The theorizing mind tends always to the oversimplification of its materials. This is the root of all that absolutism and one-sided dogmatism by which both philosophy and religion have been infested.

William James

Thought Conceit

Etymologists trace the word conceit to the Middle English conceyte or conceiven which meant: that which is conceived in the mind; a thought, an opinion, or an idea. Over time, the term acquired other meanings. From idea it came to mean an ingenious or witty thought and soon indicated a strained or elaborate metaphor. In another direction, the term developed from personal opinion to favorable conjecture to an over weaning estimation of ones own thinking or ones own self.

The plus definition extrapolates from the latter interpretation and uses the term thought conceit to mean the mental attitude in which people, in the deep recesses of their mind, believe that what they think is true must be true because they think its true. Thought conceit, as defined, means a conviction, often subliminal, in which individuals set their private judgment as the criterion of sound thinking and, consequently, as the ultimate standard of truth. In thought conceit, we consciously or unconsciously identify our personal judgment with truth in itself. Thought conceit is preemptive thinking.

Plus root theory designates thought conceit as a root error of a deep down variety. It may be the most fundamental of all root errors because it is so pervasive. We are all tempted to set up our own thoughts as the court of last resort.

Thought conceit easily eludes scrutiny because we tend to hide it from ourselves. We can pick up the habit when we are children and go through life not realizing we have set own judgment in place of an impartial standard. This is one reason why thought conceit tends to be subliminal. Sometimes it takes wrenching experiences to tear us away from our own thought conceit.

Obviously thought conceit operates in varying degrees of fervor and changes with a persons mental development. What is more, we can be impartial in one area of our lives, and plagued by prejudice in another. On the plus side, education tends to wean students away from thought conceit. To our benefit, modern science, when well taught, works to cure intellectual pride.

Unfortunately, on the minus side, not all educators teach respect for impartial truth. Some invert ideologists do the opposite and train their pupils to develop an unjustified adulation of their own personal judgment.

Granted, we all need self confidence and a good self-image. However, when confidence turns into conceit, people invite the proverbial downfall. Sometimes whole societies collapse from ideologies that nurture internal thought conceit. Demagogues gain power by fanning residual conceit into a flames of egotism. This happened among the Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany and helped ignite passions that led to World War II.

In normal commonsense thinking, we dislike thought conceit. When we recognize it in our own mental attitude we work to remove it and when we see it others we cringe. The majority of us, once we understand the consequence of thought conceit, love the beauty of the alternative, truth respect, and make an effort to remove traces of conceit we may discover in our views of the world.

The greatest hurdle we face in controlling thought conceit comes from lack of recognition. Thought conceit escapes our notice because it usually is buried as secret assumptions that exert hidden effects.

Realizing that we have difficulty recognizing thought conceit in our selves, helps explain how this, along with other root errors, can work into the rational style of a culture and remain with tenacity. We don’t repair this and other root errors (elemental mistakes) because we don’t see them for what they are.

In present day society, thought conceit is comfortably under control in many areas. The modern middle class, who have received a classical liberal/conservative education, often exercise balanced commonsense and acquire enough candid honesty so that thought conceit does not dominate their lives. The more people employ the standards of sound thinking that exist independent of our personal judgment, the more we build rational trust among each other and the better we can negotiation conflict. Because of already developed proficiency in exercising truth respect (the opposite of thought conceit) we, the peace-loving people of the world, come close to achieving genuine world comity.

However, thought conceit still causes grave problems in three prominent areas. The first area is in a portion of people who have not enjoyed the benefits of a good education. The second area is in the mentally unstable. The third area is in select intellectual circles enamored with sophisticated radical ideologies. Radical ideologies encourage biased intrigues and, as these antagonistic procedures reinforce each other, they polarize society into angry factions where winning is first and truth of little count. Of the three, the gravest danger comes from preemptive dialectics promoted by negative oriented intellectuals.

The purpose of this chapter is not to decide who is or who is not fragmenting society. The purpose is to bring into the open the consequences of thought conceit and to encourage people concerned with improving society to take steps needed to correct the problem.

Thought conceit occurs in extremes that at first appear contrary to each other. The plus system refers to these extremes as absolutism (inappropriately adamant, overly legalistic) and subjectivism (overly cynical, dominantly emotional). Both absolutism and subjectivism, as plus defined, are serious root errors.

