IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: GS Standpoint on Aristotle's Four Causes Model
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, September 6, 2007 - 12:45 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Aristotle on Causality
The Two Modes of Causal Explanation

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, September 7, 2007 - 10:13 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The original question posed in this thread presumes that Aristotle's four "causes" be interpreted in terms of "cause & effect", and asked that that be related to general semantics.

"Cause" in today's "cause-effect" sense is not what Aristotle was communicating. Philosophers have noted that the translation of the Greek "aition" ambiguously signifies an anwer to the question "Why?".

S. Marc Cohen of the University of Washington states:

The ambiguity of aition
Aristotle warns us of the ambiguity at 195a5: “aition is said in many ways.” This is his usual formula for telling us that a term is being used ambiguously. That is, when one says that x is the aition of y, it isn’t clear what is meant until one specifies what sense of aition is intended:
1. x is what y is [made] out of.
2. x is what it is to be y.
3. x is what produces y.
4. x is what y is for.
This makes it hard for us to get clear on what Aristotle was up to, since neither “cause” nor “explanation” is ambiguous in the way Aristotle claims aition is. There is no English translation of aition that is ambiguous in the way (Aristotle claims) aition is. But if we shift from the noun “cause” to the verb “makes” we may get somewhere.

The ambiguity of makes
Aristotle’s point may be put this way: if we ask “what makes something so-and-so?” we can give four very different sorts of answer - each appropriate to a different sense of “makes.” Consider the following sentences:
1. The table is made of wood.
2. Having four legs and a flat top makes this (count as) a table.
3. A carpenter makes a table.
4. Having a surface suitable for eating or writing makes this (work as) a table.
His excellent discussion is here.

The general semantics perspective on abstraction dictates that we analyze any question to infer what the speaker asks as well as how the subject area is represented in the time-binding record. It is clear from Cohen's article that only one of Aristotle's four aitions was intended to satisfy the perspective of an event "caused" by a prior event (or process - ["carpenter making"]), and general semantics's perspective on that is that events have multiple causes. My integrated view:
1. Relatively invariant stuff is made of matter that
2. we abstract and attribute many forms of structure to that
3. is produced by various (multiple) processes and
4. can be put to or serve many purposes.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, September 7, 2007 - 08:51 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

How about a statement of those so-called "three obsolete logical postulate", preferably with a time-binding reference citation (so we can have an explicit formulation of what is being talked about).

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, September 8, 2007 - 07:05 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

That reference does not cite Aristotle's writings. We need a citation from Aristotle, not the terciary and Nary abstractions that have lost all resemblance to what Aristotle actually wrote. If you don't have citations of translations of Aristotle himself, you don't know that you are actually talking about Aristotle's writings.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, September 10, 2007 - 06:44 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Please delete this post

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, September 10, 2007 - 07:39 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

A search of the Collected works CD revealed no instances of "four causes".

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, September 10, 2007 - 11:07 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Korzybksi represented the so-called "laws of thought" thusly:

Science and Sanity, p 404.
Thus, we usually assume, following A disciplines, that the 'is' of identity is fundamental for the 'laws of thought', which have been formulated as follows :
1) The Law of Identity : whatever is, is.
2) The Law of Contradiction : nothing can both be and not be .
3) The Law of Excluded Middle : everything must either be or not be.
Spalding presents them somewhat differently:
Associate Professor of English, Stockton Junior College, Stockton, California, in the collected works, p. 439.
Our linguistic structure, Korzybski believes, largely develops out of three postulates commonly called `the three laws of thought' and commonly attributed to Aristotle. These three postulates are expressed in the formulas : (1) A is A, (2) A is either B or not B, (3) A is not not-A . Of the three postulates, the first, commonly called `the law of identity', Korzybsli considers the key to the postulate system ; for if this law is denied, the others lose their harmful force."
What did Aristotle actually write?

On Interpretation
Part 6

An affirmation is a positive assertion of something about something, a denial a negative assertion.

Now it is possible both to affirm and to deny the presence of something which is present or of something which is not, and since these same affirmations and denials are possible with reference to those times which lie outside the present, it would be possible to contradict any affirmation or denial. Thus it is plain that every affirmation has an opposite denial, and similarly every denial an opposite affirmation.

We will call such a pair of propositions a pair of contradictories.

Part 7

Some things are universal, others individual. By the term 'universal' I mean that which is of such a nature as to be predicated of many subjects, by 'individual' that which is not thus predicated. Thus 'man' is a universal, 'Callias' an individual.

Our propositions necessarily sometimes concern a universal subject, sometimes an individual.

If, then, a man states a positive and a negative proposition of universal character with regard to a universal, these two propositions are 'contrary'. By the expression 'a proposition of universal character with regard to a universal', such propositions as 'every man is white', 'no man is white' are meant. When, on the other hand, the positive and negative propositions, though they have regard to a universal, are yet not of universal character, they will not be contrary, albeit the meaning intended is sometimes contrary. As instances of propositions made with regard to a universal, but not of universal character, we may take the 'propositions 'man is white', 'man is not white'. 'Man' is a universal, but the proposition is not made as of universal character; for the word 'every' does not make the subject a universal, but rather gives the proposition a universal character. If, however, both predicate and subject are distributed, the proposition thus constituted is contrary to truth; no affirmation will, under such circumstances, be true. The proposition 'every man is every animal' is an example of this type.

An affirmation is opposed to a denial in the sense which I denote by the term 'contradictory', when, while the subject remains the same, the affirmation is of universal character and the denial is not. The affirmation 'every man is white' is the contradictory of the denial 'not every man is white', or again, the proposition 'no man is white' is the contradictory of the proposition 'some men are white'. But propositions are opposed as contraries when both the affirmation and the denial are universal, as in the sentences 'every man is white', 'no man is white', 'every man is just', 'no man is just'.

We see that in a pair of this sort both propositions cannot be true, but the contradictories of a pair of contraries can sometimes both be true with reference to the same subject;
Prior Analytics
Prior Analytics, Translated by A. J. Jenkinson, Book I, Part 1

We must first state the subject of our inquiry and the faculty to which it belongs: its subject is demonstration and the faculty that carries it out demonstrative science. We must next define a premiss, a term, and a syllogism, and the nature of a perfect and of an imperfect syllogism; and after that, the inclusion or noninclusion of one term in another as in a whole, and what we mean by predicating one term of all, or none, of another.

A premiss then is a sentence affirming or denying one thing of another. This is either universal or particular or indefinite. By universal I mean the statement that something belongs to all or none of something else; by particular that it belongs to some or not to some or not to all; by indefinite that it does or does not belong, without any mark to show whether it is universal or particular....

Part 2
Every premiss states that something either is or must be or may be the attribute of something else; of premisses of these three kinds some are affirmative, others negative, in respect of each of the three modes of attribution; again some affirmative and negative premisses are universal, others particular, others indefinite. ...
The Categories
Part 3

When one thing is predicated of another, all that which is predicable of the predicate will be predicable also of the subject. Thus, 'man' is predicated of the individual man; but 'animal' is predicated of 'man'; it will, therefore, be predicable of the individual man also: for the individual man is both 'man' and 'animal'.

...(part 10)...At the same time, when the words which enter into opposed statements are contraries, these, more than any other set of opposites, would seem to claim this characteristic. 'Socrates is ill' is the contrary of 'Socrates is well', but not even of such composite expressions is it true to say that one of the pair must always be true and the other false. For if Socrates exists, one will be true and the other false, but if he does not exist, both will be false; for neither 'Socrates is ill' nor 'Socrates is well' is true, if Socrates does not exist at all.

In the case of 'positives' and 'privatives', if the subject does not exist at all, neither proposition is true, but even if the subject exists, it is not always the fact that one is true and the other false. For 'Socrates has sight' is the opposite of 'Socrates is blind' in the sense of the word 'opposite' which applies to possession and privation. Now if Socrates exists, it is not necessary that one should be true and the other false, for when he is not yet able to acquire the power of vision, both are false, as also if Socrates is altogether non-existent.

