Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Grounding Logic

It is commonly held that deductive logic is properly basic, that is, that it does not need to be grounded in anything else. Thus, a fine response to "why does logic work" is held to be, "because it does, are you crazy?" I do not quite disagree with this position, but, while our belief in the propositions of basic deductive logic may be properly basic, our belief that our belief in those propositions is properly basic is not, itself, properly basic.

I am going after two questions which come out as one. Why does logic work? And, What makes something properly basic?

Logic may be considered as nothing more than a bunch of symbols and their rules of use, together defined to as to be tautologous. Thus, in symbolic logic, I am conjoining symbols which stand for possible truth values by means of operators which are defined in terms of what outputs they give for each set of input truth values. In this case, however, logic still rests on the principle of non-contradiction. In this way, it is, thus far, circular.

If I have a pair of propositions, p and q, and know their truth values--I know both p and q to be true, for example--then I also know the truth value of the conjunction p & q. The system is defined so that the conjunction is given by the truth-values of the input propositions p and q. In the system, it is a matter of definition that if p is true and q is true, then p & q is true. Likewise for any of the other symbols and their outputs.

Thus far, however, there is nothing grounding the correspondence of the system to the world. If the principle of non-contradiction does not hold in the world, then logic is useless. On what basis can we claim that the principle of non-contradiction, and thus logic in general, actually holds of the (messy) world?

If we lack logic, then most of this paper will turn out to be self-refuting, and we will be left with no reason not to hold that the principle of non-contradiction holds. A refutation of logic will have to rely on some kind of logic. However, a proof of logic, while it will involve logic, need not be useless. The grounding of logic will show why logic works for us, and thus may allow us to see what may be included in logic which has not, thus far, been included, or been included more warily, etc.

Essentially, the grounding of logic will be the grounding of a properly basic belief, viz., that the principle of non-contradiction applies to reality. It will thus, if successful, form a case-study for what makes something properly basic.

Suppose non-contradiction does not apply. If that is the case, then, besides the fact that we have as yet no reason not to hold that the principle also does apply, we also are left with no confidence on which to rest our actions. For any belief we might act on, we have no reason not to also hold of the belief that it is false. In order to go on with our lives, in order to live, we must act according to the belief that some proposition, or some category of propositions, is true rather than false. We must hold, that is, that we have reason to act in this way, and that it is not the case that we have no reason to act in this way.

This is not a logical argument per se. Although it does rely on a logical form. What the argument draws out, is, however, the basis proper: our inability to go on without this principle grounds our use of this principle. This is an experienced fact which does not rely on logical form. We are compelled to adopt this principle by nature, that is, by our very make-up, by our being agents who act for reasons. Our very need to act rather than merely happen to behave gives us a need for reasons which may be relied on. Thus, we need the principle of non-contradiction in order to be as humans.

Thus far, however, this basis lacks grounds itself. Before going on to ground it, however, I want to point out what this grounding is not: it is not a pragmatic grounding. I am not arguing that, because we cannot go on without this principle, we ought to treat the principle as true, but that, because we cannot go on without this principle, the principle is, in fact, true. This shows how much in need of grounding this basis, our inability to go on without the principle, needs to be grounded qua basis.

Essentially, the principle now in need of grounding is the movement from a human need for something to its existence. This is a far more disputed principle. We have gone from the more certain to the less certain, and are asking the less certain to ground the more certain. This would be a bad thing if we were trying to prove to each other that logic works, but the dispute in our actual case is over how we can know that logic works. I am trying to show that this is a solid basis for our trust in logic, and thus a place from which to appeal for beliefs being properly basic, rather than that for these reasons you should trust logic to work.

So, then, why should we hold that because humans need a certain belief in order to go on, that belief is true? I noted that this is not a pragmatic move. However, it is close, and we will move through the pragmatic point of view to arrive at the non-pragmatic acceptance.

First, because we need this principle in order to go on, we cannot but hold this principle. To dispute this principle in action is to give up agency. Our choice is between agency and giving up the principle of non-contradiction. We cannot give up agency, as that would be an act of agency, and thus self-refuting. We would be affirming by our actions that agency both exists and cannot exist. Insofar as agency relies on non-contradiction, and giving up agency violates non-contradiction, agency and non-contradiction rise and fall together.

We are stuck as agents, however. The only way to get rid of all our agency is to rid ourselves of life. Even in our most capricious moments, we exercise some degree of agency. Thus, giving up non-contradiction consigns us, or at least prompts us, to a final act of irrational agency into death--suicide.

Suicide is a negating of self and world in one act. It is a denial of the world's fit to me, and to accept that the world finally fails to fit me grounds such an act as, if not rational, at least no less rational than continued attempts to conform to reality. To deny that the world fits me, which is what is required by denying non-contradiction, is to give up the possibility of a rational existence in the world.

The choice, then, is between my basic fit to the world or death: to hold that I can live, or that I cannot live (though this degree of binarity is exclusive only from the side of basic fit). Thus, either non-contradiction holds, or humanity lives in a world which rejects it. In this latter case, we are no part of the world, but foreign to it. To hold that non-contradiction does not really hold, that it is a useful fiction, even, is to deny a fit between myself and the world which, if true, undermines my ability to make my way through the world. A pragmatic affirmation of non-contradiction does not leave me solidly enough fit to the world, but leaves the possibility of a final lack of fit somewhere down the line on precisely this point. It leaves life uncertain of itself.

To get to the solid truth of the principle of non-contradiction, then, it is necessary to exclude our own death from our choices. Essentially, what we have said is, however, precisely what is noted by most who hold that some beliefs are properly basic: you must be crazy, out of touch with the world, in order to deny these beliefs. Our options have been shown to be between absurdity or this properly basic belief.

There is a degree of circularity to my argument around the edges. I assume that neither death nor absurdity are live options for most of us, and thus that we must choose the principle of non-contradiction. Some will accept absurdity, however, particularly at the edges of their lives. I am arguing that the degree of absurdity here is one which reaches deeply into our lives, that to reject these beliefs in words can never square with our lives so long as we live. Thus, the degree of absurdity moves beyond words and into daily actions, and thus presses us toward death if we deny these basic beliefs.

I am confident that any who agree with my argument will not disagree with my choice in favor of non-contradiction and other properly basic beliefs, since, were they to choose otherwise, they would not remain long for this world. Is this not merely pragmatic? Perhaps it would be, except that I hold that the world must basically fit us. One may arrive at this from any number of directions, whether evolution or theism. It is another principle which is embedded in how we live.

Here I have not grounded the principle that what we need in order to go on exists on some further principle, but have simply laid out our choices as I see them, and thereby, likely, helped show what I mean by "go on." This is a basic principle in all my philosophy: that it is (always for everyone) possible to live, to go on, or, put another way, that suicide is, in every case, irrational given reality. I am not sure it is possible to fully ground it further, but it is the point at which epistemology and ethics become one in life as lived, and thus why I sometimes speak of my philosophy as existential.

Thus, my argument is:
1. There must be some way to tell what beliefs are properly basic,
2. Here is a basis for a properly basic belief (that non-contradiction holds).
3. This basis is satisfactory.
4. Thus, this basis may be appealed to in other cases.

If I am correct, then a certain kind of human need for a belief in order to go on grounds that belief. This does not mean that there can be no other bases for properly basic beliefs. If it is the only satisfactory basis, however, then beliefs will be properly basic if and only if humans have a need for them in this way.

I suspect, but will not show here (as the argument itself has been put forth by C. S. Lewis and others elsewhere), that one can reach a belief in something quite like heaven from this point. There is also only a slight stretch from here to reach the need of a salvation which is not by works but by grace. In brief, since: if it is by works, then we may reach a point of no return of failure--a final failure that is irremediable, and thus disfits us to the world. This latter relies on the "always for everyone" in my principle, and someone else may prefer a more restrained principle, but I see no reason to privilege some positions with respect to this principle over others. I do not doubt that the principle may be used wrongly, to reach false conclusions, wherein we may find us using the arguments in both directions: some as modus tollens, others as modus ponens. If you hold you need x to go on, and I hold that x is not available to you, then I will also hold that you do not, truly and deeply, need x in order to go on.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Abortion and Atomism

To start with, atomism here refers to making parts primary over wholes. There are two forms of atomism relevant to the abortion debate: social and medical. Social atomism holds the individuals in society as essentially independent. Medical atomism treats the parts of a person as essentially separable, and so as individually treatable. The former tends to view each person as prima facie on their own. The latter tends to do the same with various parts of a person. Parts of a person can be their eyes, their stomach, their heart, etc., or their blood pressure, their digestion, etc. Both are "parts" as opposed to a holistic view which assumes that the problem appearing in one part of the body may lie in a prima facie unrelated part.

