The "willing subject" enters this world ...by taking a temporary and provisional stance in an endeavour to point to something; but if the basis of this temporary and provisional stance is taken as the basis of a philosophy of how it all is, then the map becomes more real than the territory.
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PMTH is fortuntate enough to have its own resident logician, that is, someone who once was a professor who taught the academic subject of logic (and other kinds of philosophy, too) and who now is a therapist and confers with us regularly. Our logician is Jerry Shaffer. Last week sometime it occurred to me to ask Shaffer some questions about Aristotelian logic, and so our conversation began. I want to tell you about this conversation because it relates to what critics often say about postmodernism, that it's against logic.
Aristotelian logic, Shafer explained, was the only kind of logic studied until a century and a half ago. The definition of logic at that time was simply that it was a way of reasoning so that if the premises were true, then the conclusion was necessarily true.
The standard example we all know is as follows -- but remember, what
I have called 1 and 2 are premises and they must be true for the conclusion
to follow by necessity:
I think what makes such logic seem magical is the guarantee it makes. If the premises are true, then the conclusion is guaranteed to be true. After all, there aren't that many guarantees in life. Let's call this Aristotle's guarantee. Sounds good, huh?
Now, look at another example of such a logical argument:
Woops! That doesn't sound quite right does it? After all, what if this sparrow is a male sparrow?
Well, here's the problem: Only if the premises are true is the conclusion guaranteed to be true. In the way we usually talk, perhaps premise 1 (All birds lay eggs) sounds true, at first glance, in spite of the fact that we all know that male sparrows don't lay eggs. So, the premise is an ordinary way of talking, but it is false, and so the conclusion can be false as well. Aristotle can't guarantee against you using false premises in your logic, and no logical inference can be made unless you have true premises. So, that's a problem. To conclude with certainty using Aristotelian logic, you will have to know your premises are true for certain. No small problem in this uncertain world.
But, it's just the beginning of the problems with Aristotlian logic.
Consider the following logical argument:
Now, here's the tricky part. Look at premise 1, and ask yourself:
What is a piece of "music". Is rap, for example, actually music?
Is the stuff your kid sister plays on the piano, actually music?
How do you decide? Wouldn't people disagree? Well, what you
count as "music" is going to be important, and, Aristotle's logic won't
tell you how to solve that problem. As Shaffer said:
So, when push comes to shove and you want to figure out if something is true about the world around you, (like whether your wife loves you), Aristotle's logic guarantee is very fickle. It just keeps repeating "if your premises are true, then your conclusions are true" and when you look hard at your premises and cannot quite tell, Aristotle just laughs from his grave.
Postmodernism recognizes the fickleness of logic and asks us to look for other solutions to life problems. Misreading this proposal, many people think that postmodernism is a call that we turn to dreams or other "illogical" ways of thinking. (For example, the Postmodern generator is a website that automatically generates nonsense and just calls itself postmodern.)
But, for me and many others, this is simply not so. Postmodernism does not ask you to be illogical. The problem that postmodern notices with logic is that the tools of logic do not yield truth in a way we can trust, or even probability statements that are nearly as worthy as many people think..
And PMTH talked about this last week. Noticing that traditional
logic is a fickle guide to truth, several people here suggested alternative
Smith for example, suggested we look at Hegel's
dialectical logic. Lynn
Hoffman pointed to Gregory
Bateson's so called syllogisms in grass. Nick
Drury followed up on that and, after re-reading Bateson, talked about
Bateson's notion of "abduction" -- which I am personally studying,
to see if it is different, from "abduction" in Peirce
(as explained by Tony
Michael Roberts). And, finally, Shaffer suggested we look at
logic - which is looking very much like a system I once tried to develop:
But that was my pre-postmodern days. Do these alternative logics show us a way out of our predicament? Our predicament that there is no sure way to figure things out?
Or is it the case that our best way out is paralogy?
Collaborative debate and discussion, in which together we try to figure
things out in an ongoing way -- such as we have on PMTH. Is that
our best bet? Even though our answers are always provisional and
tailored to particular situations?
There was also a big discussion recently on the nature of Truth. Now, "Truth" is not translated simply as "truth." Truth with a capital T is more serious that "truth". Capital "T" Truth 's the final, complete, and ultimate Truth, the truth beyond all equivocation, beyond all fallacy and human judgment. Typically, postmoderns question Truth, even though, they, too, like the word "truth." Sometimes, due to carelessness, I suppose, things do get confused though -- because it is hard to remember to capitalize Truth, especially with the rapid pace writing we get on PMTH. (But that is part of the issue, or the puzzle of talking about this T-truth. Imagine how it would be if we talked out loud. What would we do? Note the capital T with a hand signal each time we talked? Sometimes, you'll have to use the context, to figure out below whether the people are talking about "truth" or "Truth". I feel it is not so different with other subtlely different terms. But this time you should be able to guess at least.)
So, what do you suppose postmoderns like the people at PMTH think about Truth? Here's an overly brief sample.
