New Book – Provisional Title “The Apprehension of Reality”

Preface (1) – The Apprehension of Reality

Understanding the world is a complex task. One must examine the philosophical underpinnings of knowledge, as well as what the meta-philosophical abstractions sublate. The fact of our reliance on our apprehension of reality, and how they bias our way of looking at the world, has dire implications for peace, and the threat to future habitation of our planet.

Our way of looking at the world is determined by this bias. Bias can manifest itself in many forms. One may see, for example, through the lens of individualism, where the world becomes little more than an objectivised plaything. People might see the world as a concrete jungle, where all must compete. Others might see it as a place where, through cooperative labor, the community can thrive. Or one may make judgements about others simply based on physical characteristics.

All people have biases. It can be argued that these biases are innate, where the mind categorizes the world to make sense of it. Yet many of these biases can and do go awry. Some of these biases include the isms: racism, classism, sexism, speciesism (among others). Certain biases are fundamental in our beliefs, and distort our way of understanding the world. These biases are of other “objectivised” groups that can result in misunderstandings: animosity, hatred, antagonism, condescension, dogmatism. Yet sometimes it can seem like biases add a sort of equilibrium and permanence to the world, which is in a constant state of flux or even chaos.

When evaluating the peccadillos of human behavior, it can be found that many attitudes about others, and their concomitant self-justifications, are not justifications at all when looked at objectively. Humans find their attitudes in a constant state of flux. That which is considered true immutably, later on may be thought to be flawed and changeable. One’s dogma, that which one takes for granted, often later on changes to be a discarded and eschewed belief.

Life seems to be in a state of flux. Not only are our belief systems pliable, but the world around us is always changing. We are moving from birth to death, from pliancy to resistance, and then atrophy. Nothing seems constant, except the dogmas that we accept at a certain point in time, which eventually are discarded too for other more comforting, contemporary and convenient ones.

We reassure ourselves that we are conscious and aware beings, capable of making informed choices and holding coherent opinion, yet find our beliefs contrary to what so many others believe. Religion seems to form a sort of foundation in life that one can stand firmly on and feel secure. Yet religions often find themselves in conflict, and religions too are in constant flux, meaning one thing, then another in a later age, then perhaps to be supplanted by another belief system never seen before.

One might get the idea that the author’s intent is to find a firm foundation, or to present a case for a firm foundation to the reader. Unfortunately this is not the case. To try to show or prove such a foundation one would find themselves locked into some new dogma which too would eventually be swept away.

Little can be known to be certain. As Socrates once said something to the effect that “To know not, and know not one knows not, this is wisdom. To know not and know not one knows not is ignorance”. It seems a meagre sort of knowledge to only know that one does not know.

Yet with this pearl one can bring to thought a form of skepticism that can serve one well throughout ones life. That being said, must one assume there is no foundation for our beliefs, and are people therefore consigned to a form of nihilism? We must hope not. Being skeptical implies that there is something to be skeptical about. With skepticism one can look at the so-called truths of the world and decide whether they are worthy of merit, and if not what would or could be a viable alternative.

The job set out here is not easy. When examining the history of philosophy, one soon can find many seemingly plausible arguments, that upon examination by another can be shown to be absurd. The history of philosophy is a sort of historical argument, engaged in dialectic, which subsequently results in different and unique knowledge. So can one arrive at the truth if this attempt is made successfully?

As we ordinarily understand truth, it seems that when all’s said and done one should arrive at the solution, like a solution to a difficult math problem. One interesting things about the dialogues of Plato is that sometimes it is unclear if a resolution to a problem is ever reached through the Socratic dialectic. What once seem true, becomes apparently false, and we then rest assured that the new truth is reliable. Yet later we find that this new truth collapses before even another argument.

One of the main contributions of philosophy then is not simply to solve problems, but to provide tools for analysis, often dissecting arguments, and perhaps generalizing what is left to make new truths. Can truth be found? Perhaps – but a dogged pursuit of the truth using only adequate tools makes drawing conclusions difficult. Perhaps immutable truths may not be arrived at, but new insights may be gained, including any new questions that may arise from the new propositions.

Truth is not finite so one cannot hope to ever arrive at the ultimate truth.

(continued)

 

 

 

Preface (2) – The Apprehension of Reality

One person’s truth seems to be another person’s lie. People can be so contrarian in what they believe. Who can judge the truth? Does only God know the truth? Individuals seem unreliable when making suppositions about truth.

In order to know the truth and speak the truth, people must be autonomous beings. Without freedom a person can not make what seeming is the right choice. To be “truthful” is a very human endeavor. The question continually comes up about whose truth has merit, which truth is reliable. The problem with an assumption of truth is even more complex than people might think.

