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Inquiry Driven Systems • Part 8

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'Author: Jon Awbrey

Reflective Inquiry

Integrity and Unity of Inquiry

One of the very first questions that one encounters in the inquiry into inquiry is one that challenges both the integrity and the unity of inquiry, a question that asks: “Is inquiry one or many?” By this one means two things:

  1. Concerning the integrity of inquiry: How are the components and the properties of inquiry, as identified by analysis, integrated into a whole that is singly and solely responsible for its results, and as it were, that answers for its answers in one voice? These qualities of unanimity and univocity are necessary in order to be able to speak of an inquiry as a coherent entity, whose nature it is to have and to hold the boundaries one finds in or gives to it, rather than being an artificial congeries of naturally unrelated elements and features. In other words, this is required in order to treat inquiry as a systematic function, that is, as the action, behavior, conduct, or operation of a system.
  2. Concerning the unity of inquiry: Is the form of inquiry that is needed for reasoning about facts the same form of inquiry that is needed for reasoning about actions and goals, duties and goods, feelings and values, guesses and hopes, and so on, or does each sort of inquiry — aesthetic, ethical, practical, speculative, or whatever — demand and deserve a dedicated and distinctive form? Although it is clear that some degree of modulation is needed to carry out different modes of inquiry, is the adaptation so radical that one justly considers it to generate different forms, or is the changeover merely a matter of mildly tweaking the same old tunes and draping new materials on the same old forms?

If one reflects, shares the opinion, or takes the point of view on experimental grounds that inquiry begins with uncertainty, then each question about the integrity and the unity of inquiry can be given a sharper focus if it is re-posed as a question about the integrity and the unity of uncertainty, or of its positive counterpart, information.

Accordingly, one is led to wonder next: Is uncertainty one or many? Is information one or many? As before, each question raises two more: one that inquires into the internal composition of its subject, or the lack thereof, and one that inquires into the external diversity of its subject, or the lack thereof. This reflection, on the integrity and the unity, or else the multiplicity, of uncertainty and information, is the image of the earlier reflection, on the facts of sign use. Once more, what appears in this reflection is so inconclusive and so insubstantial that there is nothing else to do at this point but to back away again from the mirror.

To rephrase the question more concretely: Is uncertainty about what is true or what is the case the general form that subsumes every species of uncertainty, or is it possible that uncertainty about what to do, what to feel, what to hope, and so on constitute essentially different forms of inquiry among them? The answers to these questions have a practical bearing in determining how usefully the presently established or any conceivable theory of information can serve as a formal tool in different types of inquiry.

Another way to express these questions is in terms of a distinction between form and matter. The form is what all inquiries have in common, and the question is whether it is anything beyond the bare triviality that they all have to take place in some universe of inquiry or another. The matter is what concerns each particular inquiry, and the question is whether the matter warps the form to a shape all its own, one that is peculiar to this matter to such a degree that it is never interchangeable with the forms that are proper to other modes of inquiry.

Apparitions and Allegations

Next I consider the preparations for a phenomenology. This is not yet any style of phenomenology itself but an effort to grasp the very idea that something appears, and to grasp it in relation to the something that appears. I begin by looking at a sample of the language that one ordinarily uses to talk about appearances, with an eye to how this medium shapes one's thinking about what appears. A close inspection reveals that there are subtleties issuing from this topic that are partly disclosed and partly obscured by the language that is commonly used in this connection.

  • An apparition, as I adopt the term and adapt its use to this context, is a property, a quality, or a respect of appearance. That is, it is an aspect or an attribute of a phenomenon of interest that appears to arise in a situation and to affect the character of the phenomenal situation. Apparitions shape themselves in general to any shade of apperception, assumption, imitation, intimation, perception, sensation, suspicion, or surmise that is apt or amenable to be apprehended by an animate agent.
  • An allegation, in the same manner of speaking, is any description or depiction, any expression or emulation, in short, any verbal exhalation or visual emanation that appears to apprehend a characteristic trait or an illuminating trace of an apparition.

The terms apparition and allegation serve their purpose in allowing an observer to focus on the sheer appearance of the apparition itself, in assisting a listener or a reader to attend to the sheer assertion of the allegation itself. Their application enables an interpreter to accept at first glance or to acknowledge at first acquaintance the reality of each impression as a sign, without being forced to the point of assuming that there is anything in reality that the apparition is in fact an appearance of, that there is anything in reality that the allegation is in deed an adversion to, or, as people commonly say, that there is anything of substance "behind" it all.

Ordinarily, when one speaks of the appearance of an object, one tends to assume that there is in reality an object that has this appearance, but if one speaks about the apparition of an object, one leaves more room for a suspicion whether there is in reality any such object as there appears to be. In technical terms, however much it is simply a matter of their common acceptations, the term appearance is said to convey slightly more existential import than the term apparition. This dimension of existential import is one that enjoys a considerable development in the sequel.

If one asks what apparitions and allegations have in common, it seems to be that they share the character of signs. If one asks what character divides them, it is said to be that apparitions are more likely to be generated by an object in and of itself while allegations are more likely to be generated by an interpreter in reaction to an alleged or apparent object. Nevertheless, even if one agrees to countenance both apparitions and allegations as a pair of especially specious species of signs, whose generations are differentially attributed to objects and to interpreters, respectively, and whose variety runs through a spectrum of intermediate variations, there remains a number of subtleties still to be recognized.

For instance, when one speaks of an appearance of a sign, then one is usually talking about a token of that type of sign, as it appears in a particular locus and as it occurs on a particular occasion, all of which further details can be specified if required. If this common usage is to be squared with calling apparitions a species of signs, then talk about an appearance of an apparition must have available to it a like order of interpretation. And thus what looks like a higher order apparition, in other words, an apparition of an apparition, is in fact an even more particular occurrence, specialized appearance, or special case of sign. At this point I have to let go of the subject for now, since the general topic of higher order signs, their variety and interpretation, is one that occupies a much broader discussion later on in this work.

Any action that an interpreter takes to detach the presumed actuality of the sign from the presumed actuality of its object, at least in so far as the sign appears to present itself as denoting, depicting, or describing a particular object, remains a viable undertaking and a valuable exercise to attempt, no matter what hidden agenda, ulterior motive, or intentional object is conceivably still invested in the apparition or the allegation. If there is an object, property, or situation in reality that is in fact denoted or represented by one of these forms of adversion and allusion, then one says that there is a basis for acting on them, a justification for believing in them, a motivation for taking them seriously, a reason for treating them as true, or a foundation that is capable of lending support to their prima facie evidence.

Once the dimension of existential import is recognized as a parameter of interpretation, for example, as it runs through the spectrum of meanings that the construals of apparitions and appearances are differentially scattered across, then there are several observations that ought to be made about the conceivable distributions of senses:

  1. In principle, the same range of ambiguities and equivocalities affects both of the words apparition and appearance to the same degree, however much their conventional usage tilts their individual and respective senses one way or the other.
  2. Deprived of its existential import, the applicational phrase appearance of an object (AOAO) means something more akin to the adjectival or analogous phrase object-like appearance (OLA). Can it be that the mere appearance of the preposition of in the application "P of Q" is somehow responsible for the tilt of its construal toward a more substantial interpretation, one with a fully existential import?
  3. Interpreting any apparition, appearance, phenomenon, or sign as an appearance of an object is tantamount to the formation of an abductive hypothesis, that is, it entertains the postulation of an object in an effort to explain the particulars of an appearance.
  4. The positing of objects to explain apparitions, appearances, phenomena, or signs, to be practical on a regular basis, requires the preparatory establishment of an interpretive framework (IF) and the concurrent facilitation of an objective framework (OF). Teamed up together, these two frameworks assist in organizing the data of signs and the impressions of ideas in connection with the hypotheses of objects, and thus they make it feasible to examine each object-like appearance and to convert each one that is suitable into an appearance of an object.

At this point it ought to be clear that the pragmatic theory of signs permits the whole of phenomenal reality (WOPR) to be taken as a sign, perhaps of itself as an object, and perhaps to itself as an interpretant. The articulation of the exact sign relation that exists is the business of inquiry into a particular universe, and this is a world whose existence, development, and completion are partially contingent on the character, direction, and end of that very inquiry.

