The writings of the U.S. Founders abundantly support the inference that the people who first united the States into nation held both “reason” and “virtue” in high esteem, not as two separate entities, but as complements. Thomas Jefferson, for example, in a letter to A. Marsh, said, “the Constitution of the United States [is] the result of the collected wisdom of our country…founded, not in the fears and follies of man, but on his reason, on his sense of right, on the predominance of the social over his dissocial passions,…”(8). Benjamin Franklin said, “I think with you that nothing is of more importance for the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue” (9). James Madison in the Federalist Papers (No. 49) equated reason with the control of public opinion stating, “the passions, therefore, not the reason, of the public would sit in judgment. But it is the reason alone, of the public, that ought to control and regulate the government”(10).

            When Patrick Henry died, placed by the side of his will, were found some sealed reports concerning the resolutions of the Virginia Assembly in 1765. These papers concluded with the following words:

“Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader! Whoever thou are, remember this; and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others” (11).


          George Washington said, “can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature “(12). To practice virtue, to control the passions, and to respect reason and wisdom were assumptions that gave unity to the work the men who formed our nation were trying to accomplish.

            Thomas Jefferson, the leading spokesman of this spirit, was alive with respect for reason and the virtues that encouraged rationality. In his later years he wrote to his friend John Tyler, “no experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, which we trust will end in establishing the fact that man may be governed by reason and truth”(13). Jefferson’s writings are sprinkled with references to “reason” as the standard of republican government. It is clear from his writings, that he assumed “reason” was a virtue, not a vice. He was proud to be part of a movement he believed so wholesome and beneficial to mankind. In 1786, he wrote to James Madison, “…it is honorable for us to have produced the first legislature who had the courage to declare that the reason of man may be trusted with the formation of his opinions” (14). In his notes of Virginia (Query 17) he said, “reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agent against error…Reason and experiment have been indulged, and error has fled before them. It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself”(15). When some of the citizens of Hingham, Massachusetts organized a debating society, Jefferson praised their motives and wrote to them, “the object of the society is laudable, and in a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion, and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance”(16). On the same subject in the same month (April 1824) he wrote to Edward Livingston:

“…a government held together by the bonds of reason only requires much compromise of opinion; that things even salutary should not be crammed down the throats of dissenting brethren, especially when they may put into a form to be willingly swallowed, and that a great deal of indulgence is necessary to strengthen habits of harmony and fraternity” (17). 


A society held together by the bond of reason clearly is an experiment of a special kind in the history on man. The Founding Fathers were convinced that the experiment in the United States was something unique.

In the first of the Federalist Papers, a series of essays begun in 1787 to explain and defend the Constitution and published in New York City newspapers, Alexander Hamilton wrote:

 “It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important questions, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force”(18).


Benjamin Franklin feared that if we fail in this political building that ‘mankind might hereafter from this unfortunate instance despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance and to war and to conquest”(19).

            The leaders of the American Revolution were firmly convinced that the example of a government reformed by reason and sustained by virtue would sooner or later be of benefit to the whole world. They believed they were acting, not for themselves alone, but for the human race. In writing to Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the founder of the first American antislavery society, Jefferson said, “were we to break to pieces, it would damp the hopes and the efforts of the good, and give triumph to those bad through the whole enslaved world. As members, therefore, of the universal society of mankind, and standing in high and responsible relation with them, it is our sacred duty to suppress passions among ourselves, and not to blast the confidence we have inspired of proof that a government of reason is better than one of force”(20). Reason, in an atmosphere of honest, open, and free discussion, was to be an alternative to the evils of error and oppression, accident, and force, chance, war, and conquest.

            Furthermore, the U.S. Founders had a clear idea of what they meant by the word ‘reason’ and were unembarrassed in promoting the virtues they believed supported reason. They were influenced by Biblical Christianity, by the rationality of the ancient Greeks and Romans, by the better part of Scholasticism, by John Locke’s insistence on clear ideas and clear definitions, by the Scottish philosophy of common sense, by English laws, by Isaac Newton, and by the spirit of scientific experimentation. They were also, through their training, practical men. Testing theories by experience was important to their way of thinking.

