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Logical and Spiritual REFLECTIONS

Book 3. In Defense of Aristotle’s Laws of Thought

Chapter 1. Logicians have to introspect

The task of logicians may be described as an attempt to understand whether, how and to what extent alleged knowledge can be related to something we label ‘reality’. This effort is called ‘logic’, especially when focused on the forms of discourse. Ranging more broadly, in association with ‘phenomenology’ (the study of appearances as such), it becomes ‘epistemology’ (the theory of knowledge) and/or ‘ontology’ (the theory of being).

Logic is first a descriptive science, a detailed observation of how we think and acquire our knowledge (or, more cautiously put, our opinion). Secondly, logic is a prescriptive discipline – having carefully observed how we think, we become able to judge our thought processes more lucidly and decide which are credible and which are not. Thirdly, these descriptive and prescriptive findings have to be collected and systematized.[1]

The first issue to be clarified is what we mean by ‘thought’. Thought is not, as some believe, a “stream of consciousness”. It is, rather, a stream of contents of consciousness. ‘Consciousness’ is what relates us to objects when we cognize them. Consciousness as such is always the same, whatever it relates to. It is the ‘contents’ of consciousness that change over time. These are whatever appears before us of which we are aware to any degree. This includes apparently external “sensory” perceptions, the apparently internal perceptions of our “mind’s eye and ear”, our intuitions of self and its functions – and conceptual products of all these.

In a more psychological perspective, thought consists of nonverbal intentions and rational acts, verbal ideas and discourses, reminiscences, anticipations, fantasies, plans, calculations, judgments, decisions, explanations, accusations, justifications, and so on. These may be qualified as useful or idle; positive, negative or neutral (i.e. for or against something or someone, or neither way inclined); pleasant, unpleasant or without emotional charge; and so forth.

Man tends to reflect on his experience, to varying degrees. We are rarely content with passively observing experienced particulars, but usually actively seek out generalities regarding them. Why? Because thinking in terms of generalities seems cognitively more economical and efficient. Thoughts may, of course, be focused on particulars as well as on generalities.

Most thought is particular, in the sense that it is concerned with specific individuals. Such thoughts are about me, you, or some other person(s), or about some other individual object(s) under discussion. Some thought is, however, discourse in pursuit of principles. The latter thoughts are composed of statements applicable to all things of a kind, and/or statements denying such generality. They may include propositions about individuals, but only incidentally, insofar as these provide adductive basis (i.e. evidence) for principles, or illustrative examples.

All general thoughts are inductively based on, and deductively imply, some particular thoughts. Most particular thoughts involve some general thoughts (for instance, a singular syllogism needs a general premise to yield a valid conclusion), and they usually occasion some general thoughts. As well, thoughts about an individual may involve generalization and particularization, e.g. regarding that individual’s appearances or behavior patterns. Note also, the negation of a particular is a generality.

The most elementary acts of thought may be called ratiocinations. This refers to primary rational acts like affirming and denying, comparing and contrasting, equating and differentiating, isolating and assembling, conjoining and separating, estimating relative measures or degrees, and so forth. The more complex thoughts and thought-processes that we study in formal logic – such as predicative and other propositions; syllogism and other deductive inferences; generalization, adduction and other inductive arguments – are built up of numerous such ratiocinations. The latter might be called cogitations, to distinguish them.

Thoughts may be thought without or before the use of words (i.e. meaningful symbols of any sort).

Thought is quite often (more often than people are aware of) non-verbal, or more precisely put – pre-verbal. In such unspoken thought, ideas are expressed by mere intentions (which are acts of will by the Subject). Moreover, verbal thought is rarely exclusively verbal; there is usually in the background of it some visual and/or auditory projection going on (directly from memory or after manipulation by imagination), and also some related emotional and sensory phenomena, all of which are part of the overall thought.

We might call verbal thought discourse, because once we put a thought in words it acquires a stringy character[2]. Often, a thought is completed well before it is verbalized; it is finally put in words only to render it more publicly accessible. However, very often verbalization is necessary for successful thought; words in such cases render thought more controlled, efficient and precise. But it is also true that, if excessively indulged, words may weigh down, obscure and confuse thinking.

When discourse is aimed at the discovery of principles, it may be called intellection (or intellectual thought)[3]. The latter term refers ideally to reasoned philosophical and scientific inquiries; but it can also be applied to pseudo-rational discourse, like astrology or alchemy, insofar as such discourse serves the purpose of understanding life or the world through generalities for the people concerned. That is to say: intellection is not necessarily correct; a political or ethical theory is intellectual, but may be far from true.

However it is manifested, discursive thought may be rational or irrational, according as it relies on and appeals to logic or goes deliberately against it. The nature of logic[4] is of course not immediately apparent to logical thinkers, but must be discovered and studied. Nevertheless, we can reflect ex post facto on this distinction.

A thought, or a part or an aspect of a thought, that asserts anything, i.e. that makes a claim that something is to some degree true or false, or good or bad, or beautiful or ugly, may be characterized as a judgment. Some thoughts, or parts or aspects of thoughts, are not judgmental in this sense. All ratiocinations, and all the more so all cogitations, are judgmental in some way.

