An idea that presumably references reality should be judged on the merits of its accuracy . . . in mapping that relevant, pointed-to reality.

If the idea refers to existents, to things of a physical nature, then the idea should not be contradicted by evidence, by the facts. Empirical investigation would be the primary way to test the idea, to judge its worthiness for continued use. Belief should be based on this, if at all possible.

img_0363Trouble arises, of course, when empirical tests become difficult or impossible. Then we have to engage in more roundabout and elaborate testing. This is especially the case in the social science, since complexity necessarily complicates analysis as well as testing. And, perhaps more fundamentally, all human interaction (the realm of the social) depends upon human action, which rests upon choice — and choice (in its most deliberate forms, anyway) is the result of speculation about alternate courses of actions and the expected value of the effects of those actions. Any action must at least in part be judged in terms of what was not chosen — what did not, in effect, take place — as well as in terms of what was chosen — what was demonstrated in the act(s) themselves. This is necessarily metaphysical, in the “not-obviously empirical” sense.*

And then there is this issue: some ideas are so constructed that they derail critical thought, scuttle reasoning, and prevent the search for faults. Self-defensive theories, you might say.

Polylogism is a great example of this. Polylogism is “many logics,” and is the fairly widespread belief that there is one logic for one person or group and a different [and “equally valid”] logic for another. “You cannot understand this because you are a woman [or man]”; “you cannot understand this because you are of the wrong race”; “you only believe that because you are a capitalist”; “you only say that because you are an x [or y].”

Now, it may be true that some of these expressions pertain to some thoughts. Men may be so constituted to be more likely than women to believe that some things are true and others false — and vice versa. But the likelihood of a belief does not mean that the belief cannot be tested without reference to the believers’ sex. Truth-value is irrelevant to belief likelihood. Polylogists deny this. They say (sometimes witlessly, without thinking the idea through) that one’s perspective prohibits epistemic transcendence. We are confined to our categories. Rationality cannot be universal.

It is all very self-defeating. And, in reality, a mere formalization of variant of the ad hominem fallacy.

C. S. Lewis wrote a charming essay on this problem, “Bulverism,” and I heartily recommend that you look it up. Ludwig von Mises wrote incisively on polylogism in a technical way, and this I also highly recommend — though his manner of presentation is fairly difficult for novice readers.† Unfortunately, I’ve never actually come across a technical discussion of polylogism that is as clear Lewis’s informal presentation. Part of this is no doubt the result of the inherently metaphysical nature of human choice. And this is all the more difficult for us, today, because metaphysics itself is strongly resisted by today’s dominant modernist and post-modernist philosophical traditions.‡

I should probably go downstairs and pull out Man and People (Norton, 1963), by Ortega y Gasset. He may very well have dealt with this in the book. In memory, it seems relevant. I do know that this book made a more convincing-to-me case for a generally praxeological approach than did Mises’. Alas, I’ve not read Ortega’s final masterwork in nearly 40 years.

Nowadays, memetics deals with “mind viruses” such as polylogism. (There are others.) I am not aware, however, of a formal memetic analysis that takes a look at such self-defensive meme-plexes (I call them “memetic traps”) and relates them to the traditional lists of logical fallacies. That would be extremely useful.

I have a lot of studying to do on this issue. Hints from my friends and readers would be most appreciated.


* This should provide a clue as to why metaphysics keeps on cropping up in human science and philosophy, despite attempts by logical positivists (and others) to beat it down: we are beings where non-physicality is an essential aspect of our reality.

† C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Eerdmans, 1970), and Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, Third Edition: Revised (Regnery, 1966), pp. 75-89.

‡ Trends in philosophy are looking up, however, now that logical positivism has waned in influence, and some of its main contentions against metaphysics have been found wanting.

Advertisements