Thursday, December 2, 2010

Logic: Hegel & Fallacies

Hegel (1770-1831) had two major ideas that became very influential for later thinkers. The first is historical explanation or explanation by process. Hegel argues that things are not simply what they are at once, but evolve through stages to become what they are, and the process by which they evolve show us how the things essentially work. Also, things are not simply what they are in themselves but are what they are in a situation with other things in which they become what they are (very like the Buddhist concept of co-dependent arising). After Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Freud and Feuerbach were major thinkers who overturned old theories of static order with new theories of process to explain the workings of the mind and society. Consider that Newton thought God made the earth at the very beginning in an instant, while most believe today that there was a process by which our planet, the solar system and the galaxy formed. Consider the controversy about evolution and Darwin, and how this questions our human-centered view of reality.

Hegel’s second major idea, the mechanism or motion of evolution over time, is dialectic. Dialectic is a Greek term for arguing back and forth, for and against a position, to come to greater understanding. Plato believed dialectic was the superior method of acquiring knowledge, and his dialogue plays show Socrates arguing against others and himself in this way. Hegel argues that all things are made of oppositions or contradictions (contra-diction means “arguing against”, like arguing both sides, the pros and cons, of a particular thing). This is not only similar to Lao Zi’s wheel (made of both solid and empty together), but Newton’s idea that for every force there is an equal but opposite force.

While this has become controversial, many believe that Hegel’s dialectic works in a three stage pattern of positive, negative and synthesis. Hegel often presents our ideas (which live in the world as politics and our shared expectations) as starting out positive, flipping and becoming negative, and then reaching a resolution of positive and negative as a joined whole. Remember Lao Zi’s wheel leads us through this three stage process (solid at first, then empty, then both), as does the famous Zen quote that first a rock is a rock, then a rock isn’t a rock (it is in the mind, as a concept) and then a rock is a rock (real rock and concept together as the rock).

Hegel argues that by looking at things as evolving over time in a situation, not immediate and isolated, and looking at things as two sided and in opposition to themselves and others, rather than categorical and without tension, we can come to understand how things actually are, which is a union (while an opposition) of how they are in the mind and how they are in the world.

In his first major work, The Phenomenology of Mind/Spirit (1806), Hegel gives us his social history of society and philosophy evolving by stages to the present day. In his second major work, The Science of Logic (1816), Hegel gives us his psychology. We will look at the overall structure and some key ideas of each, spending more time on the Logic which has become one of my favorites. Americans have only begun studying Hegel, because Hegel had a student named Marx who took Hegel’s concept of dialectic and used it to father communism. Communists like Hegel’s Logic very much, and so American and British universities did not teach much Hegel and when they do they often teach the Phenomenology but not the Logic. This is unfortunate, because while Hegel’s ideas about history in the Phenomenology are quite antiquated today I have great hope that there is more to be discovered by looking at the Logic in the light of the discoveries of modern psychology, especially the work of Piaget the child psychologist.


After writing the Phenomenology, Hegel came to realize that he had not described the inner workings of the dialectical process of history to his liking. Hegel believed the world consisted of ideas, so he leaves history behind and turns to the workings of ideas in the mind. To show the inner psychology at work in every stage of historical development, he wrote his Logic which like the Phenomenology unfolds in three stages as positive, negative and synthesis, but instead of Orientals, Greeks and Germans, the three stages of the Logic are Being, Essence, and Concept.

Like Neo-Platonism, thought has to gather everything up such that all categories become modes or branches of the same thing. It does this with Understanding which holds things fast in sameness and Reason which divides things against each other and against themselves, opposing the Understanding. Understanding wants to keep ideas as they are and separate from each other, while Reason wants to change ideas and unite them all together as a whole. The mind craves unity, objectivity as the all-view, which pulls it in two directions. First, it wants to hold on to the unities of the understanding and keep them away from reason tearing them apart. However, reason wants to dissolve everything and return it all to the Absolute, or the undivided One. Thus, the motions rock back and forth in stages. It would thus be correct to say that, the way Hegel describes it, conservatives would rather understand than reason and liberals would rather reason than understand.

