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Posts Tagged ‘Aristotle’

One of my recent posts to another discussion board–my apologies for the lack of context, but it is hopefully interesting enough despite it’s contextual isolation:

 

Everyone should look like this when they try to persuade people.

Everyone should look like this when they try to persuade people.

 

 

 

“I think your remarks and observations are very interesting, and especially for me, the questions about truth.  Your distinction between truth and persuasion is well-taken; judges and juries are, in theory, supposed to sift through many different stories and testimony to try to arrive at what happened.  I like the way you put it, though—you said that “In this sense, the decision making process in the court room is not about what is legal and what is illegal, but about what sounds more true to juries and judges.”  I think that our language shows the way we frame the issue:  that people and witnesses may come and tell stories and even tell what they remember of the event, but a judge is asked to weigh these, along with the nature of people and use both reason and common sense to determine which testimony or claim is closest to the truth.  We would not speak of it thusly if somewhere, in our assumptions of the world, we did not have an understanding that there was actually something that happened, and that it happened in a certain way, and to know the way it actually happened is called knowing the truth about the event, and knowing it differently than it actually happened is called not knowing the truth.  There is a measuring rod that we assume is there, even if we cannot fully know the measuring rod—the Truth.  I believe that even if we cannot know the Truth fully, we can know it truly, meaning that we can know things that are true (Not that everything we think we know to be true actually is—we maybe in a state of mind that we call being wrong).  We cannot know the Truth in every case, nor can we know the Truth in all its fullness (how exactly did the car hit the pedestrian?  What were the motives and thoughts of the driver and the victim?  In what way did slight movements affect the outcome?)  but we can know the Truth to some degree.

 

What I firmly reject is the assertion that Truth does not exist.  I believe it does exist, and although it may not be able to be known fully, it can be known to some degree.  I believe that it is common belief and acceptance of this principle that not only allows people to implement and trust in legal systems, but also allows us to pursue justice in any degree or to get angry at injustice and take action.  I would, then, not use the term truth to describe what you did in the field of rhetoric; instead, I would use the same words Aristotle did—words like personal appeal, essential facts, conclusions, knowledge, etc. 

 

I also think that a common mode of (wrong) thinking that many people sometimes fall into (including myself) is that we may say that because, at first inspection, many different statements seem to conflict, then there must be relative truths.  While it is not my goal or intention to argue against this here, I am trying to point out that another option, that the circumstances that produced these statements and the statements themselves may possess greater nuance than we may be aware of.  I think that often people claim relative truth in a situation because it is much easier to simply accept this idea than it is to continue to investigate all the nuances of the situation, which may be more of a chore than we wish to manage.  I know that sometimes it’s more of one than I want to manage.”

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In a lecture in one of my classes on Monday, Professor Charles Young (Philosophy, Claremont Graduate University) paraphrased Plato’s opinion (in response to a question) that it takes theory to have art or systematic approach to a craft (techne), which is what we might call practice.  Another student raised the question of “how do we make our practice have the nobility that the Aristotelian practice seems to have?”  I’m guessing that behind this intriguing question is an observation that practice in the days of Aristotle possessed a purity and an objectivity that we wish to have in our own practice.  There is a feeling that if we could simply frame the question or have the right setting or the right arena for our discourse and our rhetoric, our techne/craft/practice would be able to enter a discussion more purely, without as much emotional baggage as it sometimes does today.  If we could simply adhere to a colder form of logic, then our techne would be of a higher sort than it is now. 

To those who hold this idea, even if it is buried under a mass of critical theory or thrown into the corner of our minds under the old deconstructionism we have lying about or the old magazines of postmodern theory stacked on top of one another, I have a few observations.

 

First, I find this idea in myself.  I not only wish, but at times, find myself believing it to be so that there is a purity of inquiry, a detachment of the researcher, that can be attained if one is careful enough, systematic enough, logical enough, and detached enough.  I wish it to be so because if it were, inquiry and practice would be a lot cleaner and a lot easier. 

 

The idea that there can be a purity or detachment of inquiry, some kind of pure and logical detachment is, I believe, a false myth.  It is a story that we tell ourselves to serve a social purpose, namely to allow us to retract into our own research problem and leave some of the meta-research questions unanswered.  This is not always a bad thing; sometimes it is necessary because of the scope of our research and we haven’t time to discuss it.

 

All of this is not new to any graduate student, but it is easy for me, when reading any ancient text, and especially Plato or Aristotle, to find myself indulging in the belief that these ancients, and all their contemporaries, were able to discover this purity of logic, this nobility of reason and discourse, and if we could only see it and all move together that we too, could be like them. 

 

Maybe this is so, but I wonder, also, if the nobility we think we see in the ancients is real or if it is a reflection of the human desire and search for transcendence—a search to come out of ourselves and be larger than what we are; a search for eternity or Divinity.

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