Eg. 1a:

For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.

David Thoreau (1817-1862) [R549Covey/1989/p31]


Chapter One: The Big Puzzle



Why can’t people achieve a few major goals that virtually everybody wants—goals such as avoiding war, famine, slavery, prejudice and other forms of rank injustice? How come we don’t live together with more understanding when that’s what most of us desire? What can we, the huge majority who yearn to inhabit a just and prosperous world, do to advance our ability to progress in peace? Can we do anything? Should we try?


The answers in this study are both similar and different from standard solutions. They are similar because they support classical recommendations such as: develop understanding, tell the truth, cultivate commonsense, foster fair play, encourage personal responsibility, keep political interactions within the realm of civil discourse, pursue wisdom and love God.  

On the other hand, answers here are different from many other approaches. The system defended herein holds that: the most feasible way to move ahead is to consciously promote and actually use sound rational thinking in solving serious problems, in consequential social discourse and in negotiating perilous conflict. This requires adequate compliance with the conditions we must meet if our reasoning is to be sound.

Root Values

The requirements of sound rational thinking are root values that underlie more obvious matters. Root values (root verities) are numerous, complex, interconnected, hidden and often hard to discover, but they are the stuff that makes our thinking solid and reliable. They are the roots of sound rational thinking and the subject of this study. Learning to recognize them, to appreciate them, to understand them and to use them is the objective of this writing.

Root Errors

To promote root values (underlying requirements of sound rational thinking) we not only need to appreciate them but we also need to avoid obstructions that stand in the way. The barriers that block our ability to develop root values are mistakes we make in elemental areas of thinking. These mistakes are abundant, subtle, tricky, and sophisticated. Learning to spot them and correct them is an enormous challenge. These elemental mistakes are referred to herein as root errors. To support root values we should avoid root errors.


In seeking growth, we do not have to start from scratch. Fortunately we live in an era in which many philosophers, educators, and religious leaders actively encourage many requirements of sound rational thinking. As a result, most educated people enjoy a well tuned repertoire of developed rational skills.

As things now stand (2000), we live in a world blessed with a good measure of rational expertise. Because so much has already been accomplished the world enjoys substantial well being in many areas. A little improvement could go a long way.

Unfortunately, despite our headway, rational skill is often not good enough. Time after time practice fails to reach expectations. Part of the fault is caused by failures in rational quality. At the root of the matter, rational defects stem from mistakes in elemental (root) theory. When this happens, root blemishes are the source of the trouble.

Of course root errors are not our only problems. We need empirical, scientific, social, economic, political and metaphysical truths as well as sound understanding in logic and epistemology. All are necessary. Yet, root blunders carry a special significance because of their all-embracing character and because many of them are relatively easy to repair and because improvement can be dramatic once the mistake is corrected. We (people who desire a sane and safe society) could easily prevent many disasters in society if enough of us took the time to recognize serious elemental defects (root errors) for what they are and replaced them with elemental verities (root values). 

A Key to Peace

If the above approach is warranted, then elemental philosophy, the study of the roots of rational thinking, holds a key to solving the challenge of peace. We, the peace-loving majority, can upgrade civil discourse and move toward the better world we desire by supporting root values and fixing basic elemental mistakes (root errors) that cause our worst problems. This study explores why this is so and shows how we, those of us who desire to solve problems in a non-violent manner, can advance our abilities to progress in peace by promoting elemental sanity.

Plus Root Theory

Plus root theory and other terms that begin with plus are names for the elemental philosophy introduced in this study as affirmative. Plus root theory is well founded and updated but does not claim to be perfect. Plus root theory uses terms as defined in the plus glossary. [See Plus Essay ]


The thesis of plus root theory is that: 1. the most feasible way to advance our abilities to progress in peace is to promote sound rational thinking; 2. the most feasible way to promote sound rational thinking is to sufficiently support root values and adequately correct root errors.


The term affirmative is a core concept in plus root theory. It refers to conditions that adequately support requirements (basic guidelines) of sound rational thinking or at least offer noteworthy improvement. Affirmative does not claim to be perfectly authentic, but it does claim to be good enough to handle the situation it currently addresses. Good enough is not an excuse to be careless because good enough frequently demands high quality, particularly in our modern technical world.