Posterior Analytics

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Monday, September 10, 2007 - 11:41 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Posterior Analytics

The law that it is impossible to affirm and deny simultaneously the same predicate of the same subject is not expressly posited by any demonstration except when the conclusion also has to be expressed in that form; in which case the proof lays down as its major premiss that the major is truly affirmed of the middle but falsely denied. It makes no difference, however, if we add to the middle, or again to the minor term, the corresponding negative. For grant a minor term of which it is true to predicate man-even if it be also true to predicate not-man of it--still grant simply that man is animal and not not-animal, and the conclusion follows: for it will still be true to say that Callias--even if it be also true to say that not-Callias--is animal and not not-animal. The reason is that the major term is predicable not only of the middle, but of something other than the middle as well, being of wider application; so that the conclusion is not affected even if the middle is extended to cover the original middle term and also what is not the original middle term.

The law that every predicate can be either truly affirmed or truly denied of every subject is posited by such demonstration as uses reductio ad impossibile, and then not always universally, but so far as it is requisite; within the limits, that is, of the genus-the genus, I mean (as I have already explained), to which the man of science applies his demonstrations. In virtue of the common elements of demonstration-I mean the common axioms which are used as premisses of demonstration, not the subjects nor the attributes demonstrated as belonging to them-all the sciences have communion with one another, and in communion with them all is dialectic and any science which might attempt a universal proof of axioms such as the law of excluded middle, the law that the subtraction of equals from equals leaves equal remainders, or other axioms of the same kind.
Book 7, Part 17 ... Now 'why a thing is itself' is a meaningless inquiry (for (to give meaning to the question 'why') the fact or the existence of the thing must already be evident-e.g. that the moon is eclipsed-but the fact that a thing is itself is the single reason and the single cause to be given in answer to all such questions as why the man is man, or the musician musical', unless one were to answer 'because each thing is inseparable from itself, and its being one just meant this'; this, however, is common to all things and is a short and easy way with the question).
Do read and search these for anything resembling the so-called "laws of thought" as expressed by Korzybski, Spalding, or anyone else, including so-called "authoratative sources".

See this in particular.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 09:09 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Reading Aristotle, and thinking carefully about how he says what, even in translation, provides a good insight to the thinking process that lead to sane reasoning. In this day and age we have abstracted his writings so much and with so much error that what is attributed to him is quite different from what he wrote. It's not the so-called "laws of thought" (not written by Aristotle), especially the "bastardized" abstraction being quoted in general semantics circles, that would be beneficial to argue about. Reading the detailed "thought" process that Aristotle painstakingly wrote would allow us to experience consciousness of abstracting about reasoning to a degree that most of us never come close to. He shows sane and unsane reasoning in the form of perfect and imperfect syllogisms, detailing each of dozens of examples, discussing each in detail. The archaic language structure and wording forces us readers to think carefully and abstract with delayed reactions to get a clear picture of what he is saying.

Anyone who is going to claim that Aristotelian reasoning is flawed ought to know something about what Aristotle really wrote. Go back to the original source, even in translation (and there are multiple translations availabe), and see what he really said. When Aristotle says that a proposition can be afirmative, negative, or indeterminate, he does not seem to be saying something one of the current so-called "laws of though" claims. When Aristotle says that the contradictories of contraries can both be true, he does not seem to be saying something another of the so-called "laws of thought" claims.

When we time-bind, and we quote a source, we need to cite the immediate author, not the original author in a chain of abstractions. We need to cite the translator. All the references to Aristotle I provided above identify the translator; the only way around that is to learn the original Greek.

Reaging Aristotle, even in translation, and thinking about it, would give us a lot of examples of sane and unsane reasoning, greater consciousness of abstracting, and increased delayed reactions, all of which can be applied to improve our lives and relationships.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 11:51 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

What percentage of the general semantics population do you think can explain the difference between modus ponens and modus tolens and how to use them in scientific reasoning? Judging from the audience responses at Stuart Mayper lectures on this very subject, and Popper application in falsification, that I attended at Institute laboratory workshops, it's not very high. How many understand that non-Aristotelian reasoning is a super-set of Aristotelian reasoning? What I hear most of the time is "anti-Aristotelian" rather than non-Aristotelian, and that view comes off as the refuge of those who don't understand the basic rules of inference and logic that are the foundations of the very mathematics the virtues of which Korzybski extolled.

In what way is the subject - verb {object or adjective} structure of "language" "Aristotelian"? Aristotle did not provide that structure; it was in the laguage he had to work with, and more importantly, in the active form of English into which his language was translated. Contrast that withGerman: "den Mann beißt der Hund." and "der Hund beißt den Mann" in which subject and object are identified by case differences in the article - allowing a reversing of the order. Both Greek and Latin had these article case forms too. Aristotle simplified his discussion by choosing the subject first order. This has the added advantage of the following structure (next post):
How would you briefly describe "the" structure that has such a potentially harmful effect?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 11:58 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 02:44 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The diagram illustrates the structure of a classic syllogism.

Subject1 (= subject3) "is or are" predicate1 (= subject2).
Subject2 (= predicate1) "is or are" predicate2 (= predicate3).
Subject3 (= subject1) "is or are" predicate3 (= predicate2).


It can be applied to many different kinds of transitive relations.

Of course, like any other graphic symbol, you may choose to see something else in it, and if you can find a way to apply it to something no one has previously applied it to then you would be using it creatively.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 08:40 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

If we allow "who cares" about who said what with respect to time-binding records, are we not allowing more errors?

Try getting away with that argument in an intellectual property lawsuit.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 09:04 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

If one expresses the "law of identity" as (x){x = x} [for all x, x is x] without regard for the scope of the variable x, then it is without semantic content, and, as such, it is indeterminate; it has no correspondence truth value, because it corresponds to nothing.

If one express the "law of identity" as the use of the English statement, "for every X, X is X", then, of course, it also has no extension unless one defines the scope of X as well as how one should interprete the word word "is".

If one interprets "is" as "equal" using the mathematical equivalence class notion only the scope of variable X will determine the validity of the relation "X is X".

How do you understand and paraphrase Korzybski's claim that it "is" false-to-fact everywhere (except mathematics)? What does "false-to-fact" "mean" in the scope "everywhere but mathematics"?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - 10:40 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Take a look at this, which sounds to me like "naive realism" with a less "pejorative" label.

If one reads "charitably", the expression "... is what it is" simply expresses in different words what we call the event level, as they go on to say that we can be surprised in our perceptions because "'reality' 'is what it is'", implying that we don't know "what it 'is'". The metaphysical component of "objectivism" holds that the structures that we perceive "exist" in what is going on. This differs from general semantics which holds that the structures we perceive are "projected" onto what is going on. (Not just a few "general semanticist" differ by believing something much more like "naive" or "scientific" realism.)

We see what we call a ball - an approximately spherical shape. General semantics holds that we project our brain's abstracted structure onto what is going on; objectivism holds that the structure "exists" in "reality" independently of any consciousness, but that in our perception, we might not get it right - could be surprised - because that "ball" "'is' 'what it is' independently of any conscious observer".

The "agreement" is not to be scoffed at, as it seems to represent more of a "semantic interpretation" and choice of words than a major difference with general semantics. They do not appear to use a parochial language with essoteric terminology (like we do ). To say "it 'is' what it 'is'" reminds me of the French "je ne sais que", as in "It has that certain je ne sais que." which translates literally to "I do not know what".

The "event level" "'is' what it 'is'" - "what is going on", but what we "know" of it "is" what we project onto it after abstracting our experience into our brain's models. The "common sense" view, however, holds that we "see" "things" that "exist" for anyone else to see in more or less the same way that we see them. Based on my very brief survey, the metaphysical component of objectivism does not quite embody the first umpire perspective; it seem like something between the second and third umpire, because it allows for error in our perceptions (surprise).

