I’ve allus notices grate success

is mixed with troubles more or less,

And it’s the man who does his best

That gets more kicks than all the rest.

James Whitcomb Riley (1853-1916)

Chapter Eleven: Rational Improvement

After investigating the complex pits inherent in elemental rational philosophy, perhaps we should reconsider the cynic’s position? Maybe complications overwhelm possibilities and we should admit that the psycho-mess has gone beyond repair? Or worse, perhaps Nietzsche told the truth when he said:

Socrates was a misunderstanding; the whole improvement morality, including the Christian, was a misunderstanding.

Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Nietzsche contends that rationality is a disease and that the formula of happiness equals instinct. Nietzsche expressed a despair for rational improvement that permeated avant-garde ideology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. [See Scratch]

To be honest, expecting improvement in rational skill does not mean much on face value. Very few people would be opposed to rational improvement if convinced that that which is called ‘improvement’ genuinely was improvement. Most who oppose the improvement mentality feel it has been tried since Prometheus brought fire to man but has been a disaster. The harder man works to use his rational gifts the more miserably he fails.

Those who concluded that the improvement mentality had failed began to insist on something radically new. Following this reasoning, Hegel (transcendental non-Aristotelian dialectic), Marx (Communistic Dialectical Materialism), Mussolini (Fascism), Hitler (Nazism), Sartre (Existentialism) and those who dog their steps, rejected the improvement mentality and raised to a fine art their radical effective reverse value ideology, dialectic and totalitarian socialism.

But their dubious dialectic hasn’t worked. In Europe, two centuries of psycho-heroic revolution and totalitarian confrontation has produced so many disasters that the time has come to consider the possibility that Nietzsche, Sorel, Lenin, and like minded dialecticians, are the ones who failed and that simple commonsense improvement mentality, represented by Joseph Addison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and followers of affirmative logic, is what succeeds.

A relatively easy solution to complexity awaits. Granted, inherent difficulties warn us not to expect instant or absolute answers. However—and this is what counts—the problem of complexity does not rule out the possibility of improvement. If we have a feasible method and if we motivate ourselves to do the work and if we instigate a few well-chosen corrections, then we, the truth seeking majority, can use our clout to help upgrade collective abilities enough to advance our abilities to progress in peace.

Nietzsche had it exactly backwards. Improvement is what we need and improvement is what we can have. What is more, the genuinely fresh, upscale and top notch point of view has always been in the ways of those who have the wit to see the creative power of improvement mentality.


The notion of improvement in problem solving assumes we already have some logical skills at our disposal and that we do not have to start from scratch. Also, opting for rational improvement assumes improvement is feasible. Along with that, the idea of rational improvement implies that, even though human knowledge is limited, possibilities abound for development within our restricted perimeters. A project of rational improvement presupposes it is worth the effort required to clarify meaning, to develop symbols that fit the case, to encourage sound judgment, and to popularize standards of valid deduction. When we choose rational improvement as an objective, by implication, we declare it is worth our while to set goals, to encourage persistence, and to establish sound rational guidelines to help us move toward our objective.

Rational improvement means progress in promoting sound rational thinking in individuals and headway in upgrading rational style in society. Surely we can do better than we now do.

Feasible Method

Affirmative Rationality bolstered by Basic Common Logic is a feasible method. When we use an Affirmative Rational commitment in ordinary everyday thinking we call it commonsense. Part C of The Roots of Sound Rational Thinking explains Basic Common Logic in an introductory manner.

Problems develop when we make mistakes. If we make mistakes in assessing the basic requirements of sound rational thinking, we make elemental rational mistake. We make root errors.


As previously mentioned, to speak constructively about elemental rational theory we need terminology we can understand and meanings we can share. Unfortunately, too many words have been squandered by lax linguistics and political spin. In the process, we have loaded philosophical words with so many contrary and contradictory meanings that the terminology in place no longer expedites communication.

Establishing definitions that fit the need, stands now as one of the most difficult challenges of modern elemental theory. Plusroot Theory addresses this problem by clarifying our understanding of the requirements of reliable definition theory and by using stipulated appropriate definitions. These efforts underlie normal discourse and science.


Rational improvement, as defined here, is not mere zigzag action and reaction. Rational improvement supposes an involvement with a well formed set of logical requirements already adequately understood. Affirmative reasoners not only respect the guidelines of sound rational thinking, but make a concerted effort to follow them in practice.