At each stage, the Understanding comes to change its shape and provide the ground for the back and forth positions of reason which share the same understanding(s). Philosophies, political positions and scientific theories reason against each other even as they share the common understandings of the time and place. Thus, Hegel says there really is only one philosophy which is ‘thought’ itself, and the philosophies are views, perspectives within the one dialectical course of things which is thought.

Why is it opposed to itself? Where did this come from? Interestingly, Hegel writes that we need to start with ‘legend’ of the fall of man, of Adam falling out of the Garden of Eden. Hegel says the inner meaning is what is important (a similar reading to Deists of his time in Europe, who see the bible as true psychologically but not literal). When Adam, or consciousness, falls into the world out of unity with all, it falls into oppositions and tensions, polarities that present one side and hide the other. Today, we can describe the fall from unity either in physics as the Big Bang or in psychology as the infant mind learning to discern itself and others in the world (Piaget).

Hegel calls judgment ‘the one-sided acid’. Categories are thus gathered, assumed, by the Understanding. (God)(IS), (You)(Are), (this)(is), the anchor points of Descartes. However, these are inadequate. First, they are one sided, and so dogmatic, stuck. They are divided from each other and the All, so reason is not satisfied and tries to figure out how all of these separate categories are one in reality, or the big One or All. Second, they are almost entirely empty of content, making them almost no different from empty. This is exactly how Hegel is critical of Kant’s categories and the gap he leaves between mind and world.

(68) “Kant, it is well known, did not put himself to much trouble in discovering the categories.”

“Kant, as we must add, never got beyond the negative result that the thing-in-itself is unknowable, and never penetrated to the discovery of what the antinomies really and positively mean. That true and positive meaning of the antinomies is this: that every actual thing involves a coexistence of opposed elements. Consequently to know, or, in other words, to comprehend an object is equivalent to being conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed determinations. The old metaphysic, as we have already seen, when it studied the objects of which it sought a metaphysical knowledge, went to work by applying categories abstractly and to the exclusion of their opposites.”

(118) “However reluctant Understanding may be to admit the action of Dialectic, we must not suppose that the recognition of its existence is peculiarly confined to the philosopher. It would be truer to say that Dialectic gives expression to a law which is felt in all other grades of consciousness, and in general experience. Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic.”

Hegel writes that the feeling of being alive is to feel contradiction within oneself, at rest in itself but at the same time moving itself beyond itself. It both wants to stay and go at once, and does. Similarly, the Soviet literary critic and thinker Bakhtin said that when we think we are in dialogue with ourselves, are opposed to ourselves on opposite sides.


In the Phenomenology, Hegel argues that Heraclitus realized the unity of Being and Non-Being as ceaseless Becoming, as the flux of the cosmic fire. Hegel says that some say no one is capable of understanding contradiction, but Hegel points to Heraclitus and argues that to come to the next level in your understanding your reason has to see both sides and unite them in the cement of the understanding, which is what Heraclitus did for the Greeks such that they could rise beyond the Orientals to the next level. Hegel says that if we imagine any transformation or change or motion, we are seeing being and nonbeing as one like Heraclitus. It is merely recognizing it that is the hard part. Hegel says that this is the hurdle that prevents the common person from being a philosopher, and the reason that the great thinkers and revolutions in thought are rare. In fact, often it takes decades after the thinker’s death for their ideas to become accepted, further proof that the great thinker must unite the old with the opposite direction of the new and this is the barrier between the new idea and the common understanding of the people.

Once thought realizes becoming as the unity of the being of things and their non-being (their temporary being in time and their not being other things), thought still does not have enough to understand each and every thing or how they fit into the All as one. Thought tries to understand the individual beings of the world and the world itself as constant becoming, like Heraclitus, but this does not show us how things are interrelated. This is exactly how Kant was frustrated with Hume, because everything being an assumption does not tell us what things are specifically.