Look at the epistemological component of objectivism:


Anyone who claims insights that do not derive from sensory evidence and logical reasoning is, in effect, asking you to abuse your mind. Someone who claims, skeptically, that no real knowledge is possible is asking you to abandon your mind entirely. Objectivism holds that it is possible to be certain of a conclusion, and that there is such a thing as truth. But being certain depends on scrupulously following a logical, objective process of reasoning, because it is only that kind of thinking that allows us to formulate true ideas. To be objective, people must know how to define the terms they use (so they know what they mean), base their conclusions on observable facts (so their beliefs are anchored in reality) [emphasis mine showing extensional orientation] and employ the principles of logic (so that they can reliably reach sound conclusions).[sane reasoning]

Without researching it more thoroughly, it looks like, as a main difference (other than vocabulary), objectivism holds a belief that structure exists in reality independently of abstraction.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - 10:59 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The American common "anti-egghead" ethos uses the term 'academic' as a dismissal. Too bad we still have people who think that way.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - 11:09 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Thomas wrote 'is of class inclusion or identity'. (I've seen it called both)

Thomas, do you not distinguish clearly between these two uses of 'is'? Your suggestion that you have seen "it" (singular) called both (two labels) implies a lack of distinction.

While the word 'is' "is" singular, the phrases 'is of identity' and 'is of class inclusion' denote distinct notions, and the word 'it' requires a singular antecedent; consequently it implies the "identification" of the referents of these two phrases (pun intended).

The 'is' of class inclusion "is" properly used in mathematics and logic.
The 'is' of identity, such as, for example, labeling a person with a stereotype, and subsequently treating the person in terms of the stereotype rather than in terms of the individual, I would agree needs to be addressed with some corrective technique.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - 02:03 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

"John is a man."

Degree of ambiguity from high to low.
A single word.
A word in a sentence.
A word in a sentence in a paragraph.
A word in a sentente in a paragraph in a larger context.

Whether we would evaluate "is" as class inclusion or identity, it seems to me, depends on the context, but I would think "is a" much more likely to indicate class inclusion. If the "class", however has stereotype properties, then the subsequent responses dictate the problem, not the classification itself.

Teen age daughter: "I want to go to the dance. (Mother knows it ends at 2:00 am".)
Mother: "It's too late. You're just a girl."
Daughter: (storms off to her room).

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, September 12, 2007 - 07:04 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The proposal to use E-prime (English without the verb to be) seems like a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. The "is a" use for class inclusion in logic as it has evolved and the is of predication for transitive relations used properly and carefully with valid logic written in English form - for those with a phobia for symbols not words - provides sane reasoning for this segment of the population.

Moreover, many of the common devices used to create E-prime language introduces its own un-sane practices. Eye-witness research has shown that eye-witness testamony "is" unreliable, in that questions asked that contain false presumptions are frequently treated by the questionee as if the false presumptions were true.

Example: Asking "what color was the getaway car?" results in answers providing color, model, and other (invented) descriptive factors, for situations where there was no getaway car. People generally do not challenge implicit assumptions, and one of the ways of converting a flat-out "be" assertion to E-prime is to convert the assertion to a presumption.

"The car is red." becomes "I saw the red car.", and these mean very different things.
In the first case the car is the subject and a property is asserted of it. In the second case my seeing is the subject and the car is merely selected from others by its property - redness.

The former conveys information about the car.
The later conveys informatino about my actions.

Changing to E-prime changes the focus of the content as well as essentially removes the ability to make a statement of fact involving anything other than one's own actions.

"It's good" becomes "I like it". (Even this is a euphemistic substitution of "be" relating a past to a future.

X "comes to BE" Y.

X becomes Y <--> X from the past "IS" Y from the future.

E-prime might fix a few problems, but it introduces problems too.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, September 14, 2007 - 08:39 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Personally, I do not particularly like the "is" classification system. Each label-formulation represents a very high level abstraction; my extensional orientation suggests that we should look at each example in its context, and ask if we evaluate that situation as posing a problem.