The working guidelines of sound rational thinking are straightforward requirements that people with cultivated commonsense already know to a satisfactory degree. Some of the basics are: (1) survey the field, (2) identify issues, (3) take steps to clarify meaning, (4) set goals, (5) divide problems into smaller parts, (6) state pertinent questions in writing, (7) determine priorities, (8) plan procedures, (9) design tests, (10) keep records, (11) measure that which is germane and measurable, (12) adequately define that which needs defining, (13) do that which we believe needs doing if it is ethical and economically feasible, (14) When answers seem clear, form a tentative synthesis and, as time passes, follow through with checks and rechecks to test the veracity of the proposed hypothesis.

These are some of the working guidelines of sound rational thinking. In well-formed reasoning, we use these guidelines when examining matters of consequence. It’s not a big secret. The basic guidelines are easy to understand. Analysis, based on sound rational thinking, is commonsense unbiased logic at work. Part Three of this study examines guidelines of sound rational thinking in detail.


In establishing order of procedure, motivation stands high on our list of root problems. Motivation is important because, unless we are motivated, we won’t do anything at all. In driving a car, we start the engine before we head to the store.


Improvement is a step by step process. In pursuing rational improvement, we fix a blunder, promote a root tenet, correct a mistake, solve a problem. Improvement mentality avoids totalitarian extremes.

Rational improvement is non-totalitarian. It avoids all-or-none thinking in those cases where more or less is appropriate. The idea of rational improvement reverberates with values and ethical implications. It is something we should do, not merely a description of something we do do. Rational improvement is a type of moral progress.

Radical totalitarian thinkers demand quick solutions that are impossible. They plead for single answers to complex questions and are indignant when results are not immediate. When a society fails to produce instant results in complicated situations, discontents use the time lag as fodder for revolution.

Rational improvement is the alternative to totalitarian mentality. Totalitarian thinking, as already mentioned, demands total solutions or gives up in despair and declares everything hopeless. Totalitarian thinking is unjustified all or none dichotomizing. Those of a totalitarian mentality are ripe for a radical revolution because they maintain improvement has completely failed and they see present conditions as absolutely intolerable. Those of an improvement mentality are of a different mind set. They want to fix what needs fixing and keep what already works.

If we practice rational improvement, then we can expect each generation to add something to what was learned before. When we can negotiate fair resolution to conflict, then we do not need violent revolutions. We do not need cataclysmic reversals. We do not deed radical change—and Karl Marx is out of business. Instead of riot, murder, and mayhem, if we learn the lessons of history, we can preserve the values that work, identify schemes that fail, fix mistakes in a controlled, experimental manner, and make improvements in a non-violent atmosphere. This method will triumph if enough people really want it to and will do the work required to make it succeed. If we care, we can find ways to reduce the damage created by negative militants who take our problems and whip them into a whirlwind of crisis.


The notion of rational improvement implies that we, individually and collectively, already have developed rational skills and already have many good intellectual habits. Endorsing rational improvement as a way to advance our abilities to progress in peace in today’s society begins with the assumption that most people, as of right now, possess a rational repertoire that works well in numerous areas. Improvement mentality respects the opinions of other people even when in disagreement.

Asking for a little more is not asking for much. Present skills could function much better if we polish away some rust that makes the engine sluggish. There is no need, as some demand, to start over from scratch with a new logic that rejects traditions of the past in a wholesale sweep. From a rational improvement point of view, the influential California professor, Theodore Roszak, sent the wrong message when he declared,

It is indeed tragic that in a crisis that demands the tact and wisdom of maturity, everything that looks most hopeful in our culture should be building from scratch—as must be the case when the builders are absolute beginners.

Theodore Roszak

Roszak wrote this in the late Sixties for young people who needed to learn how to regain their rational heritage—not reject it. This message from Rosack as with the above quote from Nietzsche was exactly wrong.

Instead of rejecting the whole because some parts were frayed, we are better served if we work to sort true from false, to upgrade knowledge already learned, to correct mistakes that need correcting, and to continue to uphold an atmosphere conducive to discovery.

Those who prefer friendly step by step rational improvement, rather than heroic all or none revolution in which one faction overthrows another, believe that we best meet the challenges of our day by applauding positive achievements of previous thinkers and by recognizing values of the past as stepping stones to new accomplishments.

In seeking non-violent ways to bring more justice to society, philosophers, who encourage the development of affirmative logic, are sympathetic to the improvement mentality. Instead of revolutionary rhetoric that opposes fundamentals of affirmative logic, those who favor sound rational thinking seek to preserve knowledge acquired over the centuries. Furthermore, those who favor sound rational thinking are willing to do the work required to learn more and make improvements.