In order to hold a truth people must think freely. People often assume that they think freely and are fully conscious beings. Unfortunately studies show that people can act upon impulses not associated with conscious thought1 . There seems to be a discongruity between those behaviors that are innate, and those that are freely chosen. It seems even more so that one can be blind to this difference.

It is critical to know what constitutes our instincts, and what comprises our free will. If not, how is one to know when they think in an objective manner? If one does not think freely, then they cannot claim to live a completely autonomous life. Without these attributes of  reliably free cognitions, one might cease to be fully human, and must be no longer inerrantly an ethical beings. To be an ethical being one must be able to choose what the right choices are. Without autonomy, one may not be immoral, but one must be “amoral”.

A more practical reason why one would want the human specie to act freely, is that one can have a well ordered society, based on good principles of behavior. Without autonomy one cannot have this. On a larger scale, not only must autonomy be beneficial for the individual, but it is necessary for a well ordered society, and hopefully someday a world at peace.

It is clear that peace must be a goal of all peoples, even with the great distrust that exists between peoples. While in a more enlightened age, one country might not covet the resources of another, but rather share them, an autonomous being could (if they so chose) make such a thing reality. While this might be dismissed as claptrap, it is important to remember the fate of rulers in the past who have ignored the “other” after which the ground shook from unrest.

Identifying one’s dogmas are vitally important for social cohesion. From evolutionary theory, one knows that when traits that are passed on, they can survive into successive generations. This innate nature of Homo Sapiens, and all life, may be biased to enhance one’s survival, even to the detriment of others. This orientation may have worked well in agrarian societies, but in our large urban centers our instincts can often get us into trouble. One only needs to look at the prison statistics in the USA for example.

While it may be a tall, and perhaps an even impossible order, one must endeavor to understand one’s innate nature that hovers right behind their consciousness. In order to identify one’s dogma, one must be critically aware, not only of themselves, but how one understands the world. For the way one views the world (i.e., Weltanschauung) can tell us how individuals understand themselves.

In order to change the way one looks at the world then, one must look intimately at the way the individual looks at themselves. Most people are confident they are “good people”, that is they are morally upright, and act according to principle; although one may be marginally conscious, if at all, of how self-serving this principle could be when based on an innate need.

How can one remedy this situation in which people find themselves? If there is no immutable truth, then how can one decide if one is right or wrong? Unfortunately different people attach different meanings to truth. For example, it might be true that the Democratic Party goals are more aligned with the working people. It might be true that the Republican goals ultimately enable others in society to thrive if they so choose. It may be true that the Socialist believes that all wealth should be more equitably distributed, for a more stable society. Or it might be true that the Libertarian values liberty over all others.

How is one to decide what is the most desirable of all goals? How is one to decide what belief system one adheres to for a firm foundation and growth? In order for people to find what is wrong about the world, people must know first what is wrong with their own way of understanding this world. People often have different views, and may even change radically their views over a lifetime. Understanding is necessary to examine these dogmas.

In order to examine dogmas one must suspend one’s beliefs. If one is interested in stamp collecting, and they are reading this, this person will likely move on. Or if one wants to understand the Hubble Constant, one will not look here, but will look into the discipline of Astronomy or Cosmology. Yet, when one considers; the stamp collector and the astronomer both have a stake in what is said here. The stamp collector might dismiss this missive because it has nothing to do with commerce. The astronomer might dismiss it because it has nothing to do with science. The stamp collector and the astronomer can both benefit from this appeal, being subject to the human condition. Dogma enters all lives. Bias manifests based in class, status, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, species and so many other innumerable ways that touch all.

It is through this understanding, through our perception, that the world can prevail as it is. Some think of the human race as sheep, choosing whatever path the leaders choose. The call to arms, the making of treaties, the resumption of ties, all happen while one lives their lives, make their decisions – whether good or bad – and after, if one is so fortunate, take themselves safely to their graves.

The goal of this book then is to pierce beneath the facade, to ennoble those among us that can search for the truth. This is for those who will take up the mantle of Socrates and more. For whether one finds the truth or not, nor is even able to do so, that is better than not knowing the truth, but being deluded. If there is no truth to be known, how can one know this if one is not willing to search for it?

Introduction (1) The Apprehension of Reality

It seems as if there is no firm basis for what anyone believes. People’s opinions vary depending on who one talks to. Perhaps one can accept this difference of opinion, asserting that someone else’s opinion is simply incorrect. One might say this is because, for example, their views are tainted by bias, or that it is simply because of the crowd they run with. Making these claims about others, one must believe that there is a certain truth that others are missing, ‘that if only they were more educated, or more open minded.’ In objecting to the others opinion, one might feel sympathy for their erroneous beliefs, perhaps bewilderment, or even anger.