Now, then, a fetus or unborn child tends to be regarded, by both sides of the debate, as separable from the mother in both of these ways. Certainly, they are distinct persons, but one is dependent on the other and they are organically and naturally linked to each other. The pregnancy produces changes in the mother's neurochemistry, and the child is affected by various conditions the mother may be put in, whether sickness, stress, or consuming various things. These are largely ignored by a medically atomistic view, particularly insofar as these relations might be seen to affect the morality of certain choices. Medical atomism tends to assume that, while drug A may have some bad affects, adding drug B can counter that, and so one just has to find the right combination of drugs. Thus, natural processes are seen as overcomeable, and thus as only relevant insofar as they are cheaper or more convenient ways of dealing with health conditions. This moves against the idea of natural law, which, in many forms, assumes we can, to some degree, read off morality from how things are put together.

Likewise, the unborn child or fetus is almost always regarded as separable from the mother socially. This is done when they are treated as equal bearers of rights which may come into conflict, and nothing more. The location of the child within the mother and essentially dependent on the mother for life and sustenance are largely ignored.

In our society, very little is made of rights and duties of parents to children and vice-versa, particularly after the child moves out. In a sense, the abortion debate raises the question of whether the rights and duties begin before a certain period.

Where does a right to provide for one's offspring originate from? If that question can be answered, then, it seems reasonable to think, we will be able to find when it originates. If it originates biologically, then, depending on how that is fleshed out, the duty will begin when those biological conditions are met. If the duty arises from an implicit promise made by parents in intentionally conceiving a child, then unintentionally produced fetuses will lack a right to sustenance in the womb--or out of it, for that matter, depending on whether failure to abort is then considered another way of implicitly promising continued care. There may be other ways of deriving the right, and the former needs more fleshing out. I actually suspect that most pro-life supporters are relatively speciesist, whether for theological or naive reasons, neither of which are helpful (even if right) in secular debates.

I am inclined to think that the latter, implicit promise, model is implicitly held by those who want abortion to be legal. Notably, it fits a social contract theory, which theories often strike me as socially atomistic.

One problem which faces the ongoing debate about this issue is a lack of depth. That is, while a pro-life advocate can provide an ethical theory of why they are right and pro-choice advocates are not, the same applies the other way around. Neither has been able to upset the others' meta-ethical positions. In order to do so, the pro-choice advocate needs to provide good reason for the pro-life advocate to give up her biologically rooted ethics (which, actually, should have been pretty easy, thus my suspicion of speciesism). The pro-life advocate, on the other hand, needs to dislodge a social contract point of view which is relatively well linked to notions of autonomy and democracy.

Returning to my points about atomism earlier, then, I want to persue the question of how a shift to a more holistic standpoint might affect our meta-ethical positions, and thus our views on abortion.

First, a holistic standpoint must recognize interdependencies between parts, and the way the parts form the whole. The fact that abortion is an induced miscarriage, and the trial which miscarriage is seen to be by virtue of biological processes which we do not understand well, leads us to view abortion as trialsome, whether or not we come to see it as justifiable in any particular case. This is medical holism, and can be continued in basically the direction of normal natural law arguments for a pro-life position. It will also be noted, however, how the pregnancy affects the mother besides eventually bearing a child, that is, particularly, how it may disrupt life plans. Within this perspective, I think, we would want children to be raised by their biological parents--as an ideal, not a requirement. Thus, giving up a child for adoption would be seen as a lesser of two evils. This shifts us towards a social holism. This does assume a humble holism which is thus wary of going outside the biological setup. Such could be justified either by reference to God's goodness in creation, or to epistemic humility.

Second, holism would force us to ask about what affects the laws might have beyond what they say simpliciter. Thus, for instance, does legalizing abortion tend to present children as a burden? Does not doing so present women as unneeded outside the home? Do the tendencies encouraged by these laws promote attitudes and behaviors we approve of or not? Do they encourage situations which are conducive to things we approve of? Thus, legal holism asks: What do these laws teach? What kinds of laws fit into the present structure of laws? Is that good?

Finally, we might also ask whether those presently making the laws concerning abortion are the right ones to be doing it, along similar lines: Should this body have this power? That is, independently of the decisions being made, should the power being exercised by this body belong to this body, or is this body taking power which rightfully should belong to another? Of course, this gets us a bit afield, asking what the purpose of various parts of government are, as well as the purpose of government as a whole (and how the parts interact, etc.).

On the other hand, we should try to show what the problem with social contract theory and its atomism is. Briefly, I would suggest that social contract theory tends toward political and ethical voluntarism, thus removing any solid root from which to argue ethically, and atomism tends to produce division in social bodies, as well as to ignore feedback loops, and unintended consequences. It thus oversimplifies reality, and removes us from each other. It thereby diminishes our ability to make progress in understanding one another and the world around us. While liberals tend to be the most outspoken about social injustices, it seems to me that they are also the least apparently embedded in those structures of society. Perhaps the one is on account of the other. Those embedded in structures are both most invested in their being good, but also possess the most power to do something about their being bad. Those who stand outside of them can only yell at those within them, and this, too, only creates division and polarization.

If we continue to advocate reform from without, we will continue toward revolution, the most extreme form of external "reform". If we desire change without unrest and disturbance, we must enter the very vilest of structures and change them from within. For this, a BenOpish solution may be necessary as a HazMat suit in order to resist the corrosive affects of those structures while we remove the corrosion.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hegel, de Tocqueville, and Government

Having completed Hegel's The Philosophy of History, I have come to see that the previous post was one-sided at best. Having begun Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, I suspect the latter will prove helpful to any project in the spirit of the former.

One of the main issues with the previous post was that it overlooked how the stages of States in Hegel go. In doing so, I overlooked how stages of unrest, as during the Civil Rights movement, and as are being capitalized on by Sanders and Trump currently, tend to precede the stage where the people comes into its own as a State. These stages of unrest are due to some part of the people realizing its weakness to oppression, and taking steps to gain a greater degree of security, ordinarily, if not always, giving rise, in the end, to greater enfranchisement, that is, their having a greater role to play in governing or ordering the state.

In the present presidential nominations we can see that both Trump and Sanders are appealing to a revolutionary, as Hegel would say, principle in the masses. Obama, too, appealed to this.

Since around Obama's election, I have been suspecting that this revolutionary principle will need to find resolution somewhere, and will quite likely result in a relatively violent (which is not to say bloody, but disruptive) change in systems of governance. That system which becomes stable at the end of this period will need to be such as to bring together both the Trumpies and the Sandersians (I indicate in this way how little attention I am actually paying to politics) together in a people where all feel themselves importantly and relevantly participant in the decisions of the government--which apparently is not the case currently.

What is interesting in Democracy in America, in this light, is that he suggests that part of the success of American democracy early on was how uncentralized we were administratively, while being centralized in governance. The decentralization encouraged what we would call entrepreneurship, as well as, by presenting various relevant offices at all levels of government--township, city, state, etc.--providing a sense of enfranchisement to whoever felt need of it. Whether the latter has failed due to the size of the population in comparison to the number of offices, or due to the reduction of power felt by state and town governments in relation to the national government.

This is not to favor small government absolutely, but rather the distribution of power to as close to their effects as possible, within reason. Thus, the power which has reference to the goings-on of cities should be allocated to cities, and the same, mutatis mutandis, to states etc., so that a relative similarity of power is provided at each level, over more territory but fewer or less intrusive issues as one goes up, over less territory but over more personal issues as one goes down.

Rather than positing division as the principle of the USA, de Tocqueville posits Equality, which gives rise--as, in fact, is usual in Hegel's system--to opposed principles towards unity and division. In some sense, we might see this in the opposition of atomistic and holistic medicine, of the extreme unity within parties, but polarization between them, as well as the force of the internet to unite groups around shared interests, yet thus allow the easy avoidance of those who differ ideologically.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hegel and America

Sometimes one reads something one expects to be basically wrong, and finds it provides an interesting perspective. Such is the case with Hegel's Philosophy of History. The interesting perspective is provided by the question: how would Hegel approach the USA as an embodiment of Spirit? That is, what results when one uses Hegel's template for talking about States on the United States?