Affirmative is the upper middle way above the deficiencies of absolutism, subjectivism, sentimentalism and ignorance. Affirmative is firm but not dogmatic. [See Affirm Essay]

Counter Affirmative

Counter affirmative is that which deviates from the affirmative. It circumvents, hinders, opposes or negates adequate support for sound rational thinking. There are many ways of being counter affirmative. Negative, totalitarian, deviant, invert, self immune, radical, antagonistic and contemptuous are some of the many terms in the plus system that name the ways people use to ignore, circumvent, or reverse the root requirements of sound rational thinking.

Deciding what is or is not counter affirmative will depend on what is judged to be affirmative. When these determinations are ill begotten, we create deadlocks in discourse and dialectic.


Philosophy means the love of wisdom. Over time it has also become an academic subject that comprises a broad spectrum of study that includes a wide collection of people designated as philosophers—some who show little evidence of loving wisdom. To accommodate these developments, the plus system defines philosophy as: a thoughtful examination of reality, especially problems involving ideals, discourse, and duty, accompanied by an attempt to put first things first and expose illusion. Philosophy, as defined, also includes religion insofar as religion is reflective, realistic, promotes the requirements of sound rational thinking, aims to put first things first, advocates concern for the business of mankind, and tries to avoid illusion. [See Theory Essay]

Unless otherwise specified, in plus root theory the term philosophy refers to this definition. [See Part G for a detailed discussion of distinctions between philosophy and religion. See Plutarch: “Reason is the mystigogue to theology.”]

Three Divisions

To simplify discourse, the plus system divides philosophy into three broad categories; common, critical, and elemental. These three ways of thinking blend one onto the other with no distinct line of separation. In practice we check one against another as we develop our knowledge.


Common philosophy is workaday evaluation of reality and priorities that all persons mull over in their mind to some extent as they mature. Common philosophy is common but not necessarily shallow. Common philosophers can be uncommonly brilliant. We acknowledge the value of common philosophy when we praise commonsense. [See Liminal Essay]


When people begin to self-consciously reflect on what they are thinking, deliberately examine the issues involved, articulate their ideas and discuss them with others, philosophy enters the critical realm. In critical reasoning, we intentionally search for explanations and guiding principles and make an effort to apply our principles to what we do. When we deliberately relate what we do to a goal, we reason critically. When we wonder, speculate, study, examine, experiment, ask pointed questions, seek answers, defend a position, and/or find fault, we reason critically.

Elemental: Root

When we begin to focus and ponder on sub structures that sustain and guide our thinking, then we enter the elemental realm of philosophy.Elemental examinations can be either common or critical.

Elemental philosophy (root theory) investigates the elements that underlie rational thinking. In elemental philosophy we study our own thoughts, think about our self, concentrate on our own reasoning, and check around for elemental mistakes (root errors). People in the elemental realm become interested in thinking about thinking. Elemental philosophy is a catch all phrase to include grammar, epistemology, logic, rhetoric, math, geometry, ideology, linguistics, semantics, dialectics and related subjects.

In the plus system, elemental and root are comprehensive terms to refer to internal mentality where we seek to know more about our intellect and our thinking processes. [See Elemental Essay] 

Affirmative Elemental Philosophy

Putting the above together, affirmative elemental philosophy refers to studies and teachings that support the requirements of sound rational thinking in a manner adequate for the occasion. Affirmative elemental philosophy is affirmative root theory.

Affirmative elemental (root) theory covers a wide field of research and stretches back in time. It includes any aspect of learning insofar as it supports impartial truth and right reason. The emphasis here is on affirmative. Affirmative elemental philosophy is theory that adequately promotes the requirements of sound rational thinking.

Plus root theory is the version of affirmative elemental philosophy introduced in The Roots of Sound Rational Thinking. For the most part, plus root theory reasserts what has already been said by others. However, affirmative ideas need reiterating in words for our time so they don’t become trampled under the hoofs of the noisy, negative herd. If we are to advance our abilities to progress in peace we must keep affirmative elemental philosophy alive and well.

Root of the Matter

Boned down to the marrow, plus root theory aims to promote affirmative thinking by articulating and defending the roots of sound rational thinking. If we are serious about peaceful progress we need to find ways to improve rational skill in society so we can upgrade our ability to resolve conflicts in a mutually beneficial manner.

