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The Laws of Thought

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

15. Fake Logics


1.     Poles of Duality


Concerning the principle, advocated by many, especially oriental, philosophers, that poles of duality (e.g. good-bad, light-dark, etc.) arise together – certain comments are worth making.

Oriental philosophers pursue a non-sorting mode of consciousness, the awareness prior to the making of distinctions; for this reason, dualities are obstacles in their eyes. Such Monist consciousness is, however, rarely if ever attained.

I would reply, ontologically: since we can conceive of Monism, then we can also conceive of a universe with only good or only light, etc.; i.e. a world with one polarity of such dualities is logically possible. Of course, this would only be strict Monism, if this quality was quite alone and no other quality was found in the world (i.e. not just not the other polarity of that quality). Of course, also, we – those now conceiving of that world – would not be distinguishable in it, since then there would be two things in it – viz. object and subject.

But note such solitude of existence could not apply to just any quality. Negative concepts like ‘imperfect’ cannot exist alone[1]; i.e. an only imperfect world is inconceivable, as some part of it must remain perfect to exist at all. However, this remark may rather concern the next observation.

From an epistemological and psychological (rather than ontological) viewpoint, there is some truth in the said oriental belief. That is, the idea of good or light is not possible without the idea of bad or dark. Imaging one pole necessitates our also bringing to mind the other pole for the purpose of contrast. This is due to the mechanics of concept formation: it functions by making distinctions as well as by identification of the things distinguished.

Because it is only by way of contrast to dissimilars that similars can be classified, every word, every concept, has to make some room for its opposite; we cannot comprehend a term without having to think of its opposite. Thus, one might suggest: although logically, X totally excludes nonX – psychologically, “X” may be said to be say 99% “X” and 1% “nonX”.

Another point worth making, here: contradictory terms, such as X and not-X, have equal logical status, i.e. their formal treatment is identical; however, phenomenologically, affirmation and denial are very different: the first signifies an actual experience (phenomenal, through the senses or mentally, or non-phenomenal, intuitively) – whereas the latter signifies a rational act, a conceptual report that some anticipated experience has not occurred. Strictly, perhaps, experiences should be verbalized affirmatively, while negations should be cast in negative terms. In practice, this is rarely followed.

A positive word like ‘silence’ or ‘stillness’ may indicate a negative event (no sound, no move). However, even in such cases, there may be an underlying positive event; in our examples, although silence refers to the non-perception of any sound phenomenon – we may by this term mean rather to refer to our will to block sounds, which volition is something positive, though without phenomenal character, known intuitively.

Similarly, I suspect, some negatively cast words may in fact refer to positive experiences, although there may be a good reason why the negative form is preferred. For example, ‘unabashed’ simply means without apology, but viewed more closely refers to certain behavior patterns; so, though negative in form, it is rather positive in intent. However, the negative form is not accidental, but serves to indicate the missing ingredient in the behavior patterns, which makes them socially questionable.


2.     On the Liar paradox[2]


Once we grasp that the meaning of words is their intention, singly and collectively – the solution of the liar paradox becomes very obvious. Self-reference is meaningless, because – an intention cannot intend itself, for it does not yet exist; an intention can only intend something that already exists, e.g. another intention directed at some third thing.

In view of this, the proposition “this proposition is false” is meaningless, and so is the proposition “this proposition is true”. Both may freely be declared equally true and false, or neither true nor false – it makes no difference in their case, because the words “this proposition” refer to nothing at all[3].

Although the words used in these sentences are separately meaningful, and the grammatical structure of the sentences is legitimate – the words’ collective lack of content implies their collective logical value to be nil. Self-reference is syntactically cogent, but semantically incoherent. It is like circular argument, up in the air, leading nowhere specific.

Regarding the exclusive proposition “Only this proposition is true”, it implies both: “This proposition is true” and “All other propositions are false” – i.e. it is equivalent to the exceptive proposition “All propositions but this one are false”. The latter is often claimed by some philosopher; e.g. by those who say “all is illusion (except this fact)”.

My point here is that such statements do not only involve the fallacy of self-reference (i.e. “this proposition”). Such statements additionally involve a reference to “all others” which is open to criticism, because:

  • To claim knowledge of “all other propositions” is a claim to omniscience, a pretense that one knows everything there is to know, or ever will be. And generally, such statements are made without giving a credible justification, though in contradiction to all prior findings of experience and reason.
  • Surely, some other propositions are in fact regarded and admitted as true by such philosophers. They are generally rather talkative, even verbose – they do not consistently only say that one statement and refuse to say anything else.
  • And of course, formally, if “this” is meaningless (as previously shown), then “all others”, which means “any other than this” is also meaningless!

The liar paradox, by the way, is attributed to the ancient Greeks, either Eubulides of Miletus (4th Cent. BCE) or the earlier Epimenides of Crete (6th Cent. BCE). I do not know if its resolution was evident to these early logicians, but a (European?) 14th Cent. CE anonymous text reportedly explained that the Liar’s statement is neither true nor false but simply meaningless. Thus, this explanation is historically much earlier than modern logic (Russell et alia, though these late logicians certainly clarified the matter).[4]


3.     Non-Aristotelian “Logic”


As already stated, many “modern logicians” – since the late 19th Century – have yearned to do for (or to) Logic, what Copernicus did in Astronomy, or later what Einstein did in Physics. Each one of them was, it seems, fired by the grandiose desire to be the equivalent great modern revolutionary in the field of logic.

