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A Different Way of Being

June 19, 2019

The logic we adopt informs not just our whole understanding of being, but our whole way of being.

This is the fundamental claim I want to make in this post today. What do I mean by logic in this regard? Well, a classic example is the formal logic as developed by Frege with the predicate calculus and the propositional calculus. Some will stop me here and say, but surely this logic is just tautologically true? But they would be mistaken in this claim. This is quite simply a lie that positivism told people, because they wanted their logic, as tied with natural science, to be immune to doubt or criticism. As such, they claimed such things as that it is tautological, in order to cover up the ontological and metaphysical roots to this type of logic. The truth is that all logic is about making inferences. I have a man, so I can infer he is an animal. Rarely in any real situation would we mean by making this statement that “man is an animal”, that it is a tautology. This is just a basic misunderstanding. A tautology is specifically for cases where terms are interchangeable. Where two things are identical and have the same range of application. It is equivalent to when we define something. So, you could argue, a triangle is a shape with three sides, this may be a tautology, for in any place you say “triangle”, you could substitute for it, “shape with three sides”, and still have the same meaning. You could not substitute “man” with “animal” in all situations, obviously. Because they have a different range of application. Aristotle would say that one is predicated of the other. Basic philosophy like this can sometimes be overlooked when we have over-technical language in use.

So, getting back to “man is an animal”, it’s logical status is most commonly as an inference. It can even have important content, because to say man is an animal, tells us a lot of things about a man, that he is a living organism, that he has DNA, that he has reproductive capabilities, etc. All of these are inferences, and if true and correct, they are deductive inferences. That key word “if” is important. Logic of the formal kind, deals mainly in hypothetical scenarios. If one thing is the case, then some other thing must be the case. And it connects all these things up in rigorous patterns of inference that can be formally computed with total accuracy. Once again, it must be made clear, the chain of inferences are totally accurate. But, as for the material content of those inferences, in any particular empirical situation, these could be mistaken. This hypothetico-deductive method as it is called, is still largely the assumed background in natural science and philosophy for how logic operates. There is the modal approach and there are some other challenges currently going on. But, for now, this remains the basic reality as most people see it.

This whole approach is specifically geared to deal with phenomena in natural science that tend to be contingently related to each other. The way I like to put this is that this logic assumes that phenomena are constitutively related to each other. It assumes this, in order for the inferences to work in material reality. A diagram helps to illustrate this best:


So, imagine that A is Animals, B is humans and C is Cats. Both humans and cats are constituted by animals. Animals are constitutive of cats and humans. Thus, if I have a cat I can infer that I have an animal, and also, if I have a human, I can infer that I have an animal. In logic, this could be written something like, If A then B, and If A then C. Now this relation of one thing constituting another, is not tautological, far from it! It is a relationship things tend to have in the physical, material world, and the logic we use picks up on this relationship. Imagine that D represents aliens, now as far as we currently know instances of aliens may be real, they may not, lets just take the real ones, if there are such, then, for all we know, some aliens may be animals, by our definition of animals, some may not be animals. It is a point of method that we look to find things that constitute other things as a way of organising things in the material world. And formal logic picks up on this.

Now, this is all well and good. The problem is when one way of organising things in the world, such as the above, imagines that it is the only way of organising things in the world, and wants to be treated as ontologically primary in some way. A lot of philosophy in the 20th century has been geared towards trying to show this ontological primacy. And this is because, per my original claim in this post, the logic they have adopted has come to inform their whole understanding of being, and their whole way of being.

The reason I bring all this up is because of its dangerous effects in the social sciences. Social phenomena are not related constitutively to each other like the natural phenomena of things such as cats, humans and animals in that above diagram. The whole reason we use social terminology is insofar as the “thing” approach to understanding has already failed at capturing it. My relation to other people in society is not a relation to things. This is why we have the term people, that we use separately from the term human, for instance. We tend to reserve “human”, for when we mean the biological thing-like being, and the term “person” for when we mean the social inter-relational being. This is no irrelevant detail. It is because we cannot relate to other humans just as natural things, we also are in society with them, and so relate to them as social entities in some way that we are inter-related with. This inter-relation means the relation goes both ways. And what does that mean? It means the relation between us, is not constitutive, by definition.

So we already have these distinctions in place between natural and social phenomena. We already know, at least on some level, that they are fundamentally distinct in quite crucial ways. Yet, when we are committed in our minds or brains to one kind of logic as ontologically primary, we cannot help but try and force everything to fit that pattern. Everything must be reducible to constitutive relations between things, they will say. The mind must be constituted by the brain, the person must be constituted by the human. But, it just doesn’t work, this procrustean operation always fails. And it is failing quite severely in our society right now. This is why it is so important we gain more awareness about this fundamental logical-ontological commitment.

There is not one logic for all phenomena. And logic is certainly not tautological. It informs, as I say, our whole way of being. So, how can we apply logic differently with social phenomena? Clearly in society we are not constitutive of other beings in that society, and we cannot determine something that constitutes those beings, as by definition, if we could, we wouldn’t be in society with them. A bit like the kind of attitude a 19th century anthropologist might had had towards primitive and savage cultures that he encountered. He would look at them as things to be studied, not as things to be in a social relation with. Now, once we are committed in those areas where there is a social relationship, we need to realise that the relationship we have there is of a different kind.

In the space-time arena, we saw that things are related constitutively. In the social medium we can only have things regulatively related to each other. Thus, although we still have laws of identity and contradiction we don’t have necessary inferences from one social thing to another. We do have relationships of implicit teleological dependence instead. What this means is that, because we are all organised beings, are organisation tends to take us and direct us in a similar way with a similar orientation. Also, all our actions spring from such a presumed orientation as well. From here, there are many patterns to the way we act that can be found. There are shared ends towards which we are directed. Max Weber talked about this with ideal types. But to understand all this you have to stay within the social medium. Once you try and rip it out of there and place it in some arena of space and time that contains material constituting it, you have not explained it, you have killed it. I guess this is another main feature of the social medium. It has a consistency and continuity, we cannot tear that fabric and stay in a social relationship.

This only scratches the surface, but I think this gives an idea of how from a logic we can end up doing very bad things in society if we misapply it, where it does not have a valid application. And all because we underestimated the ontological implications of our logical choices. There is always the option to go to war with others, and treat people like objects. There is always the option to mount other types of wars on people and treat them as passive objects to be manipulated and controlled in other ways. We always have this option to tear the social fabric, but it is always a misunderstanding of society, when we enact it.

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