In the plus system, minus and spurious are terms (added to those mentioned above) used to refer items and theories considered to be counter affirmative from a plus point of view.


But why make many distinctions and write long explanations? Why not simply list basic requirements and be done with it?

Plus root theory does offer a list. See the List Essay on the plusroot web site for a list of some basic requirements of sound rational thinking from a plus point of view. 

In one way,  the list is helpful because it shows important requirements in a short space. In another way, the list confuses matters because it raises more questions than it answers. 

A list cannot address the deepest challenge facing academic theory today which is controversy over the existence of the rules rather than disputes over the contents. A list cannot explain itself. 

If people are serious about promoting the requirements of sound rational thinking “The List” needs to be explained and, because many questions are involved, the explanation must be long. 

Although the requirements of sound rational thinking can be expressed in discrete propositions, as in “The List”, if we desire more adequate knowledge and if we wish to successfully use the theory, sound propositions must fit together in an integrated system where they operate as a unit. There is no short way to do this.

Throughout the explanations in the following pages, the plus approach continually emphasizes that sound rational thinking is relatively simple. We call it commonsense. On the other hand, an articulated defense of the requirements of sound rational thinking is complex, integrated and long. No matter how much one says, there is more that yet needs to be said. [See Articulate Essay]


One reason that lists are unsatisfactory is that the terms involved are ambiguous and need to be explained. When equivocation is severe, as often happens in root matters, good explanations require work and are time consuming.

When struggling with root problems, developing fitting terminology is an urgent challenge. No matter how distasteful, we must do something to help us decide which word means what. Over time, lax thinkers have ravaged the symbols we need to discuss elementary problems of rational discourse. As things now stand, equivocal terminology confronts us at every turn. Even the simplest word, such as ‘reason’, is loaded with contradictory and/or inappropriate uses. To conduct a fruitful inquiry into the roots of sound rational thinking, we need a language we can use.

If we were talking face to face, we could work together in designing terms to suit our needs. Lacking that, we could share a philosophical dictionary but I can’t find one that satisfies. Consequently, since I’m writing, the burden falls on me to devise terms to fit the case. [See Elemental Design Essay]

The definitions in plus root theory are referred to as plus definitions. Plus definitions are stipulated and laid down as a condition of an agreement. Although stipulated, they are not haphazard. As far as possible, they stay in line with ordinary usage and complement each other in a coherent set. Often a plusdefinition is one of several dictionary definitions.

Stipulated definitions are terms defined specifically for a particular use. This does not mean the stipulator considers other definitions wrong. Stipulation simply means that the stipulator aims to restrict usage of certain terms to the definition specified in a controlled situation. When stipulators succeed in producing well-formed definitions, they are worthy of being adopted by the community at large. [See Definition essay for how this is done]

Encouraging stipulated definitions for appropriate occasions is a helpful technique in cases where accuracy is important. If we consider improving our rational skills to be important, then taking steps to clarify meaning is worth the trouble. Learning to use well-formed stipulated definitions can produce more accomplishment with less effort than any thing else we do.

Promoting well-formed definitions does not impede freedom of thought. To the contrary, being able to know what others mean helps to foster both mutual understanding and independent thinking. Those who assert that definitions interfere with freedom of thought have it exactly wrong.

A definition of a term is not a principle and is not a theory. Learning to appreciate the distinctions between and among “definitions”, “facts”, “principles”, “theories”, and “applications” is important in understanding how affirmative logic applies to matters at hand. Plus root theory uses plus definitions in formulating plus root tenets. [See Definition Essay]

The Problem of Problems

In elemental (root ) theory everything a person wishes to say implies that which is yet to be said. Since root theory is inherently complex, people who want to write about root matters are faced with the problem of deciding where to start, how to organize research and what to assume.

This basic problem itself suggests a way to begin putting an elemental search in order. One thing all root problems have is common is that they are all problems.

What is a problem? Are all problems equal? Do we really have problems or are problems nothing but illusions of alienated man?

Before launching on a project to solve problems it is best to know what problems are. Remember that in plus discussions terms are used according to plus definitions.

