Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Truth and Facts

When science turned our epistemological world from arguments to explanations, facts, the starting point of those explanations and crucible upon which they are tested, took on a certain  sanctity. They have tended to become truth itself, the only truth we can know directly, and hence all but synonymous with truth for many.  They have come stand on their own, taken as truth apart from all but their bare, literal expression.

Against this view:

"Truth and facts are woven together."
This is a quote attributed Shannon L. Adler, an LDS writer.  I'm not sure where she was going with it — I can't find a reference to the source — but for me it nails that Dragnet mentality of "the facts ma'am, just the facts."

On the one hand, facts are the result of diagrammatically abstracting certain indices and relationships from experience.  If not totally the product of the diagram, these abstractions reduce experience to just what will serve the diagram.  On the other hand, facts are the focal points for testing the consequences inferred from the diagram.  If a general law or principle is used to infer and/or explain a fact, that general law is not itself a fact.  It is a principle defined within and warranted by the diagram.  Those facts on either side of a diagram may be true or false, in a sense, but only within the context of being defined and employed by that diagram.

Facts are abstracted with a resemblance to experience and submitted to the ratification of experience using a "diagram, which if not exactly a fiction, is at least a creation" [CP1.383].  Not only are truth and fact interwoven, it is only in the interweaving of them into one consistent fabric that we have something that, if not true, is at least trustworthy.

Monday, September 1, 2014


Basing explanation on deduction, or "covering laws," within the context of formal logical is misleading in several ways.

  1. The explanans involves a  universal scientific law.  Not only do explanations extend far beyond science, but it's unlikely that any scientific law is universal.  It is better to say that explanations include a "substantive generalization," what Toulmin called a "warrant," where "substantive" means it is generally true.  It is precisely the truth or falsity of the explanatory generalizations that is obscured by limiting them to universals.
  2. Explanation is a matter of making the explanandum rationally acceptable.  With an explanation we already know the explanandum is true, so there's no need to justify or prove it.  With a plausible explanation the explanans and explanandum are logically consistent, nothing more.
  3. The logical consistency of an explanation is a matter of deduction.  The premises of a deduction,  'if x then y' and 'x', are actually equivalent to the conjunction, 'x and y'.  It is this conjunction of the explanans and the explanandum (all of them being true) that creates a plausible explanation.  Thus, narratives, absent any generalizations, can constitute explanations on the same logical ground as deductions using generalizations.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Not Mechanistic

A diagrammatic approach to thinking, at first glance, might seem overly mechanistic.  The diagram of a machine is certainly as mechanical as the machine itself.  And many diagrams attempt this kind of rigorous consistency.  Using them is an instrumental matter of making calculations.  Formal logic, holding itself aloof from its applications, is like this.  But while all diagrams, and hence diagrammatic thinking in general, relies on consistency, not all diagrams display the rigor of a mechanical device or formal logic.

In fact, most diagrams just aren't that rigorous.  They employ rules or generalizations with qualifications and exceptions, and they are judged by their functionality, not the mechanistic precision of the diagram itself.  Even the rigorous consistency of formal logic has to be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to actually using it.  Any general assertion we make about experience, scientific laws included, is going to have qualifications and exceptions.

More important, though, applying any kind of diagram, rigorous or less so, is not a mechanical process either.  Take for instance a moral question like pulling the plug:

Illustration and example from Richard Arthur 
The question is not the result given by any one of these diagrams — although that can be a question in its own right.  The question is which particular diagram — utilitarian principles, Torah, human compassion, professional ethics, financial concerns, case precedents, Christian scripture, Canon Law , or other unlisted diagram should be applied or take precedence.  Even if each of these diagrams are as rigorous in their inferences as formal logic, the decision as to which one should be applied is hardly a mechanical process.

