From early times diversities of opinion have abounded among people, even the most learned, to the extent that there is no opinion, no matter how absurd, that has not prevailed somewhere at some time.

Rene Descartes

There is nothing about which men really agree, nothing so absurd that some sage has not said it.

Montaigne (1533-1592)

Complexity

This chapter tackles the "Why Not" question. If elemental problems are critically important and if fixing root errors is within the expertise of ordinary people, then why don’t we do it? In other words, why do we allow root errors to abide generation after generation when we could easily fix them with down to earth commonsense, if we just would?

The answer to this question is curious. If the solutions to difficulties wrought by root errors were self-evident, then serious root errors would already be fixed. But, in reading rational philosophy, especially that stemming from leftist German ideology and French existentialism, it is obvious that epistemological and other elemental problems are rampant and the solutions are not easily apparent. To make matters worse, mistakes complicate mistakes as errors of the past become embedded in aspects of present rational fashion. Some root errors persist because they are there. These mistakes collect, become settled in our thought patterns, and slowly add up. We get used to them and don’t even realize they exist. The major reason we don’t fix root errors is because of the complexity.

The magnitude of the difficulties is frightening. For starters, major problems extend from the sheer number of root errors involved. Added to that are the problems that develop from the entangled combinations of plus and minus we encounter. True and false are twisted together so we can’t tell which is which. What is more, root errors interconnect so that one mistake tends to bring forth another. [See Eg. Ptolomy Error1 Chapter 09] Furthermore, complications occur from elemental double standards and from the conceits of absolutism, subjectivism. Paradoxes, natural and artificial, multiply already numerous incongruities. To add complexity these confusions at all levels of thinking. To this we add the dangers of superstition, magic and sorcery, part of the many illusions which confound the affairs of mankind. To make matters worse, many problems go unheeded because root errors easily escape our scrutiny and we don’t realize they are there. On top of that , when we do notice elemental blunders we tend pass them off as trivial or shrug our shoulders and treat the difficulty as if it were hopeless. It is no wonder that people tend leave elemental problems alone.

Let’s go over a few of these predicaments one at a time.

Numerous

It’s not an exaggeration to say that elemental (epistemological, logical, semantic, linguistic, etc.) problems are numerous. In intellectual society, the number of root errors is astronomical. To gather a notion of the numbers involved, make a list of questions that fall within the field of elemental theory and then count them. [See Numbers Essay for a short list].

After estimating the number of questions, then consider the number of answers, both correct and incorrect. If you do this exercise, you should have a large number.

The number of possible mistaken answers to the questions will be even larger than the number of questions. This is because it is possible to have several incorrect answers to one question.

Add these together and you will see that the quantity of elemental problems we face is titanic. If we try to answer them one at a time, the task is beyond mortal means.

To get an idea of what is involved let’s examine one short question.

Do ideas symbolize objects?

The usefulness of an answer to this question depends, first of all, on the definitions of (1) "ideas", (2) "symbolize", and (3) "objects". If each term has ten possible different definitions, a modest count, this sentence presents a thousand possible propositions; -- And that’s only one question of four words. But that is not the full extent of the confusion. We need to ask whether the question is even worth pursuing? From a plus point of view this example is a misleading question and we waste our time trying to answer it the way it is phrased.

Another way to estimate numbers is to examine books. For a personal note, my home library has approximately a thousand books dealing with philosophy. These books average about 500 pages. This gives a total of approximately 500,000 pages in my library. Let’s say each page averages one proposition with elemental import. Accepting this estimate, then around five hundred thousand propositions concerning the subject of elemental theory inhabit my small library. Most of these propositions are true enough; that is, they are adequate for the occasion and qualify as root verities. However, even the best philosopher makes some mistakes. If two percent of the propositions under discussion were mistaken, then we can roughly estimate 10,000 root errors in the books that surround my desk. If it took one chapter to refute each error, the resulting book would have 10,000 chapters. If it took a month to write each chapter, and I started now, I could hope to be done in the year 2825.