While such differences of opinion may, at times, seem innocuous, such differences may turn out to have dire consequences. Wars can be fought not only over resources such as oil and gas, but also ideas. Ideas can often serve as the rationale for wars. Differences in ideology can turn into animosity, and animosity can turn into conflict, and conflict can turn into hatred.

Someones opinion may seem certain in their own eyes, but in fact these beliefs, while valid, could be based on false premises. Also one’s beliefs could be the result of the persuasion of some orator who practiced some sleight of speech using the logical fallacies such as the Bandwagon Fallacy, the Ad Hominem Attack, or even the Poisoning the Well fallacy. The demagogue may also use such rhetorical devices such as the enthymeme 1

Truth is most often thought of as a shining ideal. Perhaps there are some truths shown with opinions, but oftentimes these truths seem unreliable. Are opinions the only types of truths? It seems not. It seems most often one’s opinions are considered to be a truth by at least the one asserting these opinions.  How many ways are there to talk about truth?  In fact there are many different types of truth.

There is the type of truth where there is a correspondence between what is asserted and the things it refers to.  Other types of truths include a coherence theory of truth, where beliefs seem to hold together by virtue of their composition. Also there is the pragmatic theory of truth where if things work there is truth (i.e., a machine if functioning properly works).

The correspondence theory of truth is the most common type of truth easily accepted, understood and used in the world. When looking for a correspondence, one identifies what they believe is true corresponds with something else. If I say that I see a blue beach ball at the beach, and there is in fact a blue beach ball within view, and it is the one I see, then my statement is true. This sort of truth can be applied to opinions, facts, laws of science, and as well as all objects of perception. All of these truths can be observed. We can observe that the Democratic or Republican party is right, or that the sky is blue, or that some element has a certain atomic weight. We know all of these things through experience.

When talking about using sense perception, we are referring to what can be observed. When we speak of observation we most often think of seeing with the eyes, but to observe something can arguably contain hearing sounds as well as including the other senses. Most often observation comes together with most or all the senses engaged at once. When using the senses for understanding of the world, one acquires empirical knowledge, that is making judgments about that which is observable based on sensory experience.

When we look at an object we see that object in a certain way. If we look at it today, tomorrow or the next day it always appear the same. If it is blue it always appears blue, if it is coarse to the touch then it always feels that way. There is a certain constancy and therefore permanence in that which we perceive. We feel assured that things are as they are, and they will under ordinary circumstances, be the same tomorrow.

This sort of idea of constancy and resilience permeates our contact with the world. As the sun rose yesterday, it will rise today, and likewise will rise tomorrow. The decay of fall and the coldness of winter, the rebirth of spring and the gloriousness of summer, present themselves in reliable cycles. As we are born, mature, reproduce and die, this is the life and legacy of being human.

These things that are seemingly permanent give comfort to us and provide a sense of security. This reliability of existence allows us to be at ease, to revel on holidays, celebrate with friends successes, but also to find sorrow at another’s passing, knowing that you have yet survived. The unknown is what disturbs us most. The unknown is the stuff of stories of horror contained in movies and novels of ghosts and vampires, werewolves and demons. While one may enjoy the diversion of such a story, which releases us temporarily from the cares of the world, when the stories are over, we are happy to return to our adjusted lives.

 

 

Introduction (2) The Apprehension of Reality

Living this life, with all its foibles and pitfalls, results in a greater understanding of ones’ self and the world. When we are a new born babe, any event surprises us, because without experience we know not what to expect. With experience we know what to expect whether it be another days toil, or a holiday, or even a sedentary moment.

While even as one ages, one finds that one can take nothing as certain. There is that one day where the check did not arrive on time, or a day where ones love did not arrive. Experience is a great teacher and individuals and society as well benefits greatly by knowing what to expect. Knowledge depends on the understanding, and one can only acquire understanding through experience. Most feel confident that experience is what can be relied on, and it is that experience that has enabled the human species to survive.

Although it is possible of course, for example, for a species to be an excellent predator and because of this has been able to thrive, but later finds itself without food because of the extinction of the species it feeds on. Nowadays the world has excelled in the production of increasingly destructive weapons, and have been able to exterminate those less well armed. But now the nations that have triumphed face each other in hardened befuddlement. What are we to do now their leaders might wonder? One possible outcome, hopefully, is an age of cooperation.

While we know experience is vital for species survival, being the nurture in the nature/nurture distinction, the role of nature is less clear. Like a driving force which leads one to act beyond or without ones understanding, this force evades consciousness, and therefore, like bias itself, is beyond comprehension. Socrates claimed that the only knowledge one can have is the knowledge that we don’t know. One cannot really know for certain the true motives for ones actions. It might be thought by an individual that they acted out of love, or perhaps justice, but actually acted primally as our genetic ancestry dictates. The scope of consciousness must be necessarily unknown, because our genetic inspired drives do not rise to consciousness. How much is a true self-conscious motive is forever a mystery.

