The Nature of Knowledge

Logic and Reason

[NOTE: There are two chapters dealing with logic, this chapter and "Dr. Binswanger's View of Logic." Since logic proceeds entirely by means of propositions the two chapters on propositions, "Propositions," and "Dr. Binswanger's View of Propositions," somewhat overlap and are closely related conceptually to those on logic. It is suggested the four chapters be read as close together as possible.]

Logic is the formalization of correct reason. It is not an exact method like mathematics, though some aspects of logic can be strictly formalized. The problem is, no formal method of reasoning can cover all aspects of correct reasoning.

The principles of correct reason, however, can be discovered and can be explained. One way to think about the principles of reason is this: logic provides the formal rules for all aspects of thinking that can be formalized and the principles of correct thinking, which will include logic, specify which thinking processes lead to true conclusions, and what errors in thinking lead to false conclusions.

The Fundamental Principles of Logic

Dr. Binswanger calls these the three laws of logic (as most philosophers do). [Please see the chapter, "Dr. Binswanger's View of Logic." I have no objection to calling them laws, but prefer principles, because laws implies something dictated rather than discovered.]

Aristotle first identified these principles, and they have both metaphysical and epistemological significance, referring to both ontological existents and concepts of those existents. My description of these three principles is intended to reflect both their metaphysical and epistemological significance

  1. The Principle of identity: A is A, means an existent is what it is and nothing else or a proposition means what it means, and nothing else. [See the chapter, "Ontology," and the three corollaries of the law of identity.]
  2. The Principle of Non-Contradiction: A cannot be non-A, means no existent can both be what it is and not be what it is, or nothing can both exist and not exist and no proposition can be both true and false.
  3. The Principle of Excluded Middle: A is either B or not B, (where B is A's identity or another name for A) which means an existent either is the existent identified, or some other existent, or A either exists or does not exist, or every proposition is either true or false.

There is at least one exception to the last: future propositions are neither true or false. It is not the nature of propositions that makes this true, it is the nature of human consciousness and the fact that the future is unknowable.

The epistemological meanings of the principles of logic, though grounded in the metaphysical, which are the most important meanings because they are the link between the metaphysical (what is known) and our knowledge (the epistemological). Existents are what they are, and our identification of existents (concepts) are what they are, and nothing else. In one fell swoop all mystic ideas of the nature of consciousness is wiped out. A is A, and our identification of A is that identification (concept) and there is nothing else.

[NOTE: Dr. Binswanger does discuss what he calls the relationship between logic and the nature of consciousness, but does not seem to identify the true nature of the relationship between the metaphysical and epistemological.]

Of the three principles of logic, the most important are the second and third because they mean there can be no contradictions (no paradoxes) and nothing of doubtful truth can truly be knowledge. Propositions are either true or they are not, there is no middle ground.

Knowledge and Truth

[NOTE: On page 271 under the "Certainty" heading, Dr. Binswanger writes: "In geology, the theory of plate tectonics was first proposed in 1912, but it took half a century of investigation before the theory qualified as having been proved." Dr. Binswanger is not always careful about his use of language. Nothing is a theory that has not been proved, and no matter how compelling the evidence, in science, until an idea has been proved by multiple repeated experiments the idea remains a hypothesis.]

It is, perhaps, because Dr. Binswanger is willing to accept as knowledge that which only approximates it, that he is willing to accept induction as a true logical method. [I have also addressed these ideas in the section, "Certainty and Knowledge," in the chapter, "Dr. Binswanger's View of Logic."]

"... cases, in which the evidence for a conclusion grows over time, give rise to the idea of an evidentiary continuum and to the concepts that mark off ranges along that continuum—notable: 'possible,' 'likely,' and 'certain' (and informal subdivisions, e.g., 'barely possible' and 'quite likely')." [Page 271]

Ideas or propositions that are not certain are not knowledge. They may be suspicions, suggestions, surmises, hints, guesses, assumptions, possibilities, or hypotheses, but they are not knowledge. There are no degrees in knowledge. There are degrees of knowledge. One may know more or less about something, for example, but however much or little one knows, it is only knowledge if it is true. Nothing less than truth is knowledge, and no degree of certainty is knowing.

