THE THIRD BASIC RULE OF REASON

 

            The founding fathers were educated in a “logic” that emphasized the correct forms of reasoning. These “forms”, the traditional educators believed, were universal. The “matter” or “content” varied from subject to subject but the “form” was the same for all peoples of all times. A logical fallacy was a logical fallacy the world over. An “undistributed middle term” was not only invalid in science, it was also invalid in politics and in moral philosophy and in theology.

            Formal rules of inference, although referring to the same general standards, are often stated differently in different texts. These rules all have one thing in common. They are designed to avoid the over-generalizations or jumping to conclusions that happens so easily in reasoning. These formal rules must be followed if conclusions are to be validly deduced from given premises. In the simplest possible terms, the third rule of reason, which encourages the habit of following the rules of formal logic, can be stated thus: OVERGENERALIZATION IS WRONG.

            The founding fathers had been educated through their studies in logic to recognize formal fallacies and in their reasoning had developed the habit of attempting to avoid them. Considering the times and the circumstances, the quality of their reasoning was remarkably developed. A reading of the Federalist Papers, which were articles published in newspapers and read by the public at large is an example in point. It is interesting to compare the quality of these articles with the material that appears in modern newspapers written for citizens with modern educational advantages. The idea of rational presentation has changed considerably since those days.

            Modern philosophy deplores the separation of form and content implied in the common sense idea of reason. That the form holds a ‘correctness’ independent of the content seems to imply a dualism of ‘subject’ and ‘object’, a split in reality, and is thus, they maintain, a form of deception. Formal logic has, therefore, become the common enemy of the new philosophers who often believe as Norman O. Brown that “…mankind will not put aside its sickness and its discontent until it is able to abolish every dualism.” (74) Following this trend, formal logic has been slowly dropped from educational requirements until now, at the present, only a handful of individuals have any training of quality in the subject.

            If formal fallacies are a violation of right reasoning, then it would follow that logic would be an important subject in education. Since teaching logic is no longer considered important at any level of education, it can be assumed that educators no longer consider formal fallacies to be faults worth the trouble or correcting. The new “reasoning” and the new education either overtly reject the third rule of reason, or comply in such a rejection by ignoring it.

 

TRUTH

 

            Another basic distinction between the “old” and the “new” reason can be found in their conflicting attitudes toward truth. To those of the old school, words were considered symbols of ideas. Reason was believed to act upon these ideas to find truths and to bring these truths into order by forming from them inferences and deductions. This method of reasoning constituted the “search for truth” and “Truth” was generally capitalized to emphasize the idea intended. John Adams said in his Diary, “He [God] has given us Reason, to find out the Truth, and the real Design and true End of our Existence, and has made all Endeavors to promote them agreeable to our minds, and attended with a conscious pleasure and Complacency.” (75)

            It has already been mentioned that the “new” reason considers the old idea of “truth” to be meaningless. In the new schools of thought, words are to be used and measured by effectiveness because in the final analysis it is impossible for “words” to reduce truth to propositions. It is not a matter of whether one desires to be truthful. In is a matter of whether it is possible to fulfill such a desire. By all the standards of the new semantics, “Truth” (with a capital T) has no observable referent, and therefore falls into the category of a meaningless abstraction. The idea of “Truth” held by John Adams is now interpreted by those of the “new” reason as a primitive linguistic outlook; it amounts to word magic, a waste of time, a drunken extrapolation. Such an idea of “Truth” should be assigned to the dust-bin of history because it obscures rather than clarifies knowledge.

            These two different ideas of truth are distinguished by different attitudes toward change. Those of the “old” reason believed that, although their personal knowledge of truth was growing and developing and therefore subject to change, “Truth”, in itself, was unchanging. Those of the “new” reason believe that “truth” if they believe it has any meaning at all, is in a continuous process of change. 

            John Adams expressed the generally accepted view of his generation when he said, “Nature and Truth or rather Truth and Right are invariably the same in all times and places. And Reason, pure unbiased Reason perceives them alike in all Times and in all Places. But Passion, Prejudice, Interest, Custom and Fancy are indefinitely precarious. If therefore we suffer our Understandings to be blinded or perverted by any of these the Chance is that of millions to one, that we shall embrace error. Hence arises that endless Variety of Opinions entertained by Mankind.” (76)

            From this Adams concludes that it becomes man’s duty to use his reason to control his passions, his prejudices, his special interest, his customs, and his fancies. This is not as difficult as it might at first sound because God, in His wisdom, “…has connected the greatest Pleasure with the Discovery of Truth and made it our Interest to pursue with Eagerness these intense Pleasures.” (77)

            Adams, as did other men of his time, gained strength from believing that in the midst of the changing, turbulent world, the human mind is gifted with the ability to reach toward the unchanging and eternal and thereby to commune with God. They believed “Truth” was universal and thus belonged to all men. If followed that those who pursued “Truth” were united in a common spirit and had a special kind of brotherhood. They believed with St. James that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no change, no shadow of alteration.” (78)

            New linguistic theories reject such ideas of the eternal and unchanging. Wendell Johnson says, “Process implies continuous change. Continuous change implies a never-ending series of differences in ourselves and in the various aspects of reality to which we much remain adjusted. No two things are exactly alike, no one thing stays the same.” (79)

            Alvin Toffler in Future Shock states, “Francis Bacon told us that ‘knowledge…is power.’ This can now be translated into contemporary terms. In our social setting, ‘knowledge is change’ – and accelerating knowledge-acquisition, fueling the great engine of technology, means accelerating change.” (80)

            Bennis in The Temporary Society says, “Since change has now become a permanent and accelerating factor in American life, adaptability to change becomes increasingly the most important single determinant of survival.” (81) In The Greening of America, Reich states, “Although we can attempt to describe the specific content of Consciousness III at a given moment, its lasting essence is constant change,…” (82) In “Harper’s Bazaar”, November, 1970, we find, “In a world where absolutes are fast disappearing and we are becoming at every turn poignantly aware that everything changes and is therefore merely one stage in a long series…” (83)

            More and more the present day philosophy can be summed up in two words, “Everything changes.” Fixed entities are rejected and adapting to change becomes the norm of expectation. Those of the “new” reason are persons conscious of change and advocates of change. The center of their philosophy accords with the central theme of Hegel’s German Ideology. “The dialectical process makes change the cardinal principle of life; no condition is permanent; in every stage of things there is a contradiction which only the ‘strife of opposites’ can resolve.” (84)

            If everything changes, it must follow that truth also changes, unless truth is nothing. This creates numerous problems that are not at first evident. Several of these problems will be examined later, but one difficulty, particularly significant, will be mentioned at this point, i.e., if truth changes, how is it possible to “tell the truth”? It takes time to tell the truth and by the time it is told, if it has changed, it is no longer true. Journalists, for example, are faced with this problem daily in their work. They are told to tell the “truth’ and at the same time they are told everything changes. By the time what they have observed gets into print, the conditions have changed, often drastically, and what they observed no longer applies. This is a classic double-bind and one should not be surprised to discover that journalists are often cynical.

            This is but one of the practical problems that develop out of confusion over the nature of truth. More and more the plight of journalism is becoming the plight of everyone. If truth is constantly changing, it becomes impossible, from a practical pint of view, to speak truthfully. If this is so then honesty, rather than being a virtue, is a form of self-delusion to give one the “feeling” of being “noble”. If, however, honesty is an internal delusion, what happens to our ability to trust one another when we begin to see through that delusion? Will we find ourselves in sympathy with Machiavelli who explained every human action in terms of pure self-interest?

            If reason is designed to discover “truth”, but truth is constantly changing, then what is the value of reason? Under these conditions, reasoning appears to many people to be wasted effort spent to discover knowledge that is false by the time it is learned. Why bother? There are other things to do. The result of this attitude is that “Truth-seeking” is no longer an admirable objective. It no longer binds people into a common brotherhood, and the power of reason becomes, not an asset, but an actual liability. When this stage occurs, a “new reason” and a “new consciousness” and a new kind of “truth” seem the only answer if man is to have any rational life at all.

            It is a mistake to believe these problems involving truth and change belong only to professional philosophers. These problems belong to everyone. The way people believe on this matter will profoundly affect the way society is organized. The following remarks illustrate different attitudes toward truth.

           

                        TRUTH I                                                                     TRUTH II

 

“To love truth for truth’s sake is the                      “…for they (Marx & Freud) construe

principle part of human perfection                                   seemingly objective truths as mere

in this world, and the seed-plot of all                   ideological devices or as reflections of

other virtues.”                                                            psychosexual demands.”

John Locke (85)                                                       White, Age of Analysis (86)

 

“Nature to be commanded must be                      “In reality, things will be such as men

obeyed.”                                                                     have decided they shall be.”

Francis Bacon (87)                                                  Jean-Paul Sartre (88)

 

“The basis of all excellence in writing                  “…an idea is ‘true’ so long as to believe

and conversation is truth – truth is                       it is profitable to our lives.”

intellectual gold, which is as durable                   William James, Pragmatism (90)

as it is splendid and valuable.”

Philosophy of Noah Webster (89)

 

“We are not afraid to follow the truth                    “In a given context a statement may be

wherever it may lead, or to tolerate                       true or false, but there is no such entity

error as long as reason is left free to                    as ‘truth’.”

combat it.”                                                                  Chase, Tyranny of Words (92)

Thomas Jefferson (91)

 

“He [God] has given us Reason to find               “Society, in short, regards as ‘true’

out the Truth, and the real Design and    those systems of classification that

true End of our existence.”                         produce the desired results.”

John Adams (93)                                                     Hayakawa (94)

 

“I grew convinc’d that truth, sincerity        “He [man] lives not by truth but by

and integrity in dealings between man    make-believe, and his idealism, it has

were of the utmost importance to the                   sometimes seemed to me, is merely

felicity of life; and I formed written                        his effort to attach the prestige of

resolutions, which still remain in my                    truth to the fictions he has invented

journal book, to practice them ever                       to satisfy his self-conceit.”

while I lived.”                                                             Somerset Maugham (96)

Benjamin Franklin (95)

 

“In the living of life, every mind must                   “That new idea is truest which

face the unyielding rock of reality                         performs most felicitously its

that does not bend to our whim or                        function of satisfying our double

fantasy, of the rule that measures the                 urgency…Purely objective truth…

life of a man.”                                                            is nowhere to be found.”

Farrell & Healy (97)                                     William James (98)

 

“But if this truth were on the same                        “Above all, education should abandon

plane with our minds it too would be                   those practices based upon a pre-

changeable. For our minds at one time   democratic and pre-industrial society

see more clearly, at another time less:     which accepted the leisured and

and from this they show that they are      aristocratic view that knowledge is

changeable. While it [truth] is neither      the contemplation of fixed verities.”

more true when it is seen by us, nor                    John Dewey’s Theory (100)

less true when we see it not; but entire

and inviolate, it delights those who are

turned to it by its lights, and those who

are turned away, it punishes by

blindness.”

St. Augustine (99)