The Place of Logic and the Place of Philosophy

My pocket Aristotle includes these words in the introduction by Justin Kaplan:

[Aristotle] devoted his life to codifying and rationalizing what was then the sum of human knowledge.

Kaplan goes on to list some of Aristotle’s accomplishments and the obstacles he had to overcome to achieve them. Then this:

And underlying all these achievements was this: he was a logician of subtlety and strength, and a searcher after the knowledge that transcends and exists independent of all other knowledge. He called this knowledge “first philosophy” or “wisdom.”

May I draw your attention to two words in the quotations above? First, quotation one: the word “rationalization.” Then in quotation two, the word “and.”

I hope the word rationalization continues to maintain the meaning it expresses in Kaplan’s sentence in the days to come, because it is a hint to an ancient meaning that is more authentic than the modern meaning. To “rationalize the sum of… human knowledge,” is an impressive goal, but it does actually mean something.

Aristotle was attempting to bring all the knowledge he had access to into a harmony, a whole in which every part had its place and in which the place of every part served for the flourishing of every other part. His vision of reality was musical. Discord argued for error. How different from what we think of as “cold rationalism” today.

Aristotle saw truth as flames of fire enlightening the soul.

Thus my highlighting the word “and” in the second quotation. I was afraid, when I read the first clause, that it would be followed by a period, that Kaplan would suggest that the underlying force of Aristotle’s thought was his logical power.

And indeed, Aristotle was a logical genius of the first rank. His development of the syllogism (which Kaplan argues “now has little real function”) and his Organon make up the earliest sustainable handbooks for thinking the world ever saw. They remain unmatched in their breadth and depth.

But Aristotle was not a mere logician. He was a seeker after wisdom, a philosopher. The difference is significant.

Here is how I would seek to express the difference between a logician and a philosopher:

The philosopher seeks to PERCEIVE the essence of things, to know them according to their natures, and to treat them appropriately. He seeks, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, to rightly order and to appropriately judge. For the philosopher everything turns on what Plotinus, at least, and I think Plato and Aristotle as well, called “intelligible form.”

The form of a thing is its essence, the fishness of fish, the redness of red, the justice of justice, etc.. “Intelligible” means understandable, but much more than that in Aristotle. It means that the form or essence of the thing is perceivable by what came to be called “the mind’s eye.”

But the logician, inasmuch as he is a logician and not a philosopher, only has the tools of logic to work with. These tools support philosophy and assist the philosopher, but logic is not philosophy and can only deal with what it is given. Logic, in this sense, is not the same as reason either.

Logic looks for consistency in the statements or propositions with which it is dealing. It is valuable only insofar as the statements carry truth. Logic seeks validity in an argument, not truth itself.

In a way, logic is like a game. Or maybe it would be better to say, logic is the rules of the game. But then, a game is defined by its rules, so to say it is a game, is to say it is the rules of the game. Even so, baseball is a game defined by its rules.

But logic is not about perception. Sensory perception (what we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, etc.) is a starting point for logic, but by no means all it has to work with. Intellectual perception can also provide material to the logician, but this comes from an experience higher than the rules of the game of logic.

In short, logic is not the highest authority on reality, just a tool to help us think about it consistently.

That is why I can constuct logical nonsense, such as:

All Puddleglums are blue things
All blue things are foxtrots
Therefore all puddleglums are fox trots

Logical, yes, but meaningless except as the form itself carries meaning.

So while the philosopher’s foundational concept is intelligible form, for the logician that foundational concept is the universal.

While the form is perceived by the mind’s eye, the universal is more like a chess piece or a counter in a game. “All Puddleglums” is merely a thought. So is “all Rhinoscopes.” In fact, you could even say that “all foxes” is merely a concept in the head of the thinker.

But this is precisely where the great historical argument between the philosopher and the logician breaks out. The philosopher says, “Yes, all foxes may be merely a concept in the head of the thinker, but foxness itself is not. “Fox” is the form of every fox and is what makes the fox a fox.”

The logician, since as logician he cannot perceive forms or essences of things, says, “No, there is no essence of fox. Fox is a name we give to all the things that share the same characteristics because it is convenient and helpful for us to do so.”

This argument is often described as the argument over universals. I would suggest that that is a misnomer, almost certainly coined by someone who takes the side of the logician. It isn’t the argument over universals, but over form vs. logic.

And it only becomes an argument when logic attempts to do more than it is able to do, that is, to do philosophy or theology. Logic is a vice-regent with vast power. But it cannot be the emperor for the simple reason that it cannot see far enough.