They thus inaugurated a persistent assault on Reason, a veritable carnival of Unreason, which has lasted for over a hundred years, with disastrous consequences for many a poor mind and for social peace and wellbeing.

Their conceptual model was non-Euclidean geometry. Just as modern mathematicians came to consider certain Euclidean axioms to be debatable, if not arbitrary, so these modern logicians sought to put in doubt or discard the Aristotelian “laws of thought”, and found some new system – a “non-Aristotelian logic”.

But this is an impossible exercise, because[5] the laws of thought are more fundamental to reason than Euclid’s axioms (in particular, that regarding parallels). The geometrical model of axioms and theorems is only superficially applicable to logic, because it is itself an aspect or teaching of (Aristotelian) logic.

When mathematicians decided to review the traditional axioms of geometry, they were using reasoning by means of the laws of thought. They argued: “we see no self-contradiction, or doctrinal inconsistency, or even (eventually) contradiction to experience in proposing some alternative axioms and systems; therefore, Euclid’s assumptions are not exclusive and irreplaceable.”

The same cannot be argued in the case of logic itself, without self-contradiction. We cannot, say, point to the particle-wave duality and say “it seems that contradictions do exist in the world, therefore we shall review the logical axiom of non-contradiction” – we cannot do so, for the reason that such review is motivated and rendered credible precisely by the law of non-contradiction, in the way of an attempt to restore an apparently lost consistency.

The very method used of reviewing one’s premises in the face of contradiction and abandoning or at least modifying one or more of them to recover consistency – this very methodology is a teaching of Aristotelian logic! We cannot say: “I understand that if I advocate contradiction, I open myself to being contradicted; but that does not bother me, because it is a consistency of sorts – I accept self-contradiction.”

In the very act of making such a superficially reasonable proposal, we are reasserting the universality of the laws of thought, their being at the very root of reason, inherent in the very act of reasoning. The only way we could conceivably abandon these laws would be to give up all thought, all attempt at rational knowledge. Logic cannot be used against itself: it is the very paradigm and paragon of consistency.

We can suggest: “A can be non-A”, or some such “new axiom” for logic, but the resulting discourse will still be nonsense – however nicely wrapped up and ordered, however well “systematized” stealing the methods of Aristotelian logic. Such proposals are an imposture.

Those who propose such ideas are swindlers, profiting from the gullibility and intimidation of many people. It is like in the story of the emperor’s new clothes, in which con men sold the emperor invisible clothes, which no one dared to deny were clothes – till a child pointed out he was naked.

There simply is no such thing as “non-Aristotelian logic” (i.e. a logical system that denies one, two or all three laws of thought). To come forward with such a system is merely to pronounce words. These words have no collective content, no meaning; there is nothing behind them other than the imagination that there might be something behind them because the phrase is composed of individually meaningful words.

No “Copernican revolution” is conceivable in the field of logic: it would not merely be anti-Aristotelian but anti-rational. Logicians must abandon such vain ambitions, and more modestly continue to expand the scope of logical analysis and the depth of understanding of logic. The role of logicians is to do logic, not undo it. Reason is a precious value for mankind, and logicians ought to be its guardian.

Would you entrust your life to, say, an airplane built by engineers practicing “non-Aristotelian logic”, people who feel cozy in the midst of contradictions and in between truth and falsehood? Similarly, in all fields of human endeavor and interaction: logic is a guarantee of sanity and safety.


4.     Postmodern “Logic”


As if such irrational currents were not enough, there is (I gather) a new generation of “postmodern” logicians and philosophers who eschew even the pretense of accountability, considering that any discourse that seems to be about “logic” is acceptable. These are of course part of a wider trend, not limited to our field.

Being relativists, these people are not directly attacking anything or anyone. They are not mere anti-rationalists: they are so indifferent to the niceties of reason that they feel no need to justify themselves. They are of course the natural offspring of the moderns, taking their teachings to their ‘logical’ conclusion. They are more consistently illogical than their predecessors, no longer owing a semblance of allegiance to reason, not needing even to pay lip service to it. Absurdity does not bother them, so they need no logical window dressing for their doctrines.

Indeed, these people take pride in their fashionable madness. They strive to be as confusing and incomprehensible as possible, considering that what others cannot possibly understand must be very deep indeed. They have only a very vague notion of what logic is about, but seek to impress other people with meaningless symbolic constructs and use of fancy pseudo-scientific terminology. They prattle away, eruditely formulating fake theories immune to any empirical or rational review. They function as (con) artists rather than scientists.

Yes, such people do exist; some even have teaching positions in prestigious universities. Because most people – including some in high academic positions, including some who are hired to teach logic – know or understand little about logic, they are easily intimidated by such intellectual posturing and imposture. They fear to reveal their own poverty in the course of questioning or debate.

Besides, it is no use denouncing the swindle; no one apparently cares, because few people realize the importance of logic (apart from some simple formulas needed in computer programming). Reason is out of fashion, has been for generations. Logic is too abstract; you cannot show artistic footage of it on TV. It cannot be very entertaining: it requires an effort of thought.


Drawn from Ruminations (2005), Chapters 3 (sect. 5), 5 (sect. 1) and 6 (sect. 3 & 4).



[1]           As Alan Watts pointed out, somewhere.

[2]           Further to chapter 5, section 2 (above).

[3]           See Future Logic, chapter 32.2.

[4]           See Future Logic, chapter 63, sections 3 and 6.

[5]           As I have explained repeatedly in Future Logic.

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