            It is interesting to note that these remarkable people formed their concepts of rationality before German philosophy, English empiricism, and Rousseau’s irrationality turned the classical idea of reason inside out. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was first published in 1781, five years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, and it was not until 1855 that Meiklejohn translated Kant into English. Kant argued that the mind of man could not know essences but could only have knowledge of a limited world of phenomena (appearance); if reason tried to transcend these limits and solve metaphysical problems, it became enmeshed in unresolvable antinomies or contradictions.(21)

            Rational philosophy took another down turn in the early 1800s when George Hegel, along with many influential students of Kant’s philosophy, instead of rejecting the contradictions of “pure reason”, apparently accepted contradiction as a stage or essential aspect of “reason”. In the process, they virtually reversed the basic requirements of rationality and cast doubt on all that had previously been considered virtuous in the pursuit of reason and good judgment. At this point in history, a strange invert theoretical revolution began tp take hold, beginning in Germany and eventually spreading until it has become more and more dominant in influence. The issue to be stressed here, however, is that this inversion occurred after the American experiment had begun. The effect of post-Kantian interpretations of ‘reason’ and ‘obligation’ was not deeply felt in this country until the Republic had been firmly established. Although our US Founders had a clear idea of what they meant by “reason” and “virtue” (often called commonsense), the notion of “reason” since that time has undergone a variety of transformations and qualifications. Each of these revisions has been accompanied by a corresponding shift in ethical theory and moral evaluation. Slowly, ideas of reason and ethics have been changing, decade by decade, until now, at least in theory, approaches to rationality and morality that stand in direct opposition to the ideas of the Founding Fathers are becoming an acceptable way of thinking.

            Of course, changes in rational theories and ethical values do not occur at a steady homogenous pace. Due to habit and practicality, the commonsense reason praised in Colonial times continues in many ways to be exemplified in the character of the American people. While new theories of reason are being promoted and adopted in many influential areas, the old theories remain with a force and power of their own. In this manner, new theories of reason that contradict the old assumptions coexist with more traditional presuppositions and create real conflicts in the modern idea of “reason”.

            Insofar as our republic actually was an experiment in reason and the virtues that sustain reason, this conflict over the nature of rationality is a conflict over the success and failure of the experiment in government begun by our forefathers. The function of a free democratic republic, as they saw it, rested on a certain logical and ethical presuppositions, or at least on conduct compatible with these assumptions. A challenge to these standards and assumptions is thus a challenge to the experiment as a whole. Those who propose a new reason, a new way of thinking, and a new morality, -- insofar as these proposals stand in opposition to the ideas of reason and virtue assumed by the Founding Fathers -- are in effect blueprinting a new experiment. Such a proposal assumes de facto that the old experiment has failed and that Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, etc. were wrong in their fundamental beliefs.

            Many modern writers proclaim, in one way or another, that the old fashioned ideas of reason and virtue were neither reasonable nor virtuous. Many are seriously involved in movements to bring to society a new kind of reason and a new ethics that transcends the “old” categories and dichotomies of the right versus the wrong. For example, Charles A. Reich, one of the new intellectuals and, for a time, professor at Yale University Law School, begins his popular book, The Greening of America, with a call to a new and higher reason. He says, “There is a revolution coming…It promises a higher reason, a more human community, and a new and liberated individual”(22). He continues on the next page, “technology demands of man a new mind—a higher transcendent reason—… At the heart of everything is what we shall call a change of consciousness. This means a ‘new head’—a new way of living—a new man.”(23) His first chapter is devoted to this need, its urgency, and what it can hope to accomplish. Almost 400 pages later, Reich moves to his conclusion on the same note by saying, “Consciousness I and Consciousness II have proven inadequate to guide our society any longer. What is called for is a higher logic and a higher reason. The creation of a new consciousness is the most urgent of America’s real needs.”(24) This new Consciousness, which Reich insists is urgently needed in America and which he called Consciousness III, is consciousness of “becoming” and its lasting essence is constant change. (25) The ethics of this consciousness is one of releasing, augmenting, and inspiring man’s instincts (26) rather than control of the passions through rational principles. Consciousness III does not appear to be the development of our forefather’s idea of reason and virtue, but rather it appears to be the rejection of it. Reich states, for example, “One last aspect of trying to escape imposed consciousness is concerned with so-called rational thought. Consciousness III is deeply suspicious of logic, rationality, analysis, and of principles…Consciousness III believes it essential to get free of what is now accepted as rational thought.”(27)

            Jefferson and his colleagues were thoroughly grounded in logic, had high regard for principle, and enjoyed analyzing problems and reasoning through to possible solutions. This New Consciousness, which Reich insists we must achieve if we are to survive, is a radical rejection of the idea of reason that originally motivated the first American experiment. With one stroke, that which is formerly considered logical is now considered illogical and vise versa. This is certainly a change. Whether it is new is an issue yet to be discussed.