Absolutism includes gullibility, naïveté, superstition and ignorance. Subjectivism includes cynicism, contempt, arrogance, superstition and sentimentality.


Absolutism, as defined, is a root error in which individuals, singly and in groups, convince themselves that their interpretation of truth can be more certain and more comprehensive than it actually ever was or ever will be (at least in this life). People in an absolutist mode may say they believe in objective truth but they undermine their commitment by mentally positing their personal opinion as the ultimate standard of what is or is not objective. People indulge in absolutism when they claim to be absolutely certain and behave as if their personal verdict was the final court of appeal.

In practice, a persons involvement in absolutism varies in degrees from mild to extreme. Mild absolutism only slightly damages civil discourse. In mild cases, people utter unjustified over-generalizations but don’t seriously mean what they say. When someone draws their attention to the matter, they quickly modify their remarks. Mild absolutes, in their galloping generalities, speak more metaphorically than literally and should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Extreme absolutes, on the other hand, weld themselves to their favorite certainties like lead soldered on steel. Fixed ideas dominate their passions. Their personality, in select areas, becomes rigid and dominated by inappropriate convictions. When in positions of power, they are hard-headed, authoritarian and even tyrannical. Extreme absolutes can be very dangerous.

Obviously, many stages exist between mild and extreme. Mild absolutism is mild. However, mild, under pressure, easily hardens into moderate and, under more pressure, solidifies into severe.

Absolutism arises from misdirected reasoning in which we posit true general (major) premises but then adopt false particular (minor) premises and rationalize to false conclusions. The person bent toward absolutism reasons in effect: "Truth is unchanging, internally harmonious, and universal. Therefore, my judgment is also unchanging, internally harmonious, and universal." When thinking absolutely, we reason from one premise to the other without recognizing that we either employ an undistributed middle term or a false specific (minor) premise.

Eg. 12b: Basic Error Of Absolutism

True Major Premise: Truth is supreme, internally harmonious and universal.

False Minor Premise: My judgment is truth.

Conclusion: Therefore my judgment is supreme, internally harmonious and universal.

Expanding assumptions of absolutism into a categorical syllogism reveals a minor premise that otherwise remains hidden. In this case the unstated minor contains the fault. The false minor annuls the conclusion. The above reasoning is valid in form only. The conclusion is unjustified because it is based on a false premise, the hidden minor.

Even though not consciously appreciated, the minor premise, settles into a persons thought system and causes trouble. When we take time to think it through, its clear that no human is so wise that his/her personal judgment, even for an instant, is truth in the full extension of the term truth. A specific judgment made by an individual person may be true but that is not the same as a person’s judgment being truth. This hidden minor premise can slip into our minds and, without thinking, we tie personal conviction with the inflexibility of impartial truth.

In absolutism, an unexamined presupposition steals into a persons system of thought and exerts covert influence. This unnoticed influence is typical of this as well as other root errors.

The above syllogism can be expanded other ways. All of them involve problems similar to the example given. A research paper would require many pages on this one point. However, this study is only an overview. The point is that: unless we posit an outrageously false minor premise, we cannot validly deduce the above conclusion.

Most ideologists, who adopt an apodectic attitude, fail to analyze the syllogisms involved in making their conclusions. They step from true generalities to invalid conclusions without being aware they limp on a wounded minor premise. They incorrectly conclude that their personal opinion is indubitably certain because truth-as-truth is fixed and universal.

Usually philosophers with apodectic tendencies don’t view all of their opinions as absolutely certain. They maintain only a few absolute principles, which they call various names, such as self-evident, clear and distinct, a priori etc. Mortimer Adler makes this mistake on several occasions. For example in Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985) he says:

The fifth mistake also draws a line between what is genuine knowledge and mere opinion. This time it places all judgments about moral values—about what is good and evil, right and wrong, and all judgments about what ought and ought not to be sought and done—on the side of mere opinion. There are no objectively valid and universally tenable moral standards or norms. This denial undermines the whole doctrine of natural rights, and, even worse, lends support to the dogmatic declaration that might makes right.

Mortimer Adler

Although intellectually restrained and respectful in the bulk of his philosophy, Adler, in this case, misses the hidden premise and commits a significant over-sight. In so doing, he demonstrates how easily honest, intelligent, knowledgeable people with a generous gift of commonsense can miss an assumed premise. It is especially easy to miss this particular concealed supposition. Absolutism readily becomes established in philosophy by this route.

The root error in the above example is hidden in the midst of a complex mix. Most of us would agree that Adler is correct when he says we need moral standards and the doctrine of natural rights. People committed to civil discourse also agree with him that we need to refute the declaration that might makes right. The power of Adler’s positive remarks draws our attention away from the almost hidden error he inadvertently ratifies. In his writings, there is not one shred of evidence to indicate he does this on purpose. He just doesn’t see it. This is how thought conceit sneaks into philosophy and exerts secret, harmful influence, sometimes for generations.

His mistake occurs when he implies that: the existence of objective moral standards depends on our being aware of them. In all likelihood that is not what he meant but, still, his words easily interpret to say that unless we believe in objectively valid and universally tenable moral standards or norms they do not exist. He misses the point. These standards are objective because they hold true whether any person believes them or not. The twists and implications in Adler’s argument complicate exposing his error.

Some might say that I am nit-picking. To rebut, I argue that the issue is not trivial and this a place where being picky is appropriate.

Another down twist is the way he uses the words knowledge and opinion. He defines these carefully, but the definitions he stipulates do not fit with common usage and do not address the need. Although Adler uses definitions of knowledge and opinion posited by prominent philosophers since the early Greeks (perhaps before) these definitions were inappropriate then and are even more inappropriate now. They have been the source of crippling root errors for centuries. If we substitute more appropriate definitions, rather than perpetuating inapt interpretations of key terminology, we could save ourselves a lot of trouble.

The error in Adler’s reasoning is half hidden. But whether seen or not, the premise is there. Once noticed, it is conspicuous. However, learning to see it, can be tricky and requires time. If you don’t see the hidden premise yet it should be evident in section three on the Rules of Right Reason. For now, a more thorough analysis must wait while we build a suitable foundation for more cogent unbiased analysis.

In philosophical circles several variations of absolutism crop up in different soils. All are serious. One expression goes roughly as follows:

Absolutism's 2nd Error

True Premise: Truth is fixed and universal.

False Premise: Unless I know at least one premise with absolute certainty, fixed and universal truth cannot exist.

False Conclusion: Therefore the purpose of philosophy is to discover at least one absolutely true principle so we can justify our belief in Truth.

This unjustified reasoning also can be read to suggest that once an absolutely certain principle has been discovered, other equally absolute principles will be forthcoming. This false hope often includes a false corollary that, once we find an absolute principle we will be able to deduce other absolute principles from it. The corollary produces another fallacy based on a mistaken understanding of deduction that stems also from a misunderstanding of truth problems and their solution.

When we submit the reasoning involved in the above errors to syllogistic analysis, the mistakes become easy to see. Some of the assumptions involved are so foolish that stating them is tantamount to refuting them. However, very few philosophers reduce their own reasoning to syllogistic analysis. Even though Aristotle discovered the syllogism over 2000 years ago, thinkers rarely employ legitimate syllogistic examination as a philosophical tool. Many writers over the centuries studied syllogisms, talked about syllogisms, harangued about syllogisms, and even disputed in what they maintained was a syllogistic style. However, when it came to actually using genuine syllogistic analysis to clean up their own thinking, few did it. From a plus point of view, failure to candidly use affirmative syllogistic analysis has created a great gap between rational theory and honest practice and has left an ugly scar on the face of western civilization.

But western civilization has not been all wrong. The major premise of absolutism is correct. Truth, in its full extension, is intellectually impartial, internally harmonious, universal, and unchanging. Much of the argumentation that philosophers present defending this fundamental proposition is well expressed. We are right to admire their constructive arguments and to give great minds of the past credit for their contributions to the development of the true major premise in example 12d. We enjoy modern conveniences and opportunities because of the dedication and work of past thinkers in building respect for impartial truth.

We can correct the damage of the false minor premise in absolutism and, at the same time, preserve vast amounts of brilliance that crowns the constructive aspect of Western rationalism. Its not an all or none matter. In reading the past, we benefit as we learn to sort sound from unsound and valid from invalid.

The mistake of absolutism develops when rationalizers transfer what they know about truth-as-truth to this or that particular human assertion they believe to be true. In absolutism, the thinker jumps to the conclusion that since impartial truth is unchanging, he or she can therefore be absolutely certain that a particular proposition is true. The particular proposition being considered may or may not be true. That is beside the point. The problem comes from the attitude of absolute certainty held by the person with an absolutist idea.