If we cannot know the extent of our conscious motives, we cannot really feel secure in these motives determining behavior at all. This is not to claim that the two, nature and nurture, cannot act hand in hand in the quest to survive. The relationship between these two is a very contemporary enterprise examined largely by science and philosophy and is especially poignant in the writings of Sigmund Freud.

While it seems to be true that our consciousness is limited to some degree, this does not rule out the usefulness of the human intellect. Certainly great skyscrapers, elaborate mathematical theories, and human cunning, is unrivaled in the animal kingdom, points to a conscious determinate existence. When looking more closely at Socrates’ dictum it becomes clear that his is a call to skepticism, a call to avoid dogma. We are indeed thinking beings with the ability to scrutinize and hypothesize as shown by Descartes’ Cogito “I think therefore I am.” One can find a sense of comfort with this assertion. It seems we must live meaningful and robust lives. For if we are able to think, we must exist, and be a thinking thing at that, a free independent consciousness.

When one scrutinizes the nature/nurture distinction, only one can be confused about what is reliable, what can be known, but when looking at assurances that at least to some degree one is a truly free thinker all trepidation recedes. Many would find it depressing if this great mind which humans possess only served ancestral animal instincts. We are then, at least to some degree thinking free beings, but the question may arise, as Rodney King after being beaten by the police, most famously stated during the subsequent rioting in Los Angeles, California in 1992,  “Can we all get along?”.

 

 

An Aside – The Apprehension of Reality

Like every day in this life the sun rises and sets. We behold a shimmering of light in the morning, followed by greater brightness, and then finally the sun skirting the horizon at dusk. Across the nations, the beginning of day heralds those rising from slumber, to do ones duty for ones employer; or for the employers themselves, and their bosses, to map strategies to expand their influence and to prevail over others like minded.

In this process of facing the day, one confronts certain realities, and different fears. Whether from want or plenty, all find the chill of the cold, or feel their perspiration from the heat. As the air is inhaled and CO2 exhaled, the respiration necessary for life enables our existence in the kingdom of life, as we, the most dominant species, prosper and flourish. Socially our cities stand as a testament to the species prowess, as individuals the palpitations of ones heart yearns in desire for satisfaction in bonding with a loved one.

Age speaks to the circle of life. As one ages, another generation is born to lead on where the former may have hesitated or failed. In the present, parties are celebrated; anniversaries are marked by happy couples who have overcome adversity, helping each other survive, healthy and happy, till death when they part.

This circle of life continues with or without us. We are only conscious of it for what seems to be a brief moment, only to be cast aside by seeming cruel indifference. We pay homage to the Lord and God who gave us breath, who gave us birth, stayed with us and presides over our death. It is a short existence, but can seem very long too if one learns to appreciate the moment. As one moves on and on in the ever quickening circle of life, infancy gives way to prodigiousness, prodigiousness to wisdom, and hopefully with apt mentoring, a better life for those to come.

Life seems real, ever so real. We feel pain and pleasure, often because of the action or reaction of ourselves towards others. Some assert karmic forces in determining our immediate condition, which affects our life, and as some cultures follow, future lives to come. With reincarnation, to be thrown here as a babe, seems an unjust reward for living ones life in some different time or place, especially when a justification cannot presently be found. When one ponders ones existence, one may find no justifications may in fact exist, but that things just are, and are so beyond all comprehension.

With fits and starts one moves on to the next challenge ever striving to overcome and to be better for it. This life seems painfully real and this stark being reminds of our beginnings and heralds our end. But at the core, worn away, a kernel appears, a diamond or a pearl that is shown, that presents a life well learned, and accomplishments earned; or perhaps finds nothing, a life that vanishes never to be remembered again.

Glory in the days of plenty, even if they are few, and rejoice in the life of wonder, however it comes, so that one can strive for a better life, a happier time and a greater ideal.

What are the paths of Yoga?

Yoga mean “to yoke,” especially with God. There are many paths to yoga, and the path one chooses depends on one’s personal inclinations and attitudes. The way one approaches God is very different among different people. When being yoked to God, it is not that God has changed when one apprehends God, but rather ones way of understanding God is different.

What is Yoga?

When one thinks of yoga oftentimes one thinks of people on floor mats stretching every which way. This yoga is called Hatha Yoga. But in traditional Indian thought Hatha Yoga is simply used as preparation for the other yogas. Hatha Yoga is the most popular practice in the West and other yogic practices are little known. But there is much more to Yoga than simply Hatha Yoga. Yoga originated in India and literally means to yoke. One yokes their souls to God. But there are many different paths to God.