Thought must explore two opposite directions to try to find the meaning of individual things. First, it tries to understand things by their qualities (such as green, square, closed), but this moves away from the things themselves towards abstract ideas. Second, thought tries to understand things by their quantities, with each thing being a one itself and being a quantity of many parts and being in a group of many members. Unfortunately, this leaves each being as merely a thing, and tells us nothing about the specific differences between types of things. Notice that quality and quantity are the two opposite sides to our abstractions of things, the two ways we isolate and abstract, through thought, the parts and ways of things. Consider that your hand is not explainable simply by its shape, or color, or texture, any more than its being one hand with five fingers, though all of this together tells me much about my hand. To understand your hand, you have to see it in context, in the world used with other things, as well as understand the qualities and quantities of the hand.

Thought now tries to understand things in terms of essences, and these essences in terms of their qualities and quantities. Remember that Hegel in his Phenomenology saw Plato as the union of Heraclitus and Parmenides, that Plato thought things have ideal essences in the stars that cause them to be what they are, and that Platonism was the major school of thought in middle-age Europe to which Hegel acknowledges he owes many insights.

Because thought could not understand things in their qualities and quantities, it tries to understand things by putting them in groups and then understanding the qualities and quantities of these groups. It puts these as essences outside the world as Plato put them up in the stars, in another more modern way “in” things and their groups as their “nature”. The problem with this stage is that this still puts things as isolated and does not understand them in a situation as mutually interdependent. It seeks the meaning of the thing in the group where it could not find it in the individual, but this still isolates things even as it puts them in groups. Hegel is very aware that modern science is often in this mode, isolating things and finding new truths about their exclusive natures. For Hegel, Plato’s forms, Kant’s categories and scientific theories are good but they are not complete because they do not understand how things cannot be separate from each other if we want our knowledge to be like the world, in which everything fits together.

Just as qualities are non-beings within beings, essences are also non-beings within beings, but a core is sought beyond and opposed to outer qualities or bunches of quantities. Thought has turned on itself yet preserved itself, trying to understand the real as merely the idea. It would be like saying that the hand is really the ideal hand, rather than a hand in the real world which we idealize. Thought is struggling to grasp the unity of the mind and the world, of our ideas of things and the real things themselves. Remember Kant left a complete gap between the fully certain categories of the mind and the unknown world-in-itself. Just as beings were opposed to themselves and others, Hegel says that essences, if they remain many and are not gathered into a trunk of the All still have contradictions in themselves and against each-other and so they are opposed to unity.

What, then, moves us beyond Kant’s categories and isolated essences? The process of dialectic, which grasps the unity of sameness and difference, of one and many, and of necessity and freedom, as it did with Being and Non-Being before at the first stage. The idea and the thing are realized as one in the Concept, which includes the thought and thing. When we see that the world is in our minds and in itself together as one, that things are our ideas about them and themselves for us as one that is also many, this is for Hegel Actuality, the final stage. It is grasped by the mind, but in extension is the view of the real world and all that it is or could be.

Interesting for Chaos Theory, Quantum Theory and more modern developments of mathematics and science, Hegel writes that seeing the unity of necessity and freedom is the final hurdle. To see that no part of reality is absolutely necessary, but no part is absolutely free, and the two hang together as opposites always like light and darkness, this is the final stage that lets us see things as they are. This would be the final and total grasp of the wheel as solid and empty, or the rock as thing and perception/assumption.

Now, Hegel believes, reason goes forth as true science and simply Nature itself, with a ground to continue to investigate and understand things with all the branching of the Idea by which we could ever understand them to be. All becomes a single Idea, that is one with the world.

Unlike Hegel and Right wing Hegelians, who believe that the system has been achieved, Left Hegelians (most famously Marx) believe that evolution is constant and unending for the system, not just the knowledge it acquires and that we are constantly taking positions that are one-sided that need to be complimented by the opposite perspective. Many of the latest European thinkers have been powerfully affected by this leftist Hegelian view.


Fallacies, like Hegel and Wittgenstein’s later thinking, go beyond formal logic equations as forms or arrangements of life, games of behavior. As everything is contingent on the world, institutions and cultures of human beings, including any formalized logic, there is no sure way to argue correctly but rather the correctness of an argument depends on how it is used or abused in the living situation.

