The Positive Outcome of Philosophy. Joseph Dietzgen 1887

IX The Four Principles of Logic

Since this work wishes to demonstrate the positive outcome of philosophy, the reader may ask the author what are his proofs that instead of the quintessence of thousands of years of philosophical work he is not offered the elaboration of any individual philosopher, or even that of the author himself.

In reply I wish to say that my work would be rendered uselessly voluminous by quotations from the works of the most prominent philosophical writers, without proving anything, since the words of one often contradict those of another.

What is said by Kant, Fichte, Schelling, or Hegel, in one place of any of their works, is at least considerably modified, if not contradicted, in another place of the same work. It is of little consequence, how and by whose help I have arrived at the positive outcome of philosophy as here rendered. Whether it is the actual outcome or not can be judged only by the expert, and every opinion is necessarily very subjective.

Under the circumstances I, as author, claim that my opinion is worth as much as any other, and the reader may therefore accept my assurance. As to the further value of that which I offer, it is a peculiarity of the subject under discussion that every reader carries it and its experiences within himself and may, without consulting any other author, at once draw his own conclusions about my views, provided he has acquired the necessary training in thought. What a traveler tells us about the interior of Africa must either be believed to the letter or verified by the accounts of other travelers. But what I say about logic will, I hope, find its corroboration in the logic of every reading brain.

The theory of understanding which has become the special object of philosophy, is nothing else, and cannot be anything else, but expanded logic. Many practical rules and laws of this department are known and recognized since the time of Aristotle. But the question whether there is one world or two, a natural and unnatural, or supernatural as it is called with preference, that is the point which has given much trouble to philosophy and which will influence the health of logic so long as it is undecided.

Dr. Friedrich Dittes, director of the institute of pedagogy in Vienna, has published a School of Pedagogy, several editions of which have appeared, in which he gives much attention to logic. Dittes is a prominent pedagogue, well known through his writings. He confines himself in his School to teaching only that which is well established and accepted without a doubt. As a practical man who addresses himself mainly to teachers of primary grades, he would not place himself on the pinnacle of the outcome of philosophy, even if he could. He must confine himself to that which is well established, which is far removed from the disputes of the day. But it may here serve as a whetstone by the help of which we may give to the positive product of philosophy its latest and greatest sharpness.

He writes right in the beginning of the first part: “Our ideas are as manifold as the objects to which they refer. Several things may have many or few, or at least one quality, in common. Still they may also be totally different.”

This last point, viz., that there may be things which are “totally” different from one another, is the one which is decidedly rejected by that science which has risen to the eminence of the positive acquisition of philosophy. There can be no natural things which are “totally” different from one another, because they must all of them have in common the quality of being natural.

It sounds very commonplace to say that there are no unnatural things in nature. Since the last witch was burnt, everybody is sufficiently enlightened to know that. But the logical conclusions of natural monism have not yet been drawn. True, natural science, properly socalled, is busily engaged in arriving at them. But so much more strife is there in the “science of mind” and there is no other remedy but a well founded theory of understanding which teaches that nature is not alone absolute nature, but also the nature of the absolute. From this doctrine it necessarily follows that all things are not individually independent, but related by sex, dependent children, “predicates” of the monistic unity of the world.

“The arch fountain of the human spirit,” says Dittes, “is perception.... Whether perception as such discloses to us the true nature of things, or whether it makes us familiar only with their phenomena, this is not to be discussed by logic.” The practical pedagogue who confines himself to the education of children’s brains or who wishes at most to influence such teachers as educate children’s brains, is quite right in being satisfied with the old traditional Aristotlean logic. But in the school of the human race, this logic has not been sufficient. For this reason the philosophers have broached the question whether perception, “the arch fountain of the human spirit,” is a true or a deceptive fountain. The product of the philosophical investigation which we here offer amounts to the declaration that the logicians are greatly mistaken about the “arch fountain.” It is a cardinal error of ancient logic to regard perception as the ultimate source from which the human mind dips its knowledge. It is nature which is the ultimate source, and our perception is but the mediator of understanding. And its product, recognized truth, is not truth itself, but merely a formal picture of it. Universal nature is the arch fountain, is the eternal and imperishable truth itself, and our perception, like every other part of universal existence, is only an attribute, a particle of absolute nature. The human mind, with whose nature logic is dealing, is no more an independent thing than any other, but simply a phenomenon, a reflex or predicate of nature.

To confound true perceptions or perceived truths with general truth, with the non plus ultra of all truths, is equivalent to regarding a sparrow as the bird in general, or a period of civilization as civilization itself, which would mean the closing of the door to all further development.

Modern philosophy, beginning with Bacon of Verulam and closing with Hegel, carries on a constant struggle with the Aristotlean logic. The product of this struggle, the outcome of philosophy, does not deny the old rules of traditional logic, but adds a new and decidedly higher circle of logical perception to the former ones. For the sake of better understanding it may be well to give to this circle a special title, the special name of “theory of understanding,” which is sometimes called “dialectics.”

