As mentioned in Chapter Two, negotiation is a door that swings on two hinges. The first hinge represents the skill of the individuals involved in the negotiation. The second hinge stands for the rational style or climate of opinion that permeates the culture of the people involved. Both hinges are influenced by the philosophical ideas ascendant in a society. Both must be based on high quality rational assumptions for negotiations to advance our abilities to progress in peace.

This chapter concentrates on the second hinge, the intellectual atmosphere or 'style' in which individuals reason and negotiators negotiate.


Strange to say, we never actually read or hear the powerful themes that form the style of our society. Instead, what we hear or read are remarks by individuals. Each person picks up the idea from their own exposure to the thought. It is because the same thought is adopted by many that the thought gains power as a theme.

If only one or two people believe something, the belief has little power. If an idea is written down only once in one book that is rarely read, it has no effect on the over all style of society.

When a general idea is repeated over and over, it becomes a theme. It takes several themes woven together to create a style. If there were no themes, there would be no style.

A theme can be expressed in a variety of ways and still convey the same general meaning. Many writers and speakers use different words to communicate virtually the same idea.

Root Themes

If the theme concerns rational matters, it is a root theme. Root themes are root values repeated over and over. (The term ‘root’ in this study is a metaphor for epistemology, logic, semantics, linguistics and other elemental suppositions that underlie private reflection and public communication.)

A root verity repeated over and over becomes an affirmative rational theme or civil theme or a similar expression (Root verities are adequately correct judgments about logic and other elemental valuations.) See Plus Essay

A root error repeated over and over becomes a negative ideological theme or an antithetic theme or some such term. There are many ways of being negative. (Root errors are elemental rational mistakes.)


Root themes and the style that follows from them by their very nature are elusive because they depend on the belief of many. We can only guess what other people believe. We base our guess on what they say, the way they pose and what they do. Sometimes we are not even sure of our own beliefs.

Rational style, the collective root assumptions of a society, are so elusive that they are virtually hidden. This is because Epistemological and other elemental conjectures that constitute the rational style of a group are presupposed but rarely explicitly said. These basic assumptions are necessary if we are to communicate with each other. However, to actually articulate these assumptions in a manner that would be acceptable to all, or even a majority, is beyond our ken.

To complicate the matter, a large number of root values are dispersed in the rational style of any group. The more advanced the civilization, the greater the number of root values involved.


No rational style is 100% authentic. We are too limited and too prone to mistakes to develop a rational style with no errors at all.

It happens that, because of the large number of ideas involved and because of the implicit character of root values and because of our own human limitations, it is impossible for any rational style to be perfect. It is part of the condition of mankind that our human knowledge is limited. We are neither absolutely affirmative nor absolutely negative.

Negative rationality is always partial. We cannot completely reverse the requirements of sound rational thinking in our personal reasoning and in our discourse with others. For communication to proceed with even a modicum of success, there must be some authentic elements.

In carrying on conversations we employ at least a semblance of sound rationality. Communication analysis can uncover some affirmative rational elements in all human intellectual endeavors. In extended conversation, we can usually find some negative points as well.

In addition, not every root mistake is a disaster. We learn from our mistakes. In almost every circumstance there is something to work with, if we are clever enough to find a way.

Because of the nature of our human thought processes, some affirmative rational components will be present in any communication that uses complete sentences. This is a basic linguistic reality that exists whether we acknowledge it or not.

Consequently, the rational style of all societies is a mixture of both affirmative and negative root themes. Most people understand this complex amalgam of values, at least intuitionally, and learn to live with it.


Rational style operates in degrees of more or less. There will always be some mixture of affirmative and negative.

Although no society can achieve a perfect rational style, some are more civil than others. Degrees of difference affect the way we live. The contrast between civil liberty and totalitarian tyranny is dramatic.

To promote rational improvement it helps to be able to talk about degrees of difference. For example, being 85% free is much better than being 15% free although neither has achieved an ideal state. In his recent book about his life in Communist East Berlin in 1981, Timothy Garton Ash put this idea very well.

The difference was not, to be sure, between the pure white of a completely free press and the solid black of a wholly unfree one, but between the light gray of the largely free and the dark gray of the largely unfree. In East Germany, that gray was pretty dark.

Timothy Garton Ash (1955-)

The quality of the rational style of any group will depend on the themes that dominate discourse. When affirmative root themes carry the day people engage in civil discourse and society improves. When negative root themes begin to dominate, discourse ceases to be civil, and people fall into a pattern of bitter win-loose confrontations punctuated with insults and accusations.

In groups where negative root themes gain a commanding position, discourse begins to lose its ability to function productively. When discourse declines into the lower degrees, a political system with totalitarian characteristics will, sooner or later, come into power. There is a proportional relationship between the quality of civil discourse and the ability of a society to avoid tyranny.

At this point, we should note that: just because we often learn from mistakes does not mean we should encourage mistakes for the sake of being wrong. As said by Erasmus, a Dutch Christian humanist born in 1466:

Youths especially should be taught to learn about sin from the opinions of the informed rather than to say foolishly that they will learn what sin is from their own experience. If they follow the latter course, they will ruin their lives before they know what life is.

Erasmus (1466-1536)

If we are smart, we learn from others. We note and remember consequences of past actions and avoid that which produces unwanted results. There is no virtue in repeating the same errors over and over.

Rational Style Defined

Rational style =+df the set of epistemological standards, logical guidelines, codes of behavior and other elemental rational values shared by a group. 'Rational style' is a term to represent a community’s accepted reasoning methods and to refer to the dominant standards of discourse the community expects.

Rational style, as defined, means the dominant rational assumptions (both root verities and root errors) presupposed by a group. It constitutes an unwritten body of reasoning expectations and standards of logical honesty that we pick up from each other and learn to expect in our dealings together. Rational style refers to the fundamentals of intellectual taste in vogue at a particular time and place. It posits the rational "thing to do".

Every society possesses an unwritten elemental rational code that sets forth logical assumptions people share so they can conduct business, educate youth, play sports, and such.

Being both a method of reasoning and code of behavior, rational style makes it possible for people to trust each other in varying degrees. The degree of trust that prevails in a society is a function of the quality of the rational style dominating the society.

Rational style, as formulated here, is not a new thought. It is an aspect of culture or spirit of the time (Zeitgeist). Something similar to 'rational style' as defined herin is a common philosophical theme. Arthur O. Lovejoy expressed a similar idea in The Great Chain of Being:

There are implicit or incompletely explicit ASSUMPTIONS—more or less unconscious mental habits—operating in the thought of an individual or a generation. It is the beliefs which are so much a matter of course that they are rather tacitly presupposed than formally expressed and argued for, the ways of thinking which seem so natural and inevitable that they are not scrutinized with the eye of logical self-consciousness, that often are most decisive of the character of a philosopher’s doctrine, and still oftener of the dominant intellectual tendencies of an age.

Arthur O. Lovejoy (1873-1962)

Lovejoy comes close to the definition of rational style given in this study. However, in Plusroot Theory the emphasis is on elemental and logical mental habits that shore up civil discourse. We should use another term, perhaps "empirical style" or "existential style" or "political style", for approved epigrams, economic advice, maxims, and policy prescriptions incorporated tacitly into cultural thought.

The term style stresses expectations shared by a group more than the assumptions held by any one individual—although each person does have his/her own particular rational style.

The term 'rational style' approximates the general idea Lovejoy discusses. Implicit elemental factors are the effective working units that direct the course of society. If we are serious about consciously improving our abilities to progress in peace, we need to "crack the shell", as Lovejoy puts it, and learn to see the dynamic units of thought that shape the world of our mind.


Being a method of reasoning and a code of honesty that people share through subliminal mental habits, the rational style of a group establishes the degree of trust people intuitively dare place in each other. Every society shares some reasoning requirements and some code of honesty or they would not be a society. Even the Mafia establish norms of allowable rational behavior.

The degree of trust in a group varies with the quality of the rational style they hold in common.

When themes that establish lax logical standards prevail in a rational style, trust among people recedes. When people develop higher logical standards the ability to trust one another improves. By upgrading rational style we augment our natural urge to honesty, build mutual trust, and increase our ability to successfully negotiate conflict. The quality of rational style shared in a community establishes the quality of social life enjoyed. People who share an affirmative rational style often regard each other as kindred spirits.


We have a limited ability to direct the course of our personal thinking. We can choose to work on projects that improve our personal reasoning skills. As the cumulative actions of individuals make up the whole, we will find that as we replace root errors with root verities we improve the ratio of affirmative themes to negative themes in rational style of our society.

We have a choice. We can leave the project to happenstance or we can make deliberate efforts to improve matters.

Improvement starts with the conviction to make improvement. In this work, I use terms such as 'root verities' and 'root errors.' It is not necessary to use the terminology stipulated in this study. All theories that promote the fundamentals of sound rational thinking will help upgrade rational style.

Value Judgments

Having defined rational style, many characteristics follow. For example, all rational styles resonate with value judgments. The rational style of a group not only expresses what is logically there; It also embodies dominant feelings of what ought to be there.