This exercise in numbers is intended to be humorous. Even though no one is going to count the root errors in my library, just thinking about the project gives an idea of the difficulty. If we extrapolate from my library to libraries in general, the number of recorded root errors goes into the billions. That’s a bunch. To construct a well rounded refutation of the root errors already made would take more time than is available even if everybody worked on it for fifty years.

Numerous

But numbers are not the only complication. Root errors usually come mixed in with sound statements and intriguing ideas. Using the word ‘mix’ is a shortcut way to say that verities and errors mingle with each other in such a manner that knowledge is often mixed with illusion. {See Chapter 09].

When root values are mixed, well formed judgments amalgamate with those that are false or meaningless. They meld together and we don’t see the differences as we read along. In this manner, root errors slip in among well-spoken acuities. Many people tend to accept the error at the same time they consent to the sound aspects of the presentation. For example, in 1962, Henry D. Aiken in his anthology, Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, wrote,

The fact is, however, that the German idealists, like many recent critics of Moore and Russell, wholly rejected the premises on which the Cartesian search for ultimate logical, elemental, and semantical simples is based. They did not believe that any idea can be understood, or indeed that it has any significant meaning, in isolation from all others. They did not believe that the truth or validity of any proposition can be made out by isolating it from all other propositions and then, as it were, trying to superimpose it upon the equally distinct and isolated "facts" to which it is said to "correspond." And though their theories were often stated in terms that are unnecessarily vague and obscure, it is a proof of the vitality of the idealist theory of interpretation that in a new and no doubt more refined form it is once again emerging as the fresh insight of our more advanced logicians and semanticists.

Henry D. Aiken

This comment, as in most of Aiken’s works, expresses several accurate evaluations. However, if we analyze the above quote into propositional components, explicit and implied, we can see that at least three insidious—and very serious—root errors nestle in this one quote. For example, connecting Descartes, Russell and Moore with that misleading phrase about "ultimate - simples" confuses the difference between "Certainty" and "Truth" and contorts the real problem out of shape. Also, although it was true that in 1962, many logical theorists were amplifying German dialectical ideology, Aiken jumps the gun in announcing that this trend is a proven advancement. To further confuse the issue, ‘revival’ was the wrong word to use in regard to German ideology. Even though Nazism had been defeated, German radical ideology was in its heyday in 1962. At the time Aiken wrote the above remark, Dialectical Materialism was flourishing and mutated versions of Marxist analysis were sweeping the universities around the world, including the United States. Although it is safe to presume Aiken’s root errors were not deliberate, they, nonetheless, mislead the unwary and rob Aiken of the joy of using his talents in a more constructive manner.

In mixed elemental presumptions, mistakes and verities combine in such a manner that isolating the error for proper refutation, requires time-consuming intellectual surgery. To refute the root errors in the above quote requires establishing of terminology, review of history and development of a commonly accepted method of logical discourse. With this in place, we can begin to refute the errors involved but who has the time for this?

Trying to sort the mix of mistakes and verities that Aiken concocted in just this one paragraph presents overwhelming difficulties. It is likely that many people reading material of this type feel that something is off kilter, but they also recognize the near impossibility of refuting the transgressions and so allow misinformation to stand without comment. Who wants to bother with the trouble it takes to try to fix elemental blunders implied in material of this type. Even if someone did the work involved, who cares? Probably there is a well researched article in some scholarly journal resting on a dusty library self that nicely refutes these errors—and is never read.

Much of what Aiken said in his over-all work is true enough, but his root errors blend in with his sound commentary in such a way that monumental confusion hinders the project of trying to correct the errors he propounds. If the mistakes in question were in straight forward statements, they would be easier to fix. Instead they are mixed in with thoughts of penetrating insight. The fallacy seems trivial compared to the brilliance of his shrewd understanding in other matters. In this way, root errors slip in cracks between well spun rhetoric.

Elemental mixes are often, as in the case of Aiken, put together with skillful composition. Mixes of affirmative and negative add curious complexities to questions of theory and make solving elemental problems a jungle of confusion.