Yoga’s Four Paths

One may think that all one has to do is choose a path to God, but usually the path chooses the devotee. For example there are those who God is most naturally known through the heart (e.g., Bhakti Yoga). There are others whose abilities accent the use of thought to know God (e.g., Jnana Yoga). There are those interested in mystical experiences doing psychophysical exercises (i.e., mediation) to achieve God Consciousness (e.g., Raja Yoga). Finally one may be more inclined to dedicate the fruits of ones labor to God, and rather practice work without selfishness, out of devotion to God (e.g., Karma Yoga). In fact all of these practices aim at God consciousness.

Hindu Ways To Find God

There is no right way to achieve union with God. It simply depends on one’s spiritual inclinations. Also no way is superior to the other. It is rather like deciding to travel to a foreign country and being undecided whether one is going to fly, drive, go by submarine, or walk. The destination is the same, but the way one gets there is different.

People most often think of yoga as being strictly a Hindu practice, but in fact yoga refers to the way people approach God. For example a religion that would be considered by Hindus to be a Bhakti Yoga would be Christianity or Islam. This is because in these religions one worships God. Jnana Yoga on the other hand could be the philosophical musings of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Indian Ways of Knowing God

According to the Indian school of thought, one is not limited to simply one path to God. If one is so inclined they can strive to be united with God by choosing all of the paths listed. This would take an exceptional person, but it can be done, and one could live the life of an enlightenedsiddhi.

One interesting distinction that is made in Indian thought is that it is ultimately monistic; that is everything is One. This then would be considered an impersonal relationship with God. One cannot cultivate a relationship with something that is fundamentally oneself. It is said in Indian thought That Thou Art On the other hand Bhakti Yogists worship God. One can only worship something that is beyond you. This then would be a personal relationship with God. This defines the difference between a personal and impersonal relationship with God.

Understanding the Different Yogas

Described previously is the difference between having a personal relationship with God (Bhakti Yoga) and having an impersonal one (Jnana Yoga). How can God be both? How can God be both out there and then also constituting ones very marrow? Ultimately according to Indian thought the most complete understanding of God is monistic (e.g., everything is one), but having a relationship with God is possible as well (e.g., dualistic). It is not that God is different to each individual, but rather the way one comes to know God is different.

Indian religion is often thought to be polytheistic, but what many don’t recognize is that the many Gods in Indian thought are simply different manifestations of the one and eternal God. Similarly, one can come to know a manifested God in a personal way or an impersonal way. In the same way someone understands God as being personal or impersonal, God is understood by the individual depending on ones’ nature which determines how they relate to God, not residing in God itself as it manifests in ones lives. Just as God is infinite the ways of knowing God are infinite as well.

Sources:

Honderich, Ted Ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Smith, Huston. The Worlds Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. Harper Collins Publishers: New York, 1991.

Vivekananda, Swami. Hinduism. Sri Ramakrishna Math Printing Press: India, (n.d.),

What is Epistemology?

Epistemology is synonymous with theories of knowledge. For a claim to be true the claim must have a foundation. Yet finding a firm foundation can be difficult. Epistemology is subdivided into rationalism andempiricism which are considered ways of acquiring knowledge. Yet these two concepts have limitations. Truth is essential for one to have knowledge; how can one know something if what they think is true is in fact false?

Problems with Foundationalism and Anti-Foundationalism

Epistemology must be grounded on a firm foundation for otherwise how can ones claims to knowledge be supported? Arguments without foundations rely on circular reasoning or an infinite regress. When an claim is based on circular reasoning, the argument itself is supported based on a previous claim, but at the same time the claim provides support for itself farther around the circular chain.

Infinite regress is different. How can something provide support for something else if the claim that provides support is not founded by itself or something prior? If all claims must be supported, then each prior claim needs support as well. If the argument is not well founded then it relies on the previous claim, and so on, and so on, therefore one ends up in a infinite regress. There is no foundation.

Anti-Foundationalism argues to the contrary; some people claim truth is relative. To some it is not important if values differ. This can thrust one into a moral quandary. For example it is considered for certain areas in Asia and Africa that female genital mutilation is acceptable morally, but people in the West would reject this.

Problems With Rationalism and Empiricism

According to epistemology there are two ways to acquire knowledge. First is rationalism in which one possess’ rational principles independent of experience. These rational principles exist in the mind, which is immortal and immutable. That is because something which does not exist in space and time cannot be destroyed. Therefore rational principles exist independently of ones physical bodies, since ones body is spatial and temporal and therefore subject to destruction.

Descartes talks about the relationship, or lack thereof, between mind and body, how the two can interface if they are so dissimilar, and he is unable to give a satisfactory explanation of how a mind and body can interact.

There are problems with empiricism too. One is called the Veil of Perception, introduced by John Locke’s representationalism. How does one perceive anything? Does one see the thing in itself? To think this would be called naive realism. If one does see things as they are, then how does one see them? Does the matter itself fall into one’s eyes? One may counter that what one sees is reflected light. Believing what one sees is a representation of what is being viewed, is called representation realism. And if what one sees is not exactly as it exists in itself, how can one say that this thing even resembles what one sees, or even exists at all? If the lights are turned out might the object cease to exist? In other words if one does not perceive the thing in itself, how can one know they perceive the thing at all?

The Types of Truth

What is truth? In order to have knowledge one must know that certain opinions are true. While truth is essential to having knowledge, one must realize that there are different standards for truth. The types of truths include the following:

  • Correspondence Theory of Truth
  • Pragmatic Theory of Truth
  • Coherence Theory of Truth

First is the correspondence theory of truth. That means there is a correspondence between what one thinks and the world. For example to say the sky is blue would be true because the sky is in fact blue, (well the sky usually appear blue to human eyes).

Another theory of truth is the pragmatic theory of truth. This is the idea if it works then it is true. For example if one were to ask if the computer works properly, and one turns it on and all goes well, then this statement would in fact be true. It is true that it works properly.

Finally, there is the coherence theory of truth. That is what people find coherent is, in fact, true. When figuring out mathematical equations, if the derivations are coherent (hold together) then the final formula is in fact true.

Epistemology is a huge subject and this just scratches the surface. Epistemology includes issues surrounding foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, and it’s subdivisions are rationalism and empiricism. For something to be known as knowledge, it must in fact be true. There are three basic theories for truth, correspondence, pragmatic, and the coherence theories of truth. Searching for truth is a worthy pursuit.

Source:

Honderich, Ted. Ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

What is the Rhetorical Syllogism?


The enthymeme is also known as the rhetorical syllogism. In explaining this device Aristotle references his Rhetoric, Prior Analytics, and Topics as well as other of his books. While Aristotle did not favor using persuasion in an unethical fashion, it became necessary to explain the enthymeme in order to refute other less ethical enthymemes that were used by some sophists of the time. To understand the enthymeme or rhetorical syllogism one must first understand a syllogism.

The Syllogism – Validity and Soundness

A normal syllogism has 2 premises and a conclusion. For example one could say the following:

All Men are Mortal (premise)

Socrates is a Man (premise)

Therefore Socrates is a Mortal (conclusion)

This is a valid and sound syllogism. Validity refers to when the conclusion follows from the premises, and a sound argument is a valid argument plus the premises are true. In the enthymeme one line or more in the syllogism is implied, and therefore not explicitly stated. For example in the following truncated syllogism, the premise “Socrates is a Man” is implied, and still the premises and the conclusion are clear.

All Men are Mortal (premise)

Therefore Socrates is Mortal (conclusion)

But the enthymeme is not simply based on syllogistic logic, although syllogistic logic is a very important part of it. The enthymeme also tugs at the emotions. Lastly it appeals to ones sense of what is right or wrong (e.g., ethics) How is a syllogism able to accomplish this?

The Persuasive Nature of the Enthymeme

The enthymeme is a popular technique of demogogues. People are persuaded to accept as true false beliefs against their will. While such a thing may not seem possible, when one examines the enthymeme one can see why this is so. Central to the enthymeme is understandinglogospathos, and ethos (e.g., logic, emotion and ethics).

First of all the logical aspect is clear. The syllogism is a tried and true method in logic, and is used in most of Aristotle’s logical systems. But this is not only what makes the enthymeme so treacherous.

One’s emotions are engaged. This is so first of all because with the enthymeme that is used, the auditor (e.g., the listener) agrees with the premises, agrees with the logical structure, and therefore is compelled to believe that the enthymeme, or truncated syllogism, is in fact valid and sound. Most importantly the auditor themselves supply the missing premise or conclusion. This makes their belief integral in the enthymeme. This fact of agreement with the enthymeme elicits an emotional response, a satisfaction that one’s beliefs are validated by logic. Also the enthymeme can also elicit an emotional response when being compelled to accept false premises based on flawed information which may be favorable to the auditor.

Finally this affirmation, this confirmation of the auditor to this unsound truncated syllogism convinces the auditor to agree with the rhetor (e.g., the rhetorician) about issues that concern society. The auditor is convinced that this truncated syllogism appeals to them directly and is enshrined in logic, and the auditor can then go so far as to believe that the false agreement with this syllogism goes on to validate oneself and their standing in the community (e.g., ethos).

