Volume 5, Issue 1, 2005
Rolf George, Nina Gandhi
The Politics of Logic
This essay on the social history of logic discusses arguments in the programmatic writings of Carnap/Neurath, but especially in the widely read book by Lillian Lieber, Mits, Wits and Logic (1947), where Mits is the man in the street and Wits the woman in the street. It was seriously argued that the intense study of formal logic would create a more rational frame of mind and have many beneficial effects upon the social and political life. This arose from the conviction that most metaphysical conundrums, religious and political problems and even fanaticism had their root in the irrationality of ordinary discourse, which had to be replaced by the more logical “ideal language” of Principia Mathematica. The enthusiastic promotion of formal logic occurred at a time when it was widely thought that minds could be “made over”, “reprogrammed” by proper intervention. J.B. Watson, (who claimed that he taught the American woman to smoke) wrote that “[S]ome day we shall have hospitals devoted to helping us change our personality, because we can change the personality as easily as we can change the shape or our nose... I wish I could picture for you what a rich and wonderful individual we should make of every healthy child”. The
second part of the essay deals, not with the history of logic as a formal science, but with the social role it was thought to play from Francis Bacon on, during the Enlightenment, in Kant and in the 19th century.