Hypothesis, philosophy

Hypothesis: Philosophers either make systems or they explain others with penetration and sympathy. In this as so much else, Aristotle v. Plato is the paradigm. Aristotle makes a system in which the whole history of philosophy converges on him, and invents sciences to express this even where none existed. Plato lets everyone speak (or better yet, Plato just is everyone speaking) and while this gives rise to a handful of useful techniques, definite principles, and suggestions of a systems, we can call everyone from Plotinus to Galileo “platonic” while not knowing how to get from one to the other.

Systems v. assimilation is another case of the problem of the one and the many. We wander around the many to gather whatever truths we might find there, and and the point of any gathering is to somehow bind all we find into a single logos (The earliest root of logos is just “to gather”). But a logos is a subtle thing – compare the differences that arise from Leibniz’s and Hume’s differing accounts of “a fact”: in less than three steps one of them has proven God exists with all his infinite perfections and the other leaves us staring at a declarative sentence like  “matter are elastic” with nothing much more to do than shrug. After that, we could compare either of these to some third philosopher (Bonaventure, say) who gives no foundational place to facts as opposed to their opposite. Who can see where the multiplicity converges? At the same time, there has to be something in them all that make us gather up all three.*

If we had only reasoning we could resolve all this in favor of the many. But pure reasoning is as unintelligible as “pure up” (meaning an up without a down). Reasoning is a development of insight/intuition/ intelligence. We don’t just make paths through the whole but recognize it as whole. Without this we could not even start with hypothesis but only with random assertion. In the face of any problem, we could not even guess the answer. We could only pull dictionary words from a hat to form propositions, and then follow out the consequences ad infinitum – and even then, this is clearly only an attempt to form guesses, hypotheses, logoi.*

And so to start with hypothesis is more than cutting through the wilderness of unintelligibility, because the intuition/reason structure of the mind is something like a railway-supply city that is trying to build the first track into the city. The citizens send out supplies in ox-carts to some build-location over the horizon, and some construction crew has to figure out how in the world to make any of them work. What we call “a fact” is the supplies.



*This is what Peirce meant by his abduction – those who treat it as a guess or even a formal mode of logic don’t recognize (as Peirce did) that guesses are reasonable. But the mind has to see something to make a guess reasonable, as much as some would like it to be a pure shot in the dark. If there really were an artificial intelligence it would be this sort of “pure reasoning”, and it would seek to use raw processing power to analyse purely random assertions. We can see in the Empirical desire to replace insight with the random – to reduce all to reasoning and chance, determinism and randomness, laws of nature and laws of chance.




  1. Zippy said,

    March 15, 2016 at 10:35 am

    I guess that makes your blog platonic.

    • March 15, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      True! But it didn’t start off that way and I hope it doesn’t end up that way. I figure there has to be some system for all these things I’m fascinated by, but for the moment I’m just wandering around with a few unconnected principles, a set of confusions and interesting questions, and a sympathy with both sides of many contradictions.

      • Zippy said,

        March 15, 2016 at 12:29 pm

        Well, for what it is worth, which is about what you paid for it, I … ‘approve’ sounds condescending and ‘relate’ sounds like I have a similar background, but the concept I am going for is in there somewhere.

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