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Beginning of Hacking and Style of Reasoning

When we read Hacking and styles of reasoning we realize that we have entered deeper philosophical waters. He starts by warning us that he will pose what he calls a “relativist question” “from within the heartlands of rationality.” But this question will not have to do with “sexy” topics such as Kuhn’s scientific revolutions or embracing the idea of incommensurability. Nor will Hacking embrace the “dualism of scheme and reality” the Davidson abjures; in fact Hacking will, as he says, learn something from Davidson’s rejection of this dualism.

H begins with an idea he calls “styles of scientific reasoning”. Not, mind you, style of reasoning tout court, because that does not interest him. He is interested in the coherent, self-contained sets of protocols that different kinds of science have developed and brought to perfection at different times in history and under varying circumstances.

H right away rejects what he calls an “inane Sism”, which states p can become a reason for q (e.g., germs cause certain infections) only when people get around to thinking in this way. This m akes discovery casual and fragmentary. What H wants to claim is that such claims become candidates for truth or falsehood, not accidentally and out of all context, but only when we already have developed ways in which such a claim can even become such a candidate. Thus a sentence connecting germs and infections can only reside in the realm of possible truth-or-falsehood within a style of reasoning, a way of looking at the world, in which such sentences can count as such candidates. Sentences such as these just do not have “legs” in ordinary conversation because they do not fit in a linguistic world in which special styles of reasoning play no role. Such sentences are not true or false relative to a context — to say that seems strange, because then the context determines their truth somewhat arbitrarily - but they are true-or-false — candidates for an assignment of value - relative to a context. This distinction makes the context not an arbitrary assigner of value but a mechanism within which values can get assigned.

Note: do not think of “styles of reasoning” as forms of either inductive or deductive logic because H makes entirely clear in this paper that we only use logic when we know that everything we are dealing with is already true. Logic does not make truth; it preserves it.

But there is an obvious problem with the styles of reasoning idea. If we say that claims become meaningful within the constraints of a particular style of reasoning then it would appear to be a fixed game. That is, if the only way we can determine truth or falsehood and therefore meaning is within the style than is the truth/falsehood guaranteed by the style? Are we caught in a circle?

H approaches this obliquely. He says first that there is an important difference between saying that nothing is true but tat thinking makes it so, (subjectivism), and saying that nothing’s either true-or-false but thinking makes it so (relativism).

H will study the second in this essay; it says that humans can think up new ways for sentences to become candidates for truth-r falsehood; it is way for sentences to be produced as candidates, rather than a simple, acontextual assertion that this sentence or that is true or false, something for which we then have no warrant.

H is all for objectivity in the sense that within distinct styles of reasoning we know perfectly well what counts as objective truth or falsehood. Objectivity is not a free-floating concept but a function of a style of reasoning, a way of thinking and talking that I think much resembles Peirce’s “habit of action.”

H does believe, and I do too, that most of what we say is so because thinking really does make it so, that is, most of what everyone says is true or false without any theory attached. There is no particualr context worth determining for most of our sentences, no special techniques or procedures or knowledge that we need to master to think and talk in ordinary ways. In this sense H agrees with R that most of what we say is no interest to philosophy. It is only when we are dealing with the special subset of sentences generated by and within a scientific or astrological or religious style of reasoning that translation issues come up because when we speak inside such a style we are using complex rules not contained in the ordinary syntax and lexicon of our language.

Crombie uses “styles of reasoning”, and H admits something important on page 163, that the phrase “styles of reasoning” , or, “style” , “is cribbed(stolen) from art critics and historians”, as in “Baroque”, “neoclassical.”

Now in order to see exactly what is at stake here, and in what H’s relativism consists he will first visit a position that he himself occupies most of the time, which he calls “arch-rationalism.”

The nub of AR is that it believes that there are and always have been good and bad reasons.

Unlike the style of reasoning guy (H, here) the AR believes in a “sharp distinction between and the propositions they support”, that s between the evidence we offer for claims and the claims themselves. The ways we get to claims and what we find out are two different things. The ARs respect history and believe that styles of reasoning can emerge in it but what they discover is not relative to anything nor does it depend on context. It is what is.

The AR is subtle. He knows that our values, our dedication to truth, is optional; it might have been otherwise and has been otherwise in other cultures. Bt the AR is also an optimist who believes that folks will eventually develop ways to get at truth. He also believes that the “historicity” of our styles takes zero away from their objectivity.

H will not fight with the Ar with whom he shares a great deal of sympathy. But he will go to his heartland, classical positivism in the persons of Comte, Schlick and Dummett, and as he puts it “extract a hint of incoherence” at the heart of AR, thereby mitigating his relationship to it.

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