A problem, as plus defined, is a pertinent question or group of questions in which some difficulty obstructs discovery of adequate answers. Sometimes a problem explores which questions to ask and in what order. Always, a problem involves the unknown where some doubt surrounds the needed answer. If there is no difficulty, there is no real problem. Some problems are potential, some are actual and most are both. A problem is the intellectual aspect of a conflict, a struggle, a hostility, an opposition. [See Problem Essay]

From an affirmative point of view, all rationally functioning people face problems and sometimes make mistakes while working toward solutions.

In other settings, outside the universe of this discourse, the term problem can hold additional meanings such as ‘source of distress’. For example, a fish on a hook has a serious problem that is a source of distress for the fish. The fish responds instinctively by flopping to wiggle off the hook. But in this study, for the sake of discussion, we agree to ignore this connotation and restrict the meaning of problem to the intellectual realm of question and answer. Following this procedure, a problem is a pertinent question in which finding a good enough answer presents a challenge.

When we detect a problem what we discern is the possibility of making a mistake. This is because, if no chance of mistake were present, no real difficulty could occur and the question would not be a problem. If we never made intellectual mistakes, we would simply ask questions and, with no danger of blunder, our first answer would always be the best answer. With no chance of error, we would always ask the right question at the right time. Furthermore, we would agree on fundamental issues, because nobody would make mistakes. 

Problems, from this point of view, are a function of the possibility of mistakes. Without one, there would not be the other. 

And so it is with elemental philosophy. If there were no chance of making intellectual mistakes, we would not face root problems. If we never made elemental blunders (root errors) then, when thinking about thinking, we would always ask the right questions at the right time and the right answers would pop into our head. At every moment, we would accurately analyze our thoughts about thinking and correctly apply our conclusions to our business.

It’s safe to say that problem-free root theory does not happen. In thinking about thinking, we do make mistakes and we do have elemental problems. Each root blunder represents one problem and sets the stage for others. Insofar as we refuse to fix these mistakes, we deliberately indulge in elemental deception. Every root error is an actual problem. Every root verity is an actual solution.

Mistakes about thinking work their way into our rational techniques and damage problem solving abilities. By affecting the foundation of problem solving skills, root errors compound complexity in elemental theory far beyond problems in other subjects. Because root theory consists of assumptions that underlie our surface problem solving, elemental impropriety presents challenges of a different order of magnitude than mistakes in surface subjects. As in all fields, some mistakes are worse than others.

Notice the quandary created by root errors. The mistakes not only damage our reasoning skill in daily affairs, they also damage our ability to correct mistakes because we must use our problem solving skills to detect and fix mistakes in our problem solving techniques. Root errors are obstructions buried in the very roots of our thinking. Although easy to fix under the right conditions, root errors often remain unrepaired because people don’t see them. To add to the confusion, many professionals treat root errors as if they were frivolous. As a result, some root errors become embedded in our rational style and remain generation after generation. [See Chapter 3, Rational Style]

So here is a big challenge: The prudent way to improve problem solving skills is to adequately correct root errors and sufficiently support root values. This means we must look at and think about problems that many authorities insist are trivial and not worth the bother.

The plus system holds that: taking time to fix root errors is worth the trouble it takes. If we have to split hairs in order to build a better world, we should learn to enjoy splitting hairs and make something worthwhile of the job.

Root Problems

Root problems are challenges we face in trying to spot and correct underlying mistakes in rational theory, either of omission or commission. Root problems cover a wide range of questions. 

Numerous philosophical problems are elemental. For example: How do we know that what we think we know really is true? How do we know we are not deceived? How certain can we be? What do we do when wrong answers become accepted in the rational style of a society? Does it matter whether our answers are right or wrong? Is there a difference between right and wrong? Is it worth the trouble it takes to try to answer these questions?

The above questions are only a few taken from a mile long list. [See List Essay] Many of the problems appear arcane or trivial to the uninitiated. But if they are answered wrong, the effects can be serious all down the line. A wrong answer can obstruct our ability to reason together in a constructive manner. When we loose our ability to reason together in a helpful manner, people resort to force and violence to resolve conflict. Force and violence often result in war, slavery, genocide and other evils of totalitarian despotism. From a peace-loving point of view, maintaining our ability to reason together in a constructive manner is of the highest priority.

Plus root theory step by step puts together a method that works well in finding adequate answers to crucial root problems. By solving problems one at a time, we reach a place where solutions fit together into a set that becomes as an operating unit. This is the breakthrough discovery set discussed at length in part C of this study.


