Logical Illiterate Confirms Nomination




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Leading With Your Chin -- 101


In a surprise move, the Internet's answer to the Three Wise Monkeys (but, with a difference) -- See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Know Nothing --, Mr B, has 'responded' to his recent nomination as joint-winner of the prestigious award, Logical Illiterate Of The Year:


"I gotta (sic) admit that Rosa L packs in so many putdowns per essay, that I find it hard not to get diverted into repartee; and it kind of bogs me down in reading through her stuff. Maybe she doesn't consider ad hominem a modern logical fallacy."


Of course, ad hominem is an informal fallacy --, and in many cases, it isn't even that, for, as seems plain, it is surely valid to derive inconsistent, contradictory, or otherwise 'absurd' consequences from the odd things the incautious, like Mr B, blurt out, in order to expose them for what they are. It is to be wondered, therefore, if Mr B is so used to saying such things that he has become immune to his own inanities.


No worries; Rosa will kindly point them out.


Like so many others on the Internet, it is plain that Mr B has confused 'ad hominem' with personal attack or disparagement. In fact, an ad hominem argument is one that infers from some (assumed or actual) idiosyncrasy, failing or foible in an opponent to the conclusion that their argument is invalid because of that. I nowhere do this -- nowhere do I argue: "Mr B is an idiot therefore his argument is invalid". Ad hominem has nothing to do with personalising a criticism as such, but with what can be 'inferred' from that personalisation. It has nothing to do with abuse as such, either; one can infer, ad hominem, from praise just as much as from abuse. It is the inference that is ad hominem, not the personalisation, the abuse, or even the praise.


Hence, this would be plain and simple abuse: "NN is an idiot" -- but it isn't ad hominem. This is: "NN is an idiot, therefore what he says is false". So is this: "NM is intelligent, therefore what she says is true." [Where in both cases "what he/she says..." refers back to an argument or assertion put forward by an opponent or interlocutor in a debate, etc.] For this to be a logical fallacy, it has to involve inference, otherwise it is just abuse or adulation.


Nevertheless, this underlines the insecure grasp Mr B has even of informal fallacies, let alone Formal Logic.


Others can, of course, check, but there seems to be little of substance in Mr B's 'reply', for he failed to engage with what I had argued (either in the Essay to which he was 'responding', or in my other Essays).


No doubt this is because he has become accustomed to saying far too much of little substance:


"Anyway, she is sort of interesting in her supreme confidence. And when I thought about one of her statements recently, on Lenin's Philosophic Notebooks,  I did come up with an answer to her challenge that had not occurred to me before. In other words, she caused me to think, though, my thought was a refutation of her thought. The "John is a man" thing. It really is a contradiction, pace Rosa L.

"As, I said, and she quotes me.

'CB: The sentence "John is a man" means John is both the same and different from Joe, Jack, Rosa, Charles... It is precisely the "is" of predication that is a unity and struggle of opposites'

"I prefer to focus on this.  As I say, what I wrote above seems logical and correct to me still.  So, until we get agreement on this, why go on to other issues?"


From this we may conclude that what "seems" alright to Mr B has the force of logic behind it --, and to such an extent that he and the rest of the HCD fraternity feel confident that they can ignore my refutation of this ancient fallacy (an egregious logical blunder largely invented by Medieval Roman Catholic Theologians, to whom such logical chicanery "seemed" to sort of make sense of the 'Holy Trinity'), a move that helps confirm the above judgement that he is indeed the wisest of the Three Wise Monkeys: Know Nothing.



Figure One: Mr B -- Too Dim Even For These Jokers?


As I noted of this 'theory' (in Essay Three Part One):


First, the Identity Theory of Predication (with added Hegelian spin) features in the Hegel's criticism of the LOI (more details here), where he confused the relation of identity (stated 'negatively') with the truth-functional implications that hold between contradictory propositions (i.e., the LOC). This mix-up allowed Hegel to 'derive' an alleged contradiction from the LOI (stated 'negatively'), and this 'permitted' him to power-up his Ideal universe by means of its double negation. But, these moves were only possible because of the systematic confusion of predicates with relations, names, objects, abstractions, concepts, propositions, and, indeed, a host of other things, too.


[UO = Unity of Opposites; LOI = Law of Identity; LOC = Law of Non-contradiction.]


If there is no difference between a proposition (or a clause), for instance, and an object -- or, rather, a name for an object -- it would become 'natural' to think that a contradiction (between two propositions, or clauses) also expresses a relation between two objects (or between their supposed names), which could now be seen in 'dialectical union/tension' with each other. Such a crass error is indeed the source of all those DM-contradictions, which are now no longer seen as purely linguistic, but as objects in their own right.


