- Major Writings
- General Interest
A Summary of R.B. Angell’s Development in Philosophy
Richard Bradshaw Angell graduated with a B.A. from Swarthmore College in June 1940, received an M.G.A. (Masters in Government Administration) from the University of Pennsylvania, in 1948 and received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University in June, 1954. He taught philosophy at various colleges and universities from 1949 to 1993, including 14 years (1954-68) Ohio Wesleyan University, and 25 years (1968-1993) at Wayne State University. After he retired he published a book, A-Logic (University Press of America, 2002, pp.658). This was the culmination of a search for an alternative theory of logic to the mathematical logic of Frege, Russell-Whitehead and Quine, which he had studied and taught over the preceding forty-four years.
At Swarthmore College he developed a high respect for rigorous scholarship combined with a sense of social responsibility. From his freshman year, through his master’s degree, he aspired to a life of good works in government, but eventually he became convinced that he did not have the right temperament for politics. What interested him most were philosophical problems of knowledge and ethics. In applying for graduate studies at Harvard’s Philosophy Department, he said he wanted to develop more logical ways of deciding ethical issues. At Harvard he quickly found that the new rigorous logic developed by Frege, Russell and Whitehead was a logic for dealing with statements that were true or false, but did not work well for judgments of right and wrong. He became intrigued by the problem of how to reconcile rigor with relevance to human purposes.
His Ph. D. dissertation in 1954 was entitled "Language, Designata and Truth; a Preface to a Pragmatic Rationalism". His next the fifty years were efforts to develop elements of a pragmatic rationalism.
In philosophy, the term “rationalism” has been applied to systems of philosophy like those of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, that “stresses the power of a priori reason to grasp substantial truths about the world.” Both Descartes and Leibniz were also major contributors to logic and mathematics. “Pragmatism” as presented by William James and John Dewey, tried to shift philosophers away from questions of ultimate metaphysical truth to the ways in which ideas and concepts (and systems of logic) are used and useful for human purposes.
Angell believes pragmatist, William James was wrong in his notorious assertion the ‘truth is what works’, because he believes that the common sense correspondence concept of truth, rigorously used, is pragmatically an extremely useful concept. Dewey’s writings on logic, while very interesting in their connection with human problem solving, were lacking in rigor. Descartes made a significant contributions to methods of reasoning and developed analytic geometry, and Leibniz made significant contributions to logic and the mathematics of calculus. But their efforts to prove the truth of metaphysical theories of mind and matter by reason -- the dualism of Descartes, the pluralistic idealism of Leibniz, or the absolute monism of Spinosa -- were incapable of surviving critical reason.
Thus pragmatic rationalism proceeds on the view that philosophy should not be viewed as primarily a search for ultimate truth about the world (although this is a perfectly legitimate area of interest). Rather, the overall goal of philosophy and knowledge disciplines, should be viewed as efforts to find ideas and ways of thinking that are useful both for individual human persons and for the development of a good society. The ordinary concepts of an objective world around us, and of distinctions between true ideas and untrue ideas about this world, are extremely useful for any and all humans - though there are many areas of inquiry where it is useful to examine ideas and methods independently what we consider to be the case in this actual world. In logic the concept of valid reasoning - apart from what purposes it is used for - is extremely useful. In mathematics, the concepts of numbers and of the operations we perform with numbers, are also extremely useful. So the development of ever more clear and distinct ideas in logic and mathematics, and how its ideas are used, is an essential part of the pragmatic rationalism.
In A-LOGIC (2002) he presents a basic underlying "analytic" logic based on synonymy and containment of meanings. Validity is not defined by truth-values (as in standard mathematical logic). Rather, it is defined by relationships between meanings of premises and conclusion. This leaves room for a logic of based on the meanings of value judgments. As a sub section of this basic analytic logic he presents a (correspondence) concept of truth and a logic of truth-statements based on it. The logic of value judgments remains to be developed. A-LOGIC is the result of 40 years of persistent effort to find a rigorous logic that:
- could deal with such predicates as ‘is right’ and ‘is wrong’, ‘ is good’ and ‘is bad’ as well as ‘is true’ and ‘is false’
- is free of the anomalies of Principia Mathematica's logic,
- can handle subjunctive and contrary-to fact reasoning in science, common sense and ethics
- serves the pragmatic goal of improving peoples' capacity to reason clearly on questions about what is right as well as on questions of truth.
It prepares the way, but is far from completing a satisfactory logic for arguments in ethics. He worked on a theory of mathematics which could deal with all the useful things that numbers can be used for, without suggesting or requiring that the mathematician must conceive of entities that are infinite and unactualizable by man or machine.