We are going to talk about some of the famous fallacies that experts of logic discuss, even though there is not one set list of these fallacies nor a system of their structures.
(I found three different but overlapping lists in the three texts I reviewed for the class).

Appeal to Authority:
This has only become more and more complex with the passing of time.
Ex: ‘The police chief said that those people are evil’.
Ex: ‘If you brush with whatever toothpaste, 9 out of 10 scientists we gathered into a list to look just that way think you are awesome’.

Straw Man:
The ‘Straw Man’ refers to setting up a scarecrow as a fake person.
One essentializes the opponent’s position in a bad way, setting up their argument or position in a way that makes it easy to knock down. This is one of the most common fallacies that people accuse each other of doing: ‘My opponent is misrepresenting my position on the issues’.
If you pull particular details or properties out of an opponent’s argument to knock it down, it can lead to over-essentializing and simplifying the position to the degree that your opponent will claim that you are not adequately representing their position on the issue. It’s setting out a puppet of the opponent’s argument, like setting up a puppet governor of a country. The puppet is not going to resist you.

The slippery slope is an excellent way of setting up a straw man, drawing out a detail to absurdity, which is then easily dismissed. It is the easiest example to draw of a SM:

Slippery Slope:
One takes a consequence of the opponent’s position and blows it out of proportion.
Example: ‘Well, if you legalize drugs people will try them, see there is no consequences, and then everyone will be doing them and civilization will collapse’.
This person took the consequence of some new users and it slides all the way down the slippery slope of over-simplifying judgment to everyone becoming an addict.
Another Example: ‘If you want to legalize homosexuality, then you want to legalize all sexual conduct, including pedophilia. Thus you must be evil and wrong.’
The opponent would say, ‘I didn’t say legalize ALL sex…you are setting up my position as a straw man’ (OR, equally), ‘That’s a slippery slope’
A slippery slope focuses on one thing, while a straw man can have any complex of setting up an opponent’s position such that it is much easier to disprove when you say it rather than the opponent.

Appeal to Emotion:
Many types- one for every sort of emotion or desired goal
Advertising, of course, appeals to desires for success, for happiness, for respect and status, appealing to both the desire for the positive and fear of the negative.

Appeal to Force:
Ex: If you don’t believe me, Islamic extremists will eat your baby.
Ex: If you are wrong about this, everything will unravel and society will collapse.
Notice how this is a special kind of slippery slope, which assumes the worst consequences that threaten the opponent or audience.

Appeal to Pity:
Ex: ‘If we don’t do it like I say, small children will cry’.
Ex: ‘This particular country has been poor for hundreds of years, so we should totally sell them a bunch of weapons to make them feel better about themselves’.

Appeal to Ignorance:
There are things about X we don’t know, so my opponent isn’t sure that X is Y.
Notice that this is also ‘sharing the fault’ of the Nyaya Sutra.
Ex: Bush head of AAS on global warming as ‘just a theory’

Red Herring:
Also ‘Missing the point’, taking the argument after an issue that does not decide the original issue being argued.
Ex: ‘You keep talking about the time that Gandhi stole cookies as a four year old child, but this is really a red herring…Your side needs to stop bringing this up and thinking that it demonstrates that he was evil.’

One type of Red Herring, certainly the most popular-

Personal Attack:
When one attacks the opponent and not the opponent’s argument. This also applies to attacking the way the opponent always argues but not the argument itself.
Ex: ‘You cannot believe a word my opponent says, because she/he is a communist/Mormon/atheist/aquatic fowl etc.’
Ex: ‘You’re just crazy…I don’t listen to crazy talk from crazy people.’

Fallacy of Composition and Fallacy of Division:
Wrongly attributing property of part to whole, and whole to part.
These are interlaced with the fallacies so far.
Ex of Fallacy of Composition:
If water is wet, and water is 3/5ths the human, then the human being is essentially wet.
If San Francisco and LA are very liberal, then California is very liberal.
Ex of Fallacy of Division:
If water is wet, and water is H2O, then Hydrogen must be wet.
If California is very liberal, then Fresno must be rocking liberal.