Friday, November 20, 2015

A philosophical point

Texts can be organized in two ways. The first way gradually builds up to a conclusion, each step leading to the next in a logical progression. As an argument is made, the text points back to it and says “thus”. The next argument is then made, and the text points back to it and says “thus”.

This is a way of pointing at the logic of things. The text works if and only if it is internally coherent, and the appointed arguments follow from each other. If a, then b, then c. Tendency is discouraged.

The second way is what we might call externally coherent. It points first to this thing, then to that thing, then to a third thing, and then to some sort of conclusion or imperative. The difference being that these things can be anything, without apparent connections to each other. The argument is not made by the things themselves, but in the order and way of their presentation.

This might seem counterintuitive, but an example should clear up any confusion: look at the nice weather outside (point one), remember that time we went on a picnic and had a wonderful time (point two), you always bury yourself in words this time of year and need to be cheered up (point three), let's go picnic (argument/imperative).

As philosophers are wont to point out, most actual arguments found in the world follow the second path. Whilst pointing this out, they usually make sure to also point out that the philosophical way of explicating each step of the way is better than to wantonly go on picnics. You never know what you might get yourself into otherwise, and then you're none the wiser.

Thing is. There's an economy to human communication, and humans can only summon so much mental effort before they deem something incomprehensible. No matter how logical the progression. This makes it imperative to know the most expedient route from point a to point b, and how to mobilize someone's imagination into a shared understanding of this route. That is to say, what to point at in order to mobilize the inherent understanding already present in those reading.

A blunt example would be someone shouting FIRE in a crowded building. Whilst the inherent premise of the danger of a fire spreading in a crowded space remains unstated, it is nevertheless effective in mobilizing the knowledge of such dangers. It moves about, rhizomatically enthymemic.

The proper lesson here is to listen carefully to those talking about fire safety procedures.

As a writer, what you want to take away from this is that most things do not need to be explained in order to be understood. You can safely assume that they know that the sky is blue, and that you can point to it in order to ground what you are saying. You can also safely assume that they know the general correlation of water and wetness, and that the specifics doesn't matter when you point out that it's a rainy day. You know, they know, and this mutual understanding is a firm basis for future communication. It is up to your text to act on it.

Let the philosophers play their word games. They know too well that the things we understand need to be explained, rather than the other way around. -

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