Aiken wrote the above at a time (1962) when we in the USA desperately needed a clear, rational critique of German Ideology. Aiken and his coeditor, William Barrett, had the talent, energy, and influence to counteract the power of mystical antagonism that has exacerbated so much 19th and 20th century violence. Instead, these talented men became vehicles for perpetuating deep, consequential elemental conflict. In so doing, they hindered the development toward courteous commonsense comity which was (and is) underway in middle class society. In all likelihood, acerbating antagonism is not what they wanted to do. Through insidious little jabs they undid their own objectives. This tragedy happened because they picked up, in their personal philosophy, root errors that bent them in a direction they would never go if they realized the ramifications of their warped elemental insinuations.

Network

Another component adding to the complexity of elemental problems is the network of interdependence in which root assumptions (verities or mistakes) suggest and perpetuate each other. On the plus side this is good because one sound elemental maxim clearly spoken tends to bring forth more sound elemental maxims. When this happens, (as it often does) mankind benefits. However, on the minus side, the interconnection of elemental assumptions can be ominous because one error often leads to others. As root errors interconnect, they form clusters that are tedious to disentangle. The Ptolomy example Chapter 09 is a case in point.

The network effect of root errors is evident particularly in definitions. A misformed definition in a key position can set a whole argument off base. For example, in speaking of Emerson, Merrill Peterson wrote,

Emerson … had been captivated by the Coleridgian distinction between the Reason and the Understanding … It was, he said, ‘philosophy itself’ … Reason is the highest faculty of the soul …: it never reasons, never proves; it simply perceives, it is a vision. The understanding toils all the time, compares, contrives, adds, argues, (it is) nearsighted … dwelling in the present …

Merrill Peterson

It is difficult to find a more inappropriate definition of a philosophical idea than the above definition of reason. When the term ‘reason’ is defined as that faculty that does not use reasons, constructive elemental conversation slows to a stumble. If a person seriously tries to follow through with this definition, one error follows another until the rational enterprise becomes grid locked.

Neither Coleridge nor Emerson consistently applied this grotesque definition in their own works. In both cases, most of their writing proceeds using normal unbiased middle terms adequately distributed, as should be. However, their dysfunctional definition of ‘reason’ inter links with misshapen conclusions that surface in unexpected spots in their arguments.

The subtle connections that thread through philosophy touched by root errors require an enormous investment of time and energy to trace. Who wants the job? Who would read it?

Hidden

To add to the complexity of the problem, root errors are often hidden from view. In reading Emerson or Coleridge, we would not normally suspect an unusual definition of reason (as above) was working. However, once aware the thought is there, we can detect repercussions that would otherwise escape notice. Perhaps if Coleridge’s notion of reason (and truth) had not been so far removed from good commonsense, his scheme to form a Pantisocracy (Utopian Society) in America might have worked and Coleridge’s vision of the power of Spirit in the affairs of mankind might not have ended in so much travail, drugs, and despair.[B175/II/72-4]

Emerson (born 1803 in Boston and graduated from Harvard in 1821), in much of his thinking kept a strong hold on candid commonsense. Unfortunately, through his love affair with a few elemental errors, he helped set the stage for the undoing of affirmative logic as an academic subject in American education. If Emerson, who esteemed the transcendental aspect of Kant’s thinking, had been able to see the root errors hidden in Kant’s assumptions, Emerson might have avoided some of the mind-binding contradictions that misdirected the transcendental movement he helped inspire. Unfortunately, the errors in Kant’s epistemology burrow so deep that even Kant couldn’t see them.

Like microorganisms, elemental (epistemological, logical, etc.) assumptions easily escape notice. We need an intellectual microscope to discover their existence. Also, like microorganisms, once found we move from surprise to surprise as we learn how numerous they are and how they affect our well-being. Root verities, similar to friendly microbes, promote health. On the other hand, root errors, like unsanitary bacteria, cause intellectual disease and sometimes even bring on death.