An Example of an Enthymeme

Take the following example:

Former President George H. W Bush offered the following enthymeme when opposing the Civil Rights Bill of 1991. He explicitly states the observation only.

Observation: The bill will promote the use of quotas in the workplace.

Generalization: Quotas give unearned opportunities to minorities.

Inference: White’s opportunities will unfairly be given to minorities if the bill passes.

His audience was his fellow Republicans composed disproportionately of whites compared to the Democratic Party. Yet this enthymeme could have a very different meaning if given to an audience composed of minorities.

For example:

Observation: The bill will promote the use of quotas in the workplace.

Generalization: Quotas insure that earned opportunities will be given to minorities.

Inference: Minorities will be treated fairly in the hiring process.

Is the Enthymeme Ethical?

Enthymemes are persuasive independent of the facts of the matter. But it is only ethical when the truncated premise or conclusion is used with the full knowledge of the auditor, that is where the meaning of the missing premise or conclusion is clearly understood. The facts in the world, determine if the enthymeme not only appears to be ethical, but in fact is ethical.

A side note in dealing with enthymemes in general; by identifying the erroneous implied premises one can in fact refute unethical enthymemes by constructing your own. So have at it!

Sources:

Aden, Roger C. The Enthymeme as Postmodern Argument Form: Condensed, Mediated Argument Then and Now. Argumentation and Advocacy 31, no. 2 (Fall 1994): 59.

Barnes, Jonathan Ed. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. Bollingen Series LXXI, Princeton University Press 1995

Frame, Doug., The Logical Nature of Aristotle’s Enthymeme. Masters Thesis 1998

Hegel’s Master/Slave Dialectic


The master slave relationship is a common theme throughout history. Many ages embraced slavery, and although the characteristics of slavery may have been somewhat different during different ages, the superiority of the master and the subservience of the slave was a constant. While many great thinkers have considered this relationship, certain thinkers stand out.

The Master and the Slave

This relationship has been a common theme of philosophy, whether it be by Aesop talking about reason being the character of the master, and passion that of the slave. Slavery was common in ancient Greece and in feudal societies. Also references to the master and slave have been most apparent with Rousseau, Fichte, and most famously Hegel. Also discussing this relationship is Nietzsche, who had a different take than others, where the master is independent, creative and excellent, while the slave is servile and mediocre.

Hegel and Nietzsche are probably the most famous philosophers to talk about the relationship between master and slave, but Hegel’s formulation was wrapped in idealism. Karl Marx was most certainly influenced by Hegel, in his more concrete and materialistic writings about revolution.

Hegel and the Master and Slave

Hegel’s presentation of the master and slave in his dialectic is the most allegorical. Hegel begins in explaining that one only gains self-consciousness by being engaged with an “other”. By seeing the other, one recognizes that this other is different from themselves, and gives oneself identity through the other, and therefore themselves. One’s encounter with another for the first time sets off a dialectic where both consciousness’ are engaged. This engagement results in both finding their place in the world.

These two are locked in a form of conflict, where their position in the world will be decided by how this conflict is resolved. While both may be focused on being superior, the way that this antipathy can be resolved is for one to “give in”. The fact of the matter is that some people value liberty over life, and others value life over liberty. The newly self-conscious being who values liberty over life becomes the master, and the newly self-conscious individual who values life over liberty becomes the slave who submits to the master to survive.

Hegel’s Dialectic

In this unfolding dynamic one begins as a conscious being (not yet self-conscious), where no conflict exists. Yet when the two individuals encounter each other there is a sense of conflict where a contradiction emerges where both cannot be the master or both be the slave. Out of this conflict comes the resolution where one emerges the master and the other emerges the slave. This sequence is part of the dialectical process. Simply put the dialectic moves through thesis (e.g., prior to the encounter), antithesis (e.g., the encounter) and synthesis (e.g. the resolution where one is the master and the other the slave).

Yet the process does not end here. Now that their positions have become apparent in the world (e.g., as each individual being either the master or the slave), the dynamic has changed. Now the master produces nothing and lives off the slave (e.g., synthesis). The master has no contact with nature. The slave on the other hand works with nature and produces something of value, even though it is only used by the master, and this handiwork from nature gives the slave true knowledge about nature (e.g., antithesis) which the master cannot hope to duplicate. Marx’s revolution results in the synthesis with his secular worldview where society is run by the proletariat in a workers paradise (e.g., synthesis).

Hegel and Karl Marx

Marx extrapolates from Hegel. Marx, ultimately a student of Hegel, states that when the slave or proletariat becomes so alienated from life and made so miserable by their existence, with the accumulation of knowledge that the proletariat attains through their work, this enables the proletariat to overthrow the master, and form a new society.

