[hist-analytic] Toulmin in the History of Analytic Philosophy: The Oxford Years

jlsperanza at aol.com jlsperanza at aol.com
Mon Dec 21 15:28:45 EST 2009

It would be too valiant to attempt an assessment of Toulmin in the history  
of analytic philosophy this December, seeing that Toulmin has died this  
December. Assessments like that take Decades. Plus, I seem to be mainly  
interested in what I call Toulmin's Oxford years, a few 6 years, from 1949 to  
His opus magnum, "The Uses of Argument", has received, as Bayne notes in  
his "Toulmin and the discovery of History", much attention in cyberspace, and 
 here's yet another shot at it.
For what _was_ Toulmin after? We should recall that Uses of Argument was  
published when Toulmin was quietly established as a lecturer in Leeds -- far  
from Oxonian polemics.
---- As I said elsewhere, it's best to see the Toulmin-Grice polemic (if  
any) via Strawson, for Strawson credits Grice as the man "from whom I never  
ceased to learn logic since he was my tutor in that topic" (or words to that 
 effect -- does he mean, 'topic' qua discipline?) and formulates a few 
'pragmatic  rules' alla Grice ("I owe this pragmatic rule to H. P. Grice" -- he 
says in a  footnote. Since Toulmin quotes extensively from Strawson's 
Introduction to  Logical Theory, it is fair to assume that he was at least 
partially conscious  that some pragmatic alternative or extensive analysis to any 
'divergence'  bewteen a logical constant and its natural-language 
counterparts _was_ availabe,  or in the offing.
---- Yet Toulmin manages to speak of 'non-logical goats', which are herded  
away from the true logical goats like -- he cites, "or", "all" and "some". 
He  _never_ uses the symbols, for his is an anti-formal, if not anti-logic, 
account.  So it is difficult to see how he would react to a full-blown 
Gricean defense of  the alleged divergence between a logical constant (as used in 
a classical  logical calculus, when 'standardly interpreted in a bivalent 
way', as Grice has  it) and their English, 'vulgar', analogues.
----- One thing is certain though. In his third preface to Uses of  
Argument, Toulmin compares books to children: they grow OUT of their parents,  they 
move FROM their parents, to the point that they are hardly recognisable as  
one's offsprings. This, Toulmin claims, happened to his "Uses of Argument". 
 Apparently, it received favourable critical reception in, of all places,  
America, where the fashion started for a new way of TEACHING logic -- 
'informal  logic', so-called. 
------ But I propose to reconsider Toulmin's enterprise from the point  
where it started. I.e. without interference of any popularity Toulmin may have  
gained from this didactic pedagogic (apparent) facility of his book. E.g. 
is  Toulmin seriously providing some Aristotelian backing to a 'new' way of 
treating  'inferences' and reasoning? I don't know!
------ It _is_ difficult to compare Toulmin and Grice because Grice, too,  
changed. Thus an online essay by Johnson on "Informal Logic" quotes from  
Grice, Aspects of Reason, 2001, 8, to the effect that actual reasoning does 
not  adhere to "canonical inference patterns". This, taken out of context, is  
dangerous to give a definite interpretation. Grice, unlike Toulmin, seems 
to  have regarded 'inference' (as 'sentence') as a value-oriented expression 
('an  inference is a GOOD inference'). On the other hand, a reader of Uses 
of  Argument is treated to accounts of 'quasi-logical', 'quasi-valid'  
inferences which do not seem to foot the bill.
----- Then there's the topic of 'subject matter'. In "Logic and  
Conversation" Grice argues for an analysis of conversation (he is being  partially 
jocular in his choice of words), 'regardless of its  subject matter' to deal 
with a pet manoeuvre of his that he wants to  criticise -- the alleged 
divergence between a logical constant and its vulgar  counterpart --. But this 
context-invariance is precisely what Toulmin with  his 'territorial-oriented 
validities' is meant to repudiate. 
----- The 'discipline' of logic, beloved by Oxonians, was perhaps at  the 
core of Toulmin's attack. It is NOT fair to deal with Toulmin as Grice deals  
with the informalists and formalists as accepting "two kinds of logic", for 
 Toulmin, in his most serious, seems to negate that his 'working' logic is 
a  _logic_ at all. I haven't seen his British Cataloguing in Publication 
data, but  he would have had a fit if he saw his "Uses of Argument" catalogued 
as a "logic"  book. But as a discipline, Logic, and Oxford logic in 
particular, is so florid;  and Toulmin quotes extensively from his 'master' Ryle, 
making historical  interpretations of his enterprise more difficult to 
----- In terms of his published stuff, it's easy to see where Grice is  
coming from. In his 1967 prolegomena to "Logic and Conversation" he lists then  
this 'manoeuvre' -- represented by Strawson, whom he quotes explicitly,  
regarding the divergence of logical constants. In those prolegoma Grice cites 
an  alleged invalid inference regarding the first three connectives, "and" 
(He went  to bed and took off his trousers), "or" (My wife is in the kitchen 
or in the  garden, and I know where") and "if" (Strawson's convoluted 
definition,  which Grice cares to cite in full:
      "each hypothetical statement made by this  use of 'if'
      is acceptable (true, reasonable) if the  antecedent 
      statement, if made or accepted, would in the 
      circumstances be a good ground or rason  for
      accepting the consequent statement; and the  making
      of the hypothetical statement carries the  implication
      [implicature for Grice. JLS] either of  uncertainty about,
      or of disbelief in, the fulfillment of both  antecedent
      and consequent" (Strawson, op. cit., III, Pt  2).
Since for 'and' and 'or' Grice does not care to provide a specific quote,  
it's best to regard that it was these 'indicative conditionals' he was 
having  somewhat specifically in mind, and it's no surprise then than when he 
reprinted  the lecture iv, he titled it, "Indicative Conditionals" -- for it is 
a full if  somewhat inconclusive treatment of the alleged divergence 
(surely only alleged  for Grice) between 'if' and the horseshoe.
------- Grice is ready to criticise his student. Strawson has acted  
properly, crediting Grice where credit is due, and Grice, a polemic figure in  the 
best sense of the word, feels safely correcting this or that mistake in  
'friends'. But where is _Toulmin_ coming from?
------- I for one couldn't yet find what his association with Oxford was,  
i.e. fellow of _what_ he was!
In the other posts on "Toulmin and the Play Group" I have tried to  provide 
some cross-references to the specific members of this play group that  
included Grice and Strawson and that Toulmin occasionally quotes in his vintage  
publications, and which may serve us to give us a better micro-picture of 
where  he came from and what his impact was in Oxford, and why he obtained 
the reaction  he obtained. I have NOT been able to trace Strawson's "Listener" 
review of  Toulmin's "Uses of Argument", which Toulmin prides himself of 
having  unsuccessfully 'damning (him) roundly', for "Uses of Argument" unlike  
"Introduction to Logical Theory" never came out of print. Then there's what 
I  hope a less 'dismissive' (or aside-brushing) review by play group member 
J. O.  Urmson in "Nature", entitled 'The province of logic' which should 
prove relevant  when studying the Toulminiana in their proper context.
In an online essay, G. M. Ross notes that for years British logicians felt  
that it was unfair to students to teach logic with Toulmin-type books. And 
Grice  declares for a penchant for the 'tidiness' of the 'classical' logical 
calculus.  The teaching of logic has undergone a transition from purely 
axiomatic methods  (alla Euclid, indeed) to natural-deduction types, but to go 
the whole hog and  replace "Principia" by "Uses of Argument" seems perhaps 
... a bit too  much?
---- In the long run, the reasons may be in the causes. Toulmin had come to 
 Oxford already with an full-blown interest in the philosophy of science, 
where  induction is all there is. Imagine his hurt ego when 'logicians' in 
Oxford would  just dismiss that as 'invalid inferences' as mathematical logic 
has it. And  while he did his 'linguistic botanising' best with words like 
'probably', he got  perhaps tired of do the same with logical goals -- he 
deals extensively with  'all', though, which he treats in ways parallel to the 
Strawson (guided by  Grice) account in Introduction to Logical Theory. 
Perhaps when the Toulmin  unpublications are made public we may be able to delve 
deeper in what counts as  an interesting polemic in the heart of Oxford 
philosophy, by this "man",  Wittgenstein called him, who had studied with 
J. L. Speranza
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