George Walford: Friendly Reason

In “Reason as Enemy” [1] Frank Antosen says that as an anarchist he wants a way of thinking more flexible than logic or reason (he uses these terms interchangeably), and proposes to find it by a ‘marriage of opposites,’ joining reason and imagination. “We must not,” he says, “worship our ‘rational’ sides and scorn our ‘irrational’ ones, but we must strive to unite the two complementary modes of thought.” In this way he aims to transcend the limitations of the type of logic mentioned earlier in his article, the formal logic that rigidly separates opposites, but if he realises that this has long been accomplished by another system of logic, one already formulated, the article does not make this clear; he does not develop or set out any more flexible logic.

Formal or Aristotelian logic, having at its centre the Law of Contradiction (nothing can be both X and non-X), cannot be discarded. It gives the “either / or” principle, that everything must be either this or that, and in many connections this makes for clear thinking and successful action. Every time we find it useful to treat something as this and not that, every time we choose one or the other of two alternatives (as of course we are constantly doing) we use this rule and the Aristotelian formulation sets it out precisely, giving a dependable standard for reference. The trouble comes from the claim that this is not merely a general but a universal law (nothing can be both X and non-X). It does not in fact exhaust reality, for many things are both X and non-X. Is a doorway a material object? If yes, then the (immaterial) space it surrounds forms no part of it and the doorway will serve its function equally well if blocked up. If no, then the timber framing and the wall, being material, can form no part of it and the doorway will remain if they are removed. Universal experience contradicts each of these alternatives; we have to accept that a doorway is both material and not material, both X and non-X.

But it is mainly where change, motion and development enter the question that formal logic breaks down. As the Greeks found long ago, to assert that a moving body must be either in or not in a given place at each instant leads to the conclusion that motion does not take place, which is absurd. Lumps of matter, however, can often be treated as stationary, and even when they move we rarely need to analyse the logical implications of their motion, so these failures of formal logic appear merely as oddities; the law stands. Living creatures, especially in their evolution, and even more so social affairs, particularly those which concern anarchists, are a different matter. Here change, motion and development are the norm, static conditions exceptional. And in social affairs change comes about mainly as the result of purposeful human actions (even though the outcome is seldom what anybody intended) so we do need to know the rules involved. If we are to think about things that are constantly being made other than they are, and to do so in a way likely to produce useful results, then we have to use rules of thinking that can cope not merely with being but with becoming. The Law of Contradiction states that nothing can be both X and non-X. The required supplement (we can perhaps christen it the Law of Transition) states that every X is becoming non-X.

This overcomes the sterilising effect which Frank Antosen rightly ascribes to formal logic; it offers scope for the exercise of imagination. Anarchists have no need to regard this type of reasoning as an enemy.

[1] Freedom, 6 April 1991.

Continue reading Angles on Anarchism by George Walford (1991):
Class Politics; an Exhausted Myth | Anarchy Renamed | Why So Few? | Gnostics as Anarchists of Old | The Two-Sided Anarchist | The Higher the Fewer | The Anarchist Police Force | Even Worse | In the Beginning | The Competitive Co-operators | I. Q. Against Anarchism | Anarchism in Series | Friendly Reason | Anarchist Research | Are They Not Anarchists? | The Trouble With Success | Of Governments and Gardens | The Poll Tax Lesson | Healthy Freedoms | The Conventional Artist | Underground Activity | The Cretan Egoist.