Studies in Logic and Probability

Studies in Logic and Probability

by George Boole

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Authoritative account of the development of Boole's ideas in logic and probability theory ranges from The Mathematical Analysis of Logic to the end of his career. The Laws of Thought formed the most systematic statement of Boole's theories; this volume contains incomplete studies intended for a follow-up volume. 1952 edition.  See more details below


Authoritative account of the development of Boole's ideas in logic and probability theory ranges from The Mathematical Analysis of Logic to the end of his career. The Laws of Thought formed the most systematic statement of Boole's theories; this volume contains incomplete studies intended for a follow-up volume. 1952 edition.

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Studies in Logic and Probability


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THEY who are acquainted with the present state of the theory of Symbolical Algebra, are aware, that the validity of the processes of analysis does not depend upon the interpretation of the symbols which are employed, but solely upon the laws of their combination. Every system of interpretation which does not affect the truth of the relations supposed, is equally admissible, and it is thus that the same process may, under one scheme of interpretation, represent the solution of a question on the properties of number, under another, that of a geometrical problem, and under a third, that of a problem of dynamics or optics. This principle is indeed of fundamental importance; and it may with safety be affirmed, that the recent advances of pure analysis have been much assisted by the influence which it has exerted in directing the current of investigation.

But the full recognition of the consequences of this important doctrine has been, in some measure, retarded by accidental circumstances. It has happened in every known form of analysis, that the elements to be determined have been conceived as measurable by comparison with some fixed standard. The predominant idea has been that of magnitude, or more strictly, of numerical ratio. The expression of magnitude, or [4] of operations upon magnitude, has been the express object for which the symbols of Analysis have been invented, and for which their laws have been investigated. Thus the abstractions of the modern Analysis, not less than the ostensive diagrams of the ancient Geometry, have encouraged the notion, that Mathematics are essentially, as well as actually, the Science of Magnitude.

The consideration of that view which has already been stated, as embodying the true principle of the Algebra of Symbols, would, however, lead us to infer that this conclusion is by no means necessary. If every existing interpretation is shewn to involve the idea of magnitude, it is only by induction that we can assert that no other interpretation is possible. And it may be doubted whether our experience is sufficient to render such an induction legitimate. The history of pure Analysis is, it may be said, too recent to permit us to set limits to the extent of its applications. Should we grant to the inference a high degree of probability, we might still, and with reason, maintain the sufficiency of the definition to which the principle already stated would lead us. We might justly assign it as the definitive character of a true Calculus, that it is a method resting upon the employment of Symbols, whose laws of combination are known and general, and whose results admit of a consistent interpretation. That to the existing forms of Analysis a quantitative interpretation is assigned, is the result of the circumstances by which those forms were determined, and is not to be construed into a universal condition of Analysis. It is upon the foundation of this general principle, that I purpose to establish the Calculus of Logic, and that I claim for it a place among the acknowledged forms of Mathematical Analysis, regardless that in its object and in its instruments it must at present stand alone.

That which renders Logic possible, is the existence in our minds of general notions,—our ability to conceive of a class, and to designate its individual members by a common name. [5] The theory of Logic is thus intimately connected with that of Language. A successful attempt to express logical propositions by symbols, the laws of whose combinations should be founded upon the laws of the mental processes which they represent, would, so far, be a step toward a philosophical language. But this is a view which we need not here follow into detail. Assuming the notion of a class, we are able, from any conceivable collection of objects, to separate by a mental act, those which belong to the given class, and to contemplate them apart from the rest. Such, or a similar act of election, we may conceive to be repeated. The group of individuals left under consideration may be still further limited, by mentally selecting those among them which belong to some other recognised class, as well as to the one before contemplated. And this process may be repeated with other elements of distinction, until we arrive at an individual possessing all the distinctive characters which we have taken into account, and a member, at the same time, of every class which we have enumerated. It is in fact a method similar to this which we employ whenever, in common language, we accumulate descriptive epithets for the sake of more precise definition.

