Some Preliminary Remarks About The Commonsense Need To Avoid Small Mistakes
Toward the start of his treatise entitled, On the Heavens (Book 1, chapter 5), the great ancient Greek philosopher, tutor of Alexander the Great, and master of commonsense and commonsense philosophy, Aristotle, sagely cautioned students that small mistakes in the beginning of a study tend greatly to multiply as the investigation continues. By this he meant that every human investigation naturally grows out of a commonsense knowledge of proximate first principles, starting points, of knowing – something an investigator should know best (his principles of understanding), from which reasoning then proceeds. Today, physical scientists often call these evident commonsense, first principles “assumptions.”
As a master of commonsense, evident to Aristotle was that to reason, become educated (educe by analysis or synthesis) about how some composite-whole organization is put together or can be taken apart, we must first understand, immediately induce, precisely what the organizational whole, or subject/genus, is that we chiefly want to study (are interested in), and about which we are wondering, talking, and reasoning. For we can only reasonably wonder, talk, and reason about what we know, not about what we do not know.
For example, competent engineers, those with commonsense, who want to build a bridge, do not start by mistaking the principles of grammar for those of engineering. They do not think that applying principles of grammar to some multitude of material can possibly cause that material to become a structurally-strong bridge. They understand, assume, that a bridge is a general and specific kind of organizational whole (real genus) that essentially demands application of principles of mathematics and physics to construct. And really professional engineers (people actually interested in studying engineering) reasonably consider any so-called engineer who understands otherwise to lack commonsense, and be a fool, a fake.
Aristotle’s observation tells us is that worse than bad reasoning, in helping (educing) someone to become educed, or educated, is not to understand precisely:
1) The subject (genus/organizational whole) about which we are wondering, talking, reasoning; and
2) What actually can or cannot cause it to come to exist as an organizational unity and operate the way it does.
In addition, Aristotle realized that an organizational whole (genus) considered simply as an organizational whole (genus) and considered as a subject demanding analysis or synthesis (one that interests us, that we psychologically wonder about, at this or that moment) immediately becomes somewhat of a qualitatively different kind of subject for us than, strictly speaking, it is considered in itself.
For example, considered as organizational wholes (genera), a human being, married man, father, car driver, firefighter, and a bowler are essentially and qualitatively different, real organizational wholes, or subjects/real genera. John Smith the married human person is essentially, qualitatively, different relationally and psychologically from John Smith the human being, husband, father, automobile driver, firefighter, and bowler – a being with essentially, qualitatively differently related, specific organizational parts, such as, physical and psychological faculties, capabilities, and talents.
Failure to recognize these distinctions on a daily, even moment-to-moment, basis will cause John Smith and others all sorts of personal and professional problems. Analogously, it will cause all sorts of difficulties for any educator trying to analyze or alter John Smith’s behavior in this or that situation or set of circumstances.
When an educator, or any knower, studies a subject genus (organizational whole), an educator or knower does so as a qualitatively different knower of a qualitatively different subject-known. Considered as a studied-subject (a subject of study), psychological examination (examination by the human psyche) is not identical with, and is specifically and qualitatively different from, a subject considered simply as a subject.
For example, in a way, both a biologist and a heart surgeon study and do not study the human heart. Generically considered, both study the human heart. But specifically considered, the biologist does so as a life-scientist, chiefly intellectually and volitionally (psychologically) interested in the human heart as life-generating; while the heart surgeon does so, medically, as someone specifically, intellectually (psychologically), wanting to know about the human heart as health-generating.
While really existing, as organizational wholes, independently of a knower, considered as specifically-known-and-understood educational subjects, and psychological subjects of interest, these organizational wholes are always situationally, circumstantially, interest-considered subjects. According to Aristotle and St. Thomas:
1) Situations, circumstances, always enter into the specification of an act;
2) And a real genus, organizational whole, essentially exists in and grows out of, is generated by, the harmonious unity of relationships of the specific actions of its many, hierarchically-ordered, qualitatively, more-or-less perfect, specific parts that constitute its real, not logical, proximate principles/causes.
For example, the habit of music considered as a real genus is not a logical premise. It is a real proximate principle/cause that exists only in and through specifically different individual actions of habits of qualitatively, unequal, more-or-less individually-talented musicians (like classical, jazz, orchestral, and so on), as more or less perfect ways of relating sounds into organizationally-pleasing wholes—pleasing sounds more or less beautiful to, and fostering, healthy human hearing in human beings.
Every operational, organizational whole (which is all that a real genus is), exists in and through the harmonious unity of its principles: Its specific and individual parts. As a result, a totally unharmonious organization is no organization at all, and is no more conceivable as such than is the concept of a square circle.
