Rebirth of Reason

War for Men's Minds

The Only Possible Premise
by Kernon Gibes

Ayn Rand admonished people to check their premises. And it has been said that she would have a visceral reaction to a statement because she could uncoil the chain of logic suspending the conclusion, finding the loose link in a lightening fast fashion.

This can be played forward as well, such as when one takes a particular premise and follows the flow of reasoning to its inevitable implications. In logic, this technique is called "Reductio ad Absurdum" and in mathematics "proof by contradiction". It is also the underlying basis for hypothesis testing in statistics. It has a long and venerable history.

This is all very well and good, but it holds together insofar as one uses strict definitions and rigorous reasoning. In the wide world of mixed economies, public education, and media misinformation, unanimity of definitions -- much less logic -- is an all too rare thing. It has been pointed out that it is taxing to be fully rational in a mixed economy. Should one accept a scholarship? Social Security payments? Similarly, it can be an exacting enterprise excavating either the premises or the purposes of another person's positions in a culture rife with dubious definitions and erroneous epistemology.

Suppose that someone supports anti-discrimination laws. Does this mean that they will necessarily espouse any restriction on the rights of businesses to manage their private property as they see fit? When such laws are defended, people will sometimes respond with anger, pointing out all of the other laws that the person *must* logically advocate as well. Or, they may say that only a socialist could support such a thing. Using good definitions and logic, all this is true. But the person may be viewing discrimination completely in isolation, not coupled to anything approaching a coherent philosophy. They may simply feel that an obvious and objectively irrational act should not be sanctioned, either by social convention or by the silence of the law. They're still wrong. But they don't necessarily hold what may seem like the only possible premise, and they don't necessarily desire what may seem as the only possible plethora of political positions consistent with the one that they're defending.

Following the thread of a position back to its origin or forward to its terminus rests on a premise of its own. For the thread is an unbroken whole only within the tapestry of an integrated philosophical system. In the wider culture, people's positions are small strands, not woven into an easily recognizable pattern. Pull on one, and it alone will come loose, leaving behind a largely intact patchwork. Most people would be puzzled at the proposition that a single strand could unravel the entire quilt of their ethics.

It may feel good to call someone a socialist or to list all of the idiotic implications of their outlook. And sometimes we may simply just want to vent. But if we wish to change minds -- theirs or onlookers -- we should endeavor to uncover what terms, information, and logic they are operating under. Until we make such an attempt, we often don't know whether they hold a collection of contradictory premises, or, in fact, the 'only possible one'.

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