Just because truth-as-truth is ironclad does not mean that a specific statement, which may seem sound to an individual at a particular time, can therefore be assumed as true with absolute certainty. Humans can know bits of truth with firm and resolute surety but this modest assurance is much different from maintaining absolute certainty as a stance.

No logically necessary connection exists between the two propositions accepted by absolutism. Just because one is true does not mean that the other is also true. Contrariwise, the hidden premise assumed by absolutism is false.

At its roots, absolutism is a crucial elemental mistake. It should be in the top ten of the list of root errors that cause the most trouble. Absolutism contributes to numerous misunderstandings in philosophy.

Most, perhaps all, persons with peremptory tendencies fail to appreciate their own bent toward absolutism. They feel at a gut level that in defending a pet belief, they support the existence of truth itself. In their arguments, they behave as if the continuance of the universe hangs on some special conviction they hold dear. People with strong absolute tendencies, under extreme circumstances, will die for a personal belief assuming they are dying for truth.

Insofar as they commit themselves to their own fixed ideas, people in the absolute mode will be dictatorial in their policies. Like Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), they want a society in which their ideas are forcefully imposed on others. Carlyle said,

…if thou really art my Senior, Seigneur, my Elder, Presbyter or Priest,--if thou art in very deed my Wiser, may a beneficent instinct lead and impel thee to conquer me, to command me! If thou do know better than I what is good and right, I conjure thee in the name of God, force me to do it; were it by never such brass collars, whips and handcuffs, leave me not to walk over precipices! That I have been called, by all the Newspapers, a free man will avail me little, if my pilgrimage have ended in death and wreck. O that the Newspapers had called me slave, coward, fool, or what it pleased their sweet voices to name me, and I had attained not death, but life!--Liberty requires new definitions.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

Extreme absolutes will go to war against those who disagree with them under the assumption they are defending truth. This attitude poses a threat to peace. In the past, absolutism led to many disasters. It could easily be the cause of even worse troubles in the future.

Religions and religious people sometimes fall into the fallacy of absolutism, especially when they confuse faith with absolute certainty. As later chapters show, there is no need to equate faith with absolute certain knowledge. They are not the same. [See Faith Essay]

Happily the correction of absolutism does not damage religion. Its just the opposite. Correcting the error of confusing faith with absolute certainty enhances faith and removes needless burdens from the religious message. Sound rational thinking, as Thomas Jefferson insisted, is not an enemy to religion. The opposite is true. Sound rational thinking is the friend of religion. It is superstition, magic, cults and covens of wizardry that are the real enemies of legitimate religion. Swindlers must fear sound rational thinking and impartial truth.

Absolutism produces thought conceits that have, in some areas, defaced philosophy and religion of western civilization. However—and this point must be stressed—western philosophy and western religion are not as contaminated with absolutism as many critics imply. Both western philosophy and western religion contain an abundance of affirmative reasoning mixed with sprinkles of absolutism. Even much of the absolutism we see is relatively mild. Much is metaphorical rather than literal, and is easily disentangled from the wholesome body of sound thinking that forms a large part of western thought.

Appreciating the affirmative as we refute the counter affirmative, is a more healthy project than rejecting hands down the hard won values of the past because western thinkers made some mistakes. Western civilization is scarred and, and in some places, wounded. But it is not dead or dying—unless we decide to kill it because it wasn’t perfect.

The same is true for eastern philosophy and eastern civilizations. The vast amount of truth contained in the collected wisdom of the east is equally as valuable as truth in the west and equally benefits from correction of elemental mistakes that misdirect our search for truth.


Subjectivism, the second elemental mistake of thought conceit, appears on the surface to be the opposite of absolutism. Subjectivists correctly put emphasis on the limits of human understanding. However subjectivists incorrectly jump to the conclusion that, since their personal understanding is limited and changing that, therefore, truth evolves and changes with the ebb and flow of our personal knowledge. Many subjectivists see truth as culturally determined.

Subjectivists start out appearing to be open-minded but, strange to say, they soon cloth themselves in authoritarian garb and promote policies more tyrannical and more emotional than absolutists they condemn. To further complicate matters, subjectivists often deny their ideological leanings while their actions repudiate their words. They talk like subjectivists, act like subjectivists, and promote subjective policies. Until somebody clears up this problem, Plus root theory refers to them as subjectivists.