Moreover, as we will see, just as soon as predication is confused with the identity relation (or, when the "is" of predication has been re-configured as an "is" of identity), it becomes easy to claim that an object is now only its ('essential') self when it is put into a special sort of relation to its 'other' -- its internally-linked opposite (which often turned out to be whatever was 'named' by the second half of a suitably chosen proposition after it had been 'dialectically' processed).


This move would now feed into the belief that reality is fundamentally contradictory (and that everything is a UO of a given object/process and its dialectically-linked 'other'), which would morph into the idea that true knowledge is only of the 'infinite' (expressed by whatever these allegedly 'universal' predicates were now supposed to 'designate'). As we will also see, this not only motivated the thesis that everything is interconnected, but also the doctrine that motion and change are inherent properties of matter, as well as the idea that there are in fact no real falsehoods -- just closer approximations to Absolute Truth --, and thus the doctrine that truth is the Whole, and then finally the claim that freedom is just the dialectical flip-side of necessity.


From this seemingly insignificant logical blunder, a whole web of intricately knotted DM-theses were woven into a complex, mystical tapestry by generations of diligent dialectical digits.


Behind all this runs the idea that 'the process of abstraction' enables each adept to make a series of surprisingly easy discoveries about fundamental aspects of reality (to which suitably distorted ordinary general words were said to 'refer') from thought alone, without leaving the comfort of the non-dialectical armchair.


So, the 'historic' discovery that the universe is populated and powered by 'contradictions' wasn't based on experiment, observation, or on any of the sciences, but on a logical blunder: the confusion of predicate expressions with the names of abstract particulars, and thus the "is" of predication with the "is" of identity.


But, what sort of animal is this "unity and struggle of opposites" that Mr B detects in simple predicative sentences, anyway?


Is John really struggling against all the "men" that he "is not"? Will he one day turn into them all -- severally or collectively -- as Engels, Lenin, Plekhanov and Mao assured us he must?


"The law of the interpenetration of opposites.... [M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes...." [Engels  (1954), pp.17, 62.]


"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22. Emphases in the original.]


"And so every phenomenon, by the action of those same forces which condition its existence, sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite…." [Plekhanov (1956), p.77.]


"Why is it that '...the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another'? Because that is just how things are in objective reality. The fact is that the unity or identity of opposites in objective things is not dead or rigid, but is living, conditional, mobile, temporary and relative; in given conditions, every contradictory aspect transforms itself into its opposite....


"In speaking of the identity of opposites in given conditions, what we are referring to is real and concrete opposites and the real and concrete transformations of opposites into one another....


"All processes have a beginning and an end, all processes transform themselves into their opposites. The constancy of all processes is relative, but the mutability manifested in the transformation of one process into another is absolute."  [Mao (1961b), pp.340-42.]


[More on this here, where the above references, and many others, have been posted.]


But, if John isn't going to turn into all men -- or even into "a man" -- what is the point of all this?


On the other hand, if John is going to change because of this "unity and struggle of opposites", then what was John before he changed? If his "opposite" is "a man", what is he now? An alien? A vegetable? A Wise Monkey?


Even in Hegelian terms, none of this makes any sense.


Of course, we are meant to examine the (ancient, but no less obscure) 'logical categories' in play here, since they are supposed to power John's 'development'. But, even then, is John-the-Individual going to turn into a John-the-Universal? Is his individuality struggling against an abstract category? And, how exactly is it/he doing that for goodness sake? Shadow boxing? Transcendental Meditation?


Our Wise Monkey has plainly given this little thought, which might be because of his own futile struggle to become "a man" himself.


This is perhaps evidenced by the following example of tortured, but largely irrelevant, 'reasoning':


"Actually, the example which Rosa L. refers sarcastically to truly innovative historical materialism, is really innovative historical materialism, based in good anthropology. Her criticism of different "families" having different languages, doesn't quite cut it, if you think about it much. I'm talking about the origin of language and symboling (sic), way back when. probably in "Lucy".  It would be the abstract process of symbolling (sic), not the specific symbols, that would be apprehended by the originating group of pithecanthropines. I don't know if Rosa has much anthropology. Doesn't sound like it. Her forte is modern, not ancient, logic."


We must, I think, accept on trust Mr B's comment about his own recent ancestry, which, because he has missed the point once more, none would even think to question. For now we have been presented with this LuLu:


B1: Lucy is a..., er, "symboling/symbolling" pithecanthropine.


No doubt Lucy (or her descendants) evolved into a "man" because of the "unity and struggle of opposites", but not, as science would have it, as a result of the mutations at work in the surrounding gene pool, filtered by natural selection.


I do not know how much evolutionary theory Mr B has comprehended (it doesn't seem to be much); after all his forte lies in ancient and modern academic gobbledygook.


A few small quibbles, though:


Is Mr B really suggesting that the above flights-of-fancy (for how else could he possibly know what his ancestors were busy "symboling/symbolling" half a million or so years ago, or even if they were?) can tell us anything about the logic of the sorts of sentences that Jean Buridan and other Medieval Theologians -- the inventors of this 'theory' -- 'surgically enhanced' 600 or so years ago? Or, why it is that just one family of languages (the Indo-European) possesses an ambiguous "is"? Why does this dialectical dodge only work in this one language group? Did these even wiser Monkeys (these 'pithecanthropines'), to which our very own Simian Dialectician refers, use an "is"? How do we know they were even capable of abstraction (a 'process', by the way, that has yet to be explained)? And, what the Dickens has any of this got to do with ancient logic --, or any at all?


Can anyone detect an argument in here? Can anyone see something other than a series of unconnected and unsupported assertions, all advanced by this non-Professor of Anthropology?


Now, as far as my own expertise is concerned, it seems I know just as much Anthropology as Professor B (i.e., very little), but, fortunately, far more logic (ancient and modern). And yet, as should also seem clear to us non-Wise Monkeys, the issue isn't our supposed expertise (or lack of it) in any specific area, but whether or not one of us knows the meaning of "relevant", a word with which Mr B, at least, seems to struggle -- and which, if his 'theory' is to be believed, he should one day turn into.


Is there anything in the above that is at all relevant to showing how or why Hegel's misconstrual of the "is" of predication as an "is" of identity wasn't a blunder of sub-pithecanthropine proportions?


Add to this the fact that Mr B's 'account' of language/'cognition' would turn one or both into an entirely non-social, bourgeois sort of dead-end (wherein private individuals "symbol" to themselves as socially-atomised units) -- a 'process' that would, of course, make communication impossible.


As Meredith Williams noted of Vygotsky's somewhat similar 'theory':


"Vygotsky attempts to combine a social theory of cognition development with an individualistic account of word-meaning.... [But] the social theory of development can only succeed if it is combined with a social theory of meaning." [Williams (1999b), p.275.]


[More details here, and now here.]


Of course, this isn't just my say-so (nor yet even Williams's say-so); Marx and Engels advanced analogous criticisms of similar sub-Simian suppositions in their day:


"The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. -- real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.47. Bold emphasis added.]


"Only now, after having considered four moments, four aspects of the primary historical relationships, do we find that man also possesses 'consciousness,' but, even so, not inherent, not 'pure' consciousness. From the start the 'spirit' is afflicted with the curse of being 'burdened' with matter, which here makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of language. Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men. Where there exists a relationship, it exists for me: the animal does not enter into 'relations' with anything, it does not enter into any relation at all. For the animal, its relation to others does not exist as a relation. Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all. Consciousness is at first, of course, merely consciousness concerning the immediate sensuous environment and consciousness of the limited connection with other persons and things outside the individual who is growing self-conscious.... On the other hand, man's consciousness of the necessity of associating with the individuals around him is the beginning of the consciousness that he is living in society at all...." [Ibid., pp.50-51. Bold emphases added.]


"One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.


"We have shown that thoughts and ideas acquire an independent existence in consequence of the personal circumstances and relations of individuals acquiring independent existence. We have shown that exclusive, systematic occupation with these thoughts on the part of ideologists and philosophers, and hence the systematisation of these thoughts, is a consequence of division of labour, and that, in particular, German philosophy is a consequence of German petty-bourgeois conditions. The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases added.]


"The object before us, to begin with, material production.


"Individuals producing in Society -- hence socially determined individual production -- is, of course, the point of departure. The individual and isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom Smith and Ricardo begin, belongs among the unimaginative conceits of the eighteenth-century Robinsonades, which in no way express merely a reaction against over-sophistication and a return to a misunderstood natural life, as cultural historians imagine. As little as Rousseau's contrat social, which brings naturally independent, autonomous subjects into relation and connection by contract, rests on such naturalism. This is the semblance, the merely aesthetic semblance, of the Robinsonades, great and small. It is, rather, the anticipation of 'civil society', in preparation since the sixteenth century and making giant strides towards maturity in the eighteenth. In this society of free competition, the individual appears detached from the natural bonds etc. which in earlier historical periods make him the accessory of a definite and limited human conglomerate. Smith and Ricardo still stand with both feet on the shoulders of the eighteenth-century prophets, in whose imaginations this eighteenth-century individual -- the product on one side of the dissolution of the feudal forms of society, on the other side of the new forces of production developed since the sixteenth century -- appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past. Not as a historic result but as history's point of departure. As the Natural Individual appropriate to their notion of human nature, not arising historically, but posited by nature. This illusion has been common to each new epoch to this day. Steuart avoided this simple-mindedness because as an aristocrat and in antithesis to the eighteenth century, he had in some respects a more historical footing.