            In another popular book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler, who was later appointed a Visiting Professor at Cornell University to conduct research into future systems, states that the “entire knowledge system in society is undergoing violent upheaval…”(28). In commenting further he states, “And as experience and scientific research pump more refined and accurate knowledge into society, new concepts, new ways of thinking, supersede, contradict, and render obsolete older ideas and world views.”(29) That research should pump new ideas into society is to be expected. To be able to do so is the purpose of research. That some of these ideas contradict each other and need to be worked out to discover reasonable solutions to the conflicts such contradictions introduce is an expected problem and is not new. However, new ways of thinking that render obsolete old ways of thinking could mean a violent upheaval. It would depend on which “old ways of thinking” are being contradicted and rendered obsolete.

            Toffler says, “We are witnessing an historical process that will inevitably change man’s psyche.”(30) Charles Reich speaks of a “higher transcendent reason” that leads to Consciousness III. Both are saying basically the same thing— A new reason will lead to a new nature.

            Eric Fromm, a Marxist psychoanalyst, social philosopher, and author, explores the problem of the “new reason” more deeply than either Toffler or Reich. He sees the “new reason” as not new at all but as a new emergence of the old paradoxical logic that has deep roots in history. In Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, a  a book that had its origin in a workshop held at the University of Mexico, 1957, Fromm said:

“Taoism and Buddhism had a rationality and realism superior to that of Western religions. They could see man realistically and objectively, having nobody but the “awakened” ones to guide him, and being able to be guided because each man has within himself the capacity to awake and be enlightened. This is precisely the reason why Eastern religious though, Taoism and Buddhism—their blending in Zen Buddhism—assume such importance for the West today.”(31, p80)


In explaining this higher rationality, Fromm states:

“In opposition to Aristotelian logic is what one might call paradoxical logic, which assumes that A and non-A do not exclude each other as predicates of X. Paradoxical logic was predominate in Chinese and Indian thinking, in Heraclitus’ philosophy, and then again under the name of dialectics in the thought of Hegel and Marx... Inasmuch as a person lives in culture in which the correctness of Aristotelian logic is not doubted, it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for him to be aware of experience which contradict Aristotelian logic, hence which from the standpoint of his culture are nonsensical.”(32)


Later in the same article and quoting Dr. Suzuki, Fromm states:

“In accordance with Zen’s attitude towards intellectual insight, its aim of teaching is not as in the West an ever increasing subtlety of logical thinking, but its method ‘consists in putting one in a dilemma, out of which one must contrive to escape not through logic indeed, but through a mind of a higher order.’”(33)


According to Fromm, paradoxical logic opposes Aristotelian logic and is a superior logic of a higher order of the mind.

            The experiment in “reason” begun by the founders of the United States was based on a logic which assumed Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction.(34) In this sense, the men who wrote our Constitution lived in a culture in which the correctness of Aristotelian logic was not doubted, and from this point of view the American experiment can be referred to as Aristotelian. Also, from this point of view, the rejection of Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction is an essential change from one kind of “reason” to another and, considered politically, is a change from one kind of experiment to another. Fromm appears to be encouraging precisely this kind of change; the rejection of the old experiment and the adoption of a new experiment based on a different idea of reason.

            In a discussion of this subject, however, it should be mentioned that accepting Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction does not mean that one is therefore committed to defending everything Aristotle said. This distinction is important to emphasize in discussing the philosophy of any culture and particularly important when discussing the rational pre-suppositions of Western religions and the political philosophies growing out of Christianity. Thus it is accurate to state that the rational philosophy predominated in the early days of the United States was Aristotelian but it is inaccurate to imply that the people of those days followed everything Aristotle said. For those who are concerned with authentic history this difference is important. Fromm’s distinction between Aristotelian and paradoxical logic is not as simple as he makes it sound and the higher order of mind he discusses could conceivably be lower order of virtue. A new experiment based on such a logic could be a counter-productive experiment.