As in the case of micro-organisms, it takes much study of root values to learn which are dangerous and which are friendly. Just spotting them is not enough. We have to trace their life cycle to learn their habits and observe their effects. Hidden aspects of root errors adds another layer of complexity to an already complex subject.

Trivialities

There is still more confusion to add to the complexity of elemental theory. Many of us tend to treat elemental questions as if they were trivialities. For example, H. M. Hubbell in his introduction to Cicero’s De Inventione comments,

The treatise "De Inventione" is a youthful work of Cicero, which was probably written while he was studying the elements of oratory, and is in fact hardly more than an elaborate note-book in which he recorded the dictation of his teacher. To this he later added conventional introductions when he decided to publish. It is an immature work, stiff, didactic and formal, and shows, except in the introduction, no promise of the opulence of style and breadth of thought which were to characterize the rhetorical works of his later years.

M. Hubbell

Hubble politely dismisses De Inventione as unimportant because it was a less eloquent exercise Cicero did when quite young. From a affirmative point of view, the opposite is true. In this exercise, Cicero provided a synopsis of the education he received and a short cut to the instruction that laid the ground work for the mature Cicero. Very seldom do we have a capsule of the education of a great man. The work, rather than being a mere "stiff", "conventional" exercise, should be considered a major resource in the history of Western Civilization.

Another example of the problem of triviality is in Susan Langer’s Symbolic Logic (1937). She wrote,

From this brief account, it may be seen that the categorical syllogism is a small part of the algebra of classes, namely, a sub-system limited to three terms, other than 0 or 1, and their respective complements, and setting forth the relations of inclusion (partial or total) among these. Thousands of men, through thousands of years, have had millions of headaches over the 24 valid and 40 invalid combinations of these terms, arranging, relating, and naming them. Symbolic logic proves them all equivalent to just three forms of a much greater system.

Susan Langer

Susan Langer, a follower of Bertrand Russell, expresses the view of many modern logicians. They don’t deny the validity of syllogistic rules but they fail to see how syllogistic requirements apply to modern rhetoric. They dismiss the syllogistic enterprise as a curiosity of the past and a mere triviality for the present.

Granted, logicians are thoroughly justified in their excitement with mathematical logic. Basic to computers, higher mathematics, and modern physical sciences, it’s one of the wonders of the world. Modern mathematical logic is a dream come true.

However, this does not make the older syllogistic logic obsolescent. The older logic is a broad category of which we can treat mathematical logic as a division. We needed mathematical logic to develop the atomic bomb. Now we need sound syllogistic logic to negotiate a working peace so we don’t use atomic bombs to destroy our world.

The tendency to dismiss syllogistic logic as trivial, is a crucial root error. It is a serious mistake because it goes right to the heart of the problems of modern society. [See Part C for an expansion of this thought.]

Level of Root Splits

As already discussed, root errors can occur in subliminal, liminal, and critical states of awareness. This introduces another dimension of complexity in the science of elemental theory.

Sometimes a crucial root error is stored deep in our thoughts where it operates as a subliminal illusion. Errors of this nature create obscure double standards because our subconscious sends our conscious mind contradictory signals. Our intuitional knowledge tells us one thing but subliminal illusions suggest another.

When we countenance elemental double standards at any level of thinking, we accept contradictory elemental ideas in different areas of thought. For example, philosophers will use rationally developed argumentation to argue that rationality has failed and must be replaced by sentiment or instinct or some form of antithetical dialectic action and reaction.

Just because a writer says he opposes rationality doesn’t mean he ceases being rational. Rationality can not be turned off. Norman O. Brown tried to do it in Love’s Body" [B316] but failed. His thinking was rational but often not sound. He gave many reasons but they mere excuses. When professors of philosophy reject the requirements of affirmative logic, they grant themselves exemption from the requirements of sound rational thinking.

We cannot choose to turn rationality off, but we can choose how we use our rationality. Are we satisfied with any reason that pops into our mind and slides downhill or do we want sound and sufficient reasons?