Consequently, educational subjects (genera, species, and individuals existing within genera and species) are, and can only be, subjects of this or that specific and individual human, psychological interest: Subjects that interest this or that person as a psychological subject of wonder, in this or that way (circumstantially, situationally), as concretely existing at this or that time, or considered as abstractly existing apart from any time or place like the genera, species, and individuals that interest logicians.
The truth of what I am saying becomes glaringly evident, if we analyze the difference between John Smith, the day-to-day firefighter, and John Smith, the weekend-bowler. If John Smith the firefighter goes out on the weekend with fellow firefighters and a fire breaks out at the bowling alley, the behavior of these individuals in this situation would not likely be to throw bowling balls at the fire.
Sane, adult human beings, investigators, with commonsense, would consider such behavior in this situation (set of circumstances) to be irrational, out of touch with reality, lacking in commonsense. To make sense out of, make intelligible, understand, anyone’s behavior at this or that time, or apart from any specific and individual place and time, requires that anyone with commonsense consider who or what (efficient cause) is doing what (formal cause); to what (material cause), with what (instrumental cause); where (place), why (final cause), when (time), and how (quality): The specific parts of what Aristotle and St. Thomas considered to be essential parts of an individual human act.
As both Aristotle and Aquinas rightly recognized, as completely as possible understanding any specific and individual act essentially demands recognizing at work, Aristotle’s famous “four causes,” the intrinsic property of quality, and the external conditions and opportunity of time and place—all of which, considered as a whole, specify and individualize an act within a real genus, or organizational whole.
The nonsensical psychological disposition of Utopian Socialists/Marxists and their topsy-turvy understanding of human beings and education as essentially lacking concrete/real commonsense
I raise the above points at the start of considering the nature of the nonsensical principles of Utopians, Socialism and Marxism, and how to reverse their influence, to drive home to readers an essential difference between the abstract way in which, like logicians and ideologues, a Marxist, considered as a species of utopian socialist (Enlightenment intellectual), someone sorely lacking in concrete (real) commonsense, tends to look at education. He or she does not tend to do so in the concrete, commonsense fashion I have described above in which, better-, or evidently-understood truths must first be known before reasoning happens and science can be achieved.
A Marxist does so in the contrary opposite way; and consistent application of this topsy-turvy manner of viewing human beings and human education is the chief cause that turns healthy children into little Marxists and older adults into big ones. As a political ideologue devoid of real commonsense, but driven by an intense desire to be logically consistent (abstractly commonsensical), through use of a fairytale history he or she borrows from Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s educational treatise, Émile, or “Abstract Man,” he or she transforms the real, concrete nature and history of human education into an abstract, fictional, imaginary epic, similar to Homer’s Odyssey.
In this fictional tale, consciousness in the form of the god “Humanity” emerges in a systematically-logical fashion from a backward state of individual, emotional selfishness, rooted in a pre-logical, pre-cultural, and prehistoric state of awareness. In this prehistoric, pre-cultural, and pre-logical state, “Humanity” shows no sign of having a conscience, logic, or social consciousness. He is a greedy, uncultured, barbaric, anti-social, unscientific, insincere, intolerant, bad-willed individual who fights other such individuals in pursuit of possession of private property; not the historic, cultured, systematically-logical and enlightened sincerely-selfless, property-less, tolerant, Social-scientific Good Will into which he seeks to emerge.
According to this fairytale theological epic (metaphysical and moral educational history), once upon a time there lived a prehistoric god named, “Humanity” who would someday emerge from being a train of logically-blind, selfish, individualistic, warring emotions into the systematically-logical idea of human freedom creating human history as the grand narrative, autobiography, of the poetic spirit of free creation of the human imagination. He is poetic free spirit (Absolute Spirit/”Humanity”), emerging from a state of backward religious consciousness (Subjective Spirit) in prehistoric and later, backward, different cultural times and geographical locations, finally to become, at the end of human history, progressive, scientific self-awareness of himself as Perfect Social-scientific Good Will.
As the story goes, long, long ago in a far-off place in prehistoric/pre-cultural/pre-logical time, before logic and selfless, sincere, tolerant-of-all-difference (except intolerant, hateful difference) social-science and conscience had existed, supposedly an illogical, unenlightened human consciousness had existed as an irrational, selfish, greedy, insincere, intolerant, individualistic, train of hate-filled, conscience-less, anti-social, brute emotions that talked in hate-filled, anti-social, selfish ways. Somewhat like the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert and René Descartes wandering about Europe in search of a clear and distinct idea of himself and true science, “Humanity” (aka, “Abstract Man”) had roamed the Earth with no clear and distinct, concrete, scientific idea of who he truly was: The only real creator-god.