Dr. Binswanger's argument for this view is based on induction, though he does not explicitly say so. His idea is that one's degree of certainty about something is determined by the amount of evidence there is for the conclusion. He does not say here, or in other places where he mentions the importance of evidence, what, exactly, constitutes evidence. He only insists there is some mythical relationship between the amount of evidence one has and the amount of evidence that is conclusive that determines the degree of certainty—the formula is: "the ratio of the evidence at hand to the total set of evidence required for proof."

Dr. Binswanger makes no attempt to identify exactly what is acceptable evidence or how one determines the amount of evidence that is necessary to declare something certain. He does not even suggest there is such a way. It is very much like Rand's description of how one knows an inductive conclusion is correct, that is, when one has made enough observations, which she admitted she did not know.

"Prof. M: The question is: when does one stop? When does one decide that enough confirming evidence exists? Is that in the province of the issue of induction?

"AR: Yes. That's the big question of induction. Which I couldn't begin to discuss—because (a) I haven't worked on that subject enough to even begin to formulate it, and (b) it would take an accomplished scientist in a given field to illustrate the whole process in that field." [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "Appendix—Scientific Methodology"]

How in the world can someone who has no idea how something should work know someone else 'in the right field' would know it? Rand was on very shaky ground here.

This section on "Certainty" begins as a discussion of knowledge, simple direct knowledge and more complex derived knowledge. It is in terms of knowledge Dr. Binswanger first invokes evidentiary degrees. At the bottom of the page Dr. Binswanger introduces an idea that is as meaningless as anything from Kant:

"The relationship between certainty and knowledge needs clarification. 'Certainty' and knowledge' are closely related but distinguishable concepts. Knowledge is primarily differentiated from ignorance, certainty is primarily differentiated from states that are less than certain: the possible and the likely. 'Certainty' refers to the cognitive status of an idea, which means it is purely epistemological concept; 'knowledge,' in contrast, has both a metaphysical and an epistemological component. To know something, it must be a fact ...." [page 271]

Certainty and knowledge are certainly different concepts. The difference is much simpler than Dr. Binswanger makes it, however. Only propositions that are certain, that is, true, are knowledge. All other propositions are, as previously indicated, suspicions, suggestions, surmises, hints, guesses, assumptions, possibilities, probabilities, or hypotheses, but not knowledge.

Dr. Binswanger knows evolution cannot be verified by means of scientific deductive reason, since there are no experiments that can be performed to verify it. In itself, that does not invalidate the possibility of evolution, of course, but at present it cannot be anything more than a hypothesis, no matter how much evidence there is or how convincing it is. I have no objection to that hypothesis, I do object to it being called science. I seldom mention this, but when I do, someone always asks, what then is my explanation for how life and the various species came to be. Well I don't have one, and I am indebted to Dr. Binswanger for providing me with the argument, that I don't need one:

"The mere fact that one is ignorant of any alternative possibility is not sufficient grounds for claiming certainty; certainty does not flow from ignorance." [Page 273]

I do not have to provide an alternate hypothesis for the explanation of life and the variety of species to doubt the one popularly accepted. It is enough to know the popular view is full of unanswered questions, improbabilities, and very doubtful assumptions. [See the chapter, "Evolution."]

Deduction and the Syllogism

On Page 254 Dr. Binswanger writes: "Deduction is the application of the general to the particular (or to the less general)." This is in contrast to what he wrote on page 255, "... induction moves from the less general to the more general."

[NOTE: I've already addressed, "induction," in the, "Dr. Binswanger's View of Logic," chapter as well as in the chapter, "Cause, Induction, and Mathematics."]

The basis for Dr. Binswanger's contention that deduction is the application of the general to the less general is based on the formal syllogism. This is not exactly correct, even for formal syllogism, however. There are two rules of quantity that are the basis for Dr. Binswanger's contention, but to understand them what a formal syllogism is must be understood. Unfortunately, Dr. Binswanger never explains what a formal syllogism is.

A syllogism consists of three propositions with a very specific order and structure. The three propositions are called the major premise, the minor premise, and the conclusion. [In actual practice these premises do not have to be written in this order. The order is logical, not necessarily material.]

Each proposition must have exactly two terms called the subject and predicate joined by a copula which is always a form of the verb "to be."

A whole syllogism must have exactly three terms called the major term, the minor term, and the middle term. Both premises must contain the middle term which cannot appear in the conclusion. The premise containing the major term is called the major premise. The premise containing the minor term is called the minor premise. The major term will be the predicate of the conclusion. The minor term will be the subject of the conclusion.

Major Premise: Every cow is female.
Minor Premise: Elsie is a cow.
Conclusion: Therefore, Elsie is female.

In a syllogism, a term is not the equivalent of a word. In the major premise, "every cow" is the subject term.

"Female" is the major term (predicate of the major premise).
"Cow" is the middle term (predicate of the minor premise and subject of the major premise).
"Elsie" is the minor term (subject of the minor premise).
"Elsie," and "female" are the subject and predicate respectively of the conclusion.

It is not necessary for this formal structure to be remembered, but it is necessary to explain the two rules of quantity, which are:

1. No term may be more general (be distributed more widely) in the conclusion than it is in the premises.

2. The middle term must be universally distributed at least once.

In the example syllogism, cow is distributed universally in the major premise because it is "every cow." [This does not mean every cow numerically, but any cow identified by the universal concept "cow."]

Since both Elsie and female in the conclusion are distributed "particularly" (to one particular entity) no term in the conclusion is distributed more widely (or generally) than any term in the premises.

It is the second rule that is the basis for Dr. Binswanger's assertion that deduction is the application of the more general to the less general. The expression, "universally distributed," means the middle term must be a universal concept, which means, by definition, all attributes (necessary qualities) of cows will be true of all referents of the concept cow, that is, all individual cows. A concept is not a, "generality," a concept is an identification, and a universal concept is the identification of a class or category of existents, all of which are members of the same class or category of existents because they have the same necessary qualities. By identifying something as a member of a class of existents one implies it has all the attributes necessary to be a member of that class. By saying Elsie is a cow, one is saying Elsie has all the necessary qualities of a cow, one of which is being female. It is not an application of the more general to the less general but the identification of a particular existent as a member of a class of existents which necessarily has all the necessary qualities of all such existents.

Syllogisms, however, are not the only forms of deductive reasoning. In reality very little of our reasoning follows the strict form of formal syllogisms, even when that reasoning is perfectly correct and logical.

[NOTE: The importance of formal logic should not be underestimated. In all cases where reasoning is an application of universals to the particular formal logic can make it possible to identify fallacious reasoning that otherwise would be difficult to discern. The entire field of formal logic is excellent exercise for strengthening the mind, which is much more important than exercise for strengthening the body.]

Non-syllogistic Reasoning

Here is an example of perfect deductive reasoning which is not syllogistic:

If I have two bookshelves, one in my bedroom and the other in my living room, and I know all my books are on one or the other of those bookshelves. If I'm looking for a book and do not find it on one of the bookshelves, I may make the following deduction:

[Premise] All the books I own are either on the bedroom bookshelf or on the living room bookshelf.
[Fact] The book I'm looking for is not on the the bedroom bookshelf.
[Conclusion] Therefore, the book I'm looking for is on the living room bookshelf.

What I've called the "premise" could be called a principle. It is a very limited principle but illustrates what principles are. They set the context for reasoning about some category of things. In this case the principle states the possible locations of my books. Any statement that placed the books in any location outside the range set by the principle could not be true.

What I've called the "fact" is evidence. Evidence of where the book is not. Since the field set by the premise is very small, the single piece of evidence is enough to exhaust the possibilities, leaving the conclusion as the only possible result.

The fact is the result of investigation. I looked on the bedroom bookshelf and saw the book was not there. If the field had been wider, if I had four bookshelves, for example, the premise (principle) would have stated all the books were on one of those bookshelves. When performing the investigation, I would have to examine each bookshelf, in which case I would either find the book on one of them, or after examining three and not finding it, I could logically conclude it was on the fourth unexamined bookshelf.

This is also an example of the logical application of a more general principle as well: a thing cannot be in two (or more) different locations at the same time, but must be in some location. There is no "broader" to "narrower" relationship between principles and facts; a principle is not a "generalization" which is applied to the less general. A principle is a description of the nature of things by which their states, behavior, or characteristics may be understood and to which they must logically conform.

This kind of reasoning can be applied to any case where there are a limited number of possible states, conditions, actions, or attributes possible to an existent or set of existents.

Logic of Relations

I am not referring here to that class of symbolic logic called relational logic. I am referring to the logical relationships between things that determine what other relationships or facts are made possible or necessary by those relationships. For example:

John is taller than that bush.
That bush is taller than Bill.
Bill is taller than Harry.
Therefore John is taller than Harry.

In this case the relationships are size relationships, particularly, "tallness." Here are two more examples:

A is to the left of B.
B is to the left of C.
Therefore, A is to the left of C.

X is inside Y.
Y is inside Z.
Therefore X is inside Z.

It is obvious that each of these is perfectly logical, though not syllogistic and not reasoning from the more general to the less general.

There is a general principle covering all of these, however:

If A has relationship X to B, and B has X relationship to C, A has X relationship to C.

This principle only pertains to transitive relationships. For example: "John is the father of Bill; Bill is the father of Fred; therefore, John is the father of Fred;" is not true. A relationship is transitive only if the same kind of relationship is possible between any of the existents. For example: "John is an ancestor of Bill; Bill is an ancestor of Fred; therefore, John is an ancestor of Fred;" is true, because ancestorship is transitive; parenthood is not.

[NOTE: The same principle is sometimes illustrated by the principle of algebraic substitution, for example: A = B, B = C, therefor, A = C, because both A and B equal C, therefore A may be substituted for B in the equation, B = C. This does not work as an explanation of why A > B, B > C, therefore, A > C, however, or for the positional relationships, 'left of,' or, 'inside of,' for example.]

It should be obvious such relationships are deductively true, but definitely not syllogistic in nature and not the application of the more general to the less general.

Logic and Dependencies

From ontology we know that every existent has a unique identity which is all its qualities (attributes and characteristics), that every existent is different from every other existent, and that every existent has some relationship to every other existent. Most of our reasoning is about the relationship of things to other things and most principles describe those relationships. Since those relationships are determined by the nature of existents and their differences and similarities to each other, logic's emphasis on relationships is a recognition of the nature of existents and their differences and similarities.

Many of those relationships can be described in terms of mathematics. Everything from counting existents to describing their nature and their relationships in terms of the Calculus are logical operations. Certainly none of those methods are syllogistic in nature, or the application of the more general to the less general.

Dependencies are another class of logical relationships which are not syllogistic in nature. [See, "Dependencies," under the section, "The True Meaning of Cause," in the chapter, "Cause."]

The syllogism is limited to things being what they are and belonging to classes or categories of existents of the same kind. The syllogism does deal with difference, to some extent, but does not deal with relationships or dependencies.

The syllogism deals only with statics. While there are syllogisms dealing with actions (as though they were discrete events) it does not deal with actions as processes or procedures. That is why "dependencies" cannot be put into syllogistic form.

Correct Reason

Logic is the formalization of correct reason. It is not exactly a method, like language and mathematics, because, in its present form, it only addresses some cases of reason. Those it addresses are good and important, but there are principles of correct reason that it does not yet address. Whether all of reason can be formalized is not known, but the principles of correct reason can certainly be identified and they apply to all correct thinking.

Principles Of Clear Correct Reason

There are at least six principles of correct reasoning. These are not rules, and not exhaustive, but observations about the nature of reason, knowledge, and truth. Variations on these principles are possible, but the objective must be the same—to arrive at a correct understanding of the nature of reality. I have stated these principles in the form of what one must do to know one is reasoning correctly.

  1. Know What Truth Is
  2. Eliminate Contradictions
  3. Maintain Word Precision
  4. Distinguish Facts from Feelings
  5. Know How You Know
  6. Increase Your Knowledge
These seven principles are not all there is to clear correct thinking, but they are essential and if understood and followed, one's thinking will continuously improve. It is certain that any thinking that violates these principles will be neither clear or correct.

Know What Truth Is Truth is the objective of all correct thinking. Some people actually seek to deceive themselves, or at least evade knowing the truth, in order to rationalize their bad thoughts and choices, but that is not the purpose of correct reason. We do not think carefully about things in order to be deceived, but to discover what is so. We are not careful in our thinking in order to make mistakes but to correct and prevent them. We think so we won't end up believing what is not true. But if we are gong to seek truth in all our thinking, we first must know what truth is.

Truth is whatever correctly describes or identifies a fact of reality. Reality is all that exists; it is everything that is, just as it is.

It includes every physical entity there is, as well as every relationship between them, as well as the events which are the behavior of those entities. It includes mental things which are not physical, such as every thought, feeling, experience and everything we consciously see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Whether physical or mental, concrete or abstract, it is all things, exactly as they are, that is reality.

Everything that exists has a particular nature which is determined by its attributes and characteristics (qualities). If a thing did not have the attributes and characteristics it has, it would be something else. A thing's attributes and characteristics do not make a thing what it is, they are what it is.

Everything that exists has some relationship to everything else that exists. Those relationships might be physical, mental, or conceptual (that is, related to something we know about the them). Everything that exists, whether physical or mental, every event, every attribute and characteristic of everything that exists, and all the relationships between them are the facts of reality.

The facts of reality are immutable and absolute. Everything that exists is what it is, every event is what it is, every attribute and characteristic of every existent are what they are, and every relationship between them is what it is, and these facts are independent of anyone's knowledge, awareness, beliefs, thinking, desires, or feelings about them.

Human beings have only one way to describe or identify the facts of reality which is by means of statements like, "water is a liquid," or, "trees are living organisms." Since "truth is whatever correctly describes or identifies a fact of reality," and our only means of making such descriptions or identifications are statements (which are technically called propositions), truth is the quality of all statements about anything which conforms to or correctly describes any facts of reality. "Water is colorless," is a statement of truth, because, "in fact," water has no color. The statement, "trees are made of stone," is a statement of untruth (or falsehood), because, "in fact," trees are living, and nothing made entirely of stone is living.

In our thinking, there is only one way to establish the truth, which is to be certain all our statements correctly describe the facts of reality. To be certain what we think and believe is true, we must always be able to identify how what we think and believe conforms to and agrees with the observable or discoverable facts of reality, because anything we believe that does not agree with the nature of reality is not true and therefore not knowledge, but some form of superstition or deception.

Eliminate Contradictions The example of an untrue statement above, "trees are made of stone," and the true statement, "trees are living organisms" is an example of a contradiction. Since every true statement correctly describes the facts of reality, where a contradiction exists, one or both of the contradictory statements must be false.

A fact of reality cannot be both as one statement asserts it is and as another statement asserts it is not. It cannot be a fact of reality both that "water is colorless," and that "water is red." [This is an example of the principle of non-contradiction.]

In our thinking we must be very careful never to allow a contradiction to remain in our beliefs or our reasoning. The discovery of a contradiction means we are either mistaken about one or more of our assumptions or beliefs, (our premises), or have made a mistake in our reasoning. Sometimes contradictions are difficult to detect because we hold our contradictory ideas apart, (compartmentalized), and only think of them in separate contexts.

As an example, perhaps the most common contradiction held by most people is the belief that human beings have volition, frequently but mistakenly called "free will," but also believe any number of things "cause" people to behave in certain ways, such as "instinct," "inborn traits," "irresistible passions," or "social programming." While most people believe human beings must be held accountable for what they choose to do, and believe in punishing criminals for their crimes, for example, they simultaneously swallow popular views that pardon much human behavior as though individuals had no choice but are compelled by their "poverty," "education," "social conditions," "genes," or "psychology," to do what they do. If these or anything else made people do what they do it would contradict the fact they have the ability and necessity to choose what they do. Human beings either have the ability to choose and must choose all they do (which they do), or they do not have that ability and are subject to impulses and forces they neither understand or can control (which is a kind of insanity); it cannot be both since the views contradict each other.

Maintain Word Precision All of our thinking is by means of words used to make statements, ask questions, and form judgments. It is not really the words we use to think with, but the concepts the words represent. For example, the thought, "he returned to his domicile," and the thought, "he returned to his home," are the same thought, though they use a different words for the "concept" represented by "domicile" in the first sentence, and "home," in the second. The thought is not about the words "domicile" or "home" but the idea they represent, "where one lives."

If every true statement is an assertion about some fact of reality we must know clearly and specifically what facts of reality our words represent. If I think, "water is transparent," but only have a vague, "I 'kinda' know what it means" idea for the word transparent, my thought cannot be true. Facts of reality are exactly what they are, nothing is "kinda like" anything, and to "kinda know" something is to not know it at all.

If we are to think clearly all the words we use must be precisely and unambiguously defined and understood, and we must know exactly what every word we use identifies.

[NOTE: The misuse of words leads to endless mistakes in thinking. For example, people constantly begin reasoning about things by identifying, "needs," but have no idea what that word means beyond a vague sense of something one has to have or ought to have. Like values (nothing is intrinsically good or bad, but must be good or bad for something for someone) there is nothing which is just a need. Where nothing is desired, or there is no particular objective or goal, nothing is needed. A need presupposes something desired or preferred, an objective or purpose for which something else is required to achieve or acquire it. Whenever someone says something is needed, the first question is, "by whom, for what?" [The question is not to be asked of the speaker but of ourselves. It is our own reasoning we must get right. Other's mistakes are none of our business.]

Other words misused in a similar way are, problem, abuse, value, and crises. A problem is only a problem if there is some real objective or goal the supposed problem is interfering with. Those objectives and goals must be clearly defined and identified. Abuse is only abuse if someone actually causes direct objective harm to someone else. Nothing one individual does that someone else does not like is abuse simply because someone does not like it. Unless there is coercive force used against another, no 'perceived' abuse is possible. Nothing is of value to anything unless there is some clear objective goal or purpose something is necessary for. There are no intrinsic values. Like values, unless some specific objective is identified, and that objective is one that is truly right and good, that something is preventing or harming, there is no crises.

Distinguish Facts from Feelings We can think about feelings, but feelings and clear thinking cannot be mixed, and most people get the relationship between feelings and thinking confused.

Our feelings are reactions to what we are conscious of. Those feelings we call our emotions, as well as most of our desires, are reactions to our thinking and our beliefs, especially those beliefs that constitute our values—what we hold as the good, important, and sacred, and of course their opposites, what we regard as evil, irrelevant, and contemptible.

This is obvious in those cases where two individuals with totally different values observe the same event and have totally different emotional reactions. A hunter will have a totally different emotional reaction when seeing a animal shot from the reaction of someone who despises hunting or anything they believe harms animals. It is obvious it is each individual's own values and thoughts that are the reason for the emotions they experience, not the events themselves. This frequent difference in emotional reaction to the same facts illustrates that emotional reactions are determined by what we think and believe, not, as is commonly held, that what we think and believe is determined by our feelings and emotions.

Almost everything we have strong feelings about we first had to learn about before we could have any feelings at all concerning them. Children do not usually fear things, like animals, snakes, or insects, until they have learned something about them. Most of the food we like best we could have no desire for until we learned what they are, and in most cases, what they actually taste like. Whatever we ultimately choose to do for a career, we never could have had a desire for until after we have learned such a career is possible.

People's feelings about war are usually very strong, but what they feel will depend on what they know about war and what they think about it. Those who think it is some kind of noble enterprise in defense of their country will have feelings of patriotism and perhaps pride in their thoughts of war, while those who believe war is pointless killing and mass destruction may feel nothing but revulsion and anger at the thought of war. Obviously, it is not one's feelings about war that determine their view of war, much less which view is the correct one. It is their views that determine their feelings, and only reason can determine which view is correct.

This, however, is exactly the mistake most people make about their feelings and their thinking. Most people make judgments about what is right and wrong based on what they feel is right and wrong; they decide what is important based on what feels important. This is all backward, of course; our feelings and emotions have no way of evaluating things, or determining what is right or wrong or important.

Our feeling that a thing is right should, and usually will, follow from our judgment that a thing is right based on our values; and our feeling that a thing is important should, and usually will, follow from our rational evaluation of a thing's importance, based on our principles.

Feelings may or may not agree with our thinking, however. Thinking that is made to agree with feeling is always wrong. When our thinking and our feelings disagree, if we are to think clearly, we must identify the feelings as mistaken, and persist in our correct thinking. Amazingly, it will be discovered, our feelings will begin to agree with our thinking, as they must, because it is our thoughts and beliefs that ultimately determine them.

