.9.2 According to the Oxford Translation (OxTrans) of the same passage, Aristotle says:

“A deduction is an argument in which, certain things being supposed, something else different from the things supposed follows of necessity because of their being so.”

3.10 Did you notice the difference? (Not that of syllogism/deduction; that’s the same for our purposes)

3.10.1 For our purposes decisive is: OxTrans has “things” for “words” & “assumptions” in Loeb. Philosophically, this is a huge difference!

3.10.2 OxTrans has “things being supposed” from which other “things” follow because of the “being so” of the supposed things.

3.10.3 According to Loeb, by contrast, Aristotle is rather concerned with “words” & “assumptions” & other assumptions that follow from them.

3.10.4 Put otherwise: The OxTrans passage is concerned with the deduction of material matters while the Loeb passage is rather formal.

3.10.5 You can see the distinction between Form & Content at work right here. The irony is that we didn’t even start with it yet.

3.10.6 But we are already confronted with the intricacies of ordinary language in formulating the subject of formal language (see 2.4 ff.).

3.10.7 And hence we may term our subject now as the difference between the ‘Syllogism of Words’ and the ‘Syllogism of Things

3.10.8 The ‘Syllogism of Words’ will concern us in the next session, Friday, Dec 12.

3.10.9 The ‘Syllogism of Things,’ that is, deductions in the demonstrative sciences (physics etc.) will follow at a later stage.

Addendum: In later printings of OxTrans our passage has been revised. Since 1995, it’s rather statements too: See here.

All works of Aristotle in the Loeb Classical Library can be accessed online here. The Prior Analytics in particular is here.

Exercise: Try to figure out what Aristotle’s original meaning was. I shall disclose it in the next session as well.

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