Diagrammatic thinking mediates thought with consistency, but it is not limited to a mechanistic approach because of that.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Image, Diagram, and Metaphor

Peirce asserts a triad of what he calls "hypoicons.
Hypoicons may be roughly divided according to the mode of Firstness of which they partake.  Those which partake of simple qualities, or First Firstnesses, are images; those which represent the relations, mainly dyadic, or so regarded, of the parts of one thing by analogous relations in their own parts, are diagrams; those which represent the representative character of a representamen by representing a parallelism in something else, are metaphors. [CP2.277]
Following this organization then, if there is a diagrammatic thinking, or thinking with diagrams, there must also be a thinking with metaphors and a thinking with images.

Thorstein Veblen ["Why is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science"] brings out the problems of thinking metaphorically, at least when it comes to a science of economics.

But it is precisely in this use of figurative terms for the formulation of theory that the classical normality still lives in its attenuated life in modern economics; and it is this facile recourse to inscrutable figures of speech as the ultimate terms of theory that has saved the economists from being dragooned into the ranks of modern science. [p. 383]
A metaphor works by comparing (setting in "parallel") the system to be known with one that is already known (in the sense we are acquainted with it).  It allows us to understand things we cannot specify in detail, so that while metaphors are effective and satisfying, even exhilarating, and both metaphors and diagrams are human creations (aka "fictions"), the metaphors do not provide the detailed specifications, the "exactitude," of a diagram.

As for imagery, we might compare a sales graph with a map.  The indices and relationships of the map (on the right) allow inferences of new indices and relationships within that map — I can locate my house on it — whereas the abstractions of the graph allow only extrapolations from its fixity.  I can draw any number of conclusions from such a graph, or a photograph or a work of art, but those conclusions will have a subjective inventiveness, external to the image.  Images are also a way of abstracting from experience; of thinking, knowing, even explaining; of drawing consequences, but they are neither diagrammatic nor metaphorical.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

To Be Universal

Alvin Gouldner [in The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology] writes:
To revert and reiterate: ideologies are partly legitimated by their claim to represent the whole.  It is precisely in this way that ideology also constitutes itself as a moral discourse. [p. 282]
The scam of every ideology, the definition of an ideology:
Ideology, we have said, redefined the private interest in terms of the public, the part in terms of the whole. It thereby transforms political action into moral conduct. [p. 283]
is putting a partial interest forward as the whole.  By claiming a universality of one sort or another, an ideology fallaciously avoids considering both whether it does in fact apply — since it applies everywhere — and the consequences it produces — since there are no alternatives to them.

But perhaps this relationship between ideologies and universality is not just the one-way implication of ideologies claiming universality.  Can't we also say that any theory or conceptual system that claims universality is thereby an ideology?  Euclid's geometry was an ideology — there was no question of its applicability nor its consequences — for the centuries until that supposed universality was put into question?  And, what did it gain during those centuries by the claim to be universal?  Its functionality was, and is, the same.  The extent of its applications has not changed, the reliability of its consequences remains what it was.  And what did we gain, besides the illusion that a universality of thought was possible?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dialectic and Denotation

Hannah Arendt [in Between Past and Future] writes:

… [T]he life in a polis was designed to distinguish the Greek from the barbarian and the free man from the slave.  The distinction was that Greeks, living together in a polis, conducted their affairs by means of speech, through persuasion and not by means of violence, through mute coercion.  Hence, when free men obeyed their government, or the laws of the polis, their obedience was called …, a word which indicates clearly that obedience was obtained by persuasion and not by force. [p. 22]
This passage makes a forceful distinction between conducting our "affairs by means of violence" and  "by means of speech."  But, as compelling as this dialectic is, Arendt is making it in an ideological fashion, solely in the realm of connotations.

If we look as to what is denoted, the contrast is not so focused.  Surely, all Greeks did not rule by persuasion rather than violence.  A lack of detailed and specific knowledge shows itself quickly when the discussion turns to what is actually being referred to, but it seems to me that the Spartans, for one, were more on the side of governing by violence.  And if "Greeks" really only refers to Athenians here, I can't quite believe that all Athenians accepted the conclusions of the court as willingly as Socrates drank his hemlock.  In fact, it would seem that no society would fall under either of these extremes, and these polarities, speech and violence, are abstract, non-existent idealizations.