Rememberthat elemental questions are problems that lie beneath our regular thinking. Root values are below more visible problems we face in normal discourse. We have no choice about this.

We do have choice about whether we work to build good affirmative habits or whether we allow unsound suppositions to compromise our honesty and to weaken our problem solving skills. If some of our deep elemental beliefs are unsound, we can use our own commonsense to help us ferret out and correct them. Each person makes their own choice in the matter.

Adequate and Inadequate

Each root problem is a question or can be turned into a question. As already defined, a problem is a pertinent question or group of questions in which some difficulty obstructs discovery of correct or good enough answers. Consequently, each elemental belief we entertain can be viewed as an answer to a question. Answers to root questions are either adequate or inadequate. Adequate answers are acceptably authentic for the occasion. They are affirmative. Inadequate answers are not acceptably authentic for the occasion. They are spurious or invert or negative. Great consequences can result from the difference.

Root Values

Adequate answers to root questions provide reliable guidelines for civil discourse. Adequate answers to root questions are roots of sound rational thinking. In the plus definition system, they are root values. Each value is a root verity.

Root values constitute the roots of sound rational thinking. They establish a foundation for ethics, help build trust, promote science, encourage equitable democratic republics, and advance our abilities to progress in peace. People who function well in free society incorporate numerous root values in their systems of thought. To conduct honest business, play games, or plan ahead with hope of success we need sound root assumptions underlying rational presentation. Root values do not cause problems; they are solutions to problems.

Root Errors

Not all answers to root questions are adequate. Too often root suppositions are unsound. Unsound root suppositions accepted as if they were true are root errors. Root errors are mistakes we graft on to the roots of our thinking. They are not basic and are not intuitional. Notwithstanding, they often fuse with our instincts and we become emotionally attached to them. One reason that we latch on to specific root errors is because we can easily use them in our rationalizations. Instincts, which are all or none, bond well with root errors, which, in many cases, are also all or none. [See Chap. 5, Intuition]

Root errors are assumptions and/or statements concerning elemental thinking that are insufficient, misleading, or outright false. They are inadequate answers to questions about thinking. A root defect is an unsound elemental thought accepted as if it were true. It is an element of error. It is a counter affirmative supposition. In ideology it becomes a spurious or negative theme. In practice, it’s a divisive tactic. It easily become a totalitarian ploy.

Root errors are misleading assumptions and/or statements that concern the fundamentals of sound rational thinking. They appear in lectures, in the media, in classrooms, in conversation, and in written material. In examining root errors, plus analysis concentrates on written material because written thoughts are easily isolated and can be studied individually. [See Context Essay] 

Root errors damage negotiation quality because they hinder the cultivation of affirmative logic and commonsense reason. [See Chapter Two, Negotiation Quality]

Elemental Silence

We humans do the greater part of our elemental reasoning in unspoken levels of thinking. We internally use our private, elemental insight and logical acumen to mull over root thoughts in our mind, but we rarely talk about them. We tend to keep these thoughts to ourselves. It’s as if we humans are united in an unspoken project to keep elemental knowledge a secret. 

Elemental silence is an intriguing aspect of human behavior. The most important thinking projects we humans undertake are squirreled away in pockets in our mind that are confidential. Although we moderns engage in scientific research of almost every other aspect of our behavior, when it comes to root thinking, which is intellectual, there is not much serious current research. Today’s scientists engage in vast amounts of behavioral research, but that is a different field.

When we break elemental silence, it is often an added phrase in a long sentence within a paragraph dealing with another subject. Both root values and root errors are commonly promulgated by asides. Attachment technique is particularly insidious in the case of serious root errors. In this manner very dangerous mistakes are smuggled into the rational style of a group with almost no critical evaluation. Our habitual silence in this area makes the smuggling of root errors into rational theory very easy to do and difficult to detect and hard correct. [See Chapter Three, Rational Style]

Getting Ready

Plus root theory as presented in the Roots of Sound Rational Thinking is introductory. It is a “getting ready” project. Before we can delve into profound hidden root errors and undertake psychological studies of the root theory of specific people we need shared terminology and method that fits the case. This requires an affirmative logic we hold in common and a means of testing the accuracy of the premises we use.