The next step to take in preparing a style of phenomenology, that is, in acquiring a paradigm for addressing apparitions or in producing an apparatus for dealing with appearances, is to partition the space of conceivable phenomena in accord with several forms of classification, drawing whatever parallel and incidental lines appear suitable to the purpose of oganizing phenomena into a sensible array, in particular, separating out the kinds of appearances that one is prepared to pay attention to, and thus deciding the kinds of experiences that one is ready to partake in, while paring away the sorts of apparitions that one is prepared to ignore.

It may be thought that a phenomenology has no need of preparation or partition, that the idea is to remain openly indiscriminate and patently neutral to all that appears, that all of its classifications are purely descriptive, and that all of them put together are intended to cover the entire range of what can possibly show up in experience. But attention is a precious resource, bounded in scope and exhausted in detail, while the time and the trouble that are available to spend on the free and the unclouded observation of phenomena are much more limited still, at least, in so far as it concerns finite agents and mortal creatures, and thus even the most liberal phenomenology is forced to act on implicit guidelines or to put forward explicit recommendations of an evaluative, a normative, or a prescriptive character, saying in effect that if one acts in certain ways, in particular, that if one expends an undue quantity of attention on the "wrong" kinds of appearances, then one is bound to pay the price, in other words, to experience unpleasant experiences as a consequence or else to suffer other sorts of adverse results.

This observation draws attention to the general form of constraint that comes into play at this point. Let me then ask the following question: What is the most general form of preparation, partition, or reparation, of whatever sort of disposition or structure, that I can imagine as applying to the whole situation, that I can see as characterizing its experiential totality, and that I can grasp as contributing to its ultimate result? For my own part, in the present situation, the answer appears to be largely as follows.

As far as I know, all styles of phenomenology and all notions of science, whether general or special, either begin by adopting an implicit recipe for what makes an apparition worthy of note or else begin their advance by developing an explicit prescription for a "worthwhile" appearance, a rule that presumes to dictate what phenomena are worthy of attention. This recipe or prescription amounts to a critique of phenomena, a rule that has an evaluative or a normative force. As a piece of advice, it can be taken as a tentative rule of mental presentation (TROMP) for all that appears or shows itself, since it sets the bar for admitting phenomena to anything more than a passing regard, marks the threshold of abiding concern and the level of recurring interest, formulates a precedence ordering to be imposed on the spectra of apparitions and appearances, and is tantamount to a recommendation about what kinds of phenomena are worth paying attention to and what kinds of shows are not worth the ticket — in a manner of speaking saying that the latter do not repay the price of admission to consciousness and do not earn a continuing regard.

The issue of a TROMP ("tentative rule of mental presentation") can appear to be a wholly trivial commonplace or a totally unnecessary extravagance, but realizing that a choice of this order has to be made, that it has to be made at a point of development where no form of justification of any prior logical order can be adduced, and thus that the choice is always partly arbitrary and always partly based on aesthetic considerations, ethical constraints, and practical consequences — all of this says something important about the sort of meaning that the choice can have, and it opens up a degree of freedom that was obscured by thinking that a phenomenology has to exhaust all apparitions, or that a science has to be anchored wholly in bedrock.

If it appears to my reader that my notion of what makes a worthwhile appearance is tied up with what I can actually allege to appear, and is therefore constrained by the medium of my language and the limits of my lexicon, then I am making the intended impression. One of the reasons that I find for accepting these bounds is that I am decidedly less concerned with those aspects of experience that appear in one inconsistent and transient fashion after another, and I am steadily more interested in those aspects of experience that appear on abiding, insistent, periodic, recurring, and stable bases. Since I am trying to demonstrate how inquiry takes place in the context of a sign relation, the ultimate reasons for this restriction have to do with the nature of inquiry and the limited capacities of signs to convey information.

Inquiry into reality has to do with experiential phenomena that recur, with states that appear and that promise or threaten to appear again, and with the actions that agents can take to affect these recurrences. This is true for two reasons: First, a state that does not appear or does not recur cannot be regarded as constituting any sort of problem. Second, only states that appear and recur are subject to the tactics of learning and teaching, or become amenable to the methods of reasoning.

There is a catch, of course, to such a blithe statement, and it is this: How does an agent know whether a state is going to appear, is bound to recur, or not? To be sure, there are hypothetically conceivable states that constitute obvious problems for an agent, independently of whether an instance of them already appears in experience or not. This is the question that inaugurates the theoretical issue of signs in full force, raises the practical stakes that are associated with their actual notice, and constellates the aspect of a promise or a threat that appears above. Accordingly, the vital utility of signs is tied up with questions about persistent appearances, predictable phenomena, contingently recurrent states of systems, and ultimately patterned forms of real existence that are able to integrate activity with appearance.

In asking questions about integral patterns of activity and appearance, where the category of action and the category of affect are mixed up in a moderately complicated congeries with each other and stirred together in a complex brew, it is helpful on a first approximation to "fudge" the issue of the agent a bit, in other words, to "dodge", "fuzz", or "hedge" any questions about the precise nature of the agent that appears to be involved in the activities and to whom the appearances actually appear. This intention is served by using the word "agency" in a systematically ambiguous way, namely, to mean either an individual agent, a community of agents, or any of the actions thereof. In this vein, the following sorts of questions can be asked:

  1. What appearances can be recognized by what agencies to occur on a recurring basis? In other words, what appearances can be noted by what agencies to fall under sets of rules that describe their ultimate patterns of activity and appearance?
  2. What appearances can be shared among agents and communities that are distributed through dimensions of culture, language, space, and time?
  3. What appearances can be brought under the active control of what agencies by observing additional and alternative appearances that are associated with them, that is, by acquiring and exploiting an acquaintance with the larger patterns of activity and appearance that apply?

There is a final question that I have to ask in this preparation for a phenomenology, though it, too, remains an ultimately recurring inquiry: What form of reparation is due for the undue distribution of attention to appearance? In other words, what form of reform is called on to repair an unjust disposition, to remedy an inadequate preparation, or to adjust a partition that is not up to par? Any attempt to answer this question has occasion to recur to its preliminary: What form of information does it take to convince agents that a reform of their dispositions is due?

As annoying as all of these apparitions and allegations are at first, it is clear that they arise from an ability to reflect on a scene of awareness, and thus, aside from the peculiar attitudes that they may betray from time to time, they advert to an aptitude that amounts to an inchoate agency of reflection, an incipient faculty of potential utility that the agent affected with its afflictions is well-advised to appreciate, develop, nurture, and train, in spite of how insipid its animadversions are alleged to appear at times. This marks the third time now that the subject of reflection has come to the fore. Paradoxically enough, no increment of charm appears to accrue to the occasion.

A good part of the work ahead is taken up with considering ways to formalize the process of reflection. This is necessary, not just in the interest of those apparitions that are able to animate reflection, or for the sake of those allegations that are able to survive reflection, but in order to devise a regular methodology for articulating, bringing into balance with each other, and reasoning on the grounds of the various kinds of reflections that naturally occur, the apparitions that arise in the incidental context of experience plus the allegations that get expressed in the informal context of discussion. Later discussions will advance a particular approach to reflection, bringing together the work already begun in previous discussions of interpretive frameworks (IFs) and objective frameworks (OFs), and constructing a compound order or a hybrid species of framework for arranging, organizing, and supporting reflection. These tandem structures will be referred to as reflective interpretive frameworks (RIFs).

Before the orders of complexity that are involved in the construction of a RIF can be entertained, however, it is best to obtain a rudimentary understanding of just how the issues associated with reflection can in fact arise in ordinary and unformalized experience. Proceeding by this path will allow us to gain, along with a useful array of moderately concrete intuitions, a relatively stable basis for comprehending the nature of reflection. For all of these reasons, the rest of this initial discussion will content itself with a sample of the more obvious and even superficial properties of reflection as they develop out of casual and even cursory contexts of discussion, and as they make themselves available for expression in the terms and in the structures of a natural language medium.

