Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 3

Mind Associalion

TIe InJinile Begvess oJ FvooJ


AulIov|s) F. C. S. ScIiIIev
Souvce Mind, Nev Sevies, VoI. 37, No. 147 |JuI., 1928), pp. 353-354
FuIIisIed I OxJovd Univevsil Fvess on IeIaIJ oJ lIe Mind Associalion
SlaIIe UBL http://www.jstor.org/stable/2249254 .
Accessed 30/12/2013 0834
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
.
Oxford University Press and Mind Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend
access to Mind.
http://www.jstor.org
This content downloaded from 66.210.50.69 on Mon, 30 Dec 2013 08:34:49 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
THE INFINITE REGRESS OF PROOF.
OWING to the hush-hush policy of its practitioners (worthy of a
pseudo-science !) the fundamental difficulties of Logic so rarely re-
ceive ventilation that I cannot forbear to express my approval of
Mr. Cator's enterprise in attacking the 'Euclidean' (or rather
Platonic) theory of knowledge in No. 146. I should like to endorse
also his protest against the futile attempt to cut short the infinite
regress which seems to inhere in the form of syllogistic proof by
alleging self-evident ' intuitions' (of which no list can be published!)
when the resources of reasoning are exhausted. But I am a little
doubtful whether my help will be welcome and will not be met by
a non tali auxilio, because I do not feel quite sure what it is that
Mr. Cator is really trying to prove. Is it that in all real knowing
the terms used develop in meaning as knowledge grows? Or is it
that "
the very form of judgment is an inadequate vehicle of what
would finally satisfy the intelligence "? I very much hope that he
means the former, not only because then I can cordially agree with
him, but also because then the second question does not arise; I
will venture therefore to adopt the former interpretation of Mr.
Cator's problem.
On this interpretation Mr. Cator is really asking whether there is
any escape from the infinite regress that lurks in the form of the
syllogism. Syllogistic proof, as Aristotle saw from the beginning,
presupposes the truth of its premisses. If these are questioned,
they must be proved. But to prove them will require four true pre-
,misses. If these are questioned, eight more true premisses will be
needed to save the situation. The theory of proof, therefore, rapidly
becomes a mockery when it encounters a pertinacious questioner
like Lewis Carroll (Cf. MIND, N.S., No. 14, ' What the Tortoise said
to Achilles'); for syllogistic proof appears to be a procedure in
which the more you try to prove the more you have to prove, and
the further you get from proof.
To meet this difficulty Aristotle adopted the old Platonic expedi-
ent of a
self-proving
principle to which deductions might safely be
attached; only instead of postulating only one such principle, the
Idea of Good,-which seemed to involve the technical absurdity of
proving from one premiss only-he allowed an indefinite number.
IBut
if this artifice is rejected, for- the reasons given by Mr. Cator
and by myself (cf. Formal Logic, ch. xviii., ? 3), how can the regress
to infinity be avoided?
As Mr. Cator sees, not by an appeal to generalisation from facts
(J. S. Mill and the old empiricism). For experience alone will only
generate (psychological) expectations, but will not prove that nature
will fulfil them. It yields no valid form of proof. So Mill is as im-
potent as Aristotle.
Still Mr. Cator might have noticed that this argument is double-
This content downloaded from 66.210.50.69 on Mon, 30 Dec 2013 08:34:49 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
354 F. C. S. SCHILLER: THE INFINITE REGRESS OF PROOF.
edged. It can be taken as proving that inductive logic cannot be
rendered 'valid'. But it is equally possible to infer that valid
forms do not occur, and that there is no reasoning in them. For
after all it can hardly be denied that we can, and do, form expecta-
tions. The fact that they are not logically valid does not prevent
their occurrence as psychological facts. So the conclusion to be
drawn might be that all logically valid processes repose ultimately
on a substratum of invalid psychological processes.
This conclusion, doubtless, will not be welcome to logicians. So
let us help them by pointing out that there exists a third way to be
explored, which will lead us out of the difficulty. It is very simple
and easy, and Mr. Cator might have found it in Formal Logic, ch.
xviii.,
?
2. It also has the unanimous support of science. Although
we can obtain the necessary premisses for working the syllogism
neither by 'intuition' nor by ' induction' (generalisation from past
experi8nce), yet it is perfectly easy to get them by
postulation
(hypothesis). We have merely to observe that Plato was wrong in
supposing that scientific principles were only to be proved by
deduction from a higher self-proving principle. There is another
and a better way, which is actually exemplified by the practice of
the sciences. It consists in assuming our principles experimentally,
and then confirming them by the success of the sciences that have
been clever enough to make suitable assumptions. So all we need do
is to drop the demand that premisses must be proved true before we
begin to use them, and to conceive them as hypotheses to be tested.
Then every inference will become an experiment. If the conclusion
deduced comes true in,fact, the premisses are verified. And if one
verification is not thought to be enough, they can be verified again
and again, until the most obstinate doubter has had enough. This
is of course empiricism with a vengeance! Yet it does not transcend
the hallowed forms of the syllogism, and incidentally disposes of all
the stock charges against it.
And if the formal logician objects and insists that verification is
not proof and cannot yield absolute truth, we can smilingly assent
and say that this only proves that absolute truth is non-existent and
unneeded. For there is no doubt that the sciences do not supply it,
and that scientific method consists of unending verification. So Mr.
Cator is quite right in holding that the truth of a premiss is
strengthened, however imperceptibly, by every event that can
successfully be taken as a case in point. The belief in human
mortality is confirmed by every man who dies. But that all men are
mortal is never proved absolutely. For it always remains a possi-
bility, however remote, that the progress of science (or a miracle!)
will some day enable some man to avoid death.
It may safely be admitted also that the infinite series has not
disappeared. But it has lost its sting. It has been turned from an
infinite regress which has to be ended before knowing can begin into
the infinite progress of science, to which no one wants to set a limit!
And the moral of it all is simply Pragmatism.
F. C. S. SCHILLER.
This content downloaded from 66.210.50.69 on Mon, 30 Dec 2013 08:34:49 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions