26/02/2011

The proposition, the argument and the dialogue


J. L. David (1787) - The Death of Socrates

Today  many people seems to feel their personal opinions are somewhat important  in a manner exceeding the importance and limited scope of the opinions expressed. This leads to a culture where opinions and discourse is imposed upon others.  If we add to this that language, like society, has degenerated to a level where discourse is often done from a personal materialism and political interest this questions the ethos and pathos involved in discourse. What we see is a maze of disagreements and pointless bickering – a battle between formless opinions. At times, when you make clear that you see no use in entertaining dialogue some people see this as a provocation, because they so desperately want to convince themselves by convincing you. I have no interest in debating who is right and who is wrong with anyone, but I do like the good discourse that arises in the field of agreed proposition where the focus is to widen horizon. If a personal opinion is passionately attached to the proposition or even worse – to one of the representations in the field of discourse, chances are that we are wasting time that could have been better used contemplating happiness over a cup of coffee. 

Wittgenstein commented upon this complex related to the proposition that this must be able to communicate a new sense in us. This is done better with applying a new use of old expressions. It is crucial that the proposition is a picture of reality by virtue of its representatives and logic inherent in the picture itself. These representatives and what he define as signs must be logically articulated because there can never be representatives of the logic of facts. This means that a proposition equals reality and is judged true or false insofar as it presents a picture of the proposed reality.  The impact this has for semantics and language as they take place in a dialogue is as Wittgenstein says in 4.112 in his Tractatus: ‘Without philosophy thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and indistinct: its task is to make them clear and to give them sharp boundaries.” 

If we bring these elements with us to the field of discourse analysis we will see that representatives in a picture are always spoken off from the point of view of the subject. This is because the representatives and signs as facts do not possess a voice by virtue of being. It is the philosophical reasoning inherent in the logic dissemination of the sign and representations that makes form to appear from the clouds of thoughts.  This means that in a discourse we can never mirror the objective world – but a unique presentation of the proposition with a greater relation to truth by considering historical, social and personal factors involved in the generation of the proposition. 

Discussion is important in order to obtain clarity of thoughts.  In Rome, to discuss meant to smash something, to investigate, in a juridical sense – to arrive to the proof, something certain. The discussion proper aids in giving boundaries to the proposition so signs and representations appears more clear. This process should first take the shape of a soliloquy, so you are as clear as possible about the conditions and reasons for your proposition. It is here we find the philosophical distinction between truth and falsity – it simply rests in the ethos of the speaker. With this we mean the character. In Aristotle’s idea of ethos we find the reasons for the speech, if it is to impart, to share, to convince – the orientation of the speech is ultimately rooted in character. The character reveals itself in pathos – the way one expresses the proposition. The political discourse of power aiming to convince you is different that the discourse of philosophy which seeks to impart a truthful representation of reality. In this we also have elements such as passion and the personal reasons for the discourse. A man that want to share thoughts and solutions that he himself found useful in his life with others will speak from a different ethos and pathos than someone that has taken a cloud of thoughts infested with passion and use this as basis for his proposition. To a certain extent, a discourse always aims to convince or seduce – this being intentional or accidental. The accidental seduction is far better in my perspective because it arises as a consequence of an ethos that has no ulterior motives. Aristotle saw in the way of argumentation also how the ethos was replicated. The greater the eloquence in the speech – the more solid and true the ethos, the more aggressive and imposing the argumentation, the more pathos was used to veil a wanting ethos.

So, from these few points, if we want to engage into a fruitful dialogue or discussion we need to agree upon the proposition. This must first be discussed and some form of agreement upon what it represents must be in place. In this process the cloud of thoughts take shape and gets sharp. This is absolutely necessary if we want to speak about the same thing with the aim of widening the horizon. Failing this we will not engage a discourse, but simply a quarrel upon the proposition itself and will just make the clouds more formless. 

Modern discourse tends to refute this very important factor in any meaningful exchange of ideas and seek to impose opinions on the proposition, while the proposition is clarified by the simple act of questions and the discussion and debate this generates. Today people seem to be operating often from categories that are conceived of as true, even thou no discourse upon these propositions is presented. 

Let me take an example; the proposition: ‘Paganism is not witchcraft’, this statement holds many variables and in order to discuss the statement and judge if it is true or false we need to engage a discussion upon the factors represented. It is not enough to state ones opinion without also analyzing the ethos. This means, before entertaining a debate upon this statement the quality of the discourse is defined by establishing first ones ethos and then present ones understanding of what the various representations means for the participants. It is on basis of these preliminary considerations the value of a discourse or a dialogue can be judged and for me a lot of quarrels can be avoided if we adhere to the following rule: unless asked, don’t give your opinion. If you are asked about your opinion it is because the one posing the question see sympathy of ethos taking place. In the discussion the parties must be humble, meaning, possess the constitution of actually considering the views and perspectives of the opponent. Failing this the dialogue tends to be meaningless and quarrelsome, in a battle of personal opinions – quite useless.