A Reflective Heuristic

In a first attempt to state explicitly the principles by which reflection operates, it helps to notice a few of the tasks that reflection performs. In the process of doing this it is useful to keep this figure of speech, where the anthropomorphic reflection is interpreted in the figure of its personification, in other words, as a hypostatic reference that personifies the reflective faculty of an agent.

One of the things that reflection does is to look for common patterns as they appear in diverse materials. Another thing that reflection does is to look for variations in familiar and recognized patterns. These ideas lead to the statement of two aesthetic guidelines or heuristic suggestions as to how the process of reflection can be duly carried out:

Try to reduce the number of primitive notions.
Try to vary what has been held to be constant.

These are a couple of aesthetic imperatives or founding principles that I first noticed as underlying motives in the work of C.S. Peirce, informing the style of thinking that is found throughout his endeavors (Awbrey & Awbrey, 1989). It ought to be recognized that this pair of imperatives operate in antagonism or work in conflict with each other, each recommending a course that strives against the aims of the other. The circumstances of this opposition appear to suggest a mythological derivation for the faculty of reflection that is being personified in this figure, as if it were possible to inquire into the background of reflection so deeply as to reach that original pair of sibling rivals: Epimetheus, Defender of the Same; Prometheus, Sponsor of the Different.

Aesthetic slogans and practical maxims do not have to be consistent in all of the exact and universal ways that are required of logical principles, since their applications to each particular matter can be adjusted in a differential and a discriminating manner, taking into account the points of their pertinence, the qualities of their relevance, and the times of their salience. Nevertheless, the use of these heuristic principles can have a bearing on the practice of logic, especially when it comes to the forms of logical expression and argumentation that are available for use in a particular language, specialized calculus, or other formal system. Although one's initial formulations of logical reasoning, in the shapes that are seized on by fallible and finite creatures, can be as arbitrary and as idiosyntactic as particular persons and parochial paradigms are likely to make them, a dedicated and persistent application of these two heuristic rudiments, whether in team, in tandem, or in tournament with each other, is capable of leading in time to forms that subtilize and universalize, at the same time, the forms initially taken by thought.

Either/Or : A Sense of Absence

Che faro senza Euridice ?
Dove andro senza il mio ben ?
Che faro ? Dove andro ?
Che faro senza il mio ben ?
What can I do, with Eurydice gone?
And whither go, without my dearest love?
What can I do? And whither go?
What can I do without my dearest love?
  Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice, [Glu, 74]

While I'm on the subject of imperatives and maxims, of how they often come in pairs that appear to strive both pro and con each other, and of how they are able to make a kind of sense, whether in conjunction or in alternation, without having to be logically consistent with one another, …

Absent a sense of what is good a creature is lost. And since this sense is only a feeling, a groping, a hint, an inkling, all in all a wandering shade, it can only be a sign of what is good, and a fallible sign at that. Does a sense of what's good ever contend with a sense of what's good? If the mind is inclined to emphasize the turn of the phrase that it is bound to hold nearer to itself, namely, the mind's own “sense”, then it seems to indicate an aesthetic sensibility. If the mind is disposed to stress the part of speech that it places more dearly in association with its object, namely, the mind's own “good”, then it seems to take on an ethical intention. But this is just shadow play. The live question is: What is there in this state of disharmony that speaks to its absence?

Apparent, Occasional, and Practical Necessity

In the present state of things a man abandoned to himself in the midst of other men from birth would be the most disfigured of all. Prejudices, authority, necessity, example, all the social institutions in which we find ourselves submerged would stifle nature in him and put nothing in its place. Nature there would be like a shrub that chance had caused to be born in the middle of a path and that the passers by soon cause to perish by bumping into it from all sides and bending it in every direction.

Rousseau, Emile, or On Education, [Rou1, 37]

I appear to be entering an apparent arena where it is apparently necessary to approach every appearance of an absolute concept, and so every apperception of an abstract idea, with an air of apprehension, to attend as assiduously as I am able to the factitious aspect of every concept approached, every fact asserted, every idea approximated, and every predicate applied, as each advances from a potentially articulate to a palpably artificial species of phenomenon, and thus to appreciate for myself the quality of an apparition that seems to affect everything that I apprehend, and also to apprise others of the attitude that I find I am advised to adopt, by attempting to append to every article of note an appraisal of the aura of evanescence and instability that appears all about it, to assign to every point of application a device to reflect the animate artifice that is pressured to suit its address to the subject, to attach to every point of articulation a reflex of the animating instinct that is appealed to for flexing the armament of its attack on the theme, to affix an array of verbal hedges all around it to serve as an appellate apparatus and to assure an attitude of appropriate reserve toward it.

As I enter this allegorical and apparitional context, I find that every attempt at articulate expression is affected with an array of afflictions. In this abode of seeming allegations, this abyss of teeming apparitions, every point I try to make is quickly surrounded by a brace of blooming confusions and rapidly swarmed over by a mass of buzzing diffusions.

Here, the qualifiers "alleged by", "alleged", "allegedly", in allegiance with the qualifiers "appears to", "apparent", "apparently", and arranged alongside all of their associated, derivative, and equivalent modifiers, can literally be distributed to any part of speech, any phrase of any sentence, or any phase of discourse that I can think to assemble or venture to articulate.

Here, the admonitions "alleged" and "apparent" can arguably be applied to any term, any premiss, and any argument that appears to enter an arena of discussion or that afterwards appears to arouse attention.

Here, the amplifications that appear almost able to assert themselves here, that array themselves at all available points of articulation and arraign as arrant adventures all attempts at advancing any appreciable amount beyond appearances and allegations, that avail themselves of all the available veils of allusion to the vanity of appearances, but only accomplish another order of obfuscation, that are able to accumulate in any account that attempts to appreciate all that allegedly appears in it, all the allied assonances of asinine alliterations and that is augmented in accord with all that is actually fit to print, ascends to an altitude of such arrogance that it assumes the ability to arrest all the associates of its nominal constants and of the point of overpowers its pronounced variables, as the latter are so typically represented by the deceptively percussive decussation of the variable name "X", appear to excise out of existence the very objects that it aims to mark in the forms of its syntax.

As I continue to pursue the problems that remain of interest to me here, I am led to increase the manifold of ways that are available to converge on each object, to insert a growing multitude of signs into the medium, and to introduce new points of articulation into the developing text. Each of these developments appears to arise in a natural fashion from the intentions that I bring to this work and as I bring them to bear on each object in view, as I search for a way to catch at least a fractured image of its more glaring aspects and as I strive to settle on a way to pin down at least a fragmentary inkling of its more striking features. If I aim to bring home this catch in the net of those few terms that I can fix in the forms of its sieve and fasten in the figures of its syntax, then I need to adjust the scope of the modifiers that are affixed from the frames of its paradigms and afforded by the folds of its inflections. But each new sign that I adduce, in the instant that it starts to afford a point of attachment, one that seems sufficient to suspend the orders of variation that appear to me, in that same moment it also occasions a point of departure, one that seems necessary to pursue through orders of variation that are barely hinted at in my present imagination, and each element of which promises to serve as a conceptual peg that whole new orders of conceivable changes can be pinned on.

As a result of these developments, an initially admirable attempt at clarification issues in a luminescent haze of modulations that affects every object in sight with a spectral host of modifiers, that glosses over the original indictment of every object of investigation, that limns every outline of a potential content with a dubious aura of charismatic nuances, that surrounds every figure with an array of apprehensions without quite arresting any detail of observation, and that obscures the interior features of every shape with a sheer but sketchy silhouette.

The reverberant perturbations that stem from each new predicate added to the account appear to interfere with the very mode of action or the very state of being that it attempts to delineate about its subject, where the numinous veils of adumbration that evolve about every object ascend to levels of amplitude that appears to collapse the very objects, acts, and facts that they began with the aim to connote, and finally, where the corresponding moment of coruscation that precipitate about every object finally seems to crush it beneath the weight of its own encrustation, to corrupt the sense of the original signs, to corrode the very object of their intention, and to scatter the remains of the object in a chorus of vacillations that detonate every intention to denote.

