Whately, Richard (1787–1863)

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Richard Whately, the English logician, was a fellow of Oriel College and archbishop of Dublin. In 1860 Augustus De Morgan said of Whately that "to him is due the title of the restorer of logical study in England." Between 1826, the year Whately's Elements of Logic was published, and 1860, George Boole, De Morgan, and John Stuart Mill were writing. It is therefore natural to expect to find adumbrations of their work in Whately, but in his systematic and formal treatment of logic there are remarkably few. Mill did mention that Whately revived the discussion of connotative terms (called attributive by Whately). Whately's section on "the drift of propositions," which is original and perceptive, was ignored until the twentieth century. Yet this is all that was original, and it is to be found only in later editions.

This systematic section was based on Henry Aldrich's cram book, Artis Logicae Compendium, published in 1691 and still used at Oxford in Whately's day. The section was conservative. All propositions were considered to be subjectcopulapredicate in form. All arguments were held to be reducible to syllogisms and syllogisms to be based on the dictum de omni et nullo, for this is the dictum of the first figure, and the other figures reduce to the first. Modal and hypothetical propositions were squeezed into subjectcopulapredicate form. Disjunctives were reduced to hypotheticals and then treated as such.

Why, then, did De Morgan regard Whately as the "restorer of logical study in England"? The book was something of a best seller and the style, roughly Gilbert Ryle vintage 1826, is excellent. But this was not enough.

Whately's achievement was not so much in logic as in moral metalogic; he explained what logicians should have been doing. When he wrote, nearly 250 years after Francis Bacon, no British philosopher had made a convincing reply to the charges leveled against logic from the time of the Renaissance. The case was lost by default, and the status of logic sank so far that it ceased to be something a philosophical system must make room for, as geometry was, and became something that must accommodate itself to the convenience of the system. Therefore, logic had been continually rewritten to suit current philosophical speculation. The status of logic could not be restored until the subject matter was defined, the rewriting ended, and the charges against it answered.

Logic, said Whately, is "entirely conversant about language," and it is only as reasoning is expressed in language that logic can study it. He was not concerned with whether reasoning can be carried out some other wayby, say, "abstract ideas." This delimitation of the subject for investigation was neutral and did not necessitate subscribing to the nominalism Whately took over from Thomas Hobbes.

Once the subject was delimited, the charges against logic could be more effectively answered. Whately granted the common objection, voiced by John Locke, that man argued correctly before syllogism was heard of; nevertheless, putting arguments in logical form provides a test of validity. This test applies in all fields. There is no logic peculiar to science or religion. Induction is not a new method of reasoning, as Bacon claimed. Induction means, first, a form of argument; but inductions of this sort are syllogistic. Induction also means generalizing from instances. This is not the province of logic, and logic cannot guarantee the truth of premises so reached. While it is true that in syllogism the conclusion contains nothing that is not in the premises, this does not render it futile, as George Campbell and others had held. "It is peculiarly creditable to Adam Smith and Malthus, that the data from which they drew such important conclusions had been in everyone's hands for centuries" (Whately, Elements of Logic, Book IV, Ch. 2, Sec. 4).

By example as well as by argument Whately combated the view that "logic is the Art of bewildering the learned by frivolous subtleties." He illustrated points and drew exercises from discussions in science, sociology, and religion, and thus exhibited logic in use.

Whately's Elements of Rhetoric (London, 1828) dealt with the effectiveness of arguments, but it also contains interesting material on such subjects as plausibility and argument from analogy. Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte (London, 1819) is a witty and attractive reductio ad absurdum of David Hume's short way with miracles. Whately edited and annotated works of William Paley and Bacon, noting the naturalistic fallacy in Paley. He also wrote much on questions of the day relating to Ireland and on religion and economics.

See also Bacon, Francis; Boole, George; De Morgan, Augustus; Fallacies; Hobbes, Thomas; Hume, David; Induction; Logic, History of; Logic, Traditional; Malthus, Thomas Robert; Mill, John Stuart; Paley, William; Smith, Adam.


In addition to the works cited in the text, see E. J. Whately, Life and Correspondence of Richard Whately, D.D., 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, 1866).

Mary Prior (1967)