I have little inclination to affirm Hegel's views on progress, or even the direction History should go. I also have not actually finished The Philosophy of History. So what follows is highly tentative and exploratory. It might be classified as something like "Fictional Philosophy," more like tracing a great painting than actually painting one, and more interpretation than new theorizing. Still, it is interesting, particularly in light of "right side of history" arguments and the like.

Hegel begins with the origins of the State in question. As usual, there is a kind of mixing of peoples in the origin of the USA, both in the colonials and natives, as well as slaves, this continues in the US far more than in former States with the later immigrants. We must note at the outset, however, that the US begins with a separation from England and that the bulk of its population began, religiously, with a separation from the Roman Catholic Church. Thus the form of US thought is Analysis or Division of wholes into parts.

This Division is seen first in the form of its political system. In it, powers are divided among branches, and each individual is counted an individual first, rather than primarily a member of the State. The Each is dominant over the We. Nevertheless this form of political life does give rise to a State, that is, does unify a people into a whole, however it is a whole unified around divisions. This comes to the fore in its development into Statehood with its civil war, where the division of the USA into states provides for the fracturing of the USA in half. This event is perhaps the clearest time when the dominion of the majority over the minority, in the form of slavery, was shown as possible despite the divisions of powers in the government, which went so far as to divide the power of election of officials from the power of legislation, thus protecting against the tyranny of the majority which is possible in a simple democracy.

In this people the Spirit gains supremacy over Nature, with numerous conquests of what is by Spirit's movement toward Freedom: away from Necessity and toward Potential. Thus the people of the United States have often been known for their great ingenuity, that is, they are seen to be compelled to overcome Nature by the force of Spirit. To this may be attributed their expansion West, as well as their rise into space. In our own time, Transhumanism and the subjective accounts of gender and sexuality exhibit this same movement of Spirit to overcome Nature. Thus the USA solidifies its rise to superpower with the space program.

Hegel comments early in The Philosophy of History that the United States cannot form a true State until it has filled its available space and begins to press in on itself rather than outward. Yet the outward pressure has never ceased, rather, the USA has moved from an expansion in territory to an expansion over the whole world in influence and power. This shift begins when the Pearl Harbor attacks bring the US into WWII, thus bringing it into conflict with Hegel's final form of Spirit in the Germanic. It is with this event that the United States gains the ascendancy and becomes the form of Spirit in the world, and the completion of this war with the Nuclear Bomb evidences the United States power in ingenuity, bringing together the violence of division with the creativity found in the division of Subjectivity and Objectivity such that Spirit becomes lord over Nature.

It is quite hard to tell a State's history before it has fallen, yet we may expect the US to fall as her predecessors did: she will overshoot her principle. Analysis will give way to Synthesis, as Division goes too far, and so brings itself down. Contra Hegel, History is not finished. The Germanic was not the Best, nor is the United States, nor will any other, but each will continue to move to a closer approximation of Freedom and Spirit, until Spirit harmonizes perfectly with Nature, Subjectivity with Objectivity, that is, until all conflict between the duality is resolved into a harmony of Spirit: Freedom in Nature. True Freedom, for Hegel, is opposed to the caprice as much as blind obedience, yet this dominance of Subjective over Objective moves to caprice, though of a different sort than Hegel saw in India. It is on account of this caprice that we may expect the United States to fall, even as it is now a powerful State, yet beginning, perhaps, to wane.

Addendum: I am tempted to make suggestions as to what one might expect to follow this phase of Spirit, or where one might look for the next State. Hegel would likely suggest South America, or perhaps Space. With America, we have circled the globe, and Hegel made comments which he would have to go back on to suggest that History might go around again, for China and India--though they have changed--are not really supposed to change on his view. Wherever it may turn out to be, I doubt we can be too clear on what the principle will be, though it is likely to reassert the priority of the Objective again, as the two aspects of Spirit go back and forth like a see-saw, yet slowly getting closer to an equilibrium. What this will mean is not clear. Perhaps a revival of natural law thinking, but I am inclined to expect a shift from Analysis to Synthesis, from Atomism to Holism, as we are already beginning to see. How Synthetic thinking will come together with the rise of the Objective is unclear from here, and another spurt of creative philosophy would be needed to develop a conception of how they might come to form a single principle.