Even more, though, the failure to consider what is denoted, to apply this proposed opposition to different situations, produces a facile acceptance of what is really a unbalanced set of opposites.  Speech and violence are both different actions, but speech is only one of many kinds of actions that might be opposed to the force of violence.  The opposition characterizing obedience more generally would seem to be more between forcing obedience on the one side and giving it on the other.  Speech, then, like all the various means of trying to force obedience and ostensibly show allegiance, would play out between these two abstract, but functional, poles of the human predicament.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The 'a Priori' Method

Peirce present four methods for fixing beliefs ["Fixation of Belief," 1876].  One of these, the a priori method:
Let the action of natural preferences be unimpeded, then, and under their influence let men, conversing together and regarding matters in different lights, gradually develop beliefs in harmony with natural causes. … Systems of this sort have not usually rested upon any observed facts, at least not in any great degree.  They have been chiefly adopted because their fundamental propositions seemed "agreeable to reason."[CP 5.382]
gets short shrift in leading up to the scientific method and its concern with truth and falsity, but it is hard to see just how "conversing together" is necessarily a priori in this undervalued sense.

It would be a priori in this sense if we are conversing about things like logic, mathematics, or even metaphysics, since then there is little or no reference to "observed facts" and not much concern with truth or falsity.  It would also a priori in this sense if we are conversing analytically about and within the linguistic system of a science.
The ultimate goal of a positive science is the development of a "theory" or "hypothesis" that yields valid and meaningful (i.e., not truistic) predictions about phenomena not yet observed.  Such a theory is, in general, a complex intermixture of two elements.  In part, it is a "language" designed to promote "systematic and organized methods of reasoning." ["The Methodology of Positive Economics," p. 6]
But such sciences are also:
In part, it is a body of substantive hypotheses designed to abstract essential features of complex reality. [Ibid.]
and if our conversation were to wander over into this second part, it would be based upon "observed facts," and it would also, ostensibly, be concerned with truth and falsity.

But let's say we're "conversing together" in a sports book, because we want to bet on which team is going to win the NBA Playoffs this year.  Our conversation would clearly be based on observed facts — it could be full of detailed statistics and intricate arguments — and there would be a definite concern with truth or falsity — which team is going to win (actually, which team's odds of winning are better than the payoffs being given).  This conversing might be a priori in the sense we don't know which team will actually win, and we can't know until it's too late, but it doesn't come down to whatever is "agreeable to reason."  And, as a method, it makes up a lot more of our day-to-day reasoning, including virtually all major decisions, than does experimental science.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ideology and Denotations

Steve Wheeler, "Young Man Talking to His Mother-in-Law"

A Socratic preference for the spoken word, and a corresponding rejection of writing, is inherently nonideological. [Alvin W. Gouldner, The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology, p. 80]
Ideologies, I think, depend upon ignoring the denotations, and thereby the truth or falsity, of what is being said.  And writing, even the one-sided "spoken word" of a broadcast, cannot depend upon the denotations of what is being said.  The experiences of all the readers and/or listeners are too diverse to rely on how the terms and phrases will track to back to those experiences. Writing, along with all manner of broadcast communications, must operate within a context of "cascading" connotations.

Face-to-face conversations, on the other hand, are a different breed, an endangered species in this postmodern world, but one where denotations are naturally shared and tested as the words are spoken.  In an example from Peirce:

Two men meet on a country road.  One says to the other, "that house is on fire."  "What house?" "Why, the house about a mile to my right."  … It is not the language alone, with its mere associations of similarity, but the language taken in connection with the auditor's own experiential associations of contiguity, which determines for him what house is meant.  [CP 3.419]
Face-to-face conversations employ those "experiential associations of contiguity" that the writer and broadcaster cannot presume and that the ideologue willfully ignores.

