Pondering over logic in the everyday 'ways of reasoning' sense of the word, classifying informal logical fallacies, talking about kinds of arguments and things like this surely belong to philosophy.

I have a question, though: does formal logic "follow" informal logic into philosophy and become one of philosophy's branches too?

A logician (i.e. a person who does formal logic) may be interested in formal systems such as paraconsistent logics without any philosophical interest in, say, in dialetheia, which would be a very natural thing to do in this case, even though the opposite scenario is certainly possible.

In simpler terms, is formal logic a branch of philosophy, or, equivalently, are logicians philosophers?

Addendum: I read on Wikipedia that nowadays fields like physics, chemistry, biology, etc. are classified as natural sciences (no news here) while formal logic, statistics, mathematics, etc. are classified as formal sciences, so that kind of (?) answers the question. Can a formal science be part of philosophy in any way? The answer intuitively seems to be 'no'. Philosophy itself is certainly no kind of science, so it can't include any other type of science. But surely, formal logic and even some mathematics is required to do analytic philosophy, so it it would obviously need to be taught to people majoring in (especially those focused on analytic) philosophy. Doesn't make those fields branches of philosophy, even though philosophy and them are deeply intertwined in lots of nontrivial ways.

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    What is your definition of "formal logic?" I can think of definitions which are philosophical, particularly those which deal with how logic may apply to knowledge or truth, and I can think of definitions which are purely mathematical without a shred of philosophical content outside of that inherited from the philosophy of mathematics.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 1:32
  • Here is Husserl's opinion on the matter:"Even the elaborations of syllogistic theory, long enthroned in the very home territories of philosophy and thought to be completed long ago, has recently been taken over by mathematicians, in whose hands it has received undreamt of developments... It is not the mathematician but the philosopher, who oversteps his legitimate sphere when he attacks 'mathematicizing' theories of logic, and refuses to hand over his temporary foster-children to their natural parents". Written in 1900, Prolegomena §71, but many philosophers still hold on to them.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 2:54
  • By the way, classification of sciences into material and formal, along with detailed justification of the distinction, was also first laid out in Prolegomena, and developed in Husserl's later works ontology.co/husserle.htm Although the late 1980s authors whose popularizing accounts are reflected in Wikipedia do not seem to have been aware of his work web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/philosophersstone.pdf
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 16:45
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    Feel free to let me know if there are aspects of your question that my answer seems to have ignored. I've given all the information that seems relevant to me, but am certainly open to revisiting the issue if there is something I've missed or something which could be expanded upon. In particular, I'm big on including references and so would be happy to provide additional resources on particular topics.
    – Dennis
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 1:08
  • There are multiple fields today that have input on the alleged topic LOGIC. 98% of humans these days will refer to Mathematical LOGIC. And yes that is the specific name of it-- do not just call it logic. There are other types of logic: Modal, Aristotelian, Mathematical, etc. The main five topics that differ in some concepts eventhough the terms are the same are philosophy, mathematics, computer science, psychology, and rheroric.
    – Logikal
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 18:47

2 Answers 2


Formal logic came from the world of philosophy, and is still taught and studied in philosophy departments. However, if we accept some form of this definition of science, "science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe," (Wikipedia) then logic has arguably exited the world of philosophy, and entered the world of science.

One way of looking at philosophy is as "the mother of sciences," investigations of topics that have not yet submitted to successful empirical codification. Most, perhaps all sciences started as branches of philosophy, and transitioned over once they gained stable, replicable processes and results. It just happened more recently for logic than any other major science, which is why logic is still (for the moment) shared between both worlds.

This is not to say that there will ever be no more philosophical questions surrounding logic. There are philosophical questions surrounding every discipline, that's why they call the advanced degree in most fields the "Doctorate of Philosophy." Conversely, it also doesn't mean that logic won't continue to be an important tool in philosophy --structured logical argument continues to be the way most (but not all!) philosophical viewpoints are advanced.

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    What is the basis of the claim that "it's arguably exited the world of philosophy"? It always has been something studied by both philosophers and mathematicians (and more recently computer scientists and linguists). If anything, it's probably easier to find a logician in a philosophy department than a math department. For one anecdote, my department has 2 logicians and the math department has 0. There's also a distinction between philosophical logic and mathematical logic. See, e.g., this answer by Peter Smith -- who, I might add, is a philosopher.
    – Dennis
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 1:28
  • 2
    Sorry, my answer was quite elliptical. I've edited to explain my line of reasoning, and to moderate my conclusions. Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 2:38
  • @MichaelSmith I added a section to address Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 13:49
  • Does science build knowledge or does it take away incorrect hypotheses? Commented Jul 16, 2016 at 19:21

Ok, I think a few things need to be teased apart to answer this question. As I see it, an answer to this question must first address the following questions:

  1. What is Philosophy?
  2. What is Logic?

I'll address them in turn (though my answer to the first won't be very satisfying to most, I suspect).

What is Philosophy?

This is really my least favorite "philosophical" question. I think it's a question that should, largely, be written off as a boondoggle. There are no hard and fast borders, at least as it is practiced now. First, there is the Analytic/Continental divide within philosophy (the distinction is imperfect but it's the only one I know of). I'm mostly familiar with the analytic tradition, so my answer will be restricted to that tradition.

