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In mathematics, there seem to be five standard methods of proving or refuting an argument: a proof by induction, contradiction, counter example etc.

Are there some typical proof methods that exist in philosophy as well (in some ways analogical to what is used in pure mathematics, and and not analogical in other ways)? If yes, then what are they?

Edit: What I am trying to ask is what are the general patterns/structures used in philosophy. It is not required that the methods/structures actually resemble those used in mathematics.

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    What branch of philosophy are we talking about here? Since you've tagged the question "logic", is it reasonable to assume that you're talking strictly about formal logic? Because in that case, the proofs look an awful lot like mathematical proofs. But if you're talking about moral philosophy or any of the more touchy-feely equivalents, then no. The best you get is an analytically-reasoned argument. And sometimes you don't even get that. – Cody Gray Jun 17 '11 at 6:44
  • @cody, Thank you for pointing out there are branches to philosophy. your comment is more than my answer! If you turn it into an answer then I can tick this question as answered. – Arjang Jun 17 '11 at 8:24
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    I couldn't not link to this – Seamus Jun 17 '11 at 13:24
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    See en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Formal_theory_of_causality for an example of an axiomatic philosophical theory – Sophivorus Aug 31 at 21:56
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Specifically, which branch of philosophy are we talking about here? Since you've tagged the question , is it reasonable to assume that you're talking strictly about formal logic?

Because in that case, the proofs look an awful lot like mathematical proofs, and use many of the same basic patterns mentioned in your question. For a more thorough introduction to each of the types and the symbolic notation, see this page. Also see this complete sample proof for a fairly simplistic problem.

But if you're talking about moral philosophy or any of the more "touchy-feely" branches of philosophy, then no. The best you get is an analytically-reasoned argument. And sometimes you don't even get that.

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    The don't merely look like mathematical proofs, they are formal mathematical proofs. – vanden Jun 17 '11 at 20:58
  • Logic is a branch of Math for this reason? – user4951 Nov 30 '11 at 5:37
  • The first two hyperlinks are gone, the first is unreachable and the second is 404. – ChrisW Feb 23 at 19:17
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If I can show that a given position is self-contradictory then (modulo that the paraconsistent folk may well object) I have proven the position false.

In terms of positive proof for a position, then it does not seem that there is anything available quite equivalent to mathematical proof in either rigour or epistemic certainty. However, that need mark no failing of philosophy. Rather, the message might well be that different standards are appropriate to different disciplines and enterprises. (What historian ever proves anything in a fashion "equivalent to mathematical proof"?)

John Stuart Mill discusses this point in Utilitarianism in what I think is a helpful way:

[B]ut what proof is it possible to give that pleasure is good? If, then, it is asserted that there is a comprehensive formula, including all things which are in themselves good, and that whatever else is good, is not so as an end, but as a mean, the formula may be accepted or rejected, but is not a subject of what is commonly understood by proof. We are not, however, to infer that its acceptance or rejection must depend on blind impulse, or arbitrary choice. There is a larger meaning of the word proof, in which this question is as amenable to it as any other of the disputed questions of philosophy. The subject is within the cognizance of the rational faculty; and neither does that faculty deal with it solely in the way of intuition. Considerations may be presented capable of determining the intellect either to give or withhold its assent to the doctrine; and this is equivalent to proof.

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Cody and Joe gave good answers, but I'd like to add that a common form of argument that you find in philosophy and not so much other places is a Syllogism. This is an argument of the form "P implies Q, P, therefore Q."

As an example, a simple form of the argument from marginal cases goes like:

  1. There is no morally relevant difference between some non-humans and infants
  2. Infants have direct moral status
  3. Therefore, these non-human animals must have direct moral status
  • +1. We also find Syllogism in psychology don't we? – Niklas Rosencrantz Aug 18 '11 at 0:27
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A philosophical analysis, work or exposition is roughly equivalent, in the sense that as a mathematical proof constructs new functions and analyzes their behavior, a philosophical work or exposition produces and experiments with new concepts.

Within a work there will generally be many inter-related speculative arguments. These arguments will generally be concerned with weighing consequences of other arguments -- evaluating the depth and rigor of the coherence between premises and conclusions. Some of these arguments will be primary and deal with key concepts or experimental conjectures; other arguments may include critical analyses of related arguments and ideas.

As @Xodarap notes, many but not all arguments will be formal or informal syllogisms. (There are many variations on the "standard" syllogism, and also a number of fallacies related to improper use of syllogistic reasoning.)

  • thank you @Joe, but are there some examples to see? I also updated the question – Arjang Jun 17 '11 at 4:16
  • @Arjang I'm not exactly sure what you mean. You want me to provide a list of examples of arguments...? – Joseph Weissman Jun 17 '11 at 23:48
  • no I didn't mean to you to provide anthing, just that when I was learning about mathematical proofs there were some examples that demonstarted the proof methods being appied in practice. I don't even know what defines a philosophical argument or being able to distinguish one from non-philosphical arguments. Some concrete examples that demonstrate the concepts would be good though. – Arjang Jun 18 '11 at 3:46
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2 basic methods are

  1. Searching for a proof (e.g. inductive proof or a constructive proof)
  2. Providing a counterexample (which proves a "nonexistence" of the consequence so the assumption must be false and both proof by contradiction and proof of negation are these types of proofs)

4 basic rules of logic are ∀x (introducing true for any x) and ∃x (introducing true for an x) and the 2 corresponding elimination rules when you eliminate ∀ or ∃.

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Try this, where at extremes, is where ends meet.

The proof of the theorem is that there is no difference in terms of conviction of belief between a religious fanatic and an atheist. They both cling to and defend their positions beyond reasonable argument to where by simply transposing “god” and “no god” the outcome is indistinguishable.

  • Hey there, welcome to Philosophy. Is there any chance you could share a bit more here? Why is this answer persuasive to the question for you? What sort of research could confirm it? – Joseph Weissman Oct 3 '17 at 23:01

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