Strange to say, adopting root errors does not mean that the people involved always reject root verities. This is not the case. Cultures, insofar as they grow civil, ground themselves on sound rational thinking. Successful societies educate people to incorporate numerous root verities into their thought systems. Most of us, as we mature, develop a credible repertoire of sound rational assumptions basic to our problem solving skills that we use as a matter of course, even though we rarely discuss them.

When we inadvertently adopt root errors we do not erase sound elemental axioms. Instead we "split" our thinking and set elemental double standards in our mind. As we think, we carry on our own internal "disputation" as to which elemental directive will dominate at which time. It is common for us in our thinking to run both sound and unsound at the same time, speaking coherently out of one side of our mouth, and erratically out of the other. Eric Fromm gives us many examples of this type of double standard. He is so cleaver at double talk that many readers do not catch his real meaning.

The prevalence of root splits in our thought systems helps explain why many people avoid a study of elemental theory. We intuitively fear that digging into our tangled mind might destroy our ability to solve problems. Even worse, we fear that giving up elemental illusions might erase our identity and even annihilate our very self. But the exact opposite is true. Correcting root errors at all levels of awareness helps to strengthen people’s problem solving skills, enhances personal identity, and vitalizes the true self within. We desperately need philosophers and psychologists who not only recognize that correcting root errors is a healthy endeavor. We also need to know how to tell what is healthy and what is unhealthy.

Paradox

Another complication that adds complexity to the task of correcting root errors is the matter of paradox. Elemental questions, because they are basic, numerous, mixed, interconnected, and hidden, inevitably lead us into puzzling paradox. Each time we resolve one paradox, another appears. These puzzles are wonderful intellectual exercises and, if approached in this manner, help advance knowledge. Serious problems develop, however, when philosophers use paradox as an excuse to reject and disparage the basic requirements of sound rational thinking. To solve puzzles we need more sound rational thinking, not less.

Paradox adds endless challenges to the task of trying to understand our rational talents but it does not make everything of the past obsolete or excuse the rejection of sound rational commonsense thinking in the present.

There are two types of paradox in elemental theory. The first type is natural and inherent in the subject. For example, to defend the basic guidelines of sound rational thinking one must use the basic guidelines of rational thinking. To explain why a person should repair root errors and promote sound rational axioms, one must assume the axioms one aims to establish. Fundamental dilemmas reside in elemental theory by nature and lead inevitably into paradox. As we work on natural paradox we advance our comprehension and appreciation of the complexity of the subject.

The other type of paradox is artificially constructed by the adoption of root errors. This problem is not a true paradox. Instead it is an synthetically created problem that we can resolve by correcting the errors involved.

Because natural paradox inevitably accompanies elemental questions, philosophers usually introduce paradoxical puzzles into the early stages of their discussions of knowledge and theories of truth. One of the reasons epistemology has acquired its present taboo is because too many philosophers have tried to solve too many dilemmas without first acquiring the basic tools necessary to do a credible job. An analogy is in the field of astronomy. Scientists attempting to discover the forces that drive the universe should first learn arithmetic. An aspiring astronomer who doesn’t understand decimals will not do well in solving problems of quantum physics. Where you put the decimal point can make a big difference.

This study avoids the difficulty of becoming bogged down in the quandaries of paradox by saving a discussion of enigmatic contradictions for more advanced analysis. It’s important from the start to keep in mind that these problems exist, but in the long run we make better progress if we build a sturdy ship before launching into stormy seas. Plus root theory provides the tools we need to distinguish artificial from natural paradox. It provides a reliable critical way to tackle the difficult problems involved—many of which are mathematical.

Credulity and Cynicism

The top heavy load of complexity we encounter in discussing elemental theory is real. When we learn to appreciate the scope of the problem, it explains, to considerable extent, why many people avoid the subject.