People who prize the guidelines of sound rational thinking are not paralyzed by past mistakes. Rather than despairing about errors of the past, thinkers who favor right reason will work to repair old errors to the best of their ability and to intellectually set the stage for creative new ideas to build a better future.

Admittedly, some past theories presented as ‘improvement’ failed to meet expectations. After bad experiences, we justifiably shy away from over-optimistic claims. However, because negative aspects of past theories proved inadequate, does not mean that everything done in the past was bad and that we must now throw out the affirmative aspects of Western Civilization and start over.

Much from the past is good and should be preserved with pride. Many rational principles of older agendas genuinely helped to avoid disaster and, when ethically applied, brought disputers into constructive accord. Erasmus and Vives, for example, proposed many guidelines for discussion that actually worked when augmented in the spirit they advocated.

In the middle ages, a Norwegian king stayed home from the crusades. Instead of leading an army, he spent his time shaping laws so people could obtain justice. He believed in improvement through law and not by force or fighting.

Systein said to his brother, "I have heard that thou hast won many battles in foreign lands, but what I did at home might have been more useful to this land. North at Vagar I built booths for the fishing folk, so that poor people could get help and earn their living. There I founded a priest’s garth and endowed the Church. - - etc - - Now these matters are of small importance, yet I do not know whether the people in the land are not better served by them than because thou hast killed black men in Saracen land and sent their souls to hell."

Christopher Dawson

Systein shows a budding affirmative mentality whereas his brother represents a strong inclination toward a totalitarian mentality. In most history, martial mentality has overwhelmed affirmative reason.

Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) points out that one advantage of the Crusades for Europe is that it took the warriors out of the area (primitive warrior ethos) and instead of tearing up the land with their fighting, they were fighting some place else. This gave the lawmakers at home a respite so they could begin to establish a more stable society.

Promoting rational improvement in modern society is a project budding with hope because a high degree of rational skill already exists among a large number of people. Our real challenge is to find methods that genuinely augment the good already in use and that truly correct mistakes that need fixing.


Obviously, merely calling something ‘improvement’ will not make it so. Many a theory that claims to advance the art of clear thinking does more harm than good. Flesch’s The Art of Clear Thinking comes to mind. [quote needed] Flesch makes a few good points but, from a plus point of view, his elemental mistakes are so serious that he brings to the intellectual world more trouble than he offsets with his few worthwhile ideas.

If we are to promote rational improvement, we must find procedures that genuinely are improvements. We should promote sound rational discussion about sound rational discussion. We need the issues laid on the table where we can chew on them and decide what is digestible.

Limits and Possibilities

To promote rational improvement, we must continually acknowledge both human limitations and human possibilities. Unless we treat our rational limitations in a realistic manner, root errors quickly work themselves into dead ends and create elemental double standards.

People who refuse to acknowledge the limitations of their knowledge, limit their possibilities. Conversely, as we genuinely understand our limitations, we expand our possibilities.

If we emphasize that rational improvement does not claim rational perfection, then we can appreciate improvement when it happens and not be disappointed because it is imperfect. When we become comfortable with the distinction between improvement and totalitarian absolutes, then we can be happy with a method of promoting improvement that is adequate to handle problems at hand. If each time round we make a little improvement, it adds up.

A philosophy that values rational improvement uses limited methods to discover limited solutions that are good enough to meet the needs of the moment. An improvement mentality is not totalitarian. It is not all or none. Although rational improvement encourages high standards of logical and ethical behavior, it is a more or less (non-totalitarian) way of resolving immediate problems. It does not pretend to express the whole all together.

Impartial Truth

To recognize the limits of our understanding and to appreciate the development of our human knowledge does not mean that impartial truth is evolving. Plus root theory emphatically maintains that impartial truth and human knowledge are not equivalent. There is a great gap between human knowledge and the fullness of truth. Humans do not create truth. Instead, we discover truth. Seeking and finding truth is a grand adventure and an activity we can all share. Emphasizing the distinction between human knowledge and impartial truth is a basic provision of plus root theory.


Many people ask: Is peaceful progress through rational improvement actually possible in our cruel, greedy world? Some groups in Western society have long entertained a deep undercurrent of pessimism reflecting a settled conviction that man by his nature is too corrupt to achieve progress or peace. Machiavelli said,

If people were good, these rules would not apply.


This extreme negative view of human nature discourages people from doing the work required to upgrade rational competence. Martin Luther, in the sixteenth century, also gave expression to this despair. Among many other anti-rational remarks he said,

Reason is the devil’s handmaid and does nothing but blaspheme and dishonor all that God says or does.