If the plus approach can succeed in providing these basic necessities of constructive elemental research, then we are in a position to request entry into the hidden root thinking of individuals.


Articulation, here defined, is an expression of ideas with at least some understanding and some intention of communicating meaning. The plus definition of ‘articulation’ includes both speaking and writing. Articulated root values and root errors are propositions concerning root theory stated by individual thinkers at specific times.

It is safe to say that the bulk of root thinking we humans do is non verbal. We use non verbal root assumptions in solving problems and in talking to others. When we read, write, or discuss an elemental (root) proposition, it is no longer non-verbal.

Early philosophy began with spoken discourse rather than written. The ancient Greeks, for example, relied on dialogue and memory. People still use spoken analysis but its usefulness is limited to such a small group that we can pass over this method for the most part. In modern philosophy, well-formed analysis of root ideas requires propositions in writing so we can critically evaluate them at our leisure and double check them. A written proposition is obviously more explicit than an intuition we entertain in subliminal thinking.

The advantage of singling out specific root propositions for analysis is that we can be more accurate and precise than if we speak of vague drifts or meandering generalities. This is not to say that vague drifts are unimportant, but, it is impossible to discuss ‘vague drifts’ with precision. Nonetheless, we can be relatively accurate about individual propositions:

The elements of root theory are propositions; The elements of propositions are terms. Plus root theory aims to set up conditions where we can profitably analyze pertinent root propositions and correct serious root errors. The hope is that plus root theory can help, step by step, to improve the rational style of our society. A project of this nature depends primarily on written expression. [See Articulation Essay]


Often there is a gap between what we speak or write and what we really mean. Sometimes we have an idea we would like to express but, when we write it and reread it later, we realize it does not say exactly what we had in mind. What is more, another person can read our statement and pick up an entirely different idea. It takes skill for a writer to communicate what he or she wants to say. 

The gap between what we say and what we mean becomes more and more significant the deeper we go into root theory. The more profound the thought, the more difficulty we encounter in developing precise expression.

When we speak or write, we usually are trying to articulate what we mean. Sometimes people deliberately say or write contrary to their real meaning. When this happens the gap between opinion and expression is on purpose. Deliberate deceptions is different from illusion. [Chapters 8 & 9]

In developing human knowledge there are many kinds of gaps between what we know and impartial truth as it exists independent of our knowledge of it. Some gaps occur because we have not fine-tuned our expressions enough to communicate what we have in mind. We can minimize these gaps through philosophical refinement.

Some gaps are inherent in our knowledge acquiring apparatus. Inherent gaps can never be eliminated because they are innate in our nature. We need to appreciate the difference between accidental and innate gaps.

Because we are limited beings, we cannot be absolutely certain that the tenet, as we express it, is perfectly, unequivocally correct. Plus root theory emphasizes the existence of this intrinsic gap, often small, between an articulated root tenet and the elemental truth it aims to express.

In numerous cases gaps are minute and we safely ignore them. However, in plus root theory, we hold these realties in mind to restrain theory from slipping in to absolutism or subjectivism. [See Chapter 21, Q-Gap]

Plus Tenets

Root valuesare requirements of sound rational thinking. When we articulate that which we believe to be a root verity and state it in a well-formed proposition, we create a root tenet. Affirmative root tenets are those articulated root propositions that adequately express a root verity. The articulated root tenets in this study that claim to be affirmative are called plus tenets.

Articulating root valuesraises a troublesome double problem. In the first place, we can be wrong. What we think is an accurate root tenet might be a root error. In the second place, even if we are adequately correct, there is still a gap between what we say and the intrinsic root verity we aim to express.

We humans are blessed with the ability to comprehend, express, and use a vast amount of knowledge. Even so, there are inherent limitations in our knowledge acquiring apparatus. We can know much but we can’t know everything. When we discuss truth, we should be modest. Keeping clear the distinction between truth and knowledge is a defining factor in affirmative thinking. This importance of this distinction will become more obvious in later chapters. [See especially Chapter 22, Certainty]

Propositions and Definitions

Please notice that plus tenets and plus definitions are not the same. A plus tenet is a proposition. Propositions are different from definitions. A definition clarifies and establishes the meaning of the terms used in expressing a proposition. A definition is a statement but it is not a proposition. Definitions strictly speaking are not true or false. Instead definitions are appropriate or inappropriate. In this study, the terms proposition and definition are used as defined in the plus system. These plus definitions agree with the better part of general usage.  [See Definition Theory]

A proposition is an expressed judgment that states a principle or a fact in such a way that it can be used as a true or false premise in reasoning. Although we are justified in judging that definitions are appropriate or inappropriate, at their origin definitions are neither true nor false. On the other hand, a proposition is a well formulated statement that is either true or false, sound or unsound.