Gradually, we come to realize that the logical enterprise always involves certain fundamental judgments called the three “laws of thought” and the related “principle of induction”. The term ‘judgment’ is always meant to suggest a ‘value judgment’ of sorts. But of course in that context it does not have the same meaning as in ethics or aesthetics. It relates to the values of ‘truth or falsehood’, not (at least, not directly) to those of ‘good or bad’ or of ‘beautiful or ugly’. Such factual value judgments have been called ‘alethic’[5].

The logician, then, has two tasks, both of which constitute a broad-ranging, endlessly ongoing, open-ended enterprise:

· One is essentially observational – to observe actual thought processes (one’s own and other people’s), and discern the rational acts they involve and then the forms they take[6].

· The other is more conceptual – to logically evaluate the cognitive efficacy of such thoughts, i.e. to determine how fit they are for knowledge of reality, by placing them within a larger context, i.e. in a coherent system of phenomenology, epistemology and ontology.

This is a very important point, which I wish to stress here: budding logicians must learn to make a major effort of introspection, literally ‘looking inward’. Logic is not a merely analytical discipline – it is mainly synthetic, a product of observation of one’s own actual thinking. Other people’s thoughts, as expressed in their oral and written discourse, and as suggested by their behavior in action, are also important sources of logical information, of course.

To be an effective logician one must first, then, learn ‘meditation’, i.e. patient, attentive, precise, present observation of one’s actual thought processes. Thereafter, of course, one should observe other people’s ways of thinking. One benefit of this habit is to become more ‘self-conscious’, in the sense of able to reflexively turn one’s scrutiny on one’s own discourse and consider whether or not it fits in with one’s own theories about discourse.

All too often, logicians (and more generally philosophers) fail to exercise critical judgment on their own ideas. They are so eager to give their opinion (and become important), and at the same time so afraid to notice their own errors (and so lose self-importance), that they compulsively avoid reflexive thought. In this way, by the way, they lose important opportunities for selflessly advancing their chosen field.

Many logicians have energetically engaged in the task of conceptualization without beforehand devoting sufficient time to the task of observation. For this reason, they have developed systems of logic that have little to do with human thought. Notably: systems that are wholly deductive, and completely ignore the largely inductive nature of human thought. Or again: symbolic systems based on a minimum of simple forms, which completely disregard the immense richness of human forms of thought. This sort of ‘logical systems’ I would prefer to characterize as pseudo-intellectual games or vanity showcases.

Many logicians[7] have developed their systems on the basis of very rough observations, made incidentally in the past – observations of limited scope, made relatively unconsciously. Consequently, their ideas have tended to be grossly speculative – and they have often erred, setting artificial limits to thought or drawing overly skeptical conclusions. Such logic becomes an exercise in the blind leading the blind.

A very common failure has been omitting to test their theories on themselves – i.e. not taking into consideration the question as to how those theories arose within their minds and how such perceived genesis might affect the theories’ evaluation. They rush into the relatively easy task of theory construction without first collecting sufficient data and without thereafter reflexively verifying their theories.

Their inductive methods are poor. Their observations are vague and insufficient. They generalize too early and too far, and fail to particularize when they later come across new, conflicting data. They theorize without adequate checks and balances, and fail to harmonize all conflicting theses.

In view of such unprofessional behavior by many past and present logicians, it is clear that would-be logicians should learn meditation from early on, so as to acquire the required consciousness and mastery of their own thought processes. As one progresses in such meditation, and of course in knowledge and understanding of logic theory, one gets to the level where one is always very aware of the thought processes involved in any discourse (one’s own and other people’s).

[1] The term logic with a small ‘l’ may colloquially be applied to any sort of discourse, be it ‘logical’ or ‘illogical’, i.e. valid or invalid logic. When we wish to refer to the science of logic, i.e. to rigorous modes of thought, we may write Logic with a capital ‘L’. However, to always use a capital becomes tedious for writers and readers, so we usually revert to use of the word logic even when we mean Logic. Context should make clear what our intent is.

[2] Though, by analogy, we sometimes speak of an underlying or implicit discourse, i.e. of unstated implications of explicit discourse and other perceptible acts. The ‘string’ here referred to may be series of sights and sounds in one’s head, a series of symbolic gestures or a series of signs on paper or some other medium.

[3] Intellection is contrasted to non-intellectual discourse, such as speaking about your lunch or your relations with your next-door neighbors. The dividing line is not always obvious, of course.

[4] ‘Logic’ being here understood in its absolute sense, rather than with reference to some individual or cultural inclinations and patterns of thought.

[5] The term ‘alethic’ is here used, note well, with the essential connotation of neutral fact (as against, e.g. ethical or aesthetic truths). With this distinction in mind, the foundation of logic could be characterized as an ‘axiology’. The latter term (coined early in the 20th century) is used mainly with regard to ethical judgments, but can equally well be applied to study of the laws of thought in general. Another term for this study is ‘metalogic’.

[6] To observe the forms thoughts take implies to abstract the ‘forms’ from the ‘contents’ of numerous thoughts. For example, ‘All X are Y’ is a form, while ‘All living things have genes’ is a content.

[7] I am willing to count here some major figures; some examples are mentioned elsewhere in the present volume and other works.

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