It's not that the denotations cannot be reconstructed by those of us who are willing to do so.  In the text omitted above, Peirce writes:
Let this speech be taken down and shown to anybody in the neighboring village, and it will appear that the language by itself does not fix the house.  But the person addressed sees where the speaker is standing, recognises his right hand side (a word having a most singular mode of signification) estimates a mile (a length having no geometrical properties different from other lengths), and looking there, sees a house. [Ibid.]
But such reconstructions require a lot of effort, an effort that will be a waste of time if those denotations where intentionally ignored, obscured, or distorted in the first place.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Born Again

We are each born with our own diagrammatic conceptual system, that we build, nurture and develop to some degree, that is essentially monadic, sealed off from others in its own consistency.  We interact with others in ways that can modify both us and them, but we remain different and separate from them.

But we can also internalize objective diagrams by accepting the indexical roles and relationships of that foreign diagram as our own.  We initially like to pretend we take on the roles and play at the relationships while we maintain our own subjectivity.  But we can also — and being really good at a game demands that we — choose one of these objective systems, qualify for admission to it, internalize it completely, and make it our one and only.  That foreign diagram becomes us; the captain is the ship.  I would refer to this as a "living death," as a loss of one's soul.  However, the many, many who have done this, both materially and spiritually, are decisively animated about the virtues of it.  They refer to it as a new life, as being "born again."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Inductive Rigor

Marx's second "Theses on Feuerbach":
"The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice, …"
is echoed, I think, in the difference between the pragmatism of James (truth is what works) and that of Peirce (truth is what inductively prevails).  Since diagrams are essentially fictions and all kinds of fictions — illusions, wishful thinking, etc. — may work but hardly comply with our notion of truth, it is hard to say the Jamesian sort of pragmatism works.  But with Peirce's sort of pragmatism what is true must not only work, it must continue to work through different applications.  A diagram or theory must "prove" its "reality and power … in practice."

But let's take this a step further and hypothesize that it is this inductive rigor — not mathematics, empiricism, or even experimentation per se — that constitutes the truth and objectivity of science.  This opens all kinds of diagrammatic thinking, even philosophy, to the possibilities of science.  There may be problems with exactness, expanding the range of applications, or maintaining a community of investigators, but all diagrammatic thinking can submit itself to further applications, assess the consequences of doing so, and adapt itself to the results.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

More on Ideology

Any diagram (or conceptual system) is, "if not exactly a fiction, is at least a creation" [CP 1.383] and what distinguishes an ideology, or ideological thinking, from other forms of diagrammatic thinking is that it is a fiction being employed without any regard for (1) the situations of it applications and (2) the consequences of its inferences.

Thus, on the one side, Marcus Rediker (The Slave Ship: A Human History) quotes the Liverpool merchant discussing their slave trade with his son in Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger.

"To function efficiently — to function at all — we must concentrate our effects.  Picturing things is bad for business, it is undynamic. It can choke the mind with horror if persisted in.  We have graphs and tables and balance sheets and statement of corporate philosophy to help us remain busily and safely in the realm of the abstract and comfort us with a sense of lawful endeavor and lawful profit.  And we have maps." [The Slave Ship: A Human History, p. 12]
The merchant is making an ideology out of his business model by willfully ignoring the situation of its application.  On the other side, Hannah Arendt refers to the ruthless logicality of both Hitler and Stalin. 
They took them [their ideologies] dead seriously, took pride the one in his supreme gift for "ice cold reasoning" [Hitler] and the other in the "mercilessness of his dialectics" [Stalin] and proceeded to drive ideological implications into extremes of logical consistency … ["Ideology and Terror"]
that made it a matter of pride to carry out their inferences regardless of their consequences.

But, a diagram or theory being employed without regard for any particular situation or for the consequences of what is inferred is also the nature of mathematics and logic.  Like many ideologies, these fictions ignore the import of particular situations by claiming universality, and they look only to their own internal consistency for assessing their inferences.  Not only are mathematics and logic ideologies in this sense, but seeing them thus links all the various manifestations of ideology back to the Greek roots of that term and Destutt de Tracy's coining of it as a "science of ideas."