Now the several mental operations which in the above case we have supposed to be performed, are subject to peculiar laws. It is possible to assign relations among them, whether as respects the repetition of a given operation or the succession of different ones, or some other particular, which are never violated. It is, for example, true that the result of two successive acts is [6] unaffected by the order in which they are performed; and there are at least two other laws which will be pointed out in the proper place. These will perhaps to some appear so obvious as to be ranked among necessary truths, and so little important as to be undeserving of special notice. And probably they are noticed for the first time in this Essay. Yet it may with confidence be asserted, that if they were other than they are, the entire mechanism of reasoning, nay the very laws and constitution of the human intellect, would be vitally changed. A Logic might indeed exist, but it would no longer be the Logic we possess.

Such are the elementary laws upon the existence of which, and upon their capability of exact symbolical expression, the method of the following Essay is founded; and it is presumed that the object which it seeks to attain will be thought to have been very fully accomplished. Every logical proposition, whether categorical or hypothetical, will be found to be capable of exact and rigorous expression, and not only will the laws of conversion and of syllogism be thence deducible, but the resolution of the most complex systems of propositions, the separation of any proposed element, and the expression of its value in terms of the remaining elements, with every subsidiary relation involved. Every process will represent deduction, every mathematical consequence will express a logical inference. The generality of the method will even permit us to express arbitrary operations of the intellect, and thus lead to the demonstration of general theorems in logic analogous, in no slight degree, to the general theorems of ordinary mathematics. No inconsiderable part of the pleasure which we derive from the application of analysis to the interpretation of external nature, arises from the conceptions which it enables us to form of the universality of the dominion of law. The general formulae to which we are conducted seem to give to that element a visible presence, and the multitude of particular cases to which they apply, demonstrate the extent of its sway. Even the symmetry [7] of their analytical expression may in no fanciful sense be deemed indicative of its harmony and its consistency. Now I do not presume to say to what extent the same sources of pleasure are opened in the following Essay. The measure of that extent may be left to the estimate of those who shall think the subject worthy of their study. But I may venture to assert that such occasions of intellectual gratification are not here wanting. The laws we have to examine are the laws of one of the most important of our mental faculties. The mathematics we have to construct are the mathematics of the human intellect. Nor are the form and character of the method, apart from all regard to its interpretation, undeserving of notice. There is even a remarkable exemplification, in its general theorems, of that species of excellence which consists in freedom from exception. And this is observed where, in the corresponding cases of the received mathematics, such a character is by no means apparent. The few who think that there is that in analysis which renders it deserving of attention for its own sake, may find it worth while to study it under a form in which every equation can be solved and every solution interpreted. Nor will it lessen the interest of this study to reflect that every peculiarity which they will notice in the form of the Calculus represents a corresponding feature in the constitution of their own minds.

It would be premature to speak of the value which this method may possess as an instrument of scientific investigation. I speak here with reference to the theory of reasoning, and to the principle of a true classification of the forms and cases of Logic considered as a Science. The aim of these investigations was in the first instance confined to the expression of the received logic, and to the forms of the Aristotelian arrangement, [8] but it soon became apparent that restrictions were thus introduced, which were purely arbitrary and had no foundation in the nature of things. These were noted as they occurred, and will be discussed in the proper place. When it became necessary to consider the subject of hypothetical propositions (in which comparatively less has been done), and still more, when an interpretation was demanded for the general theorems of the Calculus, it was found to be imperative to dismiss all regard for precedent and authority, and to interrogate the method itself for an expression of the just limits of its application. Still, however, there was no special effort to arrive at novel results. But among those which at the time of their discovery appeared to be such, it may be proper to notice the following.

A logical proposition is, according to the method of this Essay, expressible by an equation the form of which determines the rules of conversion and of transformation, to which the given proposition is subject. Thus the law of what logicians term simple conversion, is determined by the fact, that the corresponding equations are symmetrical, that they are unaffected by a mutual change of place, in those symbols which correspond to the convertible classes. The received laws of conversion were thus determined, and afterwards another system, which is thought to be more elementary, and more general. See Chapter, On the Conversion of Propositions.

The premises of a syllogism being expressed by equations, the elimination of a common symbol between them leads to a third equation which expresses the conclusion, this conclusion being always the most general possible, whether Aristotelian or not. Among the cases in which no inference was possible, it was found, that there were two distinct forms of the final equation. It was a considerable time before the explanation of this fact was discovered, but it was at length seen to depend upon the presence or absence of a true medium of comparison between the premises. The distinction which is thought to be new is illustrated in the Chapter, On Syllogisms.

