Ideas are the most important things you will ever produce. Produce ideas, you? Of course. Ideas come from the way you apply your mind to the world you live in. They are a crucial means by which you grasp your world. Ideas are the form in which you hold and use knowledge.
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What happens when a man ignores the nature of his mind, when he disregards his capacity for ideas? What happens when a man refuses to take his mind seriously? He renders himself inadequate to deal with his own existence, unable to promote his life and pursue his goals. But he still wants a life. What is he to do?
By the 20th century, the infection had set in. So most men made the tragic choice simply to abandon logic. But those who take their minds seriously never abandon logic—because they never abandon the value of their minds. They see just what Aristotle saw: Man’s mind works by ideas, and ideas work in a specific way.
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How Ideas Work presents and develops this comprehensive new theory, establishing the principles by which all ideas are formed and used. In a nutshell, the theory of ideas is this: Concepts come from a specific way of organizing entities; propositions come from a specific way of organizing concepts; conclusions come from a specific way of organizing propositions. That’s the key!
from Chapter 1, CONSISTENCY AND CONTRADICTION:
First, there is reality. Then, there is your grasp of reality. A contradiction gets this order backwards. It is your ideas that must correspond to reality, not the other way around. Consistency keeps this order straight. To think that ideas are somehow primary to reality makes no sense. Yet there is a long history of this peculiar way of thinking.
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Whether you stand at the inception of Marx’s idea or at the collapse of a society trying to live by that idea, the spectacle of everyone trying to live off everyone else is absurd. It did not work in practice because it does not work as an idea. Ideas don’t work when they lead to contradictions. Marx’s theory should have been discarded at its inception.
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Before you use an idea, you must know that it is sound. Like the engineer with his bridge, you must be convinced that what is required to support an idea is actually there. And what is required to support an idea? What is needed to know whether an idea will work or not? Specific facts of reality and a specific method by which those facts are organized. This is called evidence, the facts and method required to support an idea.
from Chapter 2, SIMILARITY AND DIFFERENCE:
Recall, a concept is a word or phrase formed by organizing entities according to a common characteristic. The formation of concepts is the first step you take into the realm of ideas. Concepts are the most elementary form of ideas. They are the form in which you hold a particular kind of knowledge, the knowledge of similarity and difference. Difference is the grasp of a contrast among entities. Similarity is the grasp of a characteristic common among entities. Difference permits you to distinguish entities. Similarity permits you to unite entities.
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By abstracting at the higher level, by isolating essentials, you can broaden and narrow existing concepts. You cannot actually separate the essential and non-essential characteristics of an entity from one another, any more than you can separate a particular characteristic from the entity itself. Its color and action, its breed and tail are part and parcel of any dog or cat. By abstraction, however, you are able to mentally isolate essential relationships from those that are not essential. When you do, you have the evidence to form new concepts, broader concepts and narrower concepts.
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Distinguishing essentials from non-essentials is crucial. By this higher level of abstraction you can open up the whole world to your grasp. But the capacity to grasp things beyond the perceptual level does not come without a substantial effort to keep those things in focus. Definition is your means of doing so. Definition becomes more and more crucial beyond the perceptual level.
from Chapter 3, CAUSE AND EFFECT:
All entities possess the characteristic of action. The action of grass growing or molecules vibrating is not as evident as rivers flowing or trees swaying. But action is everywhere and is discovered in everything. It is in the sun setting and leaves falling, in glaciers forming and water boiling, in dogs barking and men working. The action of entities, however, does not occur as some kind of spontaneous event all by itself, independent of any particular conditions. Rather, actions occur depending on specific conditions.
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To assert cause and effect is to assert an explanation. This assertion works in the same way that the assertion of any idea works. It, too, must be consistent with reality; it, too, requires evidence. Cause and effect is a relationship of causality where the condition is essential to and enough for the action. “Essential and enough” is the standard of evidence by which cause and effect is shown to actually exist, the standard by which an assertion of cause and effect is shown to be true.
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How are fundamental relationships identified? Well, you have seen how useful it can be to cast two things as broader/narrower in order to identify an essential relationship. The thing that is broader is said to be essential to the thing that is narrower. Similarly, there is a useful way to identify a fundamental relationship—by casting two things as primary/derivative. The thing that is primary is said to be fundamental to the thing that is derivative. Primary/derivative is the relationship that identifies a fundamental.
from Chapter 4, INFERENCE AND PROOF:
The universal premise is a piece of evidence fundamental to any conclusion. Without it, no conclusion can be formed successfully. The syllogism demonstrates this fact. But the universal premise has a way of hiding stubbornly in the dark, an obstacle for you to trip over. Like a spotlight, however, the syllogism exposes this piece of evidence required in any process of inference. Once you see it, you needn't trip over it.
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Even the great philosopher Aristotle was taken in by this faulty method. He, too, did not grasp the nature of generalizations. He, too, sought to explain them as conclusions, when, in fact, they are propositions. This was a tragic error in his otherwise extraordinary groundwork about ideas. Astonishingly, those who followed Aristotle failed to correct the error. No, they did far worse than that; they set the error in stone.
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A causal inference, difficult or easy, is a single process taken in two steps. On the one hand, you must check your facts. On the other hand, you must check your organization. In order to do either, however, you must clearly identify which relationship of causality is operating—in the syllogism. Then you must determine whether that relationship of causality is actually operating—in reality.
from Chapter 5, CERTAINTY AND ERROR:
Observe again, how a man proceeds under such circumstances. He identifies actual choices by forming hypotheses. His method then entails a gradual accumulation of evidence, along with a gradually strengthening evaluation of a hypothesis. That evaluation begins with “possible”, graduates through “probable” and ends with “certain”. Certainty is the standard by which he proceeds.
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A man can learn from his errors, of course; he can learn a thousand and one lessons from experience. He can look out for banana peels and manholes. He can vow never again to throw good money after bad, never again to have sex with someone he doesn’t value. And this is okay, as far as it goes. But it does not go very far, precisely because there are too many errors to approach this way. A man can vow never again to cross the street without looking. But it can be too late for that.
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The practice of subverting the actual operation of theory in science is merely symptomatic of a much more widespread practice—the subversion of the operation of principles in general. When you hear someone exhorting “just be practical”—or any of the endless variations on this popular expression—you can be sure this assault on principles is underway.
Logic as it should be...but never has been
Hardcover, 176 pages, $17