Wanting to get a perfect idea of himself, but not knowing that he was the only cause of everything, all differences, “Humanity” decided to create a logic, generated by the idea of progress, or development, that would give him a systematically-logical plan to enable him to emerge out of himself to hunt for perfect understanding of his true identity. Essentially, this logical plan consisted in a creating a fairytale, or fictional narrative in the form of a human history of himself as a backward, unenlightened, selfish will, or train of emotions, engaged in an odyssey of projecting his emotions in contradictory ways historically, qualitatively onward and upward more perfectly, in different geographical regions of the Earth at different times.
“Humanity” planned to do this to see whether he could recognize himself as the epic poetic idea of perfect freedom (the Spirit of Human Freedom as Scientific Will) always and everywhere progressing out of himself from a primitive, infantile, abstract, logically-unsystematic, train of emotions (abstract general ideas) into a concrete, adult, logically-systematic, train of ideas—the one and only social self and Scientific Will/god of metaphysical poetry that is the only real Creator of all Things: The One, True, god.
Every time he concretely did so, however, “Humanity” only saw some slight likeness of himself in those emotions. No one, or even a train, of them ever perfectly captured his likeness, clearly and distinctly with the thrilling, lively-enthusiastic, emotional clarity of a scientific likeness of the train of emotions, containing systematic logic within it, that he was convinced was identical with himself as a Perfect, Pure, Social-science Good Will containing all scientific understanding and real differences.
In their fantasy world (to which they often refer as a “narrative”), this is the way Marxists, as Enlightenment intellectuals and Utopian Socialists, look at human history. They claim that, prior to emerging into one single consciousness of oneself as systematic, logical, social-science will, the only thing that exists is a human consciousness as a weakly-connected train of thoughts in the form of atomic-like, discrete, feelings, rationally-blind, rationally-un-integrated, un-trained emotions.
Transformation from being atomized, rationally (logically) blind emotions, into being a logically systematic train of emotions that constitutes the nature of an enlightened, or social-science feeling (knowledge/perfect science as identical with Pure Social-science Good Will/god) only comes from a train of thought possessing a qualitatively higher form of social-political intelligence (what an ancient Greek would call higher gnosis). And they maintain, further, that this mysterious gift of qualitatively higher intellection is no act of intellect at all. Instead, it is an act of pure social/political, Sincere Good Will, or Socially-perfect Willpower.
In short, in contrast to the commonsense wisdom of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and most ordinary, intellectually-healthy human beings (who maintain that truth is a psychological activity located within the human faculty of human intellect and naturally-knowable even to young children), strictly speaking, Marxists think that the truth is actually a sociopolitical, construct caused to a train of thoughts by economic relations.
These economic relations, in turn, are supposedly caused by social-science relations that are only possessed by people (systematic trains of thought) of sincere/tolerant or insincere/intolerant feelings (good will [love]/or bad will [hate]): People like themselves, with sincere, socially-consciousness, healthy, tolerant, political feelings who, more than anything else, love humanity, or people like property-developer Donald Trump, who love petty-bourgeois-philistine-individualism-individualists, and selfish possession of personal property
As Gilbert Keith Chesterton once quipped about such individuals, these are people who tend to love humanity, but hate their next-door neighbor: People who psychologically inhabit a world to which Chesterton referred as “Topsy-turvydom,” one in which everything is upside down. As intellectual descendants of Georg Hegel (someone Chesterton had considered to be a madman), why Marxists should inhabit such a world is easily understandable. As Utopian Socialists, all Enlightenment thinkers inhabit this intellectual world in which emotions, feelings, have/cause people; people do not have/cause emotions.
Whether or not Hegel was actually mad, I do not know. That he lacked real commonsense, I do know. And that Marxists are even more lacking in real commonsense than was Hegel and Hegelians, I also know. While Marxists claim to stand Hegel on his head, they do not do so to get out of his nonsensical teachings. They do so more fully to imbibe them. Hegel, at least, pretended to make a distinction between matter and spirit. Marxists conflate the two with each other and with human consciousness: Humanity. Doing so is the chief cause of all their personal problems and all the problems they cause for those around them. Precisely how they got to be the way they are is an issue with which I will deal in a second essay related to the Topsy-turvy world of Marxism.
Peter Redpath was Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University. He is the author/editor of 17 philosophical books and dozens of articles and book reviews. He has given over 200 invited guest lectures nationally and internationally, and headed many prestigious organizations. He is the only non-Polish scholar to hold the Laudatio Achievement Award for attainment of intellectual and organizational wisdom, from the Department of Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. More information is found at his website.
The featured image shows, “Kiss of Death,” by Bohumil Kubišta; painted in 1912.