Whose Proof? Whose Rationality?

By Patrick T. Flynn.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Are our concepts of “proof,” and/or “rationality,” individually or community dependent? Is there a significant subjective and social dimension to these concepts--usually otherwise conceived in entirely objective terms? In this paper, I argue that such key epistemic justificatory terms as: “proof,” “rationality,” or even “justification” are individual or group –relative. The paper revolves around what I believe is this keystone psycho-philosophical insight: in order to prove something you have to prove it to somebody (i.e. some individual, some group). Likewise, in order to rationally defend, establish, or justify something, you have to rationally defend, establish, or justify it to somebody (i.e. some individual, some group). In addition, I argue that concepts such as “proof,” or “rationality,” are both distinct from, and significantly richer than purely formal logical concepts such as: “soundness,” or “cogency.” There are interesting perspectives and outcomes for the account of “rationality” developed in this essay. For one, the account is not nearly as overall intellectually and culturally “relativistic” as it might at first glance appear. This would only be the case if the notions of “truth” and “knowledge” were also correspondingly given a purely non-objective analysis, superficially commensurate to that provided for “proof” and “rationality.” I do not do this. In addition, there is at least one interesting inter-disciplinary implication of the view developed. The account developed goes a long way toward illuminating the curious relationship between logos (logic and logical analysis) and pathos (rhetoric and persuasion) in the study of oral and written argumentation. Since the logos side is usually populated by philosophy and its defenders, and the pathos side by modern language and literature advocates, I am curious as to whether the account developed might potentially provide something of a bridge between these often bitterly opposed intellectual disciplinary establishments.

Keywords: Proof, Rationality, Justification, Community Dependent, Subjective Dimension, Social Dimension, Objective

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.163-168. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 505.086KB).

Patrick T. Flynn

Assistant Professor Philosophy and Director of the Core Program, Benedictine Univeristy, Lisle, Illinois, USA

Patrick Flynn is presently Associate Professor in Philosophy and Director of the Liberal Arts Core Program at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois. His Ph.D. was from the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada--from their philosophy of science program. His M.A. in Philosophy was from McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario. His B.A. was from the University of Notre Dame. His current research interests include: philosophical Theology and its relationship to scientific inquiry, value-relevant rationality theory, Core-text approaches to Liberal Arts education, biomedical and environmental ethical issues, and general educational philosophical issues.


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