Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Arguments to Establish a Structure of Reality: A Beginner's Guide to Perelman, Part IV

Of all the types of argument that have been explored so far, these are the only ones that do not rely on a previous structure of reality in order to work....or do they?

Quasi-logical arguments rely on essential patterns of thought that we use to reason about any issue, such as, "if there is a thing that is distinct from another thing then there must be a border that defines the extent of this first thing." Such as the first distinction a child learns between "me" and "not-me" or "mine" and "not-mine," or "momma" and "not-the-momma" (as illustrated by this cute dinosaur baby).

Arguments based on the structure of reality require habits of thought that give us some kind of expectation based on a pattern of thinking that we have accepted. Both these two types of argument have no guarantee of validity, only consistency. It is a quasi-logical argument of consistency that undergirds both types of argument. One type requires the arguer to be consistent with essential patterns of thought and logic, whereas another type requires the arguer to be consistent with learned patterns of thought. This distinction may be artificial (all patterns of thought may be learned), but they are still real in the sense that these two types have different status with the quasi-logical being seen as more logical and fundamental, and less culture-dependent. 

Arguments to establish a structure of reality is maybe best understood as a counterpart to arguments based on the structure of reality. Whereas the second uses general patterns of thought to prove or explain one specific case, the first type of arguments works from specific to general, a kind of induction. You use an accumulation of specific examples to prove or indicate a more general principle, pattern, or law in operation. This is the general preferred method of the empiricists and positivists, and they claim that induction is the method whereby one can prevent just spinning in logical circles and actually have scientific progress. A ball falls to the ground one time, and that is recorded. In the same way, it falls to the ground the second time, and that is recorded. One continues to do so until the mass of specific events and instances seems consistent enough to be indicative of a general law that "a ball with mass will always fall to the earth instead of falling upward into the sky." This proposition is problematic, but it has so far worked as the basis for the hegemony of science and its privileged status in the realm of academic fields. A repetition of events that is predictable creates a pattern that indicates that some greater law or principle can be found to determine these events. The same type of argument works in our everyday life and in politics. Here are some of the categories that belong to this type of argument:

1.       Example
In The Realm of Rhetoric. Perelman writes: “To argue by example is to presuppose the existence of certain regularities of which the examples provides a concretization” (106). Whether in science, politics, religion, or any other field, a concrete example is often the most vivid and memorable evidence for a more general rule or principle. The atomic bomb is the most vivid evidence of the neutron and its capabilities, the Churchill/Chamberlain experience has forever made "appeasement" a dirty word, and the atonement of Christ stands for Christians as the great example of Gods love for mankind. Of course, in civic debate, an example shares the weakness of empirical results as a basis for science: It can always be contested. A scientific theory is never proven. Not a single scientific theory or result is forever proven and accepted. If the ball falls up just one out of 700,000,000 times, it still invalidates the argument that the previous events were indicative of a general rule. Whereas, if an example is used to invalidate a case then, by itself, it can require the rejection of a rule to which it is opposed. Just a single counterexample can destroy the effectiveness and validity of the example.

2.       Illustration, unlike example, is not used to establish a new rule but rather to give it presence and make it more understandable and applicable. An illustration has a rule that has already been justified or agreed upon, and the illustration simply serves to make it more vivid or clear. Illustrations are commonly used for pedagogical reasons, but they are also used to emphasize points and give them greater emotional appeal. An illustration of this, is the illustrations that are used at memorials, festschrifts, and other festive occasions that celebrate someone's life. The people in the audience probably already agree that this person is great, and all the examples that show the person's greatness are not meant as points that cannot be rebutted, but rather as illustrations to make more vivid and present something that is already accepted by the audience.

3.       Model and Anti-Model are set up as examples of preference. More than just understanding, model and anti-model are meant to be followed or shunned. For example: physics is the most precise science and should be the model for sciences and all human knowledge (claim of the positivists). "Alchemy is the exact model of what chemistry and science should NOT be like." Jesus and the devil are models and anti-models. Einstein and Bohr are models for scientists.  The Athenian democracy, despite its faults, has been accepted generally as a model for modern democracies. The model seeks that which is the best representation of what a good scientists, philosopher, Christian, Republican, Democrat, Communist, Conservative, Progressive, man, woman, or child should be. The anti-model is the warning, the distortion, the thing to be shunned. The object used as a model obviously needs to be well established beforehand, but using the object as a model for what one should follow or be can be an inductive invention. 

4.       Analogy Similar to an equation in mathematics, except that it does not posit the equality of two relations but rather affirms a similitude. 

The basic structure of this argument is that “a is to b, as c is to d.” The role is to clarify the theme (meta) through the phoros or “explain an unknown relationship through another more familiar one.” One example is: "Old age is the evening of life." This is a metaphor. Perelman called a metaphor "a condensed analogy" that leaves some parts unsaid. The full structure (implied and explicit) is that "As the evening is to the day, so is old age to a whole life." One uses something that everyone experiences every day (an evening) to explain something that others (younger people) have not experienced. We do this all the time and have become so used to it that we can shorten the structure without confusing others. We can say "at the dying of the day" or "a new day is born" or "Abide with me, behold t'is eventide" and understand the relationship between life and a day. A new metaphor creates a new understanding and a new connection between ideas that were formerly understood only separately. In this sense, this kind of argument creates a new structure of reality.

All these arguments are "progressive" in the sense that they create or attempt to create new structures of thought and perceived reality. However, they by themselves require some larger implicit ideas in order to be valid. Empirical results require some kind of empiricist philosophy of science. Unless there is the concept of laws of nature, there is nothing which the ball falling to the earth can prove or be indicative of. And unless there is first a theory or hypothesis, no scientist would know where to look to find proof. These theories and concepts however are not essential structures of thought but rather learned or habitual structures of thought, and these give no guarantee for validity (as the vast false structures of learned and habitual thought have proven). However, seen from the perspective of argumentation we can still say that these arguments are "effective," and currently the arguments to establish structures of reality (inductive arguments) are the most effective of all. They have a higher standing. But is this just because we live in a progressive society that values progress and movement over stability?