THEOSOPHY, Vol. 43, No. 4, February, 1955
(Pages 163-169; Size: 21K)
[Part 19 of a 29-part series]
THE role of logic in theosophical study obviously needs investigation, since only religion dispensed by revelation can presume to do without the disciplines of ordered thought. The theosophical inquirer, whether living in the days of Ammonius or in the present, is obliged by his credo to search the field of religion scientifically -- and the only laboratory tools available for this sort of work with intangibles are implements of thought. For each one to discover for himself an underlying core of psychological reality behind the verbal forms of religious doctrines, considerable analysis is required.
If not able to write an Isis Unveiled, one must at least be able to understand such a work, which means, finally, following threads of thought through the development given them by H. P. Blavatsky. All that she wrote was not part of a logical construct, of course, nor did she intend her books to be limited to this approach, but it is precisely her devotion to logic in respect to development of her fundamental propositions which encourages the reader to dwell without prejudice upon the doctrines she transmitted. "Speech is the logos of thought," she wrote in her Glossary; it is by study of inference, during the use of words, that the manasic power unfolds. While disciplined use of language will not of itself lead us to the "cause which is ever concealed," thus do we prepare the way for intuition to speak truly. In its original sense, logic means simply the science of using language correctly. Today we have a new division of analysis, called "semantics," and it is to be noted that here Logic and Language -- to borrow the title of BBC speaker and professor, A. G. N. Flew -- are receiving more attention in conjunction than "formal logic" has ever been able to attract. "The spoken word has a potency unknown to modern 'sages'," wrote H.P.B., and one form of that power is clearly the propensity of speech to directly affect the manasic constitution; reasonable use of language strengthens reason, and semantic accuracy may develop the discrimination. The Theosophist who knows something of semantic discipline, moreover, is more able to appreciate the paucity of English in regard to apt metaphysical terms -- hence the reason for so many Sanskrit words in H.P.B.'s lexicon.
The Encyclopædia Britannica contains twenty-three pages of discourse upon logic, so important is this subject for all philosophical consideration. The following extracts establish some of the distinctions often useful in the study of Theosophy:Inference is the act or process of deriving one judgment or proposition from another or from others....We do not, then, "prove" anything to be "true" -- that is, factual -- by use of logic, but we are able to demonstrate that certain inferences of propositions are consistent with the propositions. And so we build a philosophy; by use of that philosophy we are given guidance as to what inferences most merit our efforts to test through direct experience. Logic is a technique, operable only when some premise has been set forth, but unless one makes use of logic he has no way of knowing which "of all possible premises" offer the most consistent interpretations of experience. The Theosophist therefore may have faith in logic as one of his means of conducting independent investigation. If and when his capacity for logical thought reaches proficiency, moreover, he may then begin to share further in the thoughts of his teachers -- which is something even more important than having "faith" in their teachings. No one can know a teacher truly through intuition alone; the teacher -- not "revealer" -- must use the method of inference in transmitting his teaching, and unless we can follow such developments of thought, what is said can never, in a strict "logical" sense, be regarded as more than revelation or hearsay.
Now logic is the study of valid inference, not true inference. This is not because logic is not interested in truth, for its own function is to explain the true conditions of valid inference. It is simply a case of that division of labour which necessity has forced upon all the sciences. The study of the conditions of valid inference means the study of the general relations between inferences and premises. This is a sufficiently important task by itself. The study of the conditions of true inference would mean, in addition, an investigation into the truth of all possible premises -- an obviously impossible task....
Any violation of a rule of valid inference is called a fallacy. In calling a conclusion fallacious it is not meant that it is not true, but only that it is not valid, that is to say, that it is not justified by the evidence.
To claim that any presentation of a great idea is thoroughly logical, is to claim that its form is perfect -- a garment without any flaws or unevenness, so to speak. Few, however, know how to weave material of such excellence, and, even among those who sometimes can and do, the most creative ideas expressed by them will not always appear so dressed. Thus overuse of the word logic -- which implies knowledge of what constitutes perfection in a chain of reasoning -- can be very misleading. A person may present an idea for consideration without claiming anything about that idea, save the right to express it. But to claim that a certain conclusion is "logical" at the very time of voicing, often becomes a club waved over the head of a listener; when someone is told, moreover, that a certain doctrine is "logical," this may amount to also telling him that if he does not accept it he is simply not a reasonable man. And the doctrine is actually neither logical nor illogical, per se. It is, instead, composed of elements which may or may not be logical inferences from certain premises, and of other elements, perhaps, which cannot be fully tested in this manner -- affirmative, rather than "reasonable," in tone.
It is interesting to speculate upon what proportion of H. P. Blavatsky's writings present ideas in logical fashion. Certainly not those passages which outline theosophical doctrine, and there are many of them. Surely not her affirmations as to the existence of certain adept instructors who brought her into contact with those doctrines. The idea of adepts -- or rather, beings who have reached a higher stage of ethical development than ourselves, since the term "adept" is neither logical nor illogical -- is a natural extension of the Third Fundamental Proposition of The Secret Doctrine. Given the premise of