Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The History Of The Science Of Society

In Poul Anderson's "The Sensitive Man" (IN Anderson, The Psychotechnic League, New York, 1981, pp. 131-198), although Dr Michael Tighe is responsible for developing the fully integrated human being, and thus has worked in the fields of individual psychology and physiology, he also presents yet another summary of the history of the science of society:

Francis Bacon speculated about such a science;
Boole did some work on it;
Boole also invented symbolic logic;
Freudian psychology suggested human semantics;
mankind was studied physically, chemically and biologically;
Spengler, Pareto, Toynbee etc detected historical patterns;
cybernetic concepts like homeostasis and feedback are applicable to individual and society;
games theory, the principle of least effort and Haeml's generalized epistemology implied analysis of basic laws;
new logical and mathematical symbologies suggested formulations for handling data and indicating new data;
the Psychotechnic Institute collected and synthesized all earlier findings and made new discoveries.

This all sounds more firmly based than Asimov's/Seldon's merely mathematical "psychohistory," about which we are told only that, on a sufficiently large scale, it predicts accurately.

But how does symbolic logic help? I studied philosophy and therefore received an introduction to symbolic logic, both propositional and predicate calculus. In algebra, letters like "x" and "n" represent any number. In the propositional calculus, letters like "p" and "q" represent any proposition, which means "statement," not "proposal." Instead of mathematical symbols like +, - and x linking numbers, there are logical symbols linking propositions. The symbols mean:

if p, then p;
if p, then not not-p;
not (p and not-p);
p or not-p;
if (if p, then q) and p, then q.

The predicate calculus recognizes that each proposition has both a subject and a predicate. Thus:

All men are mortal;
Socrates is a man;
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

That can be expressed in symbols presenting a universal proposition followed by two particular propositions with a common subject but different predicates.

Thus, any line of argument can be abstracted from its subject matter and shown to be valid or invalid ((if p, then q) and q, therefore p, is invalid) but only if the argument is first presented in a large number of  propositions far more precise than are usually uttered.

I do not think that symbolic logic would help with a science of society any more than with any other subject matter but perhaps there were unrealistic expectations about its contribution at an earlier stage?

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