Ironic things arise from the uprising of logic (which took place in the middle ages, especially under Peter Abelard and William of Ockham (Occam if you prefer)) including the rise of nominalism, the obsession with the particular that gave rise to empiricism and the scientific revolt, the breakdown of thought into disparate specialized subjects, and the neglect of philosophy and theology.

It’s strange, because the philosopher is a formalist who believes in a knowable reality within which men can be free and powers can be limited, but the logician rapidly bows to the empiricist or the rationalist who always ends up believing that reality is not knowable, there is no law above the state, and freedom is an illusion that they are unable to see.

This distinction between philosophy and logic is very difficult and precise, but very important. Had the logician never exalted himself so far, we wouldn’t have to climb up to remind him of his place. We could rejoice in the ability of the common man to see truth (the essence of things) because his soul is attuned to it (he usually calls it common sense) and he knows what freedom and justice are before his teacher comes and clouds his perceptions.

Teach logic and teach it well. Enable your students to learn its powers and its limitations. Just remember that it doesn’t see forms, it analyzes universals. It may well be the child who sees forms the best, so the philosopher is always trying to become like a little child.

I’m Singing This Note ‘Cause It Fits In Well

Education is not a specialized subject. If you try to understand it by isolating it and studying it as a specialized activity, you will have guaranteed that you will never understand what you are studying.

Yet, to a large extent, teachers’ colleges and even educators conferences treat it as such a specialized subject. They seem to make a common modern error – that of thinking that reality itself is empirical or analytical. It is not. It is formal. Reality is not an experiment, it is a symphony.

Therefore, when we seek to know it, we seek an ever-expanding harmony, not a list of research based conclusions about discrete elements, and not a lab report on a series of experiments.

The experiments and the research are valuable sources of information about reality, and they can certainly fit within reality, but they are not the whole of realityand they are far from the most informative manner of perceiving reality.

That explains why we do the CiRCE conference the way we do. We don’t try to present leading experts in their field who have done “the research” and performed the experiments. We draw on speakers who have seen truth with their own eyes.

It ends up being a lot like a jazz performance, actually. If a better musician organized it, then it might be like a symphony. But my instincts are more like jazz, at least so far as I can understand something musical. We lay down a theme. We explore it together. Individuals go on their trails, and come back.  A lot of improvisation takes place. There is no predertermined outcome.

But each year it seems something beautiful happens because we’re all committed to the same idea.

Based on most of the feedback, that is what happened again this year. We thought about liberty. We had an overarching theme and even a contra or anti-whattayacallit thing.  A number of sub-themes arose: the need for mentors in a free society, the liberation of the teacher who uses a Christian classical pedagogy, the different types of freedom, the false freedoms that seduce us into slavery, modes of teaching that set students free, the need to think to be free, and so on.

A crescendo was reached, I felt, when, on Saturday morning George Sanker addressed on the elephant in the living room – the need for African-Americans and minorities to experience a Christian classical education as well as suburban whites. One more workshop and a coda brought the conference to an end.

These reflections are retrospective, probably because I’ve come to realize lately how reality is formal and not logical, scientific, or empirical. It is beautiful, and only human folly has brought ugliness into it.

Then let’s seek the wisdom to make something beautiful, harmonic, melodious, unified, flourishing, rhythmic, and ultimately integrated, healthy, and pleasing.

Next year we’ll sing a new theme: What is Man? A contemplation of Imago Dei. Will you sing with us?

What is man? Who knows?

Darwinism was the lynchpin of Naturalistic Materialism.  Since Darwinism is not accepted by many scientists anymore, that role has been replaced by the neo-Darwinist synthesis built on genetics and DNA.

Is the theory of the evolution of species separable from naturalistic materialism? Is the principle of adaptation sufficient in its explanatory power to bring about consciousness? Is man a spiritual or merely a highly complex physical being?   

These are the questions that civilized life turns on. Darwin argued that morality evolved from the social instinct and language. If so, then those who discover this (or have been taught it on Darwin’s authority) have escaped from that evolved morality.

As we reflect on liberty in the follow-up to this past conference and on the nature of man in preparation for the next, these are the sorts of questions we need to reflect on.

It took a long time to prepare for the day, but the world changed when Darwin published his Origin of Species and his The Descent of Man.

So far, the human soul and therefore human society has not been able to adapt to the changes. What then are the foundations of this theory and what are its implications?

Foundation one: sound knowledge of the world is gained only through the empirical approach of the natural sciences.

Implication one: The human brain has adapted to the environment so as to enable the survival of the species, but it is not capable of knowing it according to its nature and essence.  

Therefore the first implication undoes the first foundation.