The last blog presented our 2nd rule for GSOT and philosophy, as follows:
The overarching viewpoint is not allowed.
This rule has a corollary, almost as short as the rule itself:
Agreement may be good, but is not required.
To require agreement presupposes an overarching viewpoint. If the overarching viewpoint is not allowed, then the edifice by which agreement is required collapses.
Positivism is a philosophical method that carries us past the naiveté of the correspondence theory of truth (see previous blog). Truth, according to the positivist manifesto, depends upon reproducible testing of hypotheses – reproducible over time and reproducible from one observer to any other suitably disciplined observer.
Positivism goes astray, however, when it formalizes a requirement for agreement. In positivism, the understanding of reality is restricted to that which elicits agreement from all reasonable and trained observers.
A requirement for agreement means that we can regard as real only that which is reproducible and held in common. What does that leave out? Everything that is immediate, unique, or particular.
Immediate and particular – does this involve anything consequential? Yes. These terms apply to individual hopes, dreams, efforts. They apply to the enjoyment of barbecue or moo goo gai pan, Beethoven, rock ’n’ roll, or hip-hop. Most profoundly, they apply to the pronouns – I, you, me – and to the pronouns – we, us – when they refer to a group that is less than all. Positivism has no place for these pronouns.
By canceling the requirement for agreement, we open up the possibility for individuals and groups of people to pronounce one thing or another good.
At the beginning of his Ethics, Aristotle declared,
Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and every pursuit, is thought to aim at some good….
Here the notion of good relates to human decision or “aim.” Therefore it refers to human will. Yet with a magician’s sleight of hand, Aristotle completely shifts the focus from particular good to universal good, as he concludes the same sentence,
and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.
“Some good” in the first clause is particular; “the good” in the second is universal, and this is affirmed by the term “all things.” But there is no logical connection between the first clause and the second, despite the author’s broader and incomparable contributions. The influence of Plato can be seen here. Aristotle and his mentor share a preoccupation with universals.
“Some good” is accessible to humans. “The good” is an overarching concept that exceeds human reach.
Positivist philosophers of science rightly disclaim any ability to describe something as good or bad. But they still yearn for universal truth by requiring agreement. This works well for the study of nature; it actually defines what is natural through understanding our capacity to test its response. Then the positivists declare their allegiance to truth, and their allegiance so stated undermines the lip service they give to ethical neutrality. It is an allegiance to a certain kind of truth, which is held in common and subject to a requirement for agreement.
We generally think that agreement is good. By saying “We generally think…” I mean, we usually think it is, but not always. If agreement is always good, then it would be required. Whatever is required, by definition, cannot be chosen. If not chosen, then how can it be good? For good is always consequent to choosing. So whatever is always good is not good at all. And whatever is required cannot be good, but is merely necessary.
If we think that agreement may be good, agreement cannot be required.
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Photo: Plato’s Academy depicted in a mosaic from Pompeii, Wikimedia Commons, public domains.
 Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Transl. by Ross, W.D, in Kaplan, J.D. The Pocket Aristotle. Washington Square Press, New York, 1958, p. 160.