[9] The nonexclusive character of the disjunctive conclusion of a hypothetical syllogism, is very clearly pointed out in the examples of this species of argument.

The class of logical problems illustrated in the Chapter, On the Solution of Elective Equations, is conceived to be new: and it is believed that the method of that chapter affords the means of a perfect analysis of any conceivable system of propositions, an end toward which the rules for the conversion of a single categorical proposition are but the first step.

However, upon the originality of these or any of these views, I am conscious that I possess too slight an acquaintance with the literature of logical science, and especially with its older literature, to permit me to speak with confidence.

It may not be inappropriate, before concluding these observations, to offer a few remarks upon the general question of the use of symbolical language in the mathematics. Objections have lately been very strongly urged against this practice, on the ground, that by obviating the necessity of thought, and substituting a reference to general formulae in the room of personal effort, it tends to weaken the reasoning faculties.

Now the question of the use of symbols may be considered in two distinct points of view. First, it may be considered with reference to the progress of scientific discovery, and secondly, with reference to its bearing upon the discipline of the intellect.

And with respect to the first view, it may be observed that as it is one fruit of an accomplished labour, that it sets us at liberty to engage in more arduous toils, so it is a necessary result of an advanced state of science, that we are permitted, and even called upon, to proceed to higher problems, than those which we before contemplated. The practical inference is obvious. If through the advancing power of scientific methods, we find that the pursuits on which we were once engaged, afford no longer a sufficiently ample field for intellectual effort, the remedy is, to proceed to higher inquiries, and, in new tracks, to seek for difficulties yet unsubdued. And such is, [10] indeed, the actual law of scientific progress. We must be content, either to abandon the hope of further conquest, or to employ such aids of symbolical language, as are proper to the stage of progress, at which we have arrived. Nor need we fear to commit ourselves to such a course. We have not yet arrived so near to the boundaries of possible knowledge, as to suggest the apprehension, that scope will fail for the exercise of the inventive faculties.

In discussing the second, and scarcely less momentous question of the influence of the use of symbols upon the discipline of the intellect, an important distinction ought to be made. It is of most material consequence, whether those symbols are used with a full understanding of their meaning, with a perfect comprehension of that which renders their use lawful, and an ability to expand the abbreviated forms of reasoning which they induce, into their full syllogistic development; or whether they are mere unsuggestive characters, the use of which is suffered to rest upon authority.

The answer which must be given to the question proposed, will differ according as the one or the other of these suppositions is admitted. In the former case an intellectual discipline of a high order is provided, an exercise not only of reason, but of the faculty of generalization. In the latter case there is no mental discipline whatever. It were perhaps the best security against the danger of an unreasoning reliance upon symbols, on the one hand, and a neglect of their just claims on the other, that each subject of applied mathematics should be treated in the spirit of the methods which were known at the time when the application was made, but in the best form which those methods have assumed. The order of attainment in the individual mind would thus bear some relation to the actual order of scientific discovery, and the more abstract methods of the higher analysis would be offered to such minds only, as were prepared to receive them.

The relation in which this Essay stands at once to Logic and [11] to Mathematics, may further justify some notice of the question which has lately been revived, as to the relative value of the two studies in a liberal education. One of the chief objections which have been urged against the study of Mathematics in general, is but another form of that which has been already considered with respect to the use of symbols in particular. And it need not here be further dwelt upon, than to notice, that if it avails anything, it applies with an equal force against the study of Logic. The canonical forms of the Aristotelian syllogism are really symbolical; only the symbols are less perfect of their kind than those of mathematics. If they are employed to test the validity of an argument, they as truly supersede the exercise of reason, as does a reference to a formula of analysis. Whether men do, in the present day, make this use of the Aristotelian canons, except as a special illustration of the rules of Logic, may be doubted; yet it cannot be questioned that when the authority of Aristotle was dominant in the schools of Europe, such applications were habitually made. And our argument only requires the admission, that the case is possible.


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