Subjectivists, like absolutists, come in degrees. The mild subjectivist, just as the mild absolutist, may reject affirmative requirements of sound rational thinking in theory but not seriously in practice. The mild subjectivist appears ego centric in critical analysis but in actual discourse on many occasions uses sound rational thinking with consummate skill. The mild subjectivist and mild absolutist get along adequately with each other because, in the deepest part of their understanding, they both admire honest courteous commonsense and don’t take the extremes of their own philosophies too seriously. Both laugh at their own foibles. When people can genuinely laugh at their differences, the case is not too serious.

Extreme subjectivists are a different matter. They studiously apply subjective criticism to practical affairs and religiously pursue converts. Because they profess no objective standards independent of their own say so, extreme subjectivists tend to become demanding and destructive. The rationalization of their attitude may sound intellectual to an untrained ear, but their language and behavior toward those who disagree with them is abusive, contemptuous, intimidating, and even violent. In politics they praise themselves and ridicule their opponent. Mao Tse Tung in his little red book put this attitude in words about as clearly as can be said. He wrote:

Only truly revolutionary artists and writers can correctly solve the problem whether to praise or to expose. All dark forces which endanger the masses of the people must be exposed while all revolutionary struggles of the masses must be praised. This is the basic task of all revolutionary artists and writers.

Mao Tse Tung

The goal of extreme subjectivists is to be effective and effective is defined in personal terms, either of one’s self, one’s hero, one’s gang, or one’s ideology. Because they have no unity anchored in Truth, subjectivists gravitate toward charismatic leaders who fan the conceit of their followers. Serious subjectivists are not concerned about distinctions between true and false because they believe "truth" is a ghostly illusion or a metaphysical myth or a childish fantasy.

If there is no truth to tell, there is no lie to deceive. Often subjectivists, when they aim for power, follow a carefully designed program to win by means of deceit and subterfuge. Caius Julius Caesar, with his winning personality, gave the world a prototype of a subjectivist working his way into absolute power. Plutarch remarked in his Lives,

When his power (Julius Caesar) at last was established and not to be overthrown, and now openly tended to the altering of the whole constitution, they were aware too late that there is not a beginning so mean, which continued application will not make considerable, and that despising a danger at first will make it at last irresistible. Cicero was the first who had any suspicions of his (Julius Caesar) designs upon the government, and as a good pilot is apprehensive of a storm when the sea is most smiling, saw the designing temper of the man through this disguise of good humour and affability, and said that, in general, in all he did and undertook, he detected the ambition for absolute power, but when I see his hair so carefully arranged, and observe him adjusting it with one finger, I cannot imagine it would enter into such a mans thoughts to subvert the Roman state.


Modern demagogues do the same. They cover their designs under a cloak of affability. Both Stalin and Hitler could be engaging when they choose to do so. Subjectivists spread their ideology by praising what they approve, ridiculing what they condemn, and squelching those who get in their way. Subjective autocrats, insofar as they gain power, constrict civil discourse. Extreme subjectivists rock with laughter if someone even mentions the rules of right reason.

Believing that ‘truth’ is a personal process, subjectivists often under-estimate the importance of past knowledge and received traditions. They fail to appreciate the value of time-proven principles. They down play the lessons to be learned from history. Many subjectivists say or imply the past has been so hopelessly riddled with error that the present generation must reject the old and start over with a new way of thinking, a new logic, a new truth.

For centuries, the avant guard have been saying, in one way or another, that the new thought, the new age, the new reason, the new logic, the new Atlantis, the new order, the Novum Organum will be erected on the ruins of a best forgotten past. Many master dialecticians, including mystical transcendentalists, teach that we must eradicate the old to build the new. Phoenix will rise out of the ashes. Since subjective thinkers neglect the lessons of the past, they fail to realize that their so called new prescriptions merely rehash tired old errors that have been rejected time and again because they don’t work.

In the short run, subjective tactics are often effective. George Bernard Shaw made this point in one of his essays. He was able, as a Fabian Socialist, to achieve with his plays what he could not win by argument.

One divisive tactic, often employed by subjectivists, is to ignore the issues an opponent brings forth and, instead, concentrate on ridiculing the supposed motives of the people slated as enemies. Many times these are imaginary motives, because the subjectivist feels free to invent causes that sound despicable to make the opponent look vicious. Karl Marx polished this technique with such consummate skill that many intellectuals who fell under his spell are still propelling themselves in the direction of dialectical determinism on the power of this fallacy. Fabricating nefarious motives and assigning them to ones opponent is easy. Anyone can do it. It is a variation of the straw man fallacy. It is a cruel and damaging logical fallacy.

