PMTH NEWS                                                                01/27/00

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The "willing subject" enters this world 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. 
Nick Drury

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What Does Logic Have to Do with
Lois Shawver

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:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore Socrates is mortal.

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:

All birds lay eggs.
This sparrow is a bird.
Therefore This sparrow lays eggs

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:

All music is melodious.
This is a piece of music.
Therefore This music is melodious.

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:

Logic wasn't able to deal with vague terms.  Some philosophers (Russell, Wittgenstein in the Tractatus) believed that a language with vague terms was defective.  They tried to formulate a perfect language with no vague terms.  But such a language would be useless in dealing with the world.  Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations
sees that clearly.

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 logics.  Don Smith for example, suggested we look at Hegel's dialectical logic.  Lynn Hoffman pointed to Gregory Bateson's so called syllogisms in grassNick 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 fuzzy logic - which is looking very much like a system I once tried to develop:

Shawver, Lois, Clanon, Thomas L. and Kurdys, Douglas. (1985).  "Improving Parole Success with PAS."  Federal Probation,  69(4), 34-37.

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?

The Nature of Truth

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.

Tom Hicks said, 

In my opinion, using this word to make your point can be a conversation  stopper.  It can also have the effect of convincing another and is therefore
effective rhetoric.... but when it fails to convince how free is the other in a heirarchical conversation such as therapy to make a couterpoint?

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.

Lluis Botella said

I am reminded of a friend of mine... He often says that, when he is confronted with the objectivist critique that construct- ivism, constructionism, or post- modernism entail a relativistic attitide and not believing in one Truth, he replies tongue in cheek that, on the contrary, we like so much the word "truth" that we believe in many of them instead of a single one.

(That friend was the cognitive-narrative Portuguese psychotherapist Oscar Gonçalves.)

Judy Weintraub replied:

My only question is, why should the tongue be in the cheek?

And Botella replied:

Oscar is a playful sort of person and he always tends to be ironic.

(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:

To believe in many truths undercuts the idea of truth.  It is as though I said, "I believe this truth but I believe the opposite is true also." That, of course, would take a very big tongue in a very big cheek to say. Would Oscar be up to that?

Postmoderns want to undercut the idea of truth.  Sometimes they make this point by saying there is no such thing as Truth.

So Judy Weintraub came back,

I think I was being a little tongue in cheek when I asked why have the
tongue in the cheek when saying postmoderns love truth so much that they believe in many. ;)

and she continued:

And what my own reaction to this showed me is that one can be both playful and serious at
the same time. I would surely make a serious argument that there are diverse ways of legitimately using the word 'truth,' ...
 In modern times, these legitimacies would not be shared because of the incommensurability of their measures, but in postmodern times, it seems increasingly possible for ...people to regard different measures [of truth]as legitimate, even though [these are] utterly different from what one is accustomed to [thinking of as true.].

At this point the conversation turned.  Tony Michael Roberts simply said:

I'll jump in here just long enough to say in what sense I will admit to not believing in any "truth" -- 
just because I think it is not
believing in any truth in this sense which makes me a

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 

I think of myself as living inside a
description of the world which I experience as the world [itself prior to description]. I don't think it is possible to compare this description to a "truth" prior to description but only to some other description. 

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! 

Then, Botella, who had originally brought up the idea that postmoderns believed in multiple truths, responded:

Again, I think the underlying idea is not that anything goes, but that everything is contingent.

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 suggested that:

Postmoderns want to undercut the idea of truth.  Sometimes they make this point by saying there is no such thing as Truth.

And Weintraub objected that postmoderns were not trying to get rid of truth.  They wanted to make room for truth, even modernist ideas of Truth.  Presenting Kuhn as a postmodern she said:

 If the positivist scientist didn't believe that the prevailing concept of what is true was the only one, science as we know it wouldn't work, according to Kuhn.

But Penn Hughes said:

 My reaction to that is that Kuhn is wrong. 

But the argument escaped me.  My postmodern head was already spinning.  So, I took solace in what  Katherine Levine wrote, which was:

Peace is truth, not Truth.

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"?

This is a past issue of 
to visit the most recent issue 

Why We Became Postmodern?
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?

About Today's Quotation
Lois Shawver

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.

[O]ne might say: the ostensive definition explains the use--the meaning--of the word when the overall role of the word in language is clear. 

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?

Question of the Day

Do you know...
what a metanarrative is? It's a very important term in postmodern language.
Click Here!

Is Postmodernism a Metanarrative?
Lois Shawver

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 

Yep.  Sure seems like it to me.

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 Weintraub said:

[A]ny formulation of postmodernism that takes on the character of a
metanarrative is what is meant by modern, not postmodern. 

Postmoderism does not give a place to hang one's hat, philosophically, aesthetically, politically or otherwise. Postmodernism is the wind that blows that hat off the hanging hooks.

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 

almost as if, by saying "I am postmodern", I would be denying the very tenet of my suggestion
that I fancy the ideas that the postmodern approach seems to generate.

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 said:

There is no genre whose hegemony over others would be just. 
Lyotard The Differend, p.158

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 in postmodernism, 

as in all games, [justice] consists in working at the limits of what the rules permit, in order to invent new moves, perhaps new rules and therefore new games.
Lyotard, Just Gamingp, p.100

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. 

More on the New Therapist
Tom Strong

As you have learened in previous editions of PMTH NEWS, one of PMTH subscribers, John Soderlund, edits and publishes New
Therapist, a bi-monthly journal that features interviews, book reviews, summaries of recent news and research pertaining to therapeutic practice, conference information, features on  treatment approaches, and
great quotations. Also, it is laid out with good pictures and  humour for the frontline therapist unconcerned with the theoretical and academic jargon that clutters many other journals in our field. 

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, Lois Holzman and Fred Newman. There are also contributions from Albert
Ellis, Thomas Szasz, Neville Symington, Robert Langs, the San Francisco
Psychotherapy Research Group,  and the executive director of the American Psychological Association, Raymond Fowler. 

In general, I find these contributions offer stimulating thoughts about further directions therapeutic practice might take, including consideration of the changes
to psychotherapy brought about by such trends as the push for Empirically Validated Treatments and Managed Care's trends in funding and administering the business of psychotherapy. 

I think this present issue is very much worth tracking down.  For some short snippets, check out New Therapy's website at:

More next issue on subsequent issues of this journal.  If you want to subscribe, click here more information.


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