            That the old way of thinking has failed and that there is a need for a new way is the theme of much modern literature. This trend can be referred to a modern trans-formal movement. Traces of this mega temporal interpretation can be found in The God Within by Rene Dubos and The Natural Mind by Andrew Weil. 

            George B. Leonard, one of the leading spokesman of the new trans-formal mentality states, “…there has recently arisen a widespread feeling that a change of large dimensions is in the air. The anticipatory sense of the coming of a new age is shared by soothsayers, astrologers and others of a visionary turn of mind.”(35) In stating his thesis, Leonard asserts that, “…the current period is indeed unique in history and that it represents the beginning of the most thorough going change in the quality of human existence since the creation of an agricultural surplus brought about the birth of civilized states some 5,000 years ago.”(36) He also argues that, “…the time is overdue for the emergence of a new vision of human and social destiny and being…I want to dream of the kind of personal and communal transformation that may lead to the unification of the world, not by conquest or politics, but by the emergence of a new human nature.”(37) The new vision he presents for realization is in many ways similar to the ideals of the U.S. Founders, but the means for achieving this dream is radically different. “Transformation” is to be accomplished by transcending old modes of perception, logic, categorization, and dichotomizing. He believes these narrow ways of thinking have created illusions of alienation and separateness and erected walls between people. “Civilization long ago cast a spell over human kind, lulling human senses to what is most vivid and fascinating, infecting them with a dis-ease so pervasive that it has come to be assumed as part of the given. Newtonian science made the spell even more powerful…”(38) He believes the old civilization is leading inevitably to catastrophe and the solution is the evolution of new human nature.

“We must program a change in human nature into our computer model of the future… It is possible to imagine that when the first 10,000 die as a result of a smog attack, the established leaders will respond merely by instituting more effective smog alert procedures rather than by getting on with the business of helping the human race evolve into what amounts to a new species.”(39)


            Meta trans-formal literature presents many challenging ideas to discuss. The subject under discussion here, however, is the American experiment in reason and the problem to consider is the effect of meta transformal theories on the ideas of reason and virtue that originally unified the United States. How does the new vision of transformed consciousness relate to the old vision of reason as a bond of society? The new “enlightenment” seems to vibrate with a rejection of the old.

            Joyce Carol Oates says in the article written for the Saturday Review, Nov. 4 1972:

“The vision of a new, higher humanism or pantheism is not irrational but is a logical extension of what we now know. It may frighten some of us because it challenges the unquestioned assumptions that we have always held. But these assumptions were never ours. We never figured them out, never discovered them for ourselves; we inherited them form the body of knowledge created by our men of genius. Now men of genius, such as British physicist/philosopher Sir James Jeans, are now saying newer, deeper things.”(40)


She says, near the conclusion of her article:

 “We need a large, generous, meticulous work that will synthesize our separate but deeply similar voices, one that will climb up out of the categories of “rational” and “irrational” to show why the consciousness of the future will feel joy, not dread, at the total rejection of the Renaissance ideal, the absorption into the psychic stream of the universe.”(41)


What happens to our American Experiment in reason and our understanding of virtue when the distinction between rational and irrational is erased? The shattering implications of this suggestion will become clearer as this problem is analyzed more explicitly.

            Although those seeking a transformed consciousness and a new higher reason point in different directions, they have one thing in common. They all see the classical mode of thinking and the rigors of formal logic as an undesirable element that needs to be dispelled. To some, traditional logic and the habits that encourage the traditional way of thinking are merely a nuisance, to others they are symptoms of mental disease, and to a select few, they seem to be nothing less that a calamity that must be eliminated at all cost.

            In Kaiser News: Telecommunications One World Mind, a series designed to explore the input of technology and rapidly changing value systems, it is stated, “In the way that we now use the words ‘rational’, ‘logical’, ‘scientific’, ‘reality’, they are projections of minds that, at their very best, are primitive; hung up on the Grecian Platonic and Aristotelian syndromes.”(42) The old idea of reason is giving way to an electronic revolution, to a shared consciousness, to ESP, Telepathy, Clairvoyance, Astrology, even the Occult. “Our voices crying in the wilderness are gone in the wind. Something there is that does not like a wall. Let’s join hands and see if we can find another world.”(43)