A root tenet aims to express a sound elemental principle about reasoning that we use in reasoning. 

If we choose, we can turn a definition into a proposition. This is acceptable if we take proper accounting for the alteration. Usually we do this mentally because it is a bother to spell it out. Many philosophical conundrums result from failure to give due notice that a definition is being switched into a proposition or vise versa. It is harder to explain than it is to do. If you had a good logic course in school, you learned this distinction and understand the difference between definition and proposition. If you didn’t have a good logic course, you missed out. Even so, it is not hard to figure it for yourself.

In plus root theory, plus definitions are used in plus tenets. The definition is stipulated and then the term is used in a proposition according to the defined meaning. This method is not the least bit new. It’s what normal philosophers usually do. It’s one of those things that goes without saying. [See Redundancy Essay]

Dewey Example

As an example of a root error from a plus root point of view, take a statement published in 1916 by John Dewey in his Essays in Experimental Logic. He wrote:

Eg. 1b

“…knowing is, biologically, a differentiation of organic behavior.” [B263]

Dialectical materialism, as suggested here by Dewey, ignores our intellect and reduces human knowledge to perception, instinct, imitation, imagination, suggestion, and conditioned reaction and is the result of physical heredity reacting with products of our physical environment. Since instincts operate on an all or none basis, bypassing intellectual evaluation encourages totalitarian thinking and tends to fracture society into hostile elements. Extrapolating from his early Hegelian views, Dewey, in his theory of knowledge, encouraged root errors in educational policies that are now embedded in much modern education. This procedure solicits lax logic and lax logic leads to totalitarian tactics and autocratic politics. [See Lax-Taut Essay & Dialectic Chapter] 

A person unaware of the above elemental stance in Dewey’s rational theory could read Dewey’s more popular writings and never guess this idea was percolating underneath his smooth polemic. In some of his writing, Dewey seems to be doing the opposite. Much of Dewey’s reasoning, when he steps away from his lame epistemology, employs affirmative thinking that cajoles readers into thinking Dewey supports commonsense logic. In actuality, Dewey, underneath his pleasant exterior, promotes radical negative dialectics based on a deep ingrained antagonistic mentality. Root theory is tricky business. [see Contempt Essay]

Refuting Root errors

Initiating a root error takes a micro bit of space and a mini second of time. Refuting the error can require weeks and months and years of work. Although the actual fixing is easy once an error is exposed, bringing the error to light and explaining why it is mistaken is not easy. Working to undo root errors entrenched in the rational style of a society can take decades of research and volumes of literature before the error can be reduced to a non-destructive level. Conversely, avoiding root errors is a simple matter.

The quote from Dewey is only as an example. Before trying to explain why the above case is a root error and before delving into the totalitarian ramifications of Dewey’s ideology, we need reliable rational guidelines to help us steer our discourse around the rocks of misinterpretation. 

Because plus root theory disagrees with Dewey in the statement quoted does not mean plus oriented philosophy rejects every statement Dewey made. To the contrary, the plus method is designed to sort plus from minus. In some of his writing, Dewey promotes positive ideas that support affirmative values. Dewey’s elemental theory is a mixture of affirmative and negative elements. To appreciate the difference between sound rational thinking and totalitarian ideological opportunism, we need to be able to sort root valuesfrom root errors. When we become skilled at sorting, we can take advantage of Dewey’s constructive insights without being damaged by the many serious mistakes he makes in ideology and dialectical theory.

Dewey is a good example of plus/minus elemental mixture. He used affirmative ideas to promoted negative antithetical dialectic as a solution to problems created by negative antithetical dialectic. He was very modern.


To complicate matters, root errors are numerous. In truth, so many elemental mistakes abound in literature and other media that we cannot possibly correct them all. Fortunately, we don’t have to. We don’t have to absolutely fix even one. We can make significant improvement by adequately correcting some of the worst and by strengthening root values.