In other words, if in a conversation I say, "That's the real Truth" then what can you say? You might be convinced, but I leave you little room to discuss the point unless you're awfully prepared for argument.
(That friend was the cognitive-narrative Portuguese psychotherapist Oscar Gonçalves.)
(I think Botella said that because he wanted to make apparent this play on words, but, I suspect, Weintraub's remark was ironic, too.)
To this, Jerry
Shaffer in a modernist mood responded:
Weintraub came back,
and she continued:
At this point the conversation turned. Tony
Michael Roberts simply said:
So, at this point we had some people postmodern because they believe
in many truths and someone else who is postmodern because he does not believe
in Truth. Tony explains his postmodern rejection of Truth saying
Interesting. Does it seem to you that Roberts and Weintraub are agreeing? Even though they are using very different language and on the surface it sounds as if they disagree?
And, Val Lewis, reminded us that even the truths with a little "t" might well be a cosmic joke!
who had originally brought up the idea that postmoderns believed in multiple
But, hey, aren't "contingent truths" just "many truths"? Isn't this the same point recycled with different words? Maybe that's why Botella started his sentence with the word "again".
Or, maybe it's more than that. Shaffer
But the argument escaped me. My postmodern head was already spinning.
So, I took solace in what Katherine
Levine wrote, which was:
That is, we each have our own truths, and even if they are incommensurable, as Weintraub said, we like them to exist side by side. And, isn't that the same thing that Roberts was trying to say when he told us that he did not believe that language (descriptions) ever captures a Truth beyond our words?
Can you see how treacherous the language is here? Everytime we
try to talk about "truth"?
Tony Michael Roberts
How and when did most of us here in PMTH learn to be incredulous towards meta- narrative and, thus, postmodern?
This was a major topic last week. Several people spoke up on this question. Lois Shawver talked about how her Christian Scientist grandmother taught her that one may maintain the apparent integrity of a meta-narrative by equivocating on the range situations for using a term. In her grandmother's case, she referred to prune juice as not "medicine". But should we agree with that? If the answer is no, that is, if prune juice is just as much a laxative as any medicine, the grandmother's faith that she was avoiding medicine and healing herself was an artificially sustained metanarrative. This innocent equivocation on a term central to her favorite meta-narrative by Lois' grandmother apparently made Lois sensitive, she thought, to such equivocations more broadly.
Jerry Shaffer and I told similar stories of how a particular experience got broadened into a larger attitude of incredulity. Jerry's faith was shaken when he asked God to "strike him dead" if something were the case which he actually knew not to be. (Presumably, a metanarrative has it that you cannot tell God to strike you dead and have nothing happen.) But, no such dramatic divine intervention into Jerry's mundane affairs actually occurred. This lead Jerry (as a young boy) to wonder if God truly micro managed daily affairs to achieve perfect justice in every single instance.
Val Lewis talked about the way her father had numerous conversations with her, encouraging her to "think about thinking."
Myself (Tony Michael Roberts), I talked about growing up in a small town in the Bible belt feeling routinely frightened and intimidated by the all pervasive power of of the fundamentalist Christian meta-narrative in shaping the thought and behavior of many of the people around me. I wondered how common this experience of having viewed the operation of some one particular meta-narrative from the outsider perspective of a non-believer was among those of us who later came to be suspicious of meta-narrative in general.
This question of how incredulity comes to be a habit of mind and of the consequences of this habit in the life of an individual is finally the question of the value of postmodernism in personal terms and the significance of postmodernism in social terms. Many criticisms of postmodernism boil down to the idea that this incredulity turns the postmodern into a hollow soul playing at the surface of life unanchored by any deep commitment or conviction. This would be true if doubt were incompatible with commitment. But is it? Is believing a thing to be true beyond question, true for everyone and true still even if no one believed, necessarily prerequisite to the use of a thing to cornerstone a life? Can one be passionate without being certain? Can one be committed to a cause without being sure of victory, or perhaps even of the final justice of the cause?
I think so. Incredulity is about belief and thus even habitual incredulity leaves room for faith defined as the felt need to live as if something were true in hopes that living this life, a life based in commitments freely chosen, might prove the simple human goodness of these commitments ł▒ if not their transcendental truth.
Believing this, it is my hope, that the increasing influence of postmodern ideas will help create a world full of passion but not full of hate, a world less intolerant and more just. Perhaps, it is that hope, that allows many of us to be so postmodern.
What about you? Ever wonder what it is that allowed you to think
in a postomodern way?
The author of today's quote is PMTH subscriber and frequent poster, Nick Drury. I grabbed the quotation from a note he sent to PMTH. I am not completely sure what he meant by it, but I suspect it's pretty close to what it means to me.
As Wittgenstein has convincingly proven to me, we cannot point to anything
precisely without a context to show people what we mean. If I point
to a ball and say "ball", for example, how is it that you know I am not
pointing to the color of the ball and naming that? Or the shape of
the ball and naming that? Somehow, the context must convey this to
you, if you are to understand me.