            In Experience and God, John E. Smith distinguishes between what he called “formal reason” and a “living reason”. In the former, “… reason appears as an alien force, moving from proposition to proposition in a timeless continuum, and the concrete self stands related to any of its conclusions only in an external way, i.e. by the accidental connection of compulsion.”(44) This “formal reason”, he contends, is sufficient for technology and science, but for more intimate experience it is inadequate. He maintains, “Reason in the same sense of living reason needs to be recovered, for it is the form of reason required for all the concrete rational pursuits in which men are engaged—art, morality, politics, and religion.”(45) As things stand,  Smith fears there is “an irreconcilable opposition between rational dialectics and living religious faith.”(46) He goes on to say:

 “If, however, we no longer think of formal logic and coercive proof as the standard form of reason but can consider instead a living concrete reason which is rooted in selfhood and experience and seeks more for intelligibility and understand than for proof, then it will be possible to bring philosophical dialectic into the discussion of religious problems and to help overcome the disastrous split within contemporary thought between the rational (which usually means physical science, mathematics, and formal logic) and the emotive (which usually means all the most cherished human enterprises—morality, art, religion, and the theory of the state)…”(47)


            If formal reason is inadequate for concrete pursuits, can it therefore be assumed that those engaged in art, morality, politics, and religion are free to violate the requirements of formal logic? Are they free to be illogical? If they are not free to be illogical, then the distinction, practically speaking, is redundant and unnecessary. Smith analyzes the differences between what he calls a “living reason” and a “formal reason” in some detail, but he does not address himself to the above question when talking about a new reason. This omission is significant because this is precisely the question that needs to be answered. Are the new intellectuals saying the physical scientists and mathematicians should take care to avoid equivocation, distinguish true from false premises and formulate deductions in a valid manner (basic formal requirements), but social scientists and philosophers are exempt from such formalities? Are these people giving themselves a dispensation that frees them from the need to be logical? These questions are fundamental, because when one is besieged by illogical moralists, politicians, and religious fanatics there is no way their arguments can be rebutted if one cannot appeal to logic. A provocateur need only maintain that his reason is a “living reason” not bound by the inadequate proofs of formal logic and he becomes free to proclaim eccentric incongruities and expedient deception as reasonable.

            The ramifications of this question (are sociologists, moralists, politicians, philosophers, and theologians free to give themselves dispensation from logical requirements?) should be explored in more detail because many prominent individuals in these fields are vocal in disparaging logic. Will Durant in The Story of Philosophy writes, echoing Francis Bacon’s sentiments with approval, “No wonder that philosophy has advanced so little since Aristotle’s day; it has been using Aristotle’s methods…Now, after two thousand years of logic-chopping with the machinery invented by Aristotle, philosophy has fallen so low that none will do her reverence.”(48)

            Herbert Marcuse in Reason and Revolution says,

If, then, truth is to be attained, the influence of common sense must be swept away and with it the categories of traditional logic, which are, after all the philosophical categories of common sense that stabilize and perpetuate a false reality. And the task of breaking the hold of common sense belongs to the dialectical logic.”(49)


Marcuse maintains that Hegel’s Dialectic, by raising reason to a higher level of consciousness, “strikes a decisive blow against traditional formal logic. He says traditional logic and the traditional concept of truth are ‘shaken to their foundations’ not by philosophical fiat, but by insight into the dynamic of reality.”(50)

Several pages later, Marcuse develops this idea more emphatically.

“If this is the case, logic has a task hitherto unheard of in philosophy. It ceases to be the source of rules and forms for correct thinking. In fact, it take rules, forms, and all the categories of traditional logic to be false because they disregard the negative and contradictory nature of reality. In Hegel’s logic, the content of the traditional categories is completely reversed. Moreover, since the traditional categories are the gospel of everyday thinking (including ordinary scientific thinking) and of everyday practice, Hegel’s logic in effect presents rules and forms of false thinking and action- false that is, from the stand point of common sense.”(51)


            An idea of reason and the virtue necessary to sustain it gathered from Hegel’s and Marcuse’s logic will be radically different from the ideas of reason and virtue assumed by the U.S Founders. If the rules, forms, and categories presupposed by the men who designed our Constitution can be shown to be false, then the ideas that were supposed to bind together and unify the nation were an illusion. The implications of this thought are undeniably revolutionary and the significance of the title of Marcuse’s book, Reason and Revolution, becomes more apparent. A radical change in the meaning of “reason” is a revolutionary thought. Norman O. Brown, a classics and language professor who experienced what bordered on a conversion to Freudian psychoanalysis argues in Life Against Death that “psychoanalysis represents a new stage in the general evolution of human self-consciousness.”(52) Brown maintains in his preface, “Freud knew that what he had in hand was either nothing at all or a revolution in human thought.”(53) In the last chapter, as Brown reaches his conclusion, he describes modern science as:

“…a disease in consciousness. In more technical psychoanalytical terms, the issue is not the conscious structure of science, but the unconscious premise of science; the trouble is in the unconscious strata of the scientific ego, in the scientific character-structure. Whitehead called the modern scientific point of view, in spite of its world- conquering success, ‘quite unbelievable’. Psychoanalysis adds the crucial point: it is insane.”(54)


A few paragraphs later Brown goes on to say:

“The strength of consciousness to circumvent the limitation of formal logic, of language, and of ‘common sense’ is under conditions of general repression never ending.” (55)


            Traditional logic (particularly as intrepreted by the Scottish common sense philosophers), the classics, and respect for science was the basis of education received by the founders of the United States. These subjects and the attitudes they fostered are now held in low esteem by many influential members of the academic community.

            The repudiation of the traditional idea of reason is not restricted to one school of thought but is found more and more as a common denominator among otherwise divergent philosophies. The following examples help illustrate how widespread the disgust for “traditional” rational theory has become.

“So formal logic detached from the yes-or-no game is useless and even dangerous. It is an unnatural way of thinking, a contrived techniques of going from unwarranted assumptions to foregone conclusions…I honestly believe that you’re better of without it. Most psychologists today would say the same.”,                      Flesh, The Art of Clear Thinking (56)


“…academic philosophy and formal logic have hampered rather that advanced knowledge, and should be abandoned.” Chase, Tyranny of Words (57)


“ The ideal type is related to two other features in (Max) Weber’s thought; first, a thoroughgoing nominalism and secondly, a conviction that the concepts applied to cultural phenomenona cannot be reduced to the framework of traditional logic.” Aron, The Logic of the Social Sciences (58)


“Responsibility is logically related to freedom and in logic there is no freedom, for everything is controlled by rigid rules of syllogism.” Suzuki, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (59)


“I conclude that the Aristotelian doctrines with which we have been concerned in this chapter are wholly false, with the exception of the formal theory of the syllogism, which is unimportant. Any person in the present day who wishes to learn logic will be wasting his time if he reads Aristotle or any of his disciples…Throughout modern times, practically every advance in science, in logic, or in philosophy has had to be made in the teeth of opposition from Aristotle’s disciples.” Bertrand Russell, Basic Writings (60)


“The compound of Biblical religion with Aristotelianism was particularly unfortunate because it accentuated the idea of a world of fixed and eternal essences in which deductive rational processes could explore the unknown on the basis of the known…” Niebuhr, The Self and the Dramas of History (61)


“The history of Western knowledge is thus one of progressive emancipation from Classical thought, an emancipation never willed but enforced in the depths of the unconscious.” Watzlawick, Pragmatics of Human Communication (62)


“My belief in the Absolute…clashes with other truths of mind whose benefits I hate to give up on its account. It happens to be associated with a kind of a logic of which I am the enemy. My disbelief in the Absolute means then disbelief in those other supernumerary features, for I fully believe in the legitimacy of taking moral holidays.”  William James, Pragmatism (63)


“Because the idea of change and development was so central to his thought, Hegel was forced to conclude that the traditional, formal, and (as he called it in derogation) static logic of Aristotle was hopelessly inadequate, and that it had to be replaced by what he called a dialectical logic more adequate to deal with the Absolute…It is sufficient to say that Hegelians abandoned or professed to abandon traditional logic and replaced it by their own dialectical formula.” White, The Age of Analysis (64)


“It is a fact that the requirements of the object have rendered unusable schematized techniques and outworn logic. From physics to biology, the sciences of nature have not ceased to exercise a growing pressure over our habits of thought, to the point of forcing us at a certain level to abandon traditional logic.”                    Garaudy, Karl Marx (65)


            These examples (and they can be multiplied many times over) clearly indicate that traditional logic and classical education emphasizing virtue, right reason and common sense are no longer respected. It is more respectable to ridicule and patronize these old fashioned attitudes.

            The prejudice against Aristotle and traditional rational theories goes so deep that there is actually a non-Aristotelian “semantics” based on the rejection of the traditional laws of thought. Alfred Korzybski, the founder of General Semantics, felt, at the time he wrote Science and Sanity, that “…99% of the population of the globe appear as infantile or ‘mentally deficient’”(66) Korzybski identified Aristotelian logic and all forms of logic based on the Classical laws of thought with primitive, animal-like behavior. He said, “What has passed under the name ‘logic’, for instance, is not ‘logic’ according to its own definition, but represents a philosophical grammar of a primitive-made language, of a structure different from the structure of the world, unfit for serious use. If we try to apply the rules of the old ‘logic’, we find ourselves blocked by ridiculous impasses. So naturally, we discover that we have no use for such a ‘logic’.” (67)

            Korzybski believed that such a grammar appeals to people who are feeble thinkers and encourages a logic that often leads to insanity. He said,

“Neither Aristotle nor his immediate followers realized or could realize what has been said here. They took the structure of the primitive-made language for granted, and went ahead formulation a philosophical grammar of this primitive language, which grammar—to our great semantic detriment—they called ‘logic; defining it as the ‘laws of thought’. Because of this formulation in a general theory, we are accustomed even today to inflict this ‘philosophical grammar’ of primitive language upon our children, and so from childhood up imprison them unconsciously by the structure of the language and the so-called ‘logic’, in an anthropomorphic, structurally primitive universe.”(68)


From this type of reasoning, Korzybski also convinced himself that mental illness could be traced to the classical laws of thought, particularly as expressed by Aristotle. He said in his introduction, “…the Aristotelian type of education leads to the humanly harmful, gross, macroscopic, brutalizing, biologically animalistic types of orientation which are shown today to be humanly inadequate (his emphasis). These breed such ‘fuhreres’ as different Hitlers, Mussolinis, Stalins, etc…”(69)

            These evils supposedly stem from the traditional logical laws of Identity, Contradiction, and Excluded Middle. The examples he gives are particularly interesting since Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, particularly Hitler and Stalin, agreed with Korzybski’s basic premise and based their policies and educational techniques on the rejection of the ‘narrow, inadequate’ logic and rhetoric of Aristotle. Korzybski did not seem to be bothered about checking out these major assumptions of this thesis, nor do his followers. They regard his “breakthrough” in semantics as equivalent to Einstein’s contributions in the fields of mathematics and physics.

            General Semantics, originated by Korzybski, has now gained a position of prominence in many schools of journalism and in many English departments. The International Society for General Semantics (the I.S.G.S) organizes and sponsors seminars, publishes text book for elementary, junior high and high schools as well as books for colleges and adults, and has departments of general semantics in universities around the nation. Its influence on the media, literature, and public communication of all kinds is unmistakable. (70)

            Wendell Johnson, a prominent member of the Institute of General Semantics, explains in his book, People in Quandaries, “It is one of the purposes of general semantics to stimulate basic revisions in our language structure, revisions that will provide for evaluative reaction of greater adjustive value in a world which we now know to be far from static and unchanging.”(71) Again he says,

“The difference between an absolutistic, subject-predicate, intensional language structure (which he identifies with Aristotelian logic) and a relativistic, functional, extensional one is thus sweeping and revolutionary. They imply and foster vastly different tendencies in personality development, in educational policies, and in social customs. They imply and foster nothing less than different kinds of civilization. The one we have tried for many centuries, but even though we are familiar with it we seem at times to understand it insufficiently. The other we are attempting to glimpse in the pages of this book.”(72)


The General Semanticist believes that the Aristotelian civilization is producing maladjusted individuals and learning to reject the laws of thought that Aristotle invented can cure this. The General Semanticists are, therefore, dedicated to establishing and perpetuating a “non-Aristotelian semantics” and thereby they hope to bring about a revolutionary new kind of civilization.

            Those who feel there is an urgent need for a meta transcendent, living reason are not a majority in number, but they are significant in influence. They are people who write language text books and teach in journalism schools. They are professors who teach the teachers who teach English and Literature. They are philosophers, psychologists, and editors. These are positions of influence and the insistence on re-evaluation of reason, the need for a new human nature, the necessity of new values, and the promise of a coming revolution in society by opinion makers of this rank should be taken seriously. The “old” reason and the “new” appear to be in conflict and many molders of thought are presenting the “old” reason as the enemy and the “new” as a means of salvation.