In this way it is possible to discover, if nothing else, a few of the ways that reflection can go astray. It appears to be clear from the drift that is evident in this particular style of investigation that there do indeed exist "modes of dispersive reflection" (MODR's) that "murder to dissect" the objects of their investigation. Under the influence of these styles, an initially admirable attempt at clarification appears to issue in a fog of glosses, a luminous haze of interpolations, a numinous cloud of nuances, a questionable array of qualifications, all of which threaten to blot out the original object of inquiry.

Try to imagine a religious icon, an object of veneration in many ways — to many it is a mystery in its own right, to many it is a wonder that they invest in it, and to some it is meaningful solely for the sake of what it represents to the understanding — now broken to pieces by the catastrophes of nature, the invading infidel, or the indifferent vandal, now scattered by hordes of iconoclasts, now gathered again and hoarded by troops of souvenir seekers, here and there exploited for use as raw materials in a host of new constructions, leaving the chips in the dust and the immovable chunks to fall where they may, or casting what's left in the waterway, now and again finding the pieces partly encrusted with barnacles and partly worn smooth by the actions of waves through time, until they barely bear a likeness to anything anyone ever bore in mind. What chance is there now of anyone re assembling the resemblance once more, of fitting the pieces together in the way they are meant to be?

This is the situation of humanity after the "Destruction of Babel", if one takes this fable as a metaphorical way of accounting for a current condition that is real enough, the evident lack of communication that prevails among the host of purported communities. This is not just a matter of linguistic diversity, but a question of fundamental beliefs. If the legend is interpreted with a due measure of discernment, then the downcast state of understanding that it purports to explain is not so much a matter of superficial differences in syntax as it is concerned with the deeper semantics of ultimate meanings.

Humanity survives in what appears to be an abject state, with regard to its fondest hopes and with respect to its projected ideals if not with reference to its literal origins, that is, in relation to the founding meanings that it appears to invest in all of its most basic intentions. Each portion of humanity takes the share of value that is disbursed to it as their collective host is dispersed into a rout of value systems. Taking each fragment of meaningful value as it receives it from this encounter and from this deliverance, it appears as if each fraction of humanity is deliberately restricted to a dissipative way of acting for ever after. Given the numerous "common koines" that are its lot, its loot, its boot, and its strapping, the abiding community of interests appears to be hobbled by the limited extent that these means afford it to purchase a meaningful expression for itself in the market of ideas. For all of these reasons and more, humanity appears to operate in what amounts to a degraded condition, at least, as it stacks up against the potential that humanity conceivably has for actualizing common ideals, implementing shared meanings, and realizing globally distributed values.

At this point one chances on a new source of power in symbols, signs that allow of being cobbled together in just the condition that they arrive and in just the mode that they derive from incidental sources, in all their partially eroded shapes and variously polished textures, without being forced to fit exactly in any form of pre arranged setting. In this way one is forced, as it were, by the ravages of time, and in a rather paradoxical fashion, to accept responsibility for an extra degree of flexibility and a novel measure of freedom. More than other types of signs, namely, in contrast to icons and indices that retain more or less independent arrays of formal and material connections, respectively, with their objects, symbols require the living actuality of an interpreter to read between the lines and to fill in the mortar between the more static building blocks of discourse.

There has to be a way to alleviate the tensions that are vaulted away in this suspension of signs without recanting the significance of the sense that their union is intended to intensify, a way to bear the overbearing turgidity of the result that is expressed in their coagulate composition without precipitating the full collapse of the subtended circumspection, a way to clarify the oppressive turbidity of the medium that is stirring to carry this tedium without embroiling the odium in the melody past all hope of its ultimate redemption, a way to distill the solutions that are synthesized in this distribution of moduli to termini without despoiling the tribute of the lesson that all are concerted to spell out in unison, a way to redress the grievances that remain disconsolate in their levies without leaving a pan of their balancing act to wait upon imponderables, a way to revisit the guarded commentaries that are billetted at, around, and through every locus that rises to a point of note in this discourse, a way to trim the edges of the hedges that trim each note of vacillation just as it begins to border on broaching any point that falls into view, a way to unify the manifold of apparent sensitivities to appearance that are likely to be displayed in the complexion and the countenance of this evolving expression and that ought to find their signs manifested in any sensible account of its conduct, its demeanor, its meaning, or its mien, but without numbering up to infinity the signs of apparent sensitivities that could express an appearance in the evolution of this expression and without numbing down into oblivion the sensitivity to apparent sensation that the expression of this evolution is adapted or designed to develop, and thus I am charged to go in search of the likeliest ways that appear.

From time to time some brief and insubstantial reflection arose concerning the instability of the things of this world, whose image I saw in the surface of the water, but soon these fragile impressions gave way before the unchanging and ceaseless movement which lulled me and without any active effort on my part occupied me so completely that even when time and the habitual signal called me home I could hardly bring myself to go.

Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, [Rou2, 87]

It is just when the whole phenomenal world threatens to dissolve into a texture of appearances that this show of nature reveals a secret kinship with the very texts of human discourse that interweave its pattern — that interlace its threads and interpret its suggestions, here supplying a neutral backing for the bolder displays of natural phenomena, there embroidering a new elaboration or a wholly superfluous decoration on the brocades that nature affords, that try to catch up the raveled clues of phenomena in the variegated weaves of their own local colors, that vie to sew up the knots of the world within their nets of rival description, and that venture to convert a patchwork of piecewise sensible events into a manifold of eventual sense, no matter how transient and tentative it proves itself to be — and thus the whole show of nature saves itself through the artifice of recognizing this kinship.

After a state of affairs advances this far, it is easy to see what an unwieldy nuisance it is to have to keep on inserting the reminders of appearance on the scene of awareness, what a cumbersome annoyance burdensome constant that might be inserted on apparitional reminders of appearance / to save the mementos of mortal frailty that no earthly agent has sufficient forbearance to attend on all the apparitions of appearance that are possible to spy on the scene of phenomena, and … Rather than trying to maintain a constant appeal to the apparent status of everthing the mind posits and instead of bothering to preserve a continual admonition to remember the frailties of mortal mentality, … When it becomes unwieldy to maintain a constant appeal to appearances and annoying to preserve a continual admonition of past the point of becoming a constant annoyance and a continual nuisance, one can settle on a where the resonances and the resplendences that are set up among the sights and the sounds of the signs that appear all seem to break up the very solidity of the objects themselves — but only seems to do so — it must be an aberration of the medium that makes them seem to shimmer.

Let this cadenza then be descanted: (1) that the necessities of a live interpretation can never be discounted, (2) that the interruptions of a faithful interpreter are never truly out of order, and (3) that to each (a) hint of allegation, (b) mark of appearance, or (c) note of attainder a dutiful interpreter is resoundingly enjoined to adjoin the rejoinders: "Says who?", "Sees who?", or "Cui bono?", respectively.

The rule is often invoked: To make a virtue out of necessity. In the present arena, already ruled over by modes of apparition and allegation, I am obliged to reconstitute apparent necessities as apparent virtues: (1) by examining the very form of rhetorical expediency that appears to be forced on me at this point, (2) by considering the practical lessons that can be drawn from the lines of its force, and (3) by contemplating the possibility that a genuinely valid form of logical argument can in fact be extracted from the raw materials of this and similar examples.

Approaches, Aspects, Exposures, Fronts

A large part of this project is devoted to the construction of various frameworks, as objects that are intended to satisfy a set of abstract requirements or partial specifications.

Over and above the specialized properties that go toward distinguishing the structural and the functional approaches from each other, and apart from the levels of detail that go to make up their particular instances, it is useful to consider the common form of activity that appears to be involved in both approaches, and thus to abstract the form of a “front”. In general, a “front” is an abstract form of organization that appears to embody itself or manages to realize itself in a concrete mass of material activities, and thus to constellate a pattern of action in space and time. This explains how the image of a “front” is relevant to various ways of approaching an object, and thus it indicates the sense of the metaphor, as far as it goes. But when it comes to the kind of a “front” that finds itself configured in a particular way of approaching the construction of an intended object, then there are more specific features that remain to be described.