In order to demonstrate the essential contents of this philosophical product by an investigation of the fundamental laws of traditional logic and to explain it thereby, I refer once more to the teacher of elementary logic, Dittes.

Under the caption of “Principles of Judgment” he teaches: “Since judging, like all thinking, aims at the perception of truth, the rules have been sought after by which this purpose might be accomplished. As universally applicable rules, as principles or laws of thought, the following four have been named:

(1) The law of uniformity (identity).

(2) The law of contradiction.

(3) The law of the excluded third.

(4) The law of adequate cause.”

So much scholastic talk has been indulged in over these four “principles,” that I can hardly bring myself to discuss them further. But since my purpose, the demonstration of the positive outcome of philosophy, consists in throwing a new light on the logic contained in these four so-called principles or laws, I am compelled to lay bare their inmost kernel.

The first principle, then, declares that A is A, or to speak mathematically, every quantity is equal to itself. In plain English: a thing is what it is; no thing is what it is not. “Characters which are excluded by any conception must not be attributed to it.” The square is excluded from the conception of a circle, therefore the predicate “square” must not be given to a circle. For the same reason a straight line must not be crooked, and a lie must not be true.

Now this so-called law of thought may be well enough for household use, where nothing but known quantities are under consideration. A thing is what it is. Right is not left and one hundred is not one thousand. Whoever is named Peter or Paul remains Peter or Paul all his life. This, I say, is all right for household use.

But when we consider matters from the wider point of view of cosmic universal life, then this famous law of thought proves to be nothing but an expedient in logic which is not adequate to the nature of things, but merely a means of mutual understanding for us human beings.Hence the left bank of the Rhine is not the right, because we have agreed that in naming the banks of a river we will turn our backs to the source and our faces to the mouth of the river and then designate the banks as right and left. Such a way of distinguishing, thinking, and judging is good and practical, so long as this narrow standpoint is accompanied by the consciousness of its narrowness. Hitherto this has not been the case. This determined logic has overlooked that the perception which is produced by its rules is not truth, not the real world, but only gives an ideal, more or less accurate, reflection of it. Peter and Paul, who according to the law of identity are the same all their lives, are in fact different fellows every minute and every day of their lives, and all things of this world are, like those two, not constant, but very variable quantities. The mathematical points, the straight lines, the round circles, are ideals. In reality every point has a certain dimension, every straight line, when seen through a magnifying glass, is full of many crooked turns, and even the roundest circle, according to the mathematicians, consists of an infinite number of straight lines.

The traditional logic, then, declares with its law of identity, or in the words of Dittes “law of uniformity,” that Peter and Paul are the same fellows from beginning to end, or that the western mountains remain the same western mountains so long as they exist. The product of modern philosophy, on the other hand, declares that the identity of people, woods, and rocks is inseparably linked to their opposite, their incessant transformation. The old school logic treats things, the objects of perception, like stereotyped moulds, while the philosophically expanded logic considers such treatment adequate for household use only. The logical household use of stereotyped conceptions extends, and should extend, to all of science. The consideration of things as remaining “the same” is indispensable, and yet it is very salubrious to know and remember that the things are not only the same permanent and stereotyped, but at the same time variable and in flow. That is a contradiction, but not a senseless one. This contradiction has confused the minds and given much trouble to the philosophers. The solution of this problem, the elucidation of this simple fact, is the positive product of philosophy.

I have just declared that logic so far did not know that the perception produced by its principles does not offer us truth itself, but only a more or less accurate picture of it. I have furthermore contended that the positive outcome of philosophy has materially added to the clearness of the portrait of the human mind. Logic claims to be “the doctrine of the forms and laws of thought.” Dialectics, the product of philosophy, aims to be the same, and its first paragraph declares: Not thought produces truth, but being, of which thought is only that part which is engaged in securing a picture of truth. The fact resulting from this statement may easily confuse the reader, viz., that the philosophy which has been bequeathed to us by logical dialectics, or dialectic logic, must explain not alone thought, but also the original of which thought is a reflex.

While, therefore, traditional logic teaches in its first law that all things are equal to themselves, the new dialectics teaches not only that things are equal to themselves and identical from start to finish, but also that these same things have the contradictory quality of being the same and yet widely variable. If it is a law of thought that we gain as accurate as possible a conception of things by the help of thought, it is at the same time a law of thought that all things, processes, and proceedings are not things but resemble the color of that silk which, although equal to itself and identical throughout, still plays from one color into another. The things of which the thinking thing or human intellect is one are so far from being one and the same from beginning to end that they are in truth and fact without beginning and end. And as phenomena of nature, as parts of infinite nature, they only seem to have a beginning and end, while they are in reality but natural transformations arising temporarily from the infinite and returning into it after a while.

Natural truth or true nature, without beginning and end, is so contradictory that it only expresses itself by shifting phenomena which are nevertheless quite true. To old line logic this contradiction appears senseless. It insists on its first, second, and third law, on its identity, its law of contradiction and excluded third, which must be either straight or crooked, cold or warm, and excludes all intermediary conceptions. And in a way it is right. For every-day use it is all right to deal in this summary fashion with thoughts and words. But it is at the same time judicious to learn from the positive outcome of philosophy that in reality and truth things do not come to pass so ideally. The logical laws think quite correctly of thoughts and their forms and applications. But they do not exhaust thinking and its thoughts. They overlook the consciousness of the inexhaustibleness of all natural creations, of which the object of logic, human understanding, is a part. This object did not fall from heaven, but is a finite part of the infinite which actually has the contradictory quality of possessing in and with its logical nature that universal nature which is superior to all logic.

From this critique of the three first “fundamental laws of logic” it is apparent that the human understanding is not only everywhere identical, but also different in each individual and has a historical development. We are, of course, logically entitled to consider this faculty like all others by itself and give it a birthday. Wherever man begins, there understanding, the faculty of thought, begins. But we are philosophically and dialectically no less entitled, and it is even our duty, to know that the faculty of understanding, the same as its human bearer, has no beginning, in spite of the fact that we ascribe a beginning to them. When we trace the historical development of these two, of man and understanding, backward to their origin, we arrive at a transition to the animal and see their special nature merging into general nature. The same is found in tracing the development of the individual mind. Where does consciousness begin in the child? Before, at, or after birth? Consciousness arises from its opposite, unconsciousness, and returns to it. In consequence we regard the unconscious as the substance and the conscious as its predicate or attribute. And the fixed conceptions which we make for ourselves of the units or phenomena of the natural substance are recognized by us as necessary means in explaining nature, but at the same time it is necessary to learn from dialectics that all fixed conceptions are floating in a liquid element. The infinite substance of nature is a very mobile element, in which all fixed things appear and sink, thus being temporarily fixed and yet not fixed.

Now let us briefly review the fourth fundamental law of logic, according to which everything must have an adequate cause. This law is likewise very well worthy of attention, yet it is very inadequate, because the question what should be our conception of the world and what is the constitution of the most highly developed thinking faculty of the world requires the answer: the world, in which everything has its adequate cause, is nevertheless, including consciousness and the faculty of thought, without beginning, end, and cause, that is, a thing justified in itself and by itself. The law of the adequate cause applies only to pictures made by the human mind. In our logical pictures of the world everything must have its adequate cause. But the original, the universal cosmos, has no cause, it is its own cause and effect. To understand that all causes rest on the causeless is an important dialectic knowledge which first throws the requisite light on the law of the necessity of an adequate cause.

Formally everything must have its cause. But really everything has not only one cause, but innumerable causes. Not alone father and mother are the cause of my existence, but also the grand parents and great grand parents, together with the air they breathed, the food they ate, the earth on which they walked, the sun which warmed the earth, etc. Not a thing, not a process, not a change is the adequate cause of another, but everything is rather caused by the universe which is absolute.

When philosophy began its career with the intention of understanding the world, it soon discovered that this purpose could be accomplished only by special study. When it chose understanding, or the faculty of thought, as the special object of its study, it separated its specific object too far from the general existence. Its logic, in opposing thought to the rest of existence, forgot the interconnection of the opposites, forgot that thought is a form, a species, an individuality which belongs to the genus of existence, the same as fish to the genus of meat, night to the genus of day, art to nature, word to action, and death to life. It does not attempt to explore the essence of thought for its own sake, but for the purpose of discovering the rules of exploring and thinking correctly. It could not very well arrive at those coveted rules, so long as it idealized truth transcendentally and elevated it far above the phenomena. All phenomena of nature are true parts of truth. Even error and lies are not opposed to truth in that exaggerated sense in which the old style logic represents them, which teaches that two contradictory predicates must not be simultaneously applied to the same subject, that any one subject is either true or false, and that any third alternative is out of the question. Such statements are due to an entire misconception of truth. Truth is the absolute, universal sum of all existing things, of all phenomena of the past, present, and future. Truth is the real universe from which errors and lies are not excluded. In so far as stray thoughts, giants and brownies, lies and errors are really existing, though only in the imagination of men, to that extent they are true. They belong to the sum of all phenomena, but they are not the whole truth, not the infinite sum. And even the most positive knowledge is nothing but an excellent picture of a certain part. The pictures in our minds have this in common with their originals that they are true. All errors and lies are true errors and true lies, hence are not so far removed from truth that one should belong to heaven and the other to eternal damnation. Let us remain human.

Since old line logic with its four principles was too narrow minded, its development had to produce that dialectics which is the positive outcome of philosophy. This science of thought so expanded regards the universe as the truly universal or infinite, in which all contradictions slumber as in the womb of conciliation. Whether the new logic shall have the same name as the old, or assume the separate title of theory of understanding or dialectics, is simply a question of terms which must be decided by considerations of expediency.