"The more deeply we go back into history, the more does the individual, and hence also the producing individual, appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole: in a still quite natural way in the family and in the family expanded into the clan [Stamm]; then later in the various forms of communal society arising out of the antitheses and fusions of the clan. Only in the eighteenth century, in 'civil society', do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations. The human being is in the most literal sense a Zwon politikon not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society. Production by an isolated individual outside society -- a rare exception which may well occur when a civilized person in whom the social forces are already dynamically present is cast by accident into the wilderness -- is as much of an absurdity as is the development of language without individuals living together and talking to each other. There is no point in dwelling on this any longer. The point could go entirely unmentioned if this twaddle, which had sense and reason for the eighteenth-century characters, had not been earnestly pulled back into the centre of the most modern economics by Bastiat, Carey, Proudhon etc. Of course it is a convenience for Proudhon et al. to be able to give a historico-philosophic account of the source of an economic relation, of whose historic origins he is ignorant, by inventing the myth that Adam or Prometheus stumbled on the idea ready-made, and then it was adopted, etc. Nothing is more dry and boring than the fantasies of a locus communis." [Marx (1973), pp.83-85. Bold emphasis added.]


"The main point here is this: In all these forms -- in which landed property and agriculture form the basis of the economic order, and where the economic aim is hence the production of use values, i.e., the reproduction of the individual within the specific relation to the commune in which he is its basis -- there is to be found: (1) Appropriation not through labour, but presupposed to labour; appropriation of the natural conditions of labour, of the earth as the original instrument of labour as well as its workshop and repository of raw materials. The individual relates simply to the objective conditions of labour as being his; [relates] to them as the inorganic nature of his subjectivity, in which the latter realizes itself; the chief objective condition of labour does not itself appear as a product of labour, but is already there as nature; on one side the living individual, on the other the earth, as the objective condition of his reproduction; (2) but this relation to land and soil, to the earth, as the property of the labouring individual -- who thus appears from the outset not merely as labouring individual, in this abstraction, but who has an objective mode of existence in his ownership of the land, an existence presupposed to his activity, and not merely as a result of it, a presupposition of his activity just like his skin, his sense organs, which of course he also reproduces and develops etc. in the life process, but which are nevertheless presuppositions of this process of his reproduction -- is instantly mediated by the naturally arisen, spontaneous, more or less historically developed and modified presence of the individual as member of a commune -- his naturally arisen presence as member of a tribe etc. An isolated individual could no more have property in land and soil than he could speak. He could, of course, live off it as substance, as do the animals. The relation to the earth as property is always mediated through the occupation of the land and soil, peacefully or violently, by the tribe, the commune, in some more or less naturally arisen or already historically developed form. The individual can never appear here in the dot-like isolation...in which he appears as mere free worker." [Ibid., p.485. Bold emphasis added.]


"Much more important is the direct, demonstrable influence of the development of the hand on the rest of the organism. It has already been noted that our Simian ancestors were gregarious; it is obviously impossible to seek the derivation of man, the most social of all animals, from non-gregarious immediate ancestors. Mastery over nature began with the development of the hand, with labour, and widened man's horizon at every new advance. He was continually discovering new, hitherto unknown properties in natural objects. On the other hand, the development of labour necessarily helped to bring the members of society closer together by increasing cases of mutual support and joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual. In short, men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to each other....


"First labour, after it and then with it speech -- these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man, which, for all its similarity is far larger and more perfect...." [Engels (1876), pp.356-57. Bold emphases added.]


[More details here -- but, more importantly, here.]


Notice that, Professor B? Language and thought are the result of social processes; they are not the product of privatised Simian "symboling/symbolling", accessible today solely by means of such fanciful 'thought experiments'.1


"From the below, she either visited this list recently, or Jim F. forwarded some things to her. So, she might receive this little comment.  As I say, though I admire her skill at generating clever insults, they really don't impress me logically. Maybe she will give a logical, rather than entertaining response. ( Maybe not :>)"


No, Jim F didn't forward anything to me, and the "clever insults" will continue just as long as Professor B continues to insult humanity with his sub-Simian suppositions --, and, surely a far lesser crime, just as long as he ignores the arguments presented in my Essays.


Believe it or not, that's it! That's the best that this HCD can throw at me.


Raise your jaw off the floor!


In that case, I rather think I was a little too-hasty in describing Mr B as the Internet's answer to the Three Wise Monkeys.


I now regret insulting both their good name and superior Simian intellect.




1. I am grateful to Mr B for confirming an allegation I made In Essay Twelve Part One:


While it is true that Marxists in general hold that language is a social product, few seem to have thought through the full implications of that idea. [Quoted from here.]


Or, in Mr B's case: he seems to have given it no thought at all!


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