When a society have adopted an affirmation rationaly style, they become flush with the possibilities of what they can do working with each other. When a negative style prevails, people feel a pressure to conform, and hesitate in making their personal contributions.

Tradition and Opinion Makers

Rational style grows synergistically from two sources: from the bottom up by popular demand and from the top down by the teachings of intellectuals and opinion makers.

From the bottom up, tradition affects rational style by word of mouth and innuendo. It is handed to us and we pick it up. Numerous people, sensitive to the thing to do, feel it out, try it on, and, if it fits, they wear it. They guess the prevailing expectations and, as they succeed, receive rewards of admiration. In this manner, rational elemental conventions from the past continue and pass on, with no visible design. Reasoning habits and codes of honesty adopted by predecessors tend to be preserved. Because of rational tradition, good traits learned from the past are easy to keep and bad habits hard to break.

From the top down, a pyramid of prominent thinkers also influences rational style. Prestigious philosophers express thoughts that become popular and penetrate deep into the rationality of a period. The rational themes they promote affect both conventional reasoning habits and codes of honesty that the general populace shares in common.

Although prominent thinkers often fail to appreciate the power they wield, in the long run, their persuasions spread wide and deep. They can’t control everything but, in forming crucial bits of rational style, they wield authority similar to fashion designers who decide whether the hem comes to the knee or the calf and whether its in vogue for women to wear anklets with high heels—or whether women wear high heels at all. Tradition and personal conviction put some restraints on the power of prominent thinkers and fashion designers but, within limits, both leaderships profoundly move the mind of the masses.

The time frame of the penetration of the influence of philosophers is an intriguing area of study. Sometimes a philosophical idea catches fire and has almost an immediate effect. Other times an idea, either affirmative or negative, simmers for a long time before it boils.

Plus analysis offers a thermometer to test the temperature of a theme and to see what direction a society is going. Are we improving of regressing?

We, as individuals, can throw our weight in the direction we choose. We can make our mark on the critical thinking we advocate in our sphere of influence and on the traditions we perpetuate. Sometimes what one person does seems insignificant but, in the long run, the action of individuals adds up to the style of the day. The more we do our part, the more others are moved to do theirs.


The content of rational style is composed of numerous epistemological and other elemental assumptions that collect into themes. Rational themes constitute the underlying elemental habits and standards and tactics that problem solving people incorporate into their personal thought systems.

The rational style of a society includes both correct and incorrect elemental values. Root verities are good enough answers to questions about thinking. Root errors are inadequate answers. Affirmative rational themes are root verities repeated over and over until they become good reasoning habits. Negative rational themes are root errors repeated over and over until they become harmful reasoning habits.

Crucial Root Problem

Deciding whether a particular rational theme is affirmative or negative is a challenge. Root values are numerous, mixed and half hidden in our mind..

Numbers: The sheer number of problems involved in elemental theory is staggering. One question answered calls more questions to mind. Once we start asking and answering them, they go on and on. For each question about thinking, the seeker can often find more than one answer. The possible wrong or inadequate answers doubles many fold. As Plutarch said, there is only one way to hit the center of a target but there are many ways to miss. If wrong answers develop into negative root themes that become accepted in the rational market place, then the damage penetrates the rational style.

Root verities and root errors collect together in a complex network of assumptions, and settle deep in our minds. As time passes, they add up. We can go a lifetime unaware of our own immense collection of elemental habits we unconsciously presuppose. Although we don’t often speak of these deep and numerous assumptions, we routinely share them with others in our community by way of implication.

Routine sharing of unspoken elemental assumptions within a group is an important factor in forming the rational style of the group.

Vast numbers of questions about thinking stir around in the minds of all normally functioning people. With such a large number of questions and answers, we easily make elemental rational mistakes. Unavoidably, some mistakes invade the theory of every cultural, no matter how advanced. It’s important to remember that rational style is a loose, unwritten code, not consciously studied or formulated.

Since we humans are too limited to achieve absolute logical purity, the rational style of all periods percolates with a mixture of root verities and errors.

Double Standards in Rational Style

The quality of a rational style is the function of root verities measured proportionally against root errors. Acknowledging our personal intellectual limitations helps us stay aware that the rational style of society will contain imperfections. Society consists of people who are also limited in knowledge and understanding.

Inevitably some root errors will creep into accepted logical assumptions. Being a mixture of correct and incorrect presuppositions about rational thinking, contradictions become embedded in the style of all cultures. These contradictions in rational style create "logical double standards" that a society accepts in its commonly understood guidelines of rationality and presupposed codes of honesty.

Obviously, logical double standards vary in degrees of seriousness. Trivial logical double standards have trivial effects. Serious logical double standards have serious effects. There are many degrees in between. The benefit of the rational style of a period depends on the sweep of sound rational thinking propagated.

The extent to which logical double standards interfere with clarity and honesty of thought will depend on the degree of seriousness of the root errors involved. For example, an unsuitable definition of ‘disposition’ will do less damage than a miss formed understanding of ‘truth’.

Logical double standards increase the complexity of elemental rational theory, a subject already complicated by explosive, gushing ramifications. Plus root theory emphasizes that: some logical double standards are more serious than others.


Insofar as rational style is a mixture of affirmative and negative, it contains contradictions. A negative theme always opposes a corresponding affirmative theme. It is the presence of a negative idea that creates the contradiction in the rational style. Removing the negative idea removes the contradiction.

We can not remove root verities from our thought systems because they are implicit in reasoning whether we acknowledge them or not. As an analogy, every diet that contributes to health in humans contains an adequate amount of vitamins whether the individuals know about vitamins or not. Removing a bad eating habit will improve health whether the person does it on purpose or not. During World War II when sugar was severely rationed, the health of many actually improved.

Themes are collections of individual thoughts. Negative root themes always begin with individual people, one by one. With each wrong answer to a question about thinking, another contradiction slips into the thought systems of individuals and, as they become popular, many people believe the same thing. At this juncture, the negative theme begins to penetrate the rational style of a group.

Each negative root theme accepted, creates a contradiction in a persons thought system because it stands opposed to our natural logical intuitions. Each root error we accept creates a root contradiction.

Accumulating root contradictions in the rational style of a community downgrades generally accepted rational standards and makes it more difficult to successfully negotiate conflict.

Conversely, reducing root errors has the effect of upgrading the standards of rational style.

Often we let root contradictions build because we count on philosophers and popular opinion makers to fix them, which, fortunately, they frequently do.

However, sometimes the people we count on to fix contradictions, instead, do the opposite. It then happens that prominent thinkers use their clout to add contradictions to rational style. In this scenario, philosophers contribute to the decline of the quality of rational style.

Some prominent thinkers, whom we assume are experts in directing the development of knowledge, are more negative than they are affirmative. When they promote negative root ideas they work to embed serious epistemological and other elemental mistakes into cultural expectations. For example, from a plus point of view, both the far left and the far right degrade our rational style and make it harder for average citizens to trust one another because both sides promote serious root errors.

Internal root contradictions tend to hinder the exercise of civil discourse. The more serious the contradiction, the less our ability to solve problems through constructive dialog.

To elaborate, when philosophers and other opinion makers propagate crucial root errors in a society that already enjoys cultivated commonsense habits, they elevate elemental error at one level of thinking which stands in contrast to traditional affirmative habits at another level. Much of the anxiety we in the USA feel at this time (2003) is a worry that our abilities to trust each other are slipping instead of improving. Minorities particularly feel this pinch.

In elemental double standards, a root verity and a corresponding root error are both accepted as true at the same time, usually in different areas of thought. When this happens, we hold contradictory elemental propositions as true without noticing the danger of the contradiction. Contradictions are there, but we don’t see them because they settle deep in underlying assumptions and are mentally out of sight. Being hidden, these problems are difficult to resolve.

Elemental double standards are at first private and later become communal as more and more people subscribe to the same thoughts. We create private double standards in our personal thought systems when we accept root errors as if they were root verities. When basic root errors are accepted by a group to the extent that they become doctrines of the prevailing rational style, the ability of the group to negotiate conflict will be compromised. Elemental double standards that become established in the rational style of the day generate unidentified anxiety and invite destructive behavior.

Eg. 3c: Truth Example

As an example of a serious elemental double standard in modern rational style, popular opinion makers all too often teach that truth, evolves through oscillating and mutating states of change. Many people, in critical reasoning, accept this mutating idea of ‘truth’ and incorporate it into their intellectual view of reality.

At the same time, the same people, in their liminal discernment (commonsense level of thinking), know perfectly well that 'truth' is impartial and does not change. Notice the split that occurs! What is believed at one area of thinking is denied in another. This is a compounded double standard in elemental rational thinking. People who accept these double standards are trapped in deep down contradictions. The contradiction is compounded if they live in a society where the acceptance of this particular double standard is in style. Getting out of compound elemental double standards is difficult. Much confusion and frustration arises from oppositions of this nature.

Educational Problems

Elemental double standards create educational problems. We send children to school where they learn, "You must tell the truth and be honest". Then we teach, "There is no truth to tell because truth is essentially relative and is in a process of change". Added to that, we teach that people who believe in impartial rational standards are fools because impartiality is an illusion. Children pick up the message and become cynics at a very young age.