Martin Luther

A feeling of hopelessness often turns people inward and away from civil conversations that could make a difference. When people, in their heart of heart, believe rational improvement is a dangerous illusion, motivating anyone to grant even a passing glance at elemental problems becomes very difficult.

But Luther’s negative attitude toward reason had a counterpoint in Erasmus and others. Every generation seems to struggle with this problem. Is reason a gift from God so we can seek the God of Truth & Beauty & Love or is reason a trick the devil plays on mankind to create hell on earth? Morton White in The Age of Belief wrote,

From apostolic times on, there were two fairly well defined Christian positions: the deliberately and aggressively, anti-intellectual, whose supporters argued that since God has spoken to us it is no longer necessary for us to think, and a more orthodox, but minority, position, that whatever is true or good is ours.

Morton White

From an plus point of view, religious people hurt their cause when they turn against reason. Anti-rationalism, insofar as it infects a religion, tends to promote prejudice, instigates superstition, and fans totalitarian thinking. In religion, as in other fields, if we fail to make the effort it takes to use reason well, we will inadvertently use our rational talents to our detriment. Affirmative theologians view our ability to reason as a gift from God and, with this gift, comes a responsibility to use reason well. Thomas Jefferson was strong on this point. He said, in his Notes on Virginia,

Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of 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.

Thomas Jefferson

When the United States was founded as an independent country, Thomas Jefferson was not alone in his respect for reason and truth. The moving figures of that movement shared common guidelines of sound rational thinking and consequently were able to reason together adequately enough to meet their need. In general, they saw reason and religion as compliments, not contradictories.

Looking at the issue from this vantage point, we can trace a movement toward rational improvement in the history of religion. In western history, most church schools taught logic and made a clear distinction between sound and unsound rational thinking. They encouraged esteem for impartial truth, they promoted virtue, and they aimed for justice. This correlation between religion and logic is so intimate that logic, over the centuries, owes its primary development to the efforts of religious people.

This affirmative trend does not mean that all was perfect. Logicians of the past made their fair share of mistakes. In the process of promoting the positive values of sound rational thinking, many church oriented educators made blunders. A few of the mistakes they made are blatant to modern eyes and we are tempted to reject the whole enterprise because a part was bent out of shape. However, the serious mistakes came, not from sound rational thinking, but from the anti-rational trends that also held sway at the time. It happened in the past much as it happens today. It is illogical to reject the values of sound rational thinking because unsound rational thinking has proven to be disastrous.


How do we raise the quality of our problem solving skills, particularly those skills negotiators need in order to barter for mutually beneficial solutions to major conflicts? To augment rational discourse and improve our abilities to successfully negotiate conflict, we need to upgrade rational style, cultivate commonsense, augment our urge to honesty, and reduce the negative illusions that interfere with negotiation success. If we are serious about wanting a peaceful world where we can safely progress in an atmosphere of non-violence, then we must open our eyes to the need to improve private and public problem solving skills.


The question at issue here is not whether we utilize any elemental verities in our rational thinking and problem solving. The question, rather, is what dominates. For guidelines of sound rational thinking to be noticeably effective in society, they must be developed as a set to meet the needs of the time and reach an adequate degree of dominance. The state of development and degree of dominance are very important in evaluating the effect of logic on the progress of philosophy. Although we don’t have to be perfect, we must be good enough to meet the challenge of the occasion.


We need not despair. Our prospects are good because we don’t have to correct all root errors to achieve a better society. We only need to correct enough of the worst to reach the degree of rational competence required to solve present problems. We already have much cultivated commonsense and mature honesty in the public at large. A little motivation could make a big difference in our abilities to upgrade rational style.

We can entertain high hopes for the future because in our present state of development we only need a little improvement to make strides forward in quality of living. Small improvements in the right places could easily achieve the breakthrough we need to reach and maintain comity. Due to the efforts of gifted teachers and inspired leaders of the past, we (the general populous) already enjoy a vast collection of well-developed rational skills.

We don’t have to start from scratch! The world community already shares a remarkable body of sound rational skill. All we need is a little improvement in the right places and we will reach the degree of competence we need to achieve long term comity and to live in a world where we can progress in peace. It’s within our grasp.

Learning to appreciate possibilities can motivate us enough to do the work required to help us close the gap between what we have and what we need. With enough people willing to work in the right place we could make a difference.

Plus root theory advocates seven main steps to advance our abilities to progress in peace. They are: 1. Cultivate clear understanding. 2. Build Esteem for Impartial Truth. 3. Encourage Right Reason. 4. Foster Fair Play. 5. Nurture Good Will. 6. Develop Civil Discourse. 7. Support Affirmative Philosophy and Legitimate Religion.


