Qualitative Inferential Reasoning

Over the course of human history, intrastructural reasoning has blended with language for the sake of coordinating social groups around complex concepts of causality and related practices.  Perceptions and conceptualizings of structure, dimension and duration enabling humans to define the world participated in molding phonetics such that, although language did not wholly change form in reply, being still a sequential cadence of sounds eliciting acts from others, it became more systematic.  What began as utterances such as shrieks and calls compelled by physiological states of arousal and performing simple roles like warning or rallying other organisms became intrastructural itself in its own idiosyncratic way, evolving into grammatical parts of speech with enough hierarchy and intricacy to overlap concepts and qualia in a fidelity that made precision verbalizing realizable.  Thus notions of truth, the facts and beliefs associated with all kinds of perceptions, though not identical in form to grammar, were linguistically mirrored closely enough to represent them as phonetically, then lexically, eventually alphabetically and syllabically conveyed meanings, a detailed expressiveness with infinite generative capacity.  This was the origin of logical language, conversion of mental images and additional psychologic contents into temporal increments of sound, eventually empowering humans with written descriptivity to overcome almost any degree of physical, historical or cultural separation except in the case of the most arcane or specialized concepts.

At first linguistic meaning was rather basic, relaying extremely intuitive content, and it’s inferential strands of plain technical or common sense were thinly threaded into elaborate profusions of arational social mores.  Communality of meaning was not extensively reflected upon let alone approached critically, but rather submerged to implicitness, subservient to distinctive styles and traditions of diverse societies, which were coerced as the basis of status and solidarity.  Linguistic expression, like broader culture, was largely aesthetic as well as promoting of social identity and ritualized practices.  Systematic proof, the methodological inference-making initially innovated for justifying assertions of truth in the civic rhetoric and scholarship of logistically complex civilizations, did not yet exist.  Meaning could develop in almost any direction at all when not motivated and evolutionarily selected according to basic drives, survival requirements, and exigencies intrinsic to human sociality, being mostly unconstrained by hardwired human nature as vicissitudes of cognitive plasticity determined the course of cultural indoctrination with a large amount of moral arbitrariness, resulting in a vast range of possibilities for standards of behavior, as all the variety and often bizarre grittiness in hunter-gatherer traditions and antiquity’s early empires make clear (a baseline condition of society that is not merely historical but continually surfacing in cultures everywhere).

As civilization grew in sophistication and societies became more complex, combining all kinds of cultural backgrounds and viewpoints, the meanings of language informed by communal truths, to which inferencing was bound, were destabilized in a profligacy of competing suppositions that could not easily be reconciled.  In antiquity, the ethical facet of communicating verbally began shifting from either stating simple fact in a small group’s intrinsically mutual interests or enforcing and libidinously projecting beliefs and actions judged appropriate, to presenting facts in such a way that individuals could sway heterogeneous collectives to their side despite the ambiguity and variability of subcultures that had independently become highly developed cognitively, even at this stage intellectual, in contrasting ways.

Despite stark differences between collectives, there were some constants: almost everyone wanted control bordering on powerlust, almost everyone was willing to fight violent battles to secure it, and almost everyone believed that support from both the gods and those who obey their reputed messages was vital to successes and failures.  These commitments often conflict greatly with the patience and tolerance required in public deliberation, and so civic decision-making in enlarging and diversifying civilizations was quite bellicose, with factions competing, overthrowing and warring as directed by the whim of inconstant yet stubborn beliefs.

Around 500-400 B.C.E. in Athens of ancient Greece, a democratic society was taking shape in which all confirmed citizens, numbering in the thousands, were expected to hold a government position at some point during their lives and participate in creating public policy.  This city state also happened to achieve status as the future world’s fountainhead of philosophical speculation and theoretical system-building, the rational as opposed to superstitious and mystical approach towards setting the course of civilized culture.  Rationality had at least some influence in other societies of antiquity; it seems that all went through phases of skilled planning alternating with periods of internecine chaos, and prejudice was always rampant, but Athens is notable for the substantial records we have of their highest level thought and civic planning along with its heavy influence on traditions of modernizing Europe from the Medieval era onward, which in turn impacted educational authority, political and social theorizing nearly everywhere by way of mimesis from economic and technological preponderance.

Democracy, republicanism, communism, socialism and fascism can all be understood as reactions to the philosophic and civic innovations, the extreme egalitarianism, of Athens that has given every modern theorist pause, at least through some circuitous route, either prompting favor or disfavor, though of course the train of analysis takes on a local flavor in the hands of different civilizations with variant histories.  Modern rationality is distinctly Greek, the actualization of a scientific thinking style combining abstraction, naturalism and progressiveness, not merely as an inferential expressivity processing static models of reality, which change only slightly or cyclically with time as authority alternates between a small set of precedents and largely dismisses uncertainty, but further a critical method committed to tackling uncertainty head on, continually superseding itself.  This idea of perhaps infinite potential for advancing truth by way of explicit communication – unbiased objectivity – can be traced to Athenian culture and its antecedents, as can our understanding of the kind of inferencing that is its foundation, for when these Greeks became some of the first to intensively analyze the logicality of language use, they studied themselves.

Ancient Greek analytical thinking began in the colonies of Ionia on the coast of Asia minor, imported to Europe via immigration and commerce.  The Ionian paradigm sought to arrive at comprehensive theories of the general principles and constitution of the cosmos, making hypotheses about its essence, whether water (Thales), some indeterminate substance (Anaximander), air (Anaximenes), or fire (Heraclitus).  As the locus of philosophical thought shifted to the mainland, more concepts were introduced, such as the idea of metaphysical unity in the ‘One’ of Parmenides, Pythagorean notions that the material world of sense-perception accords with intrinsic mathematical form, Democritus’ primitive atomism, and critical responses of various kinds such as Zeno’s paradoxes.

In Athens, a need to galvanize the whole population against threats like tyranny, rival city states and a Persian invasion required every inhabitant to have a respected role, producing a broad base of social prerogative as claims to substantial status in the wake of logistical successes were not revoked.  Citizens were free to think creatively and contend with each other, in fact it was demanded to at least the extent of civic obligations in what became a highly democratic political system, and loosened constraints on discourse and activism gave progressing rationality more opportunity to take root than ever before.

With the cruciality of public communication, oration was placed front and center, transitioning from narrative traditions expounding Greek myths to epic poetry, tragic and comic drama and philosophical verse, which blended with democracy to birth a richly developed institution of practical speaking for purposes of persuasion called ‘rhetoric’.  Since political involvement permeated every facet of Athenian citizenship, training in rhetoric emerged as one of the most important elements of education, and those skilled at teaching or exemplifying the discipline were in high demand, not only listened to but studied and emulated, for speech was power.  Experts in argumentative method were the sophists, and they held a key place in the life of Athens; the rich paid handsomely for their instruction and philosophy not only contemplated sophistry but incorporated its prose-based pedagogy and presentative techniques into its own expressive efforts.

Philosophers in Greece were not only concerned with achieving persuasiveness for its own sake in likeness to the priorities of sophistry, but also with arriving at truths valid enough to withstand all angles of criticism for extended timeframes in interlocution with reflections of the most able minds offered by their civilization.  The philosophers were idealistically striving after unprecedented degrees of accuracy, which brought them into friction with more provincial outlooks of sophists as manipulators and masters of oratorical force for purposes of legal consent, but also affected a synthesis in which legal traditions, dialectical methods, theorizing about the essences of reality, and social responsibility with its incumbencies upon the individual combined in an inchoate rational ethic seeking to ground behavioral standards on a comprehensive account of what constitutes integrity – apt thought and action – along with construction of a path to this wisdom for the general public and posterity to tread and build upon.

The greatest originator of this effort whose work has survived is Plato, authoring literature in the form of fictional dialogues between representatives of various schools of thought, revealing the strengths and weaknesses of their viewpoints by teasing latent implications out from underneath veneers of authority in order to derive more viable beliefs.  He analyzed what he knew, what competing approaches to philosophy and life in general propounded, and what everyone thinks they know and tends to assume, all to inspire his audience towards the pursuit of knowledge as well as an honor for truth, unchained from conflict between perennial orthodoxies.  He saw that the diverse activities of fellow citizens were linked by common interests – compatible language, practices, needs, abilities, standards – and sought to render explicit these commonalities for the sake of stimulating socially conscious action, improving culture, and better understanding the world collectively.

Though Plato founded an academy and lectured on many topics together with his associates, he was cautious to leave the quest for knowledge open-ended, acknowledging where uncertainties existed; he was no dogmatist.  This is apparent from the groundbreaking inheritors of his leadership, especially his legendary pupil Aristotle who laid the foundations of empiricism, which when grafted to math and technology after the Medieval period, evolved into quantified naturalism, our contemporary science.  Aristotle made contributions to all fields of inquiry in vogue at the time, but thanks to an educational milieu of debate and contestation, during which he was no doubt exposed to a constant stream of ingenious argumentation, along with the prominence of communication as supreme craft amongst Athenian society, he was ideally situated to analyze rhetoric itself at an elite level, a discipline English speakers, taking their cue from Aristotle, know as ‘logic’, the study of forms and methods of inference by which we assert truth based upon explicit fact, with their intrinsic patterns and principles.