As a form of activity that possesses a definite direction and perhaps even a deliberate purpose, a front marks the initial organization of an otherwise confused mass of material actions and momentary transits into a moderately coherent movement toward a common end or a shared goal. When a front is regarded as a partial envisioning of its intended object, a prospective view of the possibilities that are being afforded for its construction, and a proximal approach to many critical questions about the object, for instance, whether and how an object that satisfies the intended description can be constructed, then this front is clearly seen to constitute a form of inquiry in its own right.

Regarded as a form of inquiry, a front arrays itself into a gradual succession of agencies, faculties, or processes. Broadly taken, these divide into two parts, which can be personified in the following terms:

  1. The “van” exposes the generative ideas that come to the fore in shaping a front. In this role, the van is exposed to a host of material instances that it is forced to face with some ambivalence, since they afford not only a field of real opportunities for the advance of the front but also a range of obstructive challenges to its continued viability. The duty of agents in the van is to try to enunciate as clearly as possible the principles that determine the constitution of the front, the virtues of which ideas are in all likelihood responsible for inspiring their allegiance to this front. Actions that belong to the van, in regard to the ways that their logical arrangements, spatial placements, and temporal successions can be put in relationship to each other, are typically found to work best if they can (a) keep to the leading edge of the front, (b) stay as far as possible ahead of the game, (c) finish their part of the work before the main body of activities in the front gets going to cloud the issue, and (d) vest their results on the crest of the wave, where they are the easiest to find in a pinch.
  2. The “ruck” collects the supporting activities of the front that (a) stand behind its gradual advance, (b) contribute to its incremental development, and (c) maintain the continuity of its automatic functions.

As forms of partial and proximal approach, the structural and functional fronts of inquiry, considered in connection with the trains of supporting activity that stand behind their gradual advance, and taken in light of the waves of successive investigation that are bound to follow in their causal wakes, are constitutionally required to interrogate each other's prerogatives and even prospectively to cover the selfsame jurisdiction. Of course, it is almost inevitable that the persistent advances of these independently principled inquiries will eventually run across each other, since they criss-cross the same regions of concern over and over again. Over time, as these contrasting frontal systems come to meet and start to pass through each other, no matter whether they find themselves in one common accord or whether they are found at cross purposes to each other, no matter whether it is a mutual facilitation or a counterposed reluctance and resistance that their regimes of effrontery induce in one another, they are most likely determined to continue with their separate progressions until, sooner or later, they intersect each other at every point of interest under survey, and accordingly transect their common space in a way that yields a coordinate system for the RIF as a whole.

In the previous paragraph I tried to give a graphic description of how a coordinate system for an area of discussion can arise from conceptual considerations and develop through what are “principally” logical forms of analysis. If the whole development seems a bit obtuse in the beginning, and remains oblique until the very end, when it finally becomes obvious what is already transpiring, then that is just the way it often occurs. It frequently happens that one person, working at one time, presents a formally defined domain, as it appears from one point of view, and then another person, or the same person working at another time, presents a formally different domain, or one that appears from another perspective, and only a bit late does it occur to anyone that the underlying domains referred to are partially the same, or perhaps wholly coincident spaces of objects. Only then, as if an afterthought to this step of synthesis, does it become abundantly clear that inferences comprising a whole new level of implications can derive from the superimposition of the various analytic frameworks, that is, from the fact that these different kinds of properties apply to each and every object in the composite view.

Synthetic A Priori Truths

Nature, we are told, is only habit. What does that mean? Are there not habits contracted only by force which never do stifle nature? Such, for example, is the habit of the plants whose vertical direction is interfered with. The plant, set free, keeps the inclination it was forced to take. But the sap has not as a result changed its original direction; and if the plant continues to grow, its new growth resumes the vertical direction.

Rousseau, Emile, or On Education, [Rou1, 39]

There is a particular line of thinking, incidental to this construction, that is useful to draw out and to develop for the bearing it has and the perspective it gives on a long standing puzzle, namely, the question of synthetic a priori truths. These are the kinds of truths that usually require considerable efforts of discovery and invention just to realize the truth of, and yet that are commonly felt after the fact to have always been completely destined, evident, foregone, and necessary. It is a matter of controversy in some circles whether truths of this order really exist, or, if truths of any such character do exist, then whether they really fall under the exact terms of the given description. But the “thrill of discovery” that marks their actual experience is real enough in practice, in logic, in mathematics, and in other formal studies, where even the most purely deductive conclusions do not seem so wholly foregone in their ways that one can afford to forgo the joys and the trials of their proofs. Thus, it follows that the persistence of this experience, as felt, needs to be appreciated in itself, no matter what scheme of theory one selects to explain it or else to explain it away.

Let me abstract, for the moment, from the structural and functional axes of the current construction, describing any development along analogous lines as a process of “coordination”, and referring to the form of what results as an “axial coordinating system” (ACS), with axes to be named. What I want to highlight here is the typical progression of experiences that an agent passes through in the process of developing any instance in the form of an ACS, starting from (1) the performance of the separate analyses, working through (2) the synthesis of their combined results, and finally moving on to (3) the derivation of the novel implications on a freshly refurbished stage of inference. Making these abstractions not only yields a clearer view of the relevant structures involved in the process but it also develops a generalized picture of the coordination project that is much more flexible in the present use and increasingly adaptable to future applications.

With an eye to the generic features of my paradigmatic coordination process, and with the abstract idea of an ACS in hand, let me return to the immediate application. As I indicated, one of the benefits that I hope to extract from a study of this form of emergent coordination, taking in its process and its result, is to clarify the problem of SAP propositions in scientific reasoning, and thus to derive a measure of insight into the forms of sapience that depend on them. Unless the ostensibly fruitful nature of SAP propositions evaporates into thin air with their exposure to the heat of reflection and unless their status as advertised entirely boils away with the resolution of their problematic features, then their analysis can help to rationalize the role of SAP propositions in scientific knowledge, as they arise through inquiry, as they enter into one's compendia of belief or knowledge, and as they contribute to the skills whereby one builds an overall grasp of truth.

I think that the sequence of experiential realizations that I depicted in my reconstruction of a developing faculty for coordination, no matter whether it is regarded as a process or as a result, not only can account for many of the paradoxical features of SAP truths but also can explain the impressions that typically occur in the process of achieving them. First, it explains why the full recognition of the supposedly a priori status does not occur until after the synthetic step is finished, that is, until after the separate analytic perspectives are integrated and after the object domain is reconstituted under their freshly combined views. Further, it explains why this wholly reconstructive and retrospective vision, but one that constitutes a newly coherent mode of perception and a slightly elevated perspective, then appears to look on what was never anything but a pre-established domain. Finally, it explains why the appearance or the apparition of anything non analytic contributing to the mix, the very impression that there were ever any truths beyond the manifestly deductive variety, momentarily fades out of sight in the evanescent manner of a transient illusion, at least, until the need of some exigency calls once again for the power of a synthetic capacity.

In any case, the effects that one typically experiences in going through these steps of coordination and in bringing about the instrumentality of the corresponding ACS are remarkably similar in many of their most puzzling features to those that are involved in the experiential process and the moment of realization that one comes to expect in the discovery of what is commonly called an item of synthetic a priori knowledge.

It is at this point that one is forced to distinguish the order of being from the order of knowing, and once again, within the order of knowing to distinguish the order of discovery from the order of justification. If a recursive analysis leads one only to make explicit an assumption that one has implicitly taken for granted up until that time, then, no matter which way one chooses to proceed from that point, calling that assumption into question or continuing to believe it, the process of explication itself still reflects a measure of progress.

Priorisms of Normative Sciences

Let me start with some questions that continue to puzzle me, in spite of having spent a considerable spell of time pursuing their answers, and not for a lack of listening to the opinions expressed on various sides. I first present these questions as independently of the current context as I possibly can, and then I return to justify their relevance to the present inquiry.

The questions that concern me concern the relationships of identity, necessity, or sufficiency that can be found to hold among three classes of properties or qualities that can be attributed to or possessed by an agent, and conceivably passed from one agent to another. The relevant classes of properties or possessions can be schematized as follows:

Teachings — learnings, lessons, disciplines, doctrines, dogmas, or things that can be taught and learned, transmitted and received.
Understandings — articles of knowledge, items of comprehension, bits of potential wisdom that form the possession of knowledge.
Virtues — aspects of accomplished performance, attainments of demonstrated achievement, qualities of accomplishment, completion, excellence, mastery, maturity, or relative perfection, grits or integrities that form the exercise of art, justice, and wisdom.

The category of teachings, as a whole, can be analyzed and divided into two subcategories:

  1. There are disciplines, which involve elements of action, behavior, conduct, and instrumental practice in their realization, and thus take on a fully evaluative, normative, prescriptive, or procedural character.
  2. There are doctrines, which are properly restricted to realms of attitude, belief, conjecture, knowledge, and speculative theory, and thus take on a purely descriptive, factual, logical, or declarative character.

The category of virtues can be subjected to a parallel analysis, but here it is not so much the domain as a whole that gets divided into two subcategories as that each virtue gets viewed in two alternative lights:

  1. With regard to its qualities of action, execution, and performance.
  2. As it affects its properties of competence, knowledge, and selection.

The reason for this difference in the sense of the analysis that applies to each is that it is one of the better parts of virtue to bring about a synthesis between action and knowledge in the very actuality of the virtue itself.

At this point one arrives at the general question:

What is the logical relation of virtues to teachings?

In particular:

  1. Does one category necesarily imply the other?
  2. Are the categories mutually exclusive?
  3. Do they form independent categories?

Are virtues the species and teachings the genus, or perhaps vice versa? Or do virtues and teachings form domains that are essentially distinct? Whether one is a species of the other or whether the two are essentially different, what are the features that apparently distinguish the one from the other?

Let me begin by assuming a situation that is plausibly general enough, that some virtues can be taught, symbolized as , and that some cannot, symbolized as . I am not trying to say yet whether both kinds of cases actually occur, but merely wish to consider what follows from the likely alternatives. Then the question as to what distinguishes virtues from teachings has two senses:

  1. Among virtues that are special cases of teachings, , the features that distinguish virtues from teachings are known as specific differences. These qualities serve to mark out virtues for special consideration from amidst the common herd of teachings and tend to distinguish the more exemplary species of virtues from the more inclusive genus of teachings.
  2. Among virtues that transcend the realm of teachings, , the features that distinguish virtues from teachings are aptly called exclusionary exemptions. These properties place the reach of virtues beyond the grasp of what is attainable through any order of teachings and serve to remove the orbit of virtues a discrete pace from the general run of teachings.

In either case it can always be said, though without contributing anything of substance to the understanding of the problem, that it is their very property of virtuosity or their very quality of excellence that distinguishes the virtues from the teachings, whether this character appears to do nothing but add specificity to what can be actualized through learning alone, or solely through teaching, or whether it requires a nature that transcends the level of what can be achieved through any learning or teaching at all. But this sort of answer only begs the question. The real question is whether this mark is apparent or real, and how it ought to be analyzed and construed.

Assuming a tentative understanding of the categories that I indicated in the above terms, the questions that I am worried about are these:

  1. Did Socrates assert or believe that virtue can be taught, or not?
    In symbols, did he assert or believe that , or not?
  2. Did he think that:
    1. knowledge is virtue, in the sense that ?
    2. virtue is knowledge, in the sense that ?
    3. knowledge is virtue, in the sense that ?
  3. Did he teach or try to teach that knowledge can be taught?
    In symbols, did he teach or try to teach that ?

My current understanding of the record that is given to us in Plato's Socratic Dialogues can be summarized as follows:

At one point Socrates seems to assume the rule that knowledge can be taught, , but simply in order to pursue the case that virtue is knowledge, , toward the provisional conclusion that virtue can be taught, . This seems straightforward enough, if it were not for the good chance that all of this reasoning is taking place under the logical aegis of an indirect argument, a reduction to absurdity, designed to show just the opposite of what it has assumed for the sake of initiating the argument. The issue is further clouded by the circumstance that the full context of the argument most likely extends over several Dialogues, not all of which survive, and the intended order of which remains in question.

At other points Socrates appears to claim that knowledge and virtue are neither learned nor taught, in the strictest senses of these words, but can only be divined, recollected, or remembered, that is, recalled, recognized, or reconstituted from the original acquaintance that a soul, being immortal, already has with the real idea or the essential form of each thing in itself. Still, this leaves open the possibility that one person can help another to guess a truth or to recall what both of them already share in knowing, as if locked away in one or another partially obscured or temporarily forgotten part of their inmost being. And it is just this freer interpretation of learning and teaching, whereby one agent catalyzes not catechizes another, that a liberal imagination would yet come to call education. Therefore, the real issue at stake, both with regard to the aim and as it comes down to the end of this inquiry, is not so much whether knowledge and virtue can be learned and taught as what kind of education is apt to achieve their actualization in the individual and is fit to maintain their realization in the community.

How are these riddles from the origins of intellectual history, whether one finds them far or near and whether one views it as bright or dim, relevant to the present inquiry? There are a number of reasons why I am paying such close attention to these ancient and apparently distant concerns. The classical question as to what virtues are teachable is resurrected in the modern question, material to the present inquiry, as to what functions are computable, indeed, most strikingly in regard to the formal structures that each question engenders. Along with a related question about the nature of the true philosopher, as one hopes to distinguish it from the most sophisticated imitations, all of which is echoed on the present scene in the guise of Turing's test for a humane intelligence, this body of riddles inspires the corpus of most work in artificial intelligence, if not the cognitive and the computer sciences at large.

Reason alone teaches us to know good and bad. Conscience, which makes us love the former and hate the latter, although independent of reason, cannot therefore be developed without it. Before the age of reason we do good and bad without knowing it, and there is no morality in our actions, although there sometimes is in the sentiment of other's actions which have a relation to us.

Rousseau, Emile, or On Education, [Rou_1, 67].

Aesthetics, ethics, and logic are categorized as normative sciences because they pursue knowledge about the ways that things ought to be, their objects being beauty, justice, and truth, respectively. It is generally appreciated that there are intricate patterns of deep and subtle interrelationships that exist among these subjects, and among their objects, but different people seem to intuit different patterns, perhaps at different times. At least, it seems that they must be seeing different patterns of interrelation from the different ways that they find to enact their insights and intuitions in customs, methods, and practices. In particular, one's conception of science, indeed, one's whole approach to life, is determined by the priorism or the precedence ordering that one senses among these normative subjects and employs to order their normative objects. This Section considers a sample of the choices that people typically make in building up a personal or a cultural priorism of normative sciences (PONS).

For example, on the modern scene, among people trained to sport all of the modern fashions of scientific reasoning, it is almost a reflex of their modern identities to echo in their doctrines, if not always to follow in their disciplines, those ancients who taught that "knowledge is virtue". This means that to know the truth about anything is to know how to act rightly in regard to it, but more yet, to be compelled to act that way. It is usually understood that this maxim posits a relation between the otherwise independent realms of knowledge and action, where knowledge resides in domains of signs and ideas, and where action presides over domains of objects, states of being, and their changes through time. However, it is not so frequently remembered that this connection cuts both ways, causing the evidence of virtue as exercised in practice to reflect on the presumption of knowledge as possessed in theory, where each defect of virtue necessarily reflects a defect of knowledge.

In other words, converting the rule through its contrapositive yields the equivalent proposition "evil is ignorance", making every fault of conduct traceable to a fault of knowledge. Everyone knows the typical objection to this claim, saying that one often knows better than to do a certain thing while going ahead and doing it anyway, but the axiom is meant to be taken as a new definition of knowledge, ruling overall that if one really, really knows better, then one simply does not do it, by virtue of the definition. This sort of reasoning issues in the setting of priorities, putting knowledge before virtue, theory before practice, beauty and justice after truth, or reason itself before rhyme and right.

It is not that reason sees any reason to disparage the just deserts that it places after or intends to diminish the gratifications that it defers. Indeed, it aims to give these latter values a place of honor by placing them more in the direction of its aims, and it thinks that it can take them up in this order without risking a consequential loss of geniality. According to this rationale, it is the first order of business to know what is true, while purely an afterthought to do what is good.

It is not too surprising that reason assigns a priority to itself in its own lists of aims, goods, values, and virtues, but this only renders its bias, its favor, its preference, and its prejudice all the more evident. And since the patent favoritism that reason displays is itself a reason of the most aesthetic kind, it thus knocks itself out of its first place ranking, the ranking that reason assumes for itself in the first place, by dint of the prerogative that it exercises and in view of the category of excuse that it uses, from then on deferring to beauty, to happiness, or to pleasure, and all that is admirable in and of itself, or desired for its own sake. This self-demotion of reason is one of the unintended consequences of its own argumentation, that leads it down the garden path to a self-deprecation. It is an immediate corollary of reason trying to distinguish itself from the other goods, granting to itself an initially arbitrary distinction, and then reflecting on the unjustified presumption of this self-devotion. This condition, that reason suffers and that reason endures, is one that continues through all of the rest of its argumentations, that is, unless it can find a better reason than the one it gives itself to begin, or until such time as it can show that all good reasons are one and the same.

So the maxim "knowlege is virtue", in its modern interpretation, at least, leads to the following results. It makes just action, right behavior, and virtuous conduct not merely one among many practical tests but the only available criterion of knowledge, reason, and truth. Sufficient criterion? If a conceptual rule is the only available test of some property, then it must be an essential criterion of that property. This conceives the essence of knowledge to lie in a conception of action. This maxim can be taken, by way of its contrapositive, as a pragmatic principle, positing a rule to the effect that any defect of virtue reflects a defect of knowledge. This makes truth the sine qua non of justice, right action, or virtuous conduct, that is, it makes reason the without which not of morality. Since virtuous conduct is distinguished as that action which leads to what we call beauty, beatitude, or happiness, by any other name just that which is admirable in and of itself, desired for its own sake, or sought as an end in itself, whether it is only in the conduct itself or in a distinct product that the beauty is held to abide, this makes logic the sublimest art. (Why be logical? Because it pleases me to be logical.)

It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

President William Jefferson Clinton, August ?, 1998.

Of course, there is much that is open to interpretation about the maxim "knowledge is virtue". In particular, does the copula "is" represent a necessary implication (), a sufficient reduction ("is only", ), or a necessary and sufficient identification ()?

Principle of Rational Action

Knowledge systems are just another level within this same hierarchy, another way to describe a system. … The knowledge level abstracts completely from the internal processing and the internal representation. Thus, all that is left is the content of the representations and the goals toward which that content will be used. As a level, it has a medium, namely, knowledge. It has a law of behavior, namely, if the system wants to attain goal G and knows that to do act A will lead to attaining G, then it will do A. This law is a simple form of rationality — that an agent will operate in its own best interests according to what it knows.

Allen Newell, Unified Theories of Cognition, [New, 48–49].

How does this ancient issue, concerning the relation of reason, to action, to the good that is overall desired or intended, transform itself through the medium of intellectual history onto the modern scene? In particular, what bearing does it have on the subjects of artificial intelligence and systems theory, and on the object of the present inquiry? As it turns out, in classical cybernetics and in systems theory, and especially in the parts of AI and cognitive science that have to do with heuristic reasoning, the transformations of the problem have tarried so long in the vicinity of a singular triviality that the original form of the question is nearly unmistakable in every modern version. The transposition of the theme into the mode of can make for an interesting variation, but it does not alter the given state of accord or discord among its elements and does nothing to turn the lock into its key.

How do these questions bear on the present inquiry? Suppose that one is trying to understand something like an agency of life, a capacity for inquiry, a faculty of intelligence, or a power of learning and reasoning. For starters, something like is a little vague, so let me suggest calling the target class of agencies, capacities, faculties, or powers that most hold my interest here by the name of virtues, thereby invoking as an offstage direction the classical concepts of anima and arete that seem to prompt them all. What all of these virtues have in common is their appearance, whether it strikes one on first impression or only develops in one's appreciation through a continuing acquaintance over time, of transcending or rising infinitely far beyond all of one's attempts to construct them from or reduce them to the sorts of instrumentalities that are much more basic, familiar, mundane, ordinary, simpler, in short, the kinds of abilities that one already understands well enough and is granted to have well under one's command or control. For convenience, I dub this class of abilities, that a particular agent has a thorough understanding of and a complete competency in, as the resources of that agent.

The language of virtues and resources gives me a way to express the main problem of this inquiry, indeed, the overriding challenge that is engaged in every round of effective analysis and functional modeling. I emphasized the apparent transcendence of virtues because the hope is often precisely that this appearance will turn out to be false, not that the virtue is false in any of the properties that it seems to have, but that the awesome aspect of its unapproachability can be diminished, and that a way opens up to acquire this virtue by means of the kinds of gradual steps that are available to a fallible and a finite agent.

If I had my own choice in the matter I would proceed by using the words knowledge and understanding as synonyms, deploying them in ways that make them refer to one and the same resource, roughly corresponding the Greek episteme, and thus guaranteeing that the faculty they denote is teachable. But others use these terms in ways that make one or the other of them suggest a transcendental aptitude more akin to wisdom, and thus amounting to a virtue extending in the intellectual direction whose very teachability is open to question. Keeping this variety of senses and understandings in mind, it is advisable to be flexible in one's usage.

Virtue involves, not just knowing what is the case and knowing what can be done in each case, but knowing how to do each thing that can be done, knowing which is the best to do in a given case, and finally, having the willingness to do it.

What are the features that are really at stake in the examination of these admittedly paradigmatic and even parabolic examples? There are two ways that virtues appear to transcend the limitations of effectively finite and empirically rational resources and thus appear to distinguish themselves from teachings and understandings, that is, from the orders of disciplined conduct and doctrinal knowledge that bind themselves too severely to the merely mechanical ritual and the purely rote recitation.

  1. In their qualitative aspect, virtues appear to combine characters of act and will that appear to be lacking in the simple imputations of knowledge alone. In particular, virtues appear to display qualities of persistent action, efficient volition, the will to actually do the right thing, and the willingness to keep on doing the right thing on each occasion that arises. Thus, virtues appear to possess a live performance value that is not guaranteed by simply knowing the right thing to do and to say, indeed, they appear to have a unique and irreproducible mix of qualities that goes beyond the facts circumscribed by any name and thus that goes missing from the ordinary interpretation of its meaning.
  2. In their quantitative aspect, virtues appear to be infinitely far beyond the grasp of discrete, finite, and even rational resources.

The Pragmatic Cosmos

This Section describes an arrangement for organizing the main three normative sciences, namely, Aesthetics, Ethics, and Logic, that I call the “pragmatic cosmos”.  It presents a scheme of dependence, precedence, and oversight orderings that I will also refer to as the “priorism of normative sciences”.  This is the organization of the normative sciences that best accords with the pragmatic approach to inquiry, framing and introducing the order of the normative sciences that I intend to use throughout the remainder of this work.  From this point on, whenever I speak of “the order” of the normative sciences without further qualification, it will always be some version of the pragmatic cosmos that I mean, all the while recognizing that its underlying theme leaves ample room for variation in carrying out its live interpretation.

Roughly speaking, in regard to the forms of human aspiration that are exercised in normative practices and studied in the normative sciences, the study of states or things that satisfy agents is called aesthetics, the study of actions that lead agents toward these goals or these goods is called ethics, and the study of signs that indicate these actions is called logic. Understood this way, logic involves the enumeration and the analysis of signs with regard to their truth, a property that only makes sense in the light of the actions that are indicated and the objects that are desired. In other words, logic evaluates signs with regard to the trustworthiness of the actions that they indicate, and this means with respect to the utility that these indications exhibit in a mediate relationship to their objects. As an appreciative study, logic prizes the properties of signs that allow them to collect the scattered actions of agents into coherent forms of conduct and that permit them to indicate the general courses of conduct that are most likely to lead agents toward their objects.