Unfortunately, as these techniques succeed, negotiation quality becomes worse rather than better. When a person acquires power by cunning manipulation and cruel tricks, it takes an even more manipulative and even crueler person to over-throw the first manipulator, and so on. The process usually starts with sarcastic ridicule. As a beginning, ridicule may appear humorous, but if we look at it impartially, it is an ugly ploy. The more a person does it, the more that person inures him/herself to the ruthless effects of his or her actions. Because a callous attack often incites a more callous response, cruelty, once started, has a way of going from bad to worse. Radical subjectivists are visibly malicious.

Although absolutism has a long history of violence, most of the terrorism we must contend with in the 20th Century has its origin in the extremes of subjectivism, particularly Marxism and Fascism. Some people who are unfamiliar with the history of fascism and communism, might think Fascism should be considered as absolutism. But that is not true. Mussolini, who gave us the term 'Fascism', was boastful in his subjectivism—and so was Hitler.

As in the case of mild vs extreme absolutism, many degrees exist between mild and radical subjectivism. People can be mildly subjective in one aspect of their life and incline toward extremes in another. The problem of mild subjectivism is that it sets radicals on the road to extremism, provides rationalizations to justify any behavior, and blocks arguments that might effectively divert radical subjectivists from their shining paths.

Subjectivism, like absolutism, is based on mis-directed reasoning in which one premise is true and the conclusion false. There are several ways to syllogistically expanding subjectivist reasoning in regard to truth. The following example will serve as an illustration:

True Major Premise: Human judgment is limited, subjective, and in a continuous process of change.

False Minor Premise: Truth is identical with human judgment.

False Conclusion: Therefore Truth is also limited, subjective, and in a continuous process of change.

Set out this way, the reasoning is valid but the conclusion is unjustified because the specific (minor) premise is false. In commonsense thinking, we know that truth is much broader than the knowledge of any one human or even all humans put together. But people caught in the subjectivist stance will deny that truth is independent of human knowledge. They will even deny, sometimes, that there is a reality independent of human interpretation. (The world is my idea—Schopenhauer/Hitler) (I create reality with my imagination)

The unjustified conclusion from the subjectivist mistake is becoming more and more entrenched in modern ways of viewing reality and undoes otherwise excellent efforts to bring more freedom, prosperity and genuine peace to the world. The worst results from this error happen in the fields of education, psychology, politics, media formation, religion, and peace negotiation.

Most subjectivists do not state their subjectivity out right but present it buried in other material or as an analysis of someone else opinion with whom they apparently agree without actually saying they do. They usually surround it with propositions that are obviously true. This adds to the strangeness of the root errors involved. A subjectivist proposition is slipped into an otherwise objective presentation. In this way subjectivists hedge their bets. It is difficult to quote them and exceedingly time consuming to refute them. For example, in an article on Dialectical Materialism written in 1934, Bertrand Russell stated,

Russell’s Idea of Truth

Philosophy has taken over from the Greeks a conception of passive contemplation, and has supposed that knowledge is obtained by means of contemplation. Marx maintains that we are always active, even when we come nearest to pure sensation: we are never merely apprehending our environment, but always at the same time altering it. This necessarily makes the older conception of knowledge inapplicable to our actual relations with the outer world. In place of knowing an object in the sense of passively receiving an impression of it, we can only know it in the sense of being able to act upon it successfully. That is why the test of all truth is practical. And since we change the object when we act upon it, truth ceases to be static, and becomes something which is continually changing and developing. That is why Marx calls his materialism dialectical, because it contains within itself, like Hegels dialectic, an essential principle of progressive change.

Bertrand Russell

In this paragraph Russell argues for subjectivism much as illustrated in example 12h. Notice how he jumps from the sound argument that human knowledge actively changes and develops, to the unjustified conclusion that truth also changes and develops. He skips from one to the other without telling the reader about the absurd minor premise implied in his reasoning. Although Russell is a noted logician, he missed the hidden premise in his own thinking. He is not alone. Philosophy has not yet developed to the stage where philosophers actually apply genuine syllogistic analysis to their own reasoning.