[Please see the chapters, "Feelings and Emotions," and, "Desires," for a complete explanation of the nature of feelings and desires.]

Know How You Know There is one question we must always ask ourselves whenever our thinking begins with something we believe we already know, "how do I know this is true?" Is it based on clear reasoning from facts I already know, or is it something else that convinces me I know something, such as a feeling, or the assumption "that everyone knows it," or "it's what I've always believed," or "some authority says so?" Every assumed truth that is not based on clear reasoning from known facts is a mistake in reasoning, and usually follows the line of a logical fallacy.

Whatever we base our thinking on is called a "premise." A person whose premises are based on anything other than objective (reasoned from the facts) principles and knowledge, is certain to reason incorrectly. Whenever one's reasoning leads to a contradiction, for example, it is usually one's premises that are mistaken.

Even when one has developed good clear thinking habits, it is still easy to have our thinking go wrong. There are lists of what are called, "informal fallacies," which just means "mistakes in thinking." Most informal fallacies pertain to "logical arguments," but since the main purpose of clear thinking is not to win arguments, but to be certain the ideas we hold are true and our own thinking is correct, I'll mention only those fallacies that are most likely to affect our own thinking.

Truth based on authority alone. No one decides what is true. Truth is determined by reality, and must be discovered by reference to reality alone. An authority or expert might be able to point to the facts of reality that determine a truth, but no truth can be established merely on the testimony of any so-called expert or authority. If you believe anything is true only on the basis of some authority, you do not know if what you believe is true or not, and cannot know it until you understand how that truth can be established based on your own reasoning from the facts of reality.

Truth based on consensus or popularity. No truth can be established on the basis of how many people believe or agree with it, even of those individuals who call themselves experts or scientists. There is no reason why the entire world might not believe something is true that is not. In the past, this has been the case. Perhaps not the whole world, but at least most of it at one time believed the world was flat, that heavier than air flight was impossible, and that painless surgery was nothing more than wish.

There is only one basis for truth which is reality itself, and if you know what is true, based on reality, even if you are the only one in the world who knows it, you do know it.

Truth based on custom, tradition, or culture. It is usually truth about what is right or wrong to do that is based in this mistaken assumption. "It's what we've always done," or "it is the accepted way," or "it is our tradition or culture to do things this way." An exaggerated version of this is sati or suttee, the Indian tradition in which a widowed Hindu woman is thrown on her husband's funeral pyre, now outlawed in India, but still sometimes practiced. Nothing is the right or wrong way of doing anything based solely on what has always been done. The right thing to do can only be known by reference to reality and facts that determine the objective principles that must be met to achieve one's chosen objectives.

The stolen (or smuggled) concept. This particular kind of bad thinking is not something most people would do on their own, but are likely to have their own thinking infected with it by those who teach them, especially in higher academic environments.

It is called a "stolen" or "smuggled" concept because some supposed truth or question is asserted based on an assumed concept which is not stated, but if stated would contradict the asserted truth or question. The assumed concept is used without being acknowledge, therefor is stolen, or "smuggled in," as in the following example:

"How do you know," the professor gravely entones, "you are not a butterfly dreaming you are a man?" It is mind boggling that those who call themselves educators are taken in by this kind of sophistry. It is an example of conceptual grand theft. If a question means anything, one must know what the words used to form the question mean. It is assumed (smuggled in) one knows what a "man" is, what a "butterfly" is, what a "dream" is, and what "knowing" is. If all of these are known, there is no question; if any of these are not known, the question has no meaning. If you are to think clearly, you must never allow yourself to be taken in by any of this kind of academic sophistry. [If this "riddle" really bothers you, butterflies are not concerned with such questions and cannot be. Of course, sane human beings are not bothered by such questions either. Only professors of philosophy are.]

Increase Your Knowledge If we know what truth is, never allow any contradictions in our thinking, are always careful to know exactly what the words we use mean, never allow feelings to determine our thoughts, and never make any fallacious assumptions, but know how we know the things we believe are true our thinking will be clear and correct, but without one more thing, it will be inadequate.