While it seems Hegel thought that inequities in the world could be solved without revolution, Marx felt revolution was inevitable in the process of Historical Materialism. While Hegel’s idealism points out the origins of the master and slave, Marx’s materialism aimed to consummate this relationship and to overthrow the master.

While Hegel brought the relationship between master and slave, as a allegory for mans achievement of self-consciousness, Marx largely ignored Hegel’s idealism, and embraced materialism to bring Hegel’s abstract dialectic to history in his theory of historical materialism.

Resources:

Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1977

Honderick, Ted., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1995

Inwood, M. J. Ed., Hegel Selections. Macmillan Publishing Company: United States, 1989

The Veil of Perception

John Locke, from England, and Irishman Bishop Berkeley were famous 17th-18th century empiricists. Being that these philosophers examined how one can know things, they were epistemologists, while propounding different metaphysical systems to explain their positions.

Locke felt that observation via the senses constituted the primary way one acquires information about the external world. Berkeley, on the other hand, felt that what one knows comes about as a result of one’s own ideas, rather than knowledge being based on an external substance. While both being empiricists, Locke would be classified as a materialist, while Berkeley is an idealist.

Locke’s Blank Slate and the Veil of Perception

Locke believed that the object of perception was an external substance. Each person when beginning their life possess’ a mind that is a Tabula Rasa or blank slate. According to Locke, when one is born there are no innate ideas, and therefore the information perceived is not based on rational principles, although reason does play a role in formulating knowledge.

Locke’s philosophy holds that there is a sort of correspondencebetween external things and one’s ideas. This correspondence leads to the supposition that Locke was a representational realist. Representational realism is the concept that one’s sensations contain a representation of the things being sensed.

For Locke, to perceive something external to the senses implies representational realism; otherwise how else can one know external corporeal substances? This representational realism led to what is referred to in philosophical circles as the veil of perception, that is things are not seen as they are in themselves. This is because there is a “veil” which one cannot penetrate, because the thing perceived exists independent of sensation. This concept had dire implications.

Berkeley’s Idealism: To Be is To Be Perceived

Berkeley, and idealist, criticized Locke. He considered himself to be a harbinger of common sense. He felt that Lockean materialism was flawed and resulted in extreme skepticism. With representational realism matter is never known as it is in itself, and this fact led to skepticism, because the question became how can someone know anything about the world at all, (e.g., external substances), if what one perceives is not a perception of the thing in itself?

According to Berkeley, the only thing that one knows are ideas. Berkeley claimed that something only truly exists when it is perceived. This is referred to in his dictum “to be is to be perceived” (e.g., esse est percipi). He believed that without something being perceived, one cannot say anything about it existing, or even say it exists at all! After all, he thought, the way one understands a substance is that it is something that exists independent of the senses.

If it does exist independent of the senses, how can one know the substance as it exists in itself? This leads to extreme skepticism according to Berkeley because one cannot know if matter indeed exists, since one doesn’t perceive matter directly (e.g., the problem of the veil of perception). For if something exists independent of the senses, then one is saying that one really doesn’t know anything about the substance as it exists in itself, (e.g., independent of the senses).

Berkeley solution is that one’s thoughts are composed of ideas, that substance cannot be perceived. The veil becomes an impenetrable blanket. Locke is defeated by this supposition by Berkeley that what one knows about the world are only ideas, that is one’s own ideas. Ultimately this brings up the problem that if one isn’t there to perceive it, does it cease to exist, since ones perceptions are only one’s own ideas.

Many are familiar with this philosophical paradox where if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to perceive it, does it make a sound? If matter is simply reducible to ideas then when the ideas are not received one can’t say the event, in this case the tree, exists at all. Therefore there is no “falling” of the tree, and there can be no sound.

Berkeley’s Idealism and God

Berkeley ostensibly solves this quandary of whether things really exist by using his position on ideas as an argument for God. Berkeley was critical of Locke because God was not a necessary component of his philosophy.

For Locke, spirit is not necessary in the formulation of perception, where all that was important were external substances for perception. Berkeley replied to these perceived shortcomings of the veil of perception by saying that all things do exist at all times. They exist because God perceives everything in the world at all times, and therefore everything continues to exist always (e.g., as spirit). One philosophy professor of mine referred to this as “God putting ideas in our heads”.

In reference to Berkeley’s philosophy, Dr. Samuel Johnson once kicked a heavy stone and exclaimed, “I refute it thus!” Yet ultimately this refutes nothing (e.g., it could just be the “idea” of pain in kicking the “rock”).

Resources:

The Empiricists An Anchor Book – Doubleday: 1961.

Honderich, Ted, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press: Oxford 1995.