Example 12i illustrates the error of subjectivism but the paragraph is written in such a way that the error is hard to see. It is quite possible that Russell did not play this trick consciously, but, he writes as if something in him was ashamed of what he was saying so he disguised his idea of truth by hiding it among many other propositions that divert the readers attention. This paragraph has only five sentences but it contains numerous propositions, some merely implied. The resulting collection of thoughts makes a bizarre interlocking mix of true, meaningless, and false. Sound principles and true facts mix with elemental errors in an interlocking plus/minus complex in such a way that Russell insulates himself from effective refutation. Those who see the error just shrug their shoulders and think, Why bother?. Those who don’t see the error, swallow it, and possibly internalize the same errors in their own thought systems.

This paragraph of Russell’s is a typical example of how subjectivists hide their rationalization—even from themselves. Russell, in this case, has presented his argument so mixed with extraneous matter that a refutation addressing his whole presentation would be long, arduous, tedious, and boring. For one thing, tying the notion of contemplation with Greek thought hopelessly misrepresents Greek rationality and the influence of Greek disputations on Western Civilization. The ancient Greeks were very much involved in attempting to apply their theory in practice. To straighten out Russell’s deception in this one declarative sentence would require a bulky dissertation. Even if someone took time to work up an in depth refutation, few would read it.

But that is only one of Russell’s errors. His worst mistake is his thought conceit. In this paragraph Russell stated the most outrageous of all possible root errors but he has done it in a safe way. He has effectively hedged his bets.

The above error is particularly stubborn and hard to extricate because Russell has a reputation for common sense thinking. In much of his writing, he is skilled at sound reasoning and adroit at expressing his thoughts in pithy statements that are often telling and true. Nonetheless, his over all philosophy is affected by his subjective idea of truth. Later chapters will discuss the many root errors that branch out from subjectivism. Subjective ideas go from one blunder that sounds trivial to others that are more obvious.

Russell went from subjectivism to apparent support of the Communist Party for a while. Thinking of himself as a pacifist in favor of free thought, he lent his prestige to the most oppressive and violent organization the world has ever seen. He wasn’t alone.

The notion of truth as changing is fundamental to the subjectivists view of life. Yakhot in What is Dialectical Materialism? expressed this view clearly when he said,

Yakhot’s Stagnant Truth

A creative thinker is one who will not suffer stagnation and stereotyped formulas, who refuses to recognize eternal truths, dogmas or unchanging circumstances.


If taken seriously, this attitude undermines every statement uttered by everybody. Pressed to its logical conclusion, the extreme subjectivist will reject logic, right reason, fair play, moral standards, democratic dialogue, and even commonsense.

The subjective idea of truth does not stand alone. It leads from one mistake to the next with relentless logical necessity. The mistakes of subjectivists work into society, nibble away at respect for truth, encourage mockery of honest reason, and acerbate anti-social conduct. Root errors of subjectivists become perilous when issues of war and peace are being negotiated.

However, subjectivism is not all false. Like absolutism it is half right. The general (major) premise of subjectivism is true. It is true that human knowledge is limited, changing, and developing. The subjectivist stands on firm ground when attacking the absolutistic conclusion of absolutists.

The bulk of subjective argumentation expresses sound commonsense rational thinking directed at exposing the false conclusions of absolutism. Consequently, a large portion of what subjectivists say resounds with good sense. However they make a big mistake. They assume that, since they prove the reliability of their general (major) premise, "human knowledge is limited", therefore their specific (minor) premise and conclusion are ipso facto true. In this way, they insert egregious epistemological and logical mistakes into their over all view of human nature with virtually no query into pivotal postulations. The assumptions that most need discussion are the assumptions that are rarely mentioned.

Natural Enemies

Absolutism and subjectivism are natural enemies. As long as people camped on either side avoid addressing the real issue, inexhaustible supplies of righteous indignation abound to fuel both sides in their arguments. The absolutists, in defending their true general (major) premise, unleash venomous ire on the false conclusions of the subjectivist. Vise versa, the subjectivists, in defending their true general (major) premise, run the field in ridiculing the naive certitude of absolutism.

Neither party listens to the other and the arguments go on and on. The two errors work as a team to cross trump the real solution which is not the middle ground between the two, but an upper affirmative way that is above both.

Absolutism and subjectivism feed on each other. These two serious errors infect the history of philosophy with degrees of mistakes that, time after time, cause major illness in the body politic. In practice, the subjectivists usually want to change something that needs changing and the absolutists want to preserve something else that needs keeping. If they were to talk honestly and candidly, they would discover their conflict is not bona fide and could be easily resolved. However, unless they move into the mode of affirmative civil discourse, they do not hear each other. Dreadful calamities can result from clashes between extreme absolutists and extreme subjectivists.