So, if you know I am pointing to the color of things -- say I have just pointed to several red things and said "red" and several green things and said "green," and now I am pointing to blue things and saying "blue -- then the context might clarify my meaning. But if you speak no English and I simply walk into a room and point to someone's shirt and say "blue", you won't know what I'm pointing to.
But, to get back to the Drury quote, this context must be created provisionally. If we try to tie down the meaning permanently, for all times, we are depriving the language of its life. Language lives and breathes, or else it is reduced to a map, but not only a map of a city that exists, but a map for how it must exist in the future, a map of what correctness for this city must be.
At least, that is what I get out of Drury's comment. There is always the danger that I am making a map of what he says, defining the correct way to read him.
But this brings me to a paradox for authors that deserves our thoughts. It seems authors typically prefer to create their own maps and not let what they say be given a different spin by other authors. But, unless others give them this spin, their words only flit across the screen of our minds for a moment in time. Tell me, hasn't reading this little commentary on Drury's words given them a bit more life? Even if I have changed the meaning a little bit.
What about you? Would you rather that your words die after you
write them? Or would you toss them out into the texts that others
write? Taking your chances that the meaning you intended will not
be lost entirely? And, if you prefer to keep your words tied down
to your original meaning, aren't you reducing the colorful life of whatever
you have to say to a lifeless map?
Hershey Bell brought up an interesting topic for discussion. He said he had "fallen in love with Lyotard's phrase incredulity toward metanarratives, but then his wife asked him, "Isn't that just another metanarrative?" So, he wanted to know what the rest of us thought about that.
And lots of people here gave him their thoughts. Leonard
Bohanon said simply
Ugh! Counting myself, "postmodern" I didn't like that. But I understand
the credibility of such a statement. Still, when she wrote
I was captivated by what Judy
Isn't that interesting? To me it means that even if the statement that "all postmodernism is incredulous of metanarratives" is itself a metanarrative, the definition stands. So, the philosophy of Lyotard, while telling us what the postmodern is in a most legitimate way, is not itself, postmodern!
But the converesation continued. Next, Lluis Botella Garcia del Cid reminded us that a metanarrative is not determined by its form alone, but also by its use. Metanarratives, he said, are used to legitimate (or make legitimate) other propositions. If this is so (and I think it is) then any statement that includes the phrase "I define" would be hard to consider a "metanarrative" in its original form. How can you say, "I define things this way" while using that definition to justify itself. It would be like someone saying, "What I say is so because I define it as so - but you define it another way if you like." That would scarcely be a metanarrative.
I can see how Botella's point might have led John
Soderland to make another interesting point. He said that in
spite of his affinity for postmodernism, he hesitated to categorize himself
as postmodern -- because it was
Good point. On the other hand, perhaps Tony Michael Roberts escaped the problem Soderland was pointing to because instead of calling himself "postmodern" (or "not postmodern) Roberts spoke of "defining a part of his own postmodernism as..."-- that way he talked about his postmodernism but didn't categorize himself in an overly simple way.
Okay, want to hear something Lyotard said that is relevant? Lyotard
So, presumably for Lyotard,it would be unjust for one definition (such as his own definition of postmodernism) to snuff out all others. Returning to Weintraub's notion that postmodernism does not have a place to hang its hat, it seems that some people, who insist on this definition, would be making a hat rack out of it. In other words, Lyotard's definition of postmodernism is a hat rack or not depending on whether people insist that this is the one true definition.
It is not that we can say just anything is postmodernism, but we should
allow the meaning of the term to be stretched (elasticized as Tom
Strong would say) if we want our postmodernism to be just. For
And so you see, in the end, everyone here is right, and they all should win prizes. Such, is the nature of our paralogy. See how everyone of these people worked within the limits of the rules, or perhaps pushed those limits, but never abandoned the ship to swim free without rules? That is, in spite of the diversity of opinion that we cherish here, we stayed within the rules of our language game. As a consequence, not a single person defined postmodernism as a black cat or a cup of green tea.
And this is because, as I say (and Lyotard said before me) just because
we are postmodern doesn't mean we are barbarians.
As you have learened in previous editions of PMTH NEWS, one of PMTH
Soderlund, edits and publishes New
To tell you a little more about it, let me say that recent issues have such things as trauma, "soul" and psychotherapy.
The latest edition features thoughts about the practice of therapy as
we enter the new millenium with contributions from postmodern thinkers
such as Kenneth Gergen, Tom
Andersen and Harlene Anderson,
Holzman and Fred Newman. There are
also contributions from Albert
In general, I find these contributions offer stimulating thoughts about
further directions therapeutic practice might take, including consideration
of the changes
I think this present issue is very much worth tracking down. For some short snippets, check out New Therapy's website at: http://newtherapist.webjump.com
More next issue on subsequent issues of this journal. If you want
to subscribe, click here more information.