Thursday, November 08, 2007

On Defining A Concept and Bridging The Gap Between Two Real and/or Apparently Contradictory-Paradoxical Concepts (Theories, Philosophies, Lifestyles...)

There are two ways of defining a concept:

1. by similarity and association (synonym): eg. synonyms or part-synonyms to 'dialectic' might include: dialogue, debate, discussion, argument, difference of opinions...etc.

2. by differentation and/or opposition (antonym): eg. antonyms to 'dialectic' might include: solidarity, uniformity, wholism, unity, monism, unilateralism...etc.

An example of a 'monist' might be someone like the oldest known Greek philosopher -- Thales (624-546BC) who believed that everything in the world originated with 'water'. Thales had many other important ideas besides this one but in this particular regard he might be viewed as the 'water' theorist. In this regard, he might also be viewed as a 'monist' or a 'mono-causalist' (my word) since he believed that everything on earth originated in the one particular entity he specified -- water.

Another example of a monist is Anaximenes (585-525BC) who believed that everything in the world originated in 'air'.

The second oldest Greek philosopher -- Anaximander (610-546Bc) -- is a little more complicated in his thinking. He can be viewed as both a monist and as the first Greek 'dialectic philosopher'. He is at least partly paradoxical in this regard. As a monist, he believed that everything in the world originated in 'The Boundless' -- an idea that had much more abstractness and indefiniteness than Thales' idea of 'water' or Anaximenes' idea of 'air' or Heraclitus' later idea of 'fire'. This is how Wikipedia describes the philosophical differences between these early Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers:


While each pre-Socratic philosopher gave a different answer as to the identity of this element (water for Thales, air for Anaximenes, fire for Heraclitus), Anaximander understood the beginning or first principle to be an endless, unlimited primordial mass (apeiron), subject to neither old age nor decay, that perpetually yielded fresh materials from which everything we perceive is derived.[7] He proposed the theory of the apeiron in direct response to the earlier theory of his teacher, Thales, who had claimed that the primary substance was water. (Wikipedia, Anaximander).

Despite their philosophical differences, because Anaxamander's idea specified one source of origin which was 'The Boundless' (kind of like how we might say 'The Universe' today), in this regard Anaxamander can still be viewed as a monist just like the other Pre-Socratic philosophers mentioned above, even though the other three Pre-Socratic philosophers were more concretely specific in their respective 'sources of origin' of life on earth.

However, there is a second sense in which Anaxamander can be viewed as the first Greek 'dialectic' philosopher. In this latter sense, Anaxamander was the first Greek philosopher to start theorizing about 'the philosophy of opposites'. In this same sense, Heracitus can be viewed as the second oldest dialectic philosopher but with an important difference. Anaximander theorized about the 'domination and suppression of opposites' -- each one taking turns 'dominating' and suppressing' each other, and in this regard, eventually 'exacting justice and pentance on each other'. This idea was poetically expressed in what became known over time as 'The Fragment':

Whence things have their origin,
Thence also their destruction happens,
As is the order of things;
For they execute the sentence upon one another
- The condemnation for the crime -
In conformity with the ordinance of Time.

In contrast, Heraclitus wrote about 'the balance and unity of opposites' which was a whole different outlook on the interaction of opposites than what Anaximander was writing about (the latter of whom might have been reacting to such things as the alternating tendencies of the Spartans and Athenians dominating and suppressing each other through victories and defeats in different wars with each other).

In this regard, a distinction can be made between 'dialectical unity, balance, and wholism' on the one hand (Heraclitus) vs. 'dialectical dominance and suppression' on the other hand (Anaxamander). The first can be associated with a 'will to integrate' whereas the second can be associated with a 'will to dominate' -- both significant and often alternating features of human nature, behavior, history and culture. The first can generally be associated with 'health', 'peace', and 'evolution' whereas the second can more often be associated with 'war', 'pathology', and 'destruction'.

There is also a sense in which the dialectic can be traced and categorized 'between' philosophers rather than 'within' individual philosophers. For example, a dialectic can be formulated between Thales' idea of causal origin (water) vs. Anaxamenes' idea of causal origin (air). Add Heraclitus' causal theory of origin (fire) to this equation and now you are talking about what might be called a 'trialectic' or a 'multi-dialectic' or a 'poly-lectic' (which may or may not be existing words in the English language. If not, they just became new words in Hegel's Hotel.)

Similarily, a dialectic can be traced and categorized between Plato's 'rational idealism' (his theory of 'Forms') vs. Aristotle's philosophical perspective of 'observational empiricism'.

We come now to one last characteristic that I would like to add here about the dialectic and dialectic philosophy.

Every 'monistic theory' will always stimulate and provoke the birth of a new and contrary 'anti-monistic theory' ('thesis' vs. 'anti-thesis' in the Hegelian theory of what might be called 'the dialectic cycle' or 'dialectic evolution').

However, dialectic philosophy has one advantage over monistic philosophy in this regard: specifically, it anticipates opposition, contradiction and paradox in human thinking, behaving, culture, history, and life in general. Without having the exact quote in front of me, it is a general Hegelian idea that 'Every idea, every theory, every characteristic, carries within it the seeds of its own self-destruction.' It is out of the weakness and achilles heal of one theory that the birth of a second opposing, contradictory theory is born. The second opposing theory takes advantage of the first theory's acute and inherent weakness in order to gallop its own white (or black) horse to self and/or social prominance.

In this regard, dialectical philosophy if it so desires can 'play both ends of a theoretical spectrum or opposite polarities in a theoretical showdown -- integratively -- towards the middle'. This is the philosophical perspective of Heraclitus -- the idea of 'dialectical negotiation, integration, evolution, unity, balance, and wholism'. Most democratic political and legal systems operate at least partly according to this principle. (They also operate partly by the 'righteous, either/or, domination vs. submission' principle as laid down by Anaxamander which is not always healthy to a dialectical system because it can result in 'exclusionism' and 'marginalization' rather than 'integration', 'compromise', and 'balance' which is generally what you like to see in a 'multi-dialectical democracy' .)

These ideas will all be explored and applied in more detail in the construction and extrapolation of Hegel's Hotel.

dgbn, Nov. 8-9th, 2007.

No comments: