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22nd February 2006 - 10:41 AM
Judge by the Questions
Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
While I was in Asheville awaiting oral surgery my companion and I settled down in the waiting area of St Joseph Hospital to just ‘hang out’ for a few hours. This was a convenient and a comfortable place to sit and wander about just passing time. One is pretty well free to walk many of the corridors and rest in many of the waiting areas along with everyone else. It was obvious that the hospital functioned fully 24/7.
A person can walk the corridors of any big city hospital and observe in wonder at the effectiveness of human rationality in action. One can also visit the UN building in NYC or read the morning papers and observe just how ineffective, frustrating and disappointing human rationality can be. We seem to be capable of developing vast systems to efficiently provide good or evil; but have not been able to completely ‘accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative’. Why does human reason perform so well in some matters and so poorly in others?
This is a question that has long intrigued me. How can we be so successful in developing a technology and yet be so unsuccessful in developing the ability to manage that magnificent technology? We seem to be like the man with an ‘Arnold’ like upper body mounted on a spindle, varicose veined, arthritic lower body.
I have lately begun to formulate an answer to the question. I am not saying that I have discovered a new problem but that I have discovered how others have been struggling with this problem and that it is only now that I have become conscious of this aspect of reality. I am saying that I have discovered a problem that has worried mankind for centuries and that I have only now begun to understand the problem. I also want to be so bold as to suggest I may have a practical proposal to significantly impact the problem with a partial solution.
A certain part of reality exists for me only when I have become conscious of it. The first step of becoming conscious of any part of reality is to formulate a coherent question about it. It is possible to create solutions to problematic situations only after developing a clear understanding of the facts.
I have discovered that those who struggle with such questions have theorized that rationality can be classified into two major categories; instrumental rationality is that form that allows us to develop our technology and communication rationality is that form that allows us to deal with the other type of problem.
There are problems where the end is known and only the best means are of question. The dentist knows that I have a toothache and the problem he must decide is the best way to eliminate that toothache. The dentist is the subject and the toothache is the object. The problem exists between a subject and an object. The end is clear, eliminate the ache, the means will be either pull the tooth or do a root canal. Instrumental rationality is to determine the best means to reach a specified end.
22nd February 2006 - 01:17 PM
..have not been able to completely ‘accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative’. Why does human reason perform so well in some matters and so poorly in others?
I think you might have hit the nail on the head here .. maybe there are many areas where human reason simply doesn't operate. Leaving aside the issue of integrity, possibly the thing that is groping for a solution is the same thing that is (very often) causing the problem.
22nd February 2006 - 06:28 PM
Instrumental rationality is not a method suitable for developing ends. Dialectical rationality is the only mode of reasoning suitable for arriving at satisfactory ends.
In a criminal jury trial each juror ideally begins hearing the case as a mental blank slate. The witnesses engage in a controlled and guided dialogue wherein each witness communicates to the jury their particular truth regarding the matter under consideration. Each juror modifies his or her blank slate as the witness’s parade through; each providing his or her view of the truth. A dialogue takes place for the benefit of the juror who is not a member of the dialogue.
Each juror is required to reason dialectically. Dialectical reasoning is a process wherein the opinion of the juror is molded and remolded based upon the truths presented. The blank slate becomes slate A after witness A and then becomes slate A-B after witness B and then becomes slate A-B-C, etc.
At the end of the trial the jurors assemble in isolation to determine a verdict. Generally the members are polled to determine if all agree upon the truth of the case. If one or more jurors dissent from the others a new dialogue must take place. The jurors begin a dialogue in an attempt to reach a unanimous decision.
In this stage each juror is engaged in communication in dialogue while simultaneously each juror is engaged in a rational dialectic.
A jury trial might be a useful example of a problem engaged by many reflective agents with a multiplicity
of frames of reference. In such a situation the jury must utilize communicative techniques to enter into a dialogue wherein there is a constant dialectic until a unanimous solution is reached or deadlock prevails.
Communicating by dialogue together with reasoning dialectically is a technique for attempting to solve multi-dimensional problems. Problems that are either not pattern like or that the pattern is too complex to ascertain.
Most problems that we face in our daily life are multi-dimensional in nature. Simple problems that occur daily in family life are examples. Each member of the family has a different point of view with differing needs and desires. Most of the problems we constantly face are not readily solved by mathematics because they are not pattern specific and are multi-dimensional.
Dialogue is a technique for mutual consideration of such problems wherein solutions grow in a dialectical manner. Through dialogue each individual brings his/her point of view to the fore by proposing solutions constructed around their specific view. All participants in the dialogue come at the solution from the logic of their views. The solution builds dialectically; from a thesis and a contrasting thesis, a synthesis is constructed that takes into consideration both proposals. From this synthesis, a new thesis has developed.
When we are dealing with single dimensional problems well circumscribed by paradigms the personal biases of the subject are of small concern. In multi-dimensional problems, without the advantage of paradigms, the biases of the problem solvers become a serious source of error. One important task of dialogue is to illuminate these prejudices. These biases may be quite subtle and often out of the consciousness of the participant holding them.
Our schools have decided that our children should learn to be critical thinkers. I agree with their judgment. This disciplined form of thought is important to each child and is vitally important to our society. I have attempted to relay to you my sense of the importance of critical thinking in the hope that you may share that judgment and lend your support to the school system in this vital matter.
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