Worth It

Is it worth all the trouble it takes to adequately correct serious root errors? To answer this question, we need to see the havoc root errors create in human affairs. 

Serious root errors damage rational skills people must share to live together in credible safety. These root errors are dangerous because they put our abilities to progress in peace at risk. For example, a deep misunderstanding of the role of reason in our pursuit of knowledge is a serious root error. A critical misunderstanding of reason can interfere with our abilities to reason together. A eschewed definition of human nature leads to distorted remedies for human ills.

Root errors, rather than solving problems, make problems worse. A false root proposition accepted as if it were true entrenches mistakes in our thought systems and does damage difficult to see. If we have a wrong answer, but think it is true, we stop looking, and, if we work from false premises we often undo our own objectives. A root error can carry over from one subject to another.


Root errors vary in degrees of effect. Some are so insignificant they can be safely overlooked. Others are so serious, it’s worth all the effort it takes to fix them. What are minor mistakes in one situation can be crucial in another. While it is safe to allow minor mistakes to slide by, serious mistakes are a different matter. It is worth the work it takes to adequately fix serious root errors. Plus tenets are articulated solutions to root problems as interpreted in the plus system.

The tricky part is to actually fix mistakes that need fixing rather than making them worse. Sometimes philosophers do an excellent job in identifying problems but then, instead of improving the situation, they regress by taking a lesser error and replacing it with much more serious mistake. It is better to leave things alone than to make matters worse. To make improvements, we should replace the error under scrutiny with a better situation. Because it is easy to make mistakes, we need to continuously double check our development to see if what we think is reform actually is reform.

To promote fundamentals of dialectical success and advance our abilities to progress in peace, we need adequate rational theory in the right places. The purpose of correcting root errors is to bring into play root valuesso we can we can increase our ability to use sound rational thinking as we address vital concerns. Evidence abounds to prove that the solutions featured in this study can genuinely improve our abilities to engage in civil discourse and to advance our abilities to progress in peace. [See Example Essay]

Root errors do not fall out of the sky. We, in our human frailty, create them by our own ineptitude. We speak, write, and promulgate them in an unwitting manner. In almost every case, root errors happen carelessly. I cannot think of a single instance where it looks as if the person who made the mistake did it on purpose. John Dewey, we can safely assume, genuinely believed what he wrote.

Even though inadvertent, root errors definitely exist. From minor to crucial, they are repeated over and over in philosophical discourse. They work their undoing much as drops of water erode the stone. They eat at foundations of society like termites in wood. They bring sickness to thought systems as pathogenic microorganisms bring disease to bodies.

From a peace-seeking point of view, the worst root errors are those that interfere most with our ability to progress in peace. As already indicated, mistakes of this magnitude are serious. Serious root errors corrode efforts to control violence because they fuel divisive tactics and damage the shared rational competence that unifies the body politic. Serious root errors frustrate the development of problem solving skills necessary to negotiate fair solutions to serious disagreement. They are crucial mistakes.


This chapter began with questions called the big puzzle: What can we humans do to achieve a few major goals that virtually everybody desires? What can we do to avoid war, slavery, famine, prejudice and other forms of rank injustice. Reduced to a few words, the question reads: What can we do to advance our abilities to progress in peace?

Here is the answer: If we adequately avoid root errors and sufficiently promote root values, we can upgrade rational competence to the degree that we can resolve serious conflict within the realm of civil discourse and, in so doing, reach a more peaceful and just society. This is the plus root approach.

Plus root theory does not claim to eliminate all elemental problems. Still, it does show how to reduce many serious blunders to a manageable level. Present difficulties can become overwhelming if we allow serious root errors to work their way into philosophy and misdirect the course we must take to achieve the society that we, the middle majority, desire. If enough people would make the effort to adequately correct enough major root errors, we could achieve enough in problem-solving skills to dramatically advance our abilities to make improvements. 

The problems involved are complex but the situation is not hopeless. It is not necessary to be perfect. We only have to make improvements. We already possess our logical intuitions, our native commonsense and our innate urge to honesty. With the destructive capability of modern weapons dispersed around the globe, it’s worth the trouble. We can do it. We should do it.

Root errors are the problem. Root valuesare the solution