Elemental double standards accepted in our rational style hamper our ability to manage personal business and successfully negotiate conflict. From a plus point of view, failure to make a clear and emphatic distinction between human knowledge and impartial truth, is the front running candidate for the most grave of all root errors.


It is a serious mistake to underestimate the consequences of rational style. Rational style sets the communal atmosphere in which we solve problems and negotiate peace.

In deciding family, community and national issues, the unsaid is often more important than the said. Success in resolving conflict is heavily influenced by unspoken rational assumptions of the parties involved.

Fortunately, we humans are gifted with a natural inclination to develop and employ sound elemental values in normal thinking. Consequently, there will always be a degree of veracity in the rational style of a period. No society is perfect but all societies share some well formed elemental commitments. As James Beattie wrote in 1773 in "An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth",

Eg. 3d: Beattie

In every age and every man there is something to praise as well as to blame.

James Beattie

There is always reason to hope and always room for improvement.


Although perfection exceeds our capacity, we can aim for improvement. We humans have the ability to correct enough root errors and embrace enough root values to adequately address the complexities of the times. If we do the work required, we can keep our negations within the realm of civility. It’s not that hard. We already do it much of the time. We only need to be good enough. We do not have to be absolutely perfect.

Good Enough

But we MUST be good enough. We can reach a degree of development in our society where we move ahead without cruel manipulation if enough people adequately promote sound elemental values (root verities)and sufficiently correct elemental mistakes (root errors). To seek improvement we need to upgrade our ability to promote the guidelines of sound rational thinking and to successfully correct mistakes that hinder progress.


Rational style, as do all fads and customs, changes from period to period and varies from group to group. As with clothes, music, and sports—the style of reasoning and expectations of honesty alters noticeably as various fashions come and go. In measuring our quality of life, reasoning methods and standards of honesty has much more serious consequences for society than the shape of a hat or a hair cut.

Fortunately, rational style often changes for the better. Once habits of commonsense reasoning are established in the style of a society, they tend to persevere and to improve. Sound rational thinking is attractive and produces pleasant results. The majority of people are naturally inclined to cultivate honest commonsense and to upgrade the quality of civil conversation.

However, honest commonsense is not an absolute. The rational style of every society, including ours, contains some root errors is susceptible to regression.

We, as individuals, possess the ability to consciously influence the course of rational style. We each throw our weight to some extent. The more a person understands his/her rational behavior, the more he/she can deliberately improve the style in which he or she lives. When one person does it well, others will be impressed, pick up affirmative rational themes, which then tend to spread and exert influence on the more general style. But whether it spreads or not, by upgrading our personal rational style we enrich the general pool of problem solving skill and increase by that much the ability of all to resolve conflicts in a way that is mutually beneficial.

When the call is close, a small change can sway the dominance of a trend. Because rational style in our day and time is already well developed, a little improvement is all we need to make a big jump in our abilities to progress in peace. On the other hand, increasing prevalence of root errors in our style can reverse this process.

If we desire to work for a non-violent society that is just and free, then we can measure the quality of rational style as it relates to that purpose.

Some rational styles are obviously much more amicable than others. As we upgrade the rational style of our culture, we advance our ability to improve society in a non-violent manner.

If we are serious about peaceful progress in a nuclear world, we should pay close attention to the rational standards that go in and out of style. We should study what upgrades rational style and what downgrades it. Most important, we should address the contradictions and double standards we allow into the rational style or our society.

Know How

We have to know how. To consciously make improvements, we need to know the difference between rational progress and rational regress. Much too often, enthusiasts attempting to upgrade standards do the opposite. Their heart is in the right place, but their head is in the clouds and their well-intended policies make things worse rather than better.

The character of rational style–that is, the reasoning assumptions and commitment to honesty that we share with each other without having to argue every point–is so important that major energy should be put into upgrading the quality. The Roots of Sound Rational Thinking articulates many tenets offered for your consideration as important root verities.

Although rational style is an amorphous set of assumptions and not a legislated set of laws, it is none the less a major factor in establishing the quality of negotiation that people in a group are able to achieve. As rational style is upgraded, negotiation quality is increased and our ability to progress in peace is advanced.

Root Value

Ethical value expresses what we should do rather than simply describe what we do do. In this study value, unless otherwise stated, means ethical value.

Root values are assumed, implied or expressed judgments concerning how we should or should not use our rational talents.

A root value can be authentic or inauthentic. It can be a verity or an error. Errors include serious to minor to meaningless.