From this “pragmatic” point of view, logic is a special case of ethics, one that is concerned with the conduct of signs, and ethics is a special case of aesthetics, one that is interested in the good of actual conduct. Another way to approach this perspective is to start with the good of anything and to work back through the maze of actions and indications that lead to it. An action that leads to the good is a good action, and this puts the questions of ethics among the questions of aesthetics, as the ones that contemplate the goods of actions. A sign that indicates a good action, that shows a good way to act, is a good sign, and this puts the domain of logic squarely within the domain of aesthetics. Moreover, thinking is a sign process that moves from signs to interpretant signs, and this makes thinking a special kind of action. In sum, the questions that logic takes up in its critique of good signs and good thinking are properly seen as special cases of aesthetic and ethical considerations.

The circumstance that the domain of logic is set within the domain of ethics, which is further set within the domain of aesthetics, does not keep each realm from rising to such a height in another dimension that each keeps a watch over all of the domains that it is set within. In sum, the image is that of three cylinders standing on their concentric bases, telescopically extending to a succession of heights, with the narrowest the highest and the broadest the lowest, rising to the contemplation of the point that virtually completes their perspective, just as if wholly sheltered by the envelope of the cone that they jointly support, no matter what its ultimate case may be, whether imaginary or real, rational or transcendental.

Logic has a monitory function with respect to ethics and aesthetics, while ethics has a monitory function solely with respect to aesthetics. By way of definition, a monitory function is a duty, a role, or a task that one discipline has to watch over the practice of another discipline, checking the feasibility of its intentions and its proposed operations, evaluating the conformity of its performed operations to its intentions, and, when called for, reforming the faith, the feasance, or the fidelity of its acts in accord with its aims. A definite attitude and particular perspective are prerequisites for an agent to exercise a monitory role with any hope or measure of success. The necessary station arises from the observation that not all things are possible, at least, not at once, and especially that not all ends are achievable by a fallible creature within a finite creation. Accordingly, the agent of a monitory faculty needs to help the agency that is involved in the effort or the endeavor it monitors to observe the due limits of its proper arena, the higher considerations, and the inherent constraints that force a fallible and finite agent to choose among the available truths, acts, and aims.

To recapitulate the pragmatic priorism of normative sciences (PONS):

Logic, ethics, and aesthetics, in that order, cannot succeed in any of their aims, whether they turn to contemplating the natures of the true, the just, and the beautiful, respectively, for their own sakes, whether they turn to speculating on the certificates, the semblances, or the more species tokens of these goods, as they might be utilized toward a divergent conception of their values, or whether they convert from the one forum to the other market, and back again, in an endless series of exchanges, that is, unless their prospective agents possess the initial capital that can only be supplied by competencies at the corresponding intellectual virtues, and until they are willing to risk the stakes of adequately generous overhead investments, on orders that are demanded to fund the performance of the associated practical disciplines, namely, those that are appropriate to the good of signs, the good of acts, and the good of aims in themselves. In sum, the domains and the disciplines of logic, ethics, and aesthetics, in that order, are placed so aptly in regard to one another that each one waits on the order of its watch and each one maintains its own proper monitory function with respect to all of the ones that follow on after it.

Why do things have to be this way? Why is it necessary to impose a PONS, much less a pragmatic PONS, on the array of goods and quests? If everyone who reflects on the issue for a sufficient spell of time seems to agree that the Beautiful, the Just, and the True are one and the same in the End, then why is any PONS necessary? Its necessity is apparently relative to a certain contingency affecting the typical agent, namely, the contingency of being a fallible and finite creature. Perhaps from a God's Eye View (GEV), Beauty, Justice, and Truth all amount to a single Good, the only Good there is. But the imperfect creature is not given this view as its realized actuality and cannot contain its vision within the point of view (POV) that is proper to it. Even if it sees the possibility of this unity, it cannot actualize what it sees at once, at best being driven to work toward its realization measure by measure, and that is only if the agent is capable of reason and reflection at all.

The imperfect agent lives in a world of seeming beauty, seeming justice, and seeming truth. Fortunately, the symmetry of this seeming insipidity can break up in relation to itself, and with the loss of the objective world's equipoise and indifference goes all the equanimity and most of the insouciance of the agent in question. It happens like this: Among the number of apparent goods and amid the manifold of good appearances, one soon discovers that not all seeming goods are alike. Seeming beauty is the most seemly and the least deceptive, since it does not vitiate its own intention in merely seeming to achieve it, and does not destroy what it reaches for in merely seeming to grasp it.

Monitory functions, as a rule, tend to shade off in extreme directions, on the one hand becoming a bit too prescriptive before the act, whether the hopeful effects are hortatory or prohibitory, and on the other hand becoming much too reactionary after the fact, whether the tardy effects are exculpatory or recriminatory. In the midst of these extremes, that is, within the scheme of monitory functions at large, it is possible to distinguish subtler variations in the nuances of their action that work toward the accomplishment the same general purpose, but that achieve it with a form of such gentle urging all throughout the continuing process of gaining a good, that affect a promise of such laudatory rewards, and that afford an array of incidental senses of such ongoing satisfaction, even before, while, and after the aimed for good is effected, that this class of moderate measures is aptly known as advisory functions (AFs).

In the process of noticing what is necessary and what is impossible, and in distinguishing itself from the general run of monitory functions, an AF is able to adapt itself to get a better grip on what is possible, to the point that it is eventually able to make constructive suggestions to the agent that it monitors, and thus to give advice that is both apt and applicable, positive and practical, or usable and useful. If this is beginning to sound familiar, then it is not entirely an accident. As I see it, it is from these very grounds that the facility for abductive simile or the faculty of abductive synthesis (AS) first arises, to wit, just on the horizon of monitory observation and just on the advent of advisory contemplation that an agent of inquiry, learning, and reasoning first acquires the quasi ability to regard one thing just as if it were construed to be another and to consider each thing just inasmuch as it haps to be like another.

In the abode of the monitor I thus discover the first clues I can grasp as to how the abductive bearing (AB) of hypothetical reasoning can be bound together from the primitive elements of the most uncertain states that the mind can ever know. To my way of thinking, this derivation of ABs from the general conduct of monitory duties and the specific ethos of advisory roles, all as pursuant to the PONS, seems to strike a chord with the heart of wonder beating at the core of every agent of inquiry, and accordingly to fashion an answer to the central query, in the words of William Shakespeare: “Where is fancy bred?” Beyond the responsibility to continue driving the cycle of inquiry and to keep on circulating the fresh communication of provisional answers, this form of speculation on the origin of the AB points out at least one way whence these faculties of guessing widely but guessing well can lead me from the conditions of amazement, bewilderment, and consternation that the start of an inquiry all but constantly finds me in.

The anchoring or the inauguration of an abductive bearing (AB) within the operations of an advisory function (AF), and the ensconcement or the installation of this positively constructive advisory, in its turn,within the office of an irreducibly negative monitory function, one that watches over the active, aesthetic, and affective aspects of experience with an eye to the circumstance that not all goods can be actualized at once — this array of inferences from the apical structure of the PONS ought to suffice to remind each agent of inquiry of how it all hinges on the affective values that one feels and the effective acts that one does.

In principle, therefore, logic assumes a purely ancillary role in regard to the ethics of active conduct and the aesthetics of affective values. On balance, however, logic can achieve heights of abstraction, points of perspective, and summits of reflection that are otherwise unavailable to a mind embroiled in the tangle of its continuing actions and immersed in the flow of its current passions. By rising above this plain immersion in the dementias swept out by action and passion, logic can acquire the status of a handle, something an agent can use in its situation to avoid being swept along with the tide of affairs, something that keeps it from being swept up with all that the times press on it to sweep out of mind. By means of this instrument, logic affords the mind an ability to survey the passing scene in ways that it cannot hope to imagine while engaged in the engrossing business of keeping its gnosis to the grindstone, and so it becomes apt to adopt the attitude that it needs in order to become capable of reflecting on its very own actions, affects, and axioms.