Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Discourse on 'Rational' and 'Irrational'

(I found the original passage in the Aristotle's Physics (thanks John) that I had in mind, and it did not mention this distinction as between the rational and irrational, but I will pursue it as such, anyway, since I don't need Aristotle's permission.  For the relevant passage, see Physics Book θ, 251a30.  Also, Book θ is amazing generally.)

   Here is a distinction between rational and irrational:

The rational has many possible effects

The irrational has only one possible effect

   By this, we can say that heat is irrational because it can only bring about heat, but knowledge is rational because it can bring about many different things.
  A recent conversation about this distinction developed it and suggested a number of things that seem peculiar, but may shed some light as a discourse which can cut across the history of philosophy.  I have decided to develop the distinction from that conversation in the following way:

Something absolutely rational is not determinable by us, since it is that from which all possibility itself depends upon.

   Something absolutely irrational is something conceived such that it is entirely determined.  For something to be entirely determined requires that we cannot think of any other possibility for the thing that is either not already understood in it, or is contradictory to it.  (It is impossible - for us - to determine any particular so precisely.)
   I also add the notion of relatively rational, which is how we actually think objects in our finite way.  In this case we have outstanding possibilities which we can think concerning the things which we can think of as determined, but are unknown to us.
   As an additional note, I am thinking 'rational' and 'irrational' here as relating back to the Greek 'logos' (discourse), and not to 'nous' (mind).  This is very important, and I will spend the rest of this post detailing how it is important that 'discourse' is given a central role in this.  (I am understanding 'logos' with an etymological significance of 'gathering'.)
   Generally, I will think of discourse in terms of the manner in which we speak of things.  When we have more and more precise discourse, that is, more determined discourse, we find that it is less and less rational since the terms have more and more narrow uses the more we try to constrain them.  In human discourse, through language, we must necessarily think certain determinations through what we say, and so human discourse is already relatively irrational (in different degrees).
   Pure logical notation is very rational precisely because it minimally determines particulars, and for merely this reason.  A discourse which tries to speak about particulars, such as a first hand description or historical chronicle, are less rational, since they become more and more particular as to how the objects in the discourse are determined.  
   As a discourse becomes less rational, the possibility of contradictions multiply, and the more rational the discourse the fewer possible contradictions.
   When we think of 'God' we are thinking of something that is absolutely rational, and so something we cannot capture in discourse since all discourse must be determinate in at least some manner.  We are also thinking of an extreme which stands as an opposite to all contradiction, since with the absolutely rational no contradiction is possible.  It is interesting and needful to distinguish this kind of opposition to contradiction from what it means when we say other things can't contradict themselves, for example, when we say that what exists never contradicts itself.
   When we say that existence contains no contradictions, we do so while being able to think of alternate possible realities which do contradict what is.  However, with the absolutely rational, which we cannot actually think, we can at least negatively say that we could conceive of no other possibility since it is that which is compatible with the whole realm of  possibilities - even those which we cannot conceive of except for negatively.

Some Random Historical Comments:
   Plato's conception of forms as being the most perfect should not be understood in terms of the absolutely irrational, or totally determined, but in terms of the the absolutely rational or indeterminate.

   This discourse seems helpful for understanding Leibniz' insistence on the importance of possibles, and perhaps can provide some clarity for how he conceives of God as related to all of the possibles, since even for God there are more possibilities.  This is in contrast to Spinoza, where everything follows from Gods nature, and so there is only one possible way things can be, which means that there is no absolutely rational thing in the sense developed above in relation to God.

   Kant's understanding of noumena, or the problematic, would be that which is the most rational, but by being the most rational it is undeterminable by us while being exactly what our reason strives for.

   We can see man, as the rational animal, in terms of being the animal who has less specifically determined about him, and so this definition from Aristotle can be seen as very similar to Nietzsche's own, that we are the hitherto undetermined animal.

   For Hegel, the difference between being and nothing seems to be between the absolutely rational and irrational.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Choosing Existence over Possibility

(This post relates in some manner to my other recent post Siding in Favor of Existence as a Problem.  I hope to return to this topic by means of these reflections, as well as the discussion of understanding the question concerning why there is something rather than nothing.)

   Recently, while reading Part I of Either/Or, I was considering what it is ultimately pulls us out of our life of possibilities into the world we often call the actual, or existing world.  There are clear advantages to a life in the possible: I can construct any story I wish, follow the paths of different lives, skip what's not interesting, change elements of my life on a whim, and many other obvious things.  However, we choose to emphasize the world which appears to us apart from our imagining and projecting, and tend towards using this as a standard for organizing our life.  
   From just noting that the actual world does appear to us is not enough to show that we must, even always do, organize our life exclusively around it: sometimes we think through the possibilities available to us to decide what to do, and even when we do not see how these possibilities relate to our current situation, we can understand from them how it is we want to advance in any circumstances.
   It is clear that we require empirical concepts for our projections of possibility, and so possibility must at least take their standard from the world so far as it will project particular possibilities, however, at some point could we simply begin to rank and prioritize the possible over the existent, even when it leads to our doom in the world of existence?  Perhaps we can, but I do not mean to try to develop a view to convince anyone to pursue this goal, but I am interested at least in why it is that the existent continually pulls us back in, not because these things are not obvious in their own way, but because it is important to get clearer on them, and their central role in determining our orientation to life.

   (We could just as well consider how even though we tend towards emphasizing existence, we sometimes are called out into the possibilities and emphasize those; how do we understand this shift in interest in an a priori manner (according to forms of experience)?)
   There are events which involve interest in the existence, such as, pleasure and pain, the beautiful and duty.  All of these play some role in orienting us to the existing. The latter two of these, beauty and duty, place us in a free relation to existence: in the case of the beautiful, we are interested in the object and it is susceptible to our understanding; with duty, we are responsible for something, and so cognize ourselves as able to bring it about ourselves apart from circumstances.  In contrast, pleasure and pain place relate us to existence through interest in continuing or ending a feeling, and not to us in a free determining relation to nature (as minds, with beauty, or agents with duty).  
   Not only is our enjoyment (and pain) tied to existence, but also the source of our sense of higher calling, and self worth.  From this, it seems little wonder why we prefer to concern ourselves with the existing, and would laugh at anyone who pursues a life of pure possibilities - to the degree they could attain this life, they also could not have actual enjoyment or actual self-worth.  (However, we learn from Kierkegaard to not have a hard heart towards those who feel they can avoid difficulties by trying to live a poetic existence, as the  aesthete does in Either/Or, even if he is not necessarily to be emulated.)
   These interests of pleasure, pain, beauty and duty all show experience, and us, to be organized in a certain way a priori, and first seem to allow us to start organizing and integrating more and more into a developing perspective.  There is a lot of work to be done in understanding how these different original interests in experience relate and develop in relation to each other.

A note on Leibniz:
   Leibniz maintains that all possibilities have a degree of being, but are not actual.  What determines them as actual cannot merely be their non-contradiction, since there are many non-contradictory possibilities, and so something else needs to play this role of determining the actual from the possibles: goodness.  It is possible to see this as related phenomenologically to the discussion above: we think and project all kinds of possibilities and certain of them are more vivid (have a greater degree of being) for us because of the characteristics which Leibniz emphasizes - goodness.  Perhaps the fact that it is by degree that the possible is separated from the actual is a signal that to Leibniz the interests in the actual illustrated above play a role in settling this ranking, and so Leibniz' rather strange sounding account of the determining of actuals is merely a phenomenological account of how we do cognize the actual from the possible, given that both are available to us with the same level of access.