We can see this avoidance in two mistaken attitudes that have been prominent in the history of mankind: (1) abso-ism, which is short sighted credulity and (2) subso-ism, which is subjective cynicism. Abso-ism, the first mistaken attitude, ignores complexity and addresses the basic problems of rationality as if they were self evident or of little challenge. The second mistaken attitude, subso-ism, demands too much and declares that, if an answer is not perfect, then it is useless. Both lean toward totalitarian movements that view more or less problems in terms of all or none. At first glance, these two attitudes appear to be opposites.

Abso-ism occurs in elemental theory when people accept or reject answers to elemental questions without attempting to understand what is involved. They are overly credulous. They choose to avoid the trouble of thinking about elemental problems by pretending that there is no problem. Because they do not see what is involved, they fail to take the time to be accurate.

The credulous believe what is handed to them because someone said so. They swallow explanations with the same ease they pick ordeaurves off a platter. In philosophical matters, credulous people are gullible and virtually invite root errors into their rational systems of thought. They do not aim for rational improvement because they see no need.

The second wrong road, subso-ism is a form of disbelief. Subso-ism is more sophisticated than abso-ism. In subjective cynicism, people correctly recognize the complexity of elemental theory but they over-react and jump to the conclusion that, because the problem is multi-complicated, it is therefore hapless or hopeless. Adopting the cynical frame of mind, subjective pundits subscribe to an all or none mentality in which, if they can’t have a quick, absolute answer, they don’t want any answer, at least not a commonsense answer.

Cynical doubt leads to despair about the possibilities of rational solutions to the problems that face mankind. The cynic either drops out or is drawn to polar invert dialectics that encourage mystical antagonism which, in turn, leads to the pursuit of power for the sake of power, as in case of Fascism.

Although the two attitudes appear the opposite, both the naif and the cynic avoid facing the real troubles that need fixing. The first, by avoiding complexity, denies the problem. The second, by declaring the problem hopeless, denies solutions. Both relieve themselves of the responsibility of correcting troublesome mistakes. Even worse, both feed on each other.

In both cases, the enormous complexity of elemental theory is the real source of the problem.

People know intuitively that elemental theory is like the mythological labyrinth built by Daedalus to contain Minotaur, the monster half bull and half human. The labyrinth was so complex that once inside most could not find their way out. The only safe solution was never to enter. We need a modern Theseus who dares accept the challenge, has the strength to kill the monster, and the wit to return.

Multi-Complex Question

The complexities mentioned above are not the only difficulties that complicate elemental theory. Elemental problems vary in degrees of importance. Some really are trivial while others hold the key to decency. Added to that, root errors have emotional connections, political implications and religious overtones (the section on Fair Play expands on this notion). Furthermore, elemental assumptions are personal People easily identify themselves with their elemental assumptions and feel threatened at the possibility of changing beliefs deeply embedded in personal thought systems. In terms of historical development, superstition and magic have been great obstacles to elemental progress. [See Human Nature Part E]

The main reason we do not do the work required to fix crucial root errors is because the complexity of the maze turns us away. If we are to break down the reluctance to address elemental conundrums, we need a ball of thread to lead us out of the mess after we enter. Trying to deny the complexity of elemental theory will not solve the problem. Giving up in despair will not solve the problem.

Cultivated honest commonsense is our ball of thread. We all have enough if we learn to use it well.

Plus root theory holds that a large number of people already have enough educated commonsense, honesty, and fair play to be the thread. We humans can use our own liminal acumen to guide our way as we slay the elemental monster and safely return.

Because many people already have cultivated commonsense and a commitment to honesty, the problem is not hopeless. We can make significant improvement if we face complexity straight on, recognize our limits, acknowledge our possibilities, and aim to make things better rather than worse.

Because we are limited in our rational gifts and because elemental problems are profoundly complex, we cannot hope to solve all elemental problems, or to even solve one absolutely. However, we have real rational talents and a natural ability to distinguish sound from unsound. Problem solving skills are already well cultivated in a large number of people. We can find good enough answers to meet the needs of our day. The results are worth the trouble.