(ARISING AND OVERCOMING OF VERBAL ABSURD)
Kostov Sergey Viktorovich
Novosibirsk State University
In the given paper there is not raised the problem to cover the phenomenon of formation of verbal nonsenses in full. Generally speaking, they can be generated innumerably and directly without any difficulty if simply to set such a purpose. Moreover, making of verbal nonsenses, as is known, has turned into an art method in literature and has become the basis of a whole school in the art of 20 century (absurdism). The given paper is devoted to an analysis of arising of absurdities in scientific discourses where quite the contrary it is tried if not to eliminate absolutely, so, at least, to minimize any probable absurdogenesis in scientific theorizing. The purpose of the paper is to explain how explicit and implicit nonsenses arise and to give recommendations how to avoid this.
As is known, the material for scientific theorizing is extraordinary huge – it is all the experience accumulated by humankind during the conscious existence, i.e. all the sum of things and images accessible to the labour and thought of humankind. And all inaccessible, everything outside the experience is unscientific and represents no scientific interest as not subjected to a practical check. A scientific reasoning about extraempirical is nothing more than a useless expenditure of energy.
As to reasoning in general, then as an element of communication it is widely used as a means of exchange of experience, as one of the ways of ordered statement of thoughts. At presence of some intellectual training it is possible to reason about all and without any difficulty: for this purpose it is quite enough that a discourse is smooth and contains no evident nonsenses, what is practically easily solved by stylistic training and by some caution in choice of word combinations.
And as to a scientific reasoning, then in the sphere of science it is one of the major and powerful means of cognition, representing a grammatically and logically normalized process of organization of words and scientific concepts into a system of conclusions where the elements are «concepts with their coverings – words», the instruments are words, and «the cognitive connections are established through a number of intermediate links» .
Scientific cognition is impossible without this powerful means, but reasoning in itself does not lead to truth, with equal success it can result both in a mistake, and in a contradiction, and in an absurd. Why does it happen so? It would seem to be proceeded from true positions, logic is irreproachable at statement of thoughts, but an absurd turns finally out. What is the matter? If it is not a fault of grammar and logic, it is clear that it is necessary to search for the cause in elements of reasoning.
The elements of a scientific reasoning are scientific concepts which are neither narrow-minded terms with uncountable number of meanings nor philosophical, but the concepts developed by centuries with constant experimental check. Scientific concepts are the most exact, but this does not mean that they are single-valued: they are always many-valued, at that it is not a temporary omission which should be eliminated in the future. No, many-valuedness of scientific concepts, as well as of words in general, cannot and should not be destroyed: without it there is no motion in cognition, i.e. development of cognitive process, since without this plurality of meanings which actually creates the possibility of the development a word would turn into an obstacle to the development. Scientific concepts are differentiated by experience and develop with growth of observation and progress of experimental technics. In this way, for example, the concept of matter has developed: apart from its such concepts, originally being in the scientific turn, as atomic and molecular, at the present time a great number of the differentiated concepts of matter is used: proton, neutron, electronic, neutrino, photon, muonic etc. according to all known elementary particles which are in turn united by more general concepts of matter: boson, fermion, leptonic, mesonic and baryon (hadronic), the last according to the contemporary notions consists of the more fundamental matter – quark one; there is also a concept of matter absolutely opposite by the content to the all above-listed, – it is antimatter, i.e. positron, antineutrino, antiproton etc., and finally, its most general concepts, the very fashionable now, have arisen in the scientific use, – “dark” and “light” matter.
As far as there are no concepts without words, it is more suitable to consider them as a single interconnected complex of “word-concept”, in which, actually, a word represents the fixing covering of a concept, its skeleton, to which a very content of concept is attached. Each such fixing skeleton, i.e. a concrete word, is corresponded with a plural content which is just designated as a concept. For example, the word-concept of “mass” has the fixing skeleton in the form of combination of four letters and three sounds, with which the seven-valued content is connected: in mechanics it is a measure of inertness, and in cosmic physics – of gravitation; in chemistry it is a quantity of substance; in industry – any raw materials or liquid and semiliquid mixture (mass of liquid glass, paper stock, fused mass of metal, etc.); in use – any formless substance in general; more often it is a great number, a huge quantity of something or someone; in Latin it is simply a lump or a piece; and finally there is one more meaning if the word is used in plural (the masses) – they are the bulk (the wide range) of population, people.
Or to take, for example, “man”, one of the most commonly used words-concepts: its backbone – three letters and three sounds, which is associated with a very manifold content including an infinitely great quantity of materials of the former experience. Man can be taken from the biological point of view as a species (an animal, a mammal, etc.); from the social one – as a thinking being which cooperates, communicates, adapts jointly; from the racial, ethnic, gender, age, professional, individual, from the point of view of character, temperament, intelligence, emotionality, sexuality and so on and so forth, at that this extensive content are added by infinite shades, deriving from individual experience of everyone who uses this concept in his reasoning.
People think by words, but, placing one or another word-concept into a discourse, they cannot at once cover all its semantic stuffing entirely and they separate only some small part of its content by their volitional attention: in one case they think of man as of a biological being, in the other case as of a creative being, in the third – a religious one, etc., eliminating all the other content at that. For example, if someone says that all people are equal, while the other sees an absurd in this, considering that he is not equal to any idiot, it is clear that each of them puts the different content into the word-concept of “man”: one means a collective man in the system of ideal social relations, while the other – an individual man in the psychophysiological measurement.
It is one tendency of arising of an absurd conclusion, usual in a situation of dialogue when the contents of a many-valued word-concept do not coincide at a discoursant and his opponent.
The other tendency of absurdogenesis arises in a very chain of reasoning when a discoursant makes a semantic drift of the content of one or of a number of words-concepts intentionally or unintentionally.
The first variant, when a sense of a word-concept is intentionally displaced or one of its meaning is in the latent form replaced by another, are usually resorted by sophists or “unscrupulous” discoursants. Such a falsifying reasoning has unscientific character, to put it mildly. The most striking examples of intentional absurdogenesis are the sophisms (“The Thief”, “The Liar” “The Covered”, “The Heap”, etc.) and of unintentional one – aporias of Zeno of Elea (“The Arrow”, “Achilles and the Tortoise”, “The Dichotomy” and “The Stadium”).
In “The Thief” sophism (“Thief aspires to get good. Getting of good is good. Consequently, thief aspires to good”) there are two substitutions: the word-concept of “to get” is used both in the meaning of “to steal” and in the meaning of “to buy”, and the word-concept of “good” is related both to a thing (that the thief aspires “to get”) and to an act.
In aporias of Zeno the chain of reasoning leads to the absurd: there is no motion. It is a result of substitution of meanings too. The cause of absurdogenesis in aporias is in that «the concept of “to be staying” is applied to a moving body incorrectly. It is always necessary to remember that concepts arise from experience and relate to experience, but they do not live in themselves». When it is said that a body is staying in a certain place, by this there are expressed either such a case when it is impossible to state any movement for the given body, or a case when the movement does not seem significant. The second meaning of the word is the most usual. For example, if it is asserted that a certain N is staying in Warsaw, it is not in the least wished to tell by this that he is motionless, but it is only noted the limitation of his movements and the possibility to find him in the known spatial frameworks. Here the concept of “to be staying” gives a reason to no contradiction: N could be strenuously moving on his room, on his house or even around all Warsaw, and nevertheless it would be impossible to speak that he is staying in Warsaw and is not staying there at the same time, – he “is staying” and only. But Zeno takes «the word not in this meaning, but in such one when it expresses the absence of motion, the immobility: a body “is staying” in a certain place, and nowhere more; no movement is present or, more exactly, it is not possible to be observed. But the word “to be staying” taken in this sense is obviously inapplicable to a moving body, for it corresponds not in the least to those facts of experience which are designated by the term of “motion”». It is properly to say so: «a bodyis not staying in some certain place, but it is moving», then there will be no contradiction. But in order to get it, the same word should be used initially in the first above-considered meaning, and then in the second one .
By the same type there is also unintentionally semantic drift or substitution of one meaning by another in scientific discourses. In order not to happen so, stability of meanings is necessary for each discourse, i.e. in its limits a meaning should not change. It is exactly the criterion of correctness of reasoning.
But correctness alone is not enough for that a discourse will have scientific character: the criterion of scientific character is also necessary. As is known, only practice, the human experience is exclusively the criterion of scientific character in general and of reasoning in particular. If you get something by practice according to the correctly deduced conclusions, then you have proceeded from correct concepts, and your reasoning is scientific. So to say, finding of truth by means of only reasoning, ignoring the experience, is unscientific discoursation, logonautics that means pseudoscientific bletherology which has a minimum of experience, a maximum of wordplay plus verbal fetishism, i.e. the naive belief in that «a word has a meaning in itself» and «this meaning is unconditional and changeless» . To find truth without expansion of experience, without practical check is the purest utopia.
A striking example of such utopias is presented by all known philosophical systems. Moreover, in the history of humankind there was the whole epoch of logonautics – it was the epoch of scholasticism. Historically it was a forced discoursation when the experience was extremely small, there were practically no exact knowledge and the authority reigned undividedly.
Coming to scientific conclusions by means of only reasonings, even if they were stated by a philosopher of genius who thought with the greatest severity and exactness, – it is just the same as accidental coming of a ship in a necessary harbour without the practical orientation. Take a usual philosophical reasoning, in which, for example, there are ten different links: «A is in such a connection with B, B in such a connection with C, C in such a connection with D, etc. And in the end of all this series it turns out: X should be in such a connection with A». If to proceed from the most moderate many-valuedness of the concepts considering that each term has only 5 meanings, then according to the theory of probability the chances of the reasoning to be correct are «one by five to the ninth power, approximately 1 of 2 million. Such are the a priori chances here». However 5 meanings – it is a ridiculously small number, and if to increase it up to 10 meanings on a term, then this will be already one chance of milliard. Really the majority of philosophical words-concepts have far more meanings, because philosophers operate with the most abstract terms. Therefore the probability of scientific character of a last conclusion decreases avalanche-like, in geometrical progression, according to a number of intermediate links. Finally «any reasoning which consists of several links and which is not checked by experience, as though it should be simply recognized as a priori correct, is not valuable, not scientific» , because the chances not to generate nonsense are one of millions and milliards, i.e. practically there are no chances in general. Meanwhile the majority of philosophical discourses consist of a great number of intertwined combined links, at the end of which conclusions are made, at that neither this links nor conclusions are not checked by experience, and, as a rule, they are not just accessible to check.
Take, for example, such a great authority in philosophy as Hegel. His logic is a classical example of dialectics of concepts expressing, so to say, their self-development. Let us examine the very first triad in his well-known work «Logic»: “being” – “nothing” – “becoming”. The Hegel’s concept of “being” is uncertain, and taken per se it proves to be “nothing” because it does not mean anything: apart from this pure existence anything is present at it. From the scientific point of view “being”, as well as any other concept, should have a real filling: such a something what is necessary to be considered. “It is” means that “it” should be considered in practice. For example, there is such a mood in society: naturally, it is taken into account and practically considered; or there is such an object: and again it is taken into account and considered. As in practice it is always possible to meet with a certain resistance from them, and there are necessary certain efforts to overcome it. The concept of “being” has no other sense in science: this is the real meaning that has been developed historically, i.e. by all the history of humankind. But Hegel takes this concept and transforms it into “pure being”, i.e. simply, as a street thimblerigger, he changes the content of the concept before everybody’s eyes: from the concept of “being” he throws out everything what is necessary to be considered, what demands the efforts, and he gets “pure being”. It is just the same as to cut down a forest up to a single tree without exception and to declare: here is “pure” forest, or to take a man who has hair cover on the head, to tear out all his hair and to say: here is “pure” hair cover. This is the most real absurd. It is impossible to state a concept when the content has been taken out. But it is precisely what Hegel makes: he destroys all the content in the initial word-concept of “being” and, getting “nothing”, he states it again as “being”, though as “pure”. Let it is of any kind, but he has no right to determine “nothing” in this way (by the way, of any kind too: “pure” or “impure”). Further, as a conclusion Hegel states the unity of “being” and “nothing” and their mutual transition as “becoming”. If there are really being and nothing (something is there and anything is not there), it is possible to imagine that transition from one to the other is becoming. But as long as Hegel’s “pure being” without the content is already negation of “being” with the content, then no becoming is present because there is no process: there has been negation of “being” – and the same turns out. And though Hegel states that “pure being” passes into “nothing”, really at Hegel it cannot pass into anything in general, since after deprivation of any content it is the very “nothing”, and Hegel uses it as being illegally. And next «in order to get something new he inserts back a part of the content because between that and this uttermost absence of being, in the form of “pure being” and in the form of “nothing”, there cannot be even logic process, and so that a process may take place, for this purpose the first one should get back something of the former content». In other words, as the same thimblerigger, before everybody’s eyes he changes the meaning of the word-concept twice, owing to what he gets the dialectics of concept: «for the first time he takes being as uncertain “being” and destroys all its content»; «for the second time he inserts something, some remains of the former content; for the third time he extracts again, – and a triad turns out» . And this is Hegel who thought with the greatest severity and exactness, a height of the philosophical modern, and what should be said about contemporary postmodernists, which philosophy is the purest logonautics.
Certainly, play upon words in itself can be very interesting and witty: juggling with words-concepts, a thinker combines their meanings skilfully and, like a conjurer, replaces them unnoticeably in compliance with his purposes or even aimlessly, but such even the most skilful discoursation has no scientific value. It is more appropriate to pose a question of harm than of value.
As a really existing and even prosperous social phenomenon logonautics is possible only because «the sphere of use of words is wider than the sphere of thinking: it represents verbal combinations with no cognitive content», since it is subject not so much to the laws of logic as to «the laws of grammar, though sometimes, however, it breaks them with enthusiasm too» .
So, what are the measures necessary for taking in order not to fall into heresy of logonautics in the discourses?
As the generalization of all set forth they are clearly enough expressed by the criterion of scientific character of reasoning which essence is such: in consequence of many-valuedness of words-concepts, plurality of their meanings, in order not to fall into a mistake or in an absurd in long chains of reasonings, «there are necessary stability of meanings for each given reasoning» and constant check of each chain of reasonings by experience, at that «after as many as possible smaller number of links», since if to check after many links, there is a great probability that the reasoning will be wrong, while if to check after two or three links, and it proves to be true, then it is possible to develop the idea further with confidence .
1. Bogdanov A.A. Limits of Scientific Character of Discourse (theses to the paper) // Voprosy Philosophii. 2003. ¹ 1. P. 131.
2. Bogdanov A.A. Philosophy of Living Experience. Popular Essays. Materialism, Empiriocriticism, Dialectical Materialism, Empiriomonism, Science of the Future. Moscow: State Press, 1920. PP. 190-191.
3. Bogdanov A.A. Limits of Scientific Character of Discourse (theses to the paper). P. 132.
4. Bogdanov A.A. Limits of Scientific Character of Discourse (the paper) // Vestnik Communisticheskoi Academii. 1927. ¹ 21. P. 255.
5. Ibid. PP. 256-257.
6. Bogdanov A.A. Empiriomonism: the Papers on Philosophy. Moscow: Respublica, 2003. P. 102.
7. Bogdanov A.A. Limits of Scientific Character of Discourse (the paper). P. 262