Let's imagine that I began to doubt the validity of one of my arguments, which leads me to question my ability to make rational arguments. And so begin to distrust my intuitive ideas about logic, then I might ask myself

Is my own logic valid?

If I think it is, I use the object which is in doubt to reach my conclusion. A circular argument. ( If I refer to the logic in an argument I have made, rather than my capacity for logic in general, then demonstrating it's validity may lead to an infinite regress problem )

If I think it isn't, I refute my ability to reason. Undermining the basis of my refutation. A paradox. ( If I refer to the logic in an argument I have made, rather than my capacity for logic in general, it implies that I am capable of making mistakes which casts doubt over the validity of any argument: undermining the certainty of my refutation )

If I think that it neither "is" nor "Is not", this could mean that it is impossible to determine the validity of my own logic. Which would be my conclusion, relying upon my sense of logic. If I consider this argument valid, it undermines its conclusion.

It could mean that it does not conform to logic, and stands outside of reasoning, like emotions which are irrational. This could be likened to intuition. This would imply that absolute validity was non-existent since intuition is based on subjective experience instead of objective reality. This, however, considers itself to be an opinion. And also denies the existence of its subject matter, the validity that was in doubt.

I wasn't sure whether to restrict the question to some sort of argument or to have it refer to my capacity for logic in general. Answers can assume either.

I'm sure that there are many more ways to approach this question. I wondered if anyone had created a formal response to anything similar.

And if not, I thought it might generate some interesting responses!

  • Er, it's a little hard to follow what you're writing, but have you ever read Descartes or Hume? Both address skeptical arguments somewhat similar to what I got from skimming you. – virmaior Dec 15 '17 at 6:36
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    Yes, very hard to follow and so difficult to answer. It reminds me of Bradley's point, that it is impossible to make a reasonable argument proving that the world is unreasonable because it will defeat itself. – user20253 Dec 15 '17 at 13:06
  • It sounds to me like the version of what you are saying that concerns the capacity for logic in general gives expression to what Harry Scheffer, in his review of Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica, called the logocentric predicament. Robert Hanna, for one, writes about it in his Rationality and Logic. My view would be that wondering whether one can recognize a valid argument as such is confused, for drawing a conclusion is recognizing the validity of its argument. See Eric Marcus' "Inference as Consciousness of Necessity" for a view like this. – Michael Amundsen Jul 1 '19 at 21:43
  • Agrippa's trilemma is probably relevant here – Rusi-packing-up Jul 3 '19 at 5:56

Descartes' Meditations arguably directly address this point, since a core part of his philosophical journey is to question his own rationality. However, he ultimately concludes that there are some logical relationships that can be directly apprehended as true by the intellect. For this reason, many critics believe he didn't take your line of argument seriously enough.

Not every philosopher takes rational argument as foundational, however. Kierkegaard, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and even Plato (as well as most theologians) can be viewed as believers in extra-logical sources of knowledge. (The common, but mistaken belief that Plato's work is founded primarily on rational argument is perhaps why he's so often misunderstood.)

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    Thanks for adding Plato to the "non-rational" set. And you need not be sotto voce about it😀 – Rusi-packing-up Jul 3 '19 at 4:14

If you had no ability to recognize that an argument you had made was flawed, then you a) wouldn't be "rational", b) would be perfectly "rational", and never make flawed arguments.

Not being perfectly rational may be a consequence of being human.

Recognizing that fact (in regards to both others, and ourselves) is a result of having "rationality".

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  • Or, be imperfectly rational only when evaluating your own arguments? – christo183 Jun 2 '19 at 2:23
  • @christo183 What do you mean? – user558317 Jun 2 '19 at 20:19
  • Your options a) and b) are extreme cases, a person's level of rationality is variable. For example some people can be quite rational when considering objective data, yet be quite irrational when thinking about their own theories (theory used in the broadest sense) In fact I think this is the most common imperfection to rationality, hence all the emphasis on peer review, repeatability, etc. – christo183 Jun 3 '19 at 3:10

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