Absolutism and subjectivism have been causing trouble since the dawn of critical thinking. In every generation these two basic root errors erupt in a different guise with the proponents of each group certain they have the solutions to the short-comings of the other. The practical danger to society comes from the rigid stance they both assume. The absolutist is out in the open and we know what he is up to. The subjectivist, however, is more subtle. He likes to think of himself as adaptable and congenial, but if he is a genuine subjectivist (as so defined) he will be more unbending and dangerous than the out and out authoritarian absolutist. To further confuse matters, subjectivism of one generation often becomes the absolutism of the next.


The differences between absolutism and subjectivism are enormous. Even more gigantic are their similarities. Some similarities have been mentioned, such as: 1. they are both based on misdirected reasoning, 2. they both embrace a hidden, false specific (minor) premise, 3. they both come in degrees, 4. they are both violent in their extremes, and 5. they are both half right.

There is one amazing similarity that we can discover after putting their arguments in syllogistic form, that is: the rationale of both is falsified by a false minor premise and—wouldn't you know—the false minor premises of both are virtually the same. In both cases, the false premise is the assumption defined as thought conceit. Both absolutists and subjectivists equate a false identity between truth and human knowledge and/or understanding.

Although absolutism and subjectivism on the surface appear opposite, in matters that count, they are alike. The strangest of all strange things about absolutism and subjectivism (Czarism and Communism; Royalism and Fascism; radical right and radical left) is that for practical purposes they can be treated as one problem. The German born Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) in The Origins of Totalitarianism [B626/1951] broke with many of her leftist friends when she demonstrated that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao used similar techniques as they murdered millions. Fascism, rather than being a solution to Communism, was just a continuation of the same terror under a different name.

Boiled down to fundamentals, the errors of absolutism and subjectivism are more alike than they are different. They are, first of all, based on the same false premise. They both misunderstand the relation between human knowledge and impartial truth. They both make the same mistake of identifying human knowledge (especially my knowledge) with truth-as-truth. Furthermore, they both have virtually the same consequences when carried to extremes. In practice there is not much difference between Attila the Hun and Stalin or between Napoleon and Hitler or between Sadam Huisain and Pol Pot. Little is gained by swinging from one error to the other.

Because absolutism and subjectivism are essentially the same problem, they both have the same solution. The solution to both absolutism and subjectivism is full acceptance of honest, sound rational thinking based on developing clear understanding, respect for impartial truth, promotion of valid reasoning, commitment to fair play fair, endorsement of good will, cultivation of decent dialogue and pursuit of wise priorities. Affirmative philosophy solves both problems. The absolutists and subjectivist, for all their anger at each other, are brothers under the skin.

The above analysis of absolutism and subjectivism not only unveils the hidden false premise in each case but also reveals absolutism and subjectivism as virtually the same error. They both equate human knowledge/understanding with truth-as-truth. Clearly, their conclusions oppose each other in stark contrast. But their specific (minor) premises, hidden in the secret world of unspoken assumptions, are almost the same. Without syllogistic analysis this point is easy to miss.

The absolutist, in the areas of his absolutism, is not a truth-seeker. He does not seek truth because he is convinced he already has it. The subjectivist, in areas of his subjectivism, does not seek truth because he believes there is no truth to seek. In practice, strange to say, the absolutist is often more broad minded than the subjectivist because he is only adamant in some areas, whereas the subjective theory tends to apply across the board.

The absolutist and the subjectivist, who think they are as different as night and day, both base their philosophies on the same thought conceit. From different directions they each set themselves up as the standard of truth. What is more, neither see their own error because it is hidden. To the contrary, they often vocally deny the very premise which underlies their belief. Their denial is effective because they honestly do not recognize the connection. Thought conceit, as defined, is a profoundly serious elemental mistake that escapes notice because it is buried in deep elemental assumptions that are rarely examined in the light of day.

To sum up, thought conceit is our number one problem in philosophy today. Thought conceit is manifest in two major points of view defined as absolutism and subjectivism. When analyzed syllogistically we can see that both absolutism and subjectivism are based on the same mistaken minor premise and are equally false. Any attempt to solve the problems of one by switching to the problems of the other only compounds the difficulties and makes matters worse rather than better.