Simply stating the long range goals helps because they fit with intellectual logical intuition. When we adequately understand these long range goals, they go without saying. If we feel these goals are beyond us, it is because root errors embedded in our rational style have grown into serious obstacles that are difficult to get around. If we reduce the virility of the worst mistakes, the goals become much more obtainable.


The actual process of correcting a root error is a snap. Once we see the error, we simply say to ourselves, "Gee, that is silly", and out it goes. The trouble comes in learning to recognize the error as a mistake and in learning to see a solution that is an improvement rather than making another mistake that only compounds the problem. This requires work.


The approach to rational problems advocated by plus root theory clears the way for establishing an important general principle, that is: In order to make significant improvement we do not have to correct every elemental mistake. All we need to do is adequately correct enough of the worst.

With this guideline to help direct our path, we are not at the mercy of preemptive philosophical experts in order to make improvements. Ordinary people using normal commonsense can understand enough to make real contributions and to noticeably upgrade general logical skills in society. Rational improvement is a public concern and a feasible project.

Because we only need a little more, the project of attaining peaceful progress through rational improvement takes on added poignancy. What a shame to nip the bud of civilization as it begins to flower! We, the huge middle majority who desire non-violent progress, already share almost enough sound rational assumptions (root verities) to provide an adequate logical basis on which to build problem solving skills to a level of expertise where we can consistently make improvements in a non-violent manner. Most of us want this. We, the moderate middle majority, already hold in common a vast number of sound rational guidelines in our thought systems. Perhaps, if lucky, we may even possess enough to avoid a nuclear war or equivalent technical disaster.


But the problem is borderline. Along with the sound rational assumptions accepted in the style of our day, we also, unwittingly, have absorbed serious root errors into our thinking patterns. While root verities strengthen the foundations on which we base our problem solving skills, root errors do the opposite. Some root errors are so crucial that they menace safe negotiation of looming conflicts. Crucial errors in rational theory pose grave danger today because they provoke policy mistakes that invite the very disasters we, the moderate middle, most wish to avoid. To advance our abilities to progress in peace we always come back to a need to adequately correct crucial epistemological mistakes and sufficiently support sound rational guidelines.

Although we, in the body politic, lack enough shared sound rationality to feel safe in an overcrowded planet, happily, we come close. In all parts of the globe, we see impressive rational skills used in promoting sound problem solving expertise. As concerned citizens question what still needs doing, we benefit by acknowledging what has been accomplished. If we deny the real rational progress already made, we might despair at the moment we near a vital breakthrough. Because so much has already been done, we only need relatively small amounts of rational improvement in the right places to achieve and maintain comity.

What will happen to human society in the long run is an open question. But for our generation and for the 21st century at least, we have the means at hand to make a good life shared around the globe. We can do it and we should do it. However, to succeed over an extended period, we must be able to talk to each other enough to resolve major problems and to develop policies that work to our mutual benefit. Time after time we almost make it and then we let it fall apart.


A mentality of rational improvement is a commonsense sorting mentality. That is to say. people who work for improvement use an adequately developed understanding of the requirements of sound rational thinking as a criteria to sort values in other aspects of their lives. The more skilled people become in using affirmative reason the more they can converse with others and the more they will be able to promote improvements.

A sorting mentality is non-totalitarian. It appreciates both limits and possibilities of human knowledge while holding deep respect for the sanctity of impartial truth.


To return to the original question at the beginning of chapter one: What is the better course for our future? Should we follow Neitzche’s advise and promote instinct and material power as our path to salvation or should we follow long-held affirmative traditions and work to improve our commitment to sound rational thinking and be satisfied with step by step progress?

Plus root theory holds high regard for human physiological mental talents, including instinct and encourages behavioral research that helps us understand this aspect of our nature. In addition, plus root theory supports the affirmative traditions of history that value human intellectual rational gifts. While supporting physiological studies, plus root theory grants an even higher priority to understanding and developing sound rational thinking. Plus root theory is first of all a philosophy of rational improvement.

Plus root theory offers real hope that, if we make the right logical developments in the right places, we can significantly reduce man-made calamities that mar the human story. We can do this by adequately correcting a cluster of serious root errors that have become embedded in our rational style. If we make the effort required to adequately correct the most insidious elemental mistakes that cause the worst problems, then we can entertain realistic hope for a safe and sane 21st century.

Which way we go (force based on instinct or the value of right reason) is a choice each person makes. In a democracy, the majority will decide the case.