One good thing that was common, even in government schools, a scant 60 years ago, was something called "word problems" in mathematics. Each year, as new mathematical concepts were added to one's knowledge, beginning with numbers and counting, then addition, subtraction, simple division, long division, fractions, decimals, and exponents, students were given word problems which described situations that would require mathematics to solve. Word problems required the student to "figure out" what mathematical functions would be required to solve the problem and then to actually perform those functions. In other words, the students were required to think, and if they thought correctly they would get the right answer, and if they thought incorrectly, they would get the wrong answer.

Word problems are examples of what all thinking is—using what we have learned and know to form and answer questions.

A Word Problem
Harry needs to buy flooring for his new den. The flooring material is sold in one foot squares. Harry's new den is 20 feet long. Half the length of the den is 12 feet wide and half is 16 feet wide. How many squares of flooring will Harry need to buy?

To solve this problem a student must already know how to compute the area of a rectangle, which is length times the width. But there are two different widths in this problem, one width for half the length, and another width for the other half. To solve the problem the student may think, "there are two rectangles, one 10 by 12 and another 10 by 16. Computing the area for each and adding them together (120 plus 160) will give me the total area (280)." Another student might think, "since exactly half the length of the room is 12 feet wide, and the other half 16 feet wide, the average width of the whole room is half of 12 plus 16 or 14 feet, so the total area is 20 times 14 feet or 280 square feet." The second solution requires more knowledge than the first, because it requires knowledge of averages, and the fact that an average width may be multiplied by a length to compute a total area. A student who did not know about averages would not be able to think of the second solution.

So thinking requires knowledge which is used to answer questions or solve problems, and lack of knowledge limits the scope of our thinking. In addition to the illustration this example makes for the necessity of knowledge to thinking, it illustrates two other important points:

The "facts" of reality to which truth refers, do not have to be physical facts, but any kind of facts. For example, the necessity of knowledge to thinking is itself a fact of reality, the reality of the nature of thinking, though none of these, "knowledge," "necessity," or "thinking," are physical.

The other point our example illustrates is that there is frequently more than one way to think correctly and arrive at the correct conclusions. What determines whether our thinking is correct or not, is whether one's conclusion is true, and it is truly the thinking that led to that conclusion.

The importance of knowledge to thinking cannot be overemphasized. It is not possible to ever have all the knowledge one can have, and whatever knowledge we could have and do not make the effort to learn, limits the extent of our thinking, and the scope of our very lives. Knowledge is all we have to think with, and all we have to think about.


Our enjoyment of life is directly experienced emotionally, but for many, the emotional experience is not one of joy and happiness, but a kind suffering. Bad emotional experiences are not causeless, but the direct result of those things we think, believe, choose, and do.

If our thinking is muddled, or our choices based on feeling and whim and we have no certain foundation for what we believe and think, our emotions will be equally muddled and erratic, often experienced as baseless fears, impulsiveness, confusion, and chronic depression.

Since it is our own thinking that is the cause of our emotional turmoil, the solution is to correct our thinking.

The objective of our thinking is truth which will provide us with an understanding of reality and make us able to deal with it. Truth consists of all statements about anything which conforms to or agrees with the facts of reality. We must know what truth really is.

Nothing can be both true and false, there are no paradoxes, and every contradiction means something we think or believe is not true. We must seek out every contradiction we hold, explicitly or implicitly, and determine how to correct it.

Since words are the tools of our thinking, our thinking can only be correct and clear if the words we use are correctly defined and clearly understood. We must eliminate all vague or fuzzily defined words, or learn what the precise meanings of our words are.

The facts of reality are what they are, no matter what we feel about them or what we desire concerning them. We must never let feeling interfere with our clear objective reasoning.

If what we base our thinking on is just assumed, if we do not know how or why what be believe is true, if it is just what everyone else believes or some authority claims, we can never be sure our thinking is correct. We must know that what we base our thinking on is the truth, determined by the facts of reality.

Knowledge is both what we think about and what we think with. The only limit to our thinking is the limits of our knowledge. We must learn all we possibly can about ourselves and the world we live in for our thinking, and therefore our lives, to be all they can possibly be.