In contemporary analytic philosophy, many fields are virtually indistinguishable from non-philosophical counterparts. There are philosophical logicians who do work indistinguishable from that of mathematical logicians. There are philosophers of mind who work in tandem with cognitive scientists and so, quite literally, do the same thing. Does this mean cognitive science is philosophy? No, but it doesn't mean that philosophy of mind is cognitive science either.

Against the perspective given in Chris Sunami's answer, I'll note that there are many who follow W.V.O. Quine in holding that "philosophy is continuous with science". This is sometimes called "naturalism". Here is Quine on the matter (from this IEP article):

What distinguishes between the ontological philosopher’s concerns and …[zoology, botany, and physics] is only breadth of categories. Given physical objects in general, the natural scientist is the man to decide about wombats and unicorns. Given classes…it is the mathematician to say whether in particular there are any even prime numbers…On the other hand it is the scrutiny of this uncritical acceptance of the realm of physical objects itself, or of classes, etc., that devolves upon ontology. (Quine 1960, 275)

From the same article:

The basic conception of philosophy and philosophical practice that informs [Quine's] discussion of science is commonly know as naturalism, a view that recommends the “abandonment of the goal of a first philosophy prior to natural science” (1981, 67), which further involves a “readiness to see philosophy as natural science trained upon itself and permitted free use of scientific findings” (1981, 85) and lastly, recognizes that “…it is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identified and described” (1981, 21).

I think that the best you could say is that what distinguishes philosophy from other disciplines is methodology -- but even that is tenuous and hard to specify. I like to think of it somewhat like how Justice Stewart characterized pornography, "I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it" (paraphrased).

What is Logic?

First, as I noted in my comment on Chris Sunami's answer, there is a distinction between Philosophical Logic and Mathematical Logic. (See also Peter Smith's answer I linked to in my comment above.) Again, the boundaries here are fuzzy but I think the distinction gets at something.

(As an aside, what you refer to as "informal logic" is typically taught in critical thinking classes. It is rarely studied at a research level, however, and is typically only taught at an undergraduate level. This is not to say that there aren't some philosophers who do research in this area, just that it isn't what most would think of when they think of "logic".)

Now, what differentiates Philosophical Logic from Mathematical Logic? Well, Philosophical Logic tends to be focused on certain applications of formal logic to traditional philosophical questions. For instance, W.V.O. Quine in his landmark article on ontology, "On What There Is", used the formalism of first-order logic to make tractable questions of existence. In this article, Quine gave us his famous dictum "to be is to be the value of a variable" -- effectively reducing questions of existence to questions of the range of our first-order quantifiers. (Others have expanded this criterion to include the values of higher-order variables, notably interpreting second-order variables as having property-like entities as values.)

Another example is the study of modal logic. Within philosophical traditions modal logic is commonly studied as the logic of metaphysical necessity/possibility (S5 modal logic, usually). When doing modal logic with its traditional Kripke Semantics, there is an accessibility relation between frames. In S5 modal logic this gets ignored since S5 accessibility is an equivalence relation and so, on the assumption that only one possible world is actual, every world accesses every other world. Sometimes this is referred to as absolute modality. Weaker modal logics are typically understood as capturing some notion of relative possibility. Other applications (discussed in the SEP article linked above) are as follows:

Modal Logic

□ It is necessary that ..

◊ It is possible that …

Deontic Logic

O It is obligatory that …

P It is permitted that …

F It is forbidden that …

Temporal Logic

G It will always be the case that …

F It will be the case that …

H It has always been the case that …

P It was the case that …

Doxastic Logic

Bx x believes that …

By contrast, modal logic within mathematical logic has entirely different interpretations. For example, there are algebraic approaches, where, e.g., S4 modal logic is interpreted as an interior algebra.

Both philosophers and mathematicians are interested in the application of modal logic to the study of provability, under the heading of so-called "provability logics". Additionally the work of Joel David Hamkins (a mainstay at Mathoverflow) is of considerable interest to both mathematicians and philosophers. His discussion of the Set-theoretic Multiverse is influential among those who favor a pluralistic conception of mathematical truth.

Additionally, it's common to group set theory and model theory under the heading of "mathematical logic". Both branches are of massive interest to philosophers and mathematicians (and linguists and computer scientists, etc.). If I had to characterize the distinction between these two fields I would say that the philosophers tend to be more interested in drawing "big picture" conclusions about the nature of, e.g., mathematical truth whereas mathematicians tend to be more concerned with what can be proven from what -- but that is a massive oversimplification, to say the least.

Is Logic a Part of Philosophy?

Now that I've spent a whole lot of time not answering your question, what is the answer I would give? From my view, formal logic is so interweaved into modern analytic philosophy that any definition of philosophy which excluded it would be defective beyond recognition.

So, yes, formal logic is a part of philosophy. But also of mathematics. And linguistics. And computer science. (And probably some other fields I'm unaware of.) All of these branches make substantive contributions to the existing body of literature on formal logic but none can claim exclusive dominion over it.

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    Quine's naturalism was the first thing that came to mind when I read the other answer. +1 for a great, in-depth and informed answer, I'd upvote more if I could.
    – E...
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 12:04

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