Aristotle and his contemporaries described the basics of logic aptly enough, as self-coherent statements, premises and conclusions consisting in predicate terms attributing qualities to subject terms, such as “Socrates (subject) is a man (predicate)” (major premise), and ‘all (universal quantifier) men (subject) are mortal (predicate)” (minor premise), therefore “Socrates (subject) is mortal (predicate)” (conclusion), along with principles enumerating constraints on valid formulations, most fundamentally the law of noncontradiction expressing that a statement and its opposite cannot simultaneously be true.  In this schema, the truth-value of language consists in subject/predicate combos, which are arranged such that some function as premises rendering conclusions necessarily true or false by ‘deduction’ – the core procedure of making an argument and validating a point of view, ‘inferring’ from one statement to another.  At the time, these criteria of so to speak atomic meaning were generally considered a satisfactory account of fact-based inference (there were contemporaneous and many future dissenting voices), but it was far from obvious how the substance of logic itself, in contrast to its subject matter, fit into the world of perception and observation.  Relationship between the abstract structure of logic and concrete objects it participates in delineating was mysterious and perpetually disputable.  It was a massive challenge to theorize logical proof, the theorizing mechanism itself, somehow a particular component of the material world and at the same time a determinant in its total structure.

Early innovative thinkers of ancient Greece had noticed a strong correlation between organized reasoning, the logicality expressed within language, and order of the material cosmos, but efforts to explain this correspondence, this intelligibility, increased in difficulty as theories of causality accumulated.  Fact-based theories could be contradictory, with attempts to conclusively justify or reconcile them stretching the limits of even meticulous reflection.  Thales of Miletus, a town in Ionia, regarded water as the fundamental property of matter because everything in his culture’s experience involved a degree of moistness.  Anaximander proposed that an invisible substrate composes the various observed substances, uniting them as multiple forms of the same.  Anaximenes viewed air as the essence of matter, and Heraclitus suggested that matter, with its tendency to change, was always liberated into a chaotic essence of fire under suitable conditions.  Plato averred that all possible instantiations of ‘matter’ or sensible substance are theorizable to exhaustion by a surplus of transcending logical and mathematical forms, and Aristotle claimed form as intrinsically united to four elements of matter (earth, air, fire and water), which transmute into each other in a process responsible for morphing form into particular structures.  It seems the body of fact was challenging analysis merely in ancient Greece, let alone the rest of the world.  Though the reasoning of any intellectual tradition has its degree of cumulativeness, what humans know and how humans know was an enlarging menagerie of unwieldy confidences.

As the array of logical speculations became age-old tradition, discourse started to crystallize out of a growing sequence of closed, rival systems into a critical method characterized by continuity of development, regulated according to the standards of a universalizing academic culture.  Educational practices in institutions of progressive learning were disseminated in Europe and elsewhere with some occasional interruption until logical analysis was worldwide, coming to full fruition between roughly the 17th-21st centuries.  While proceeding through this period, logic graduated from a niche technique for making particular kinds of arguments to the foundation of scientific, historical and futuristic analysis, increasingly formative of theory as well as mathematical and natural language.

As logicizing method improved, it became a system of formal abstraction with idiosyncratic terminology, symbols, conventions, a language of its own.  Academic logic and theoretical causality split in two, the former a set of technical inventions for modeling expanding variety in inferential proof, the latter diverging into intrastructural, figure-based modeling linked with geometry and algebra as we know them today.  Thus, two symbolic categories emerged: logical/inferential representation and image/intrastructural representation.  They differentiated and progressed until well-developed enough that the mechanical concept of a Turing machine, essentially technological structure programmed with logical instructions for procedures, was feasible.  Scientists combined theories of logic, spatiality and quantitation to invent arrays of linear and object-based programming languages, limitless instructional flexibility conjoined with a physical machinery proving just as formidable: the electronic computer.

A free download of the book Standards for Behavioral Commitments: Philosophy of Humanism, also available for preview below.  Topics covered include chemistry, biology, genetics, neuroscience, epistemology, the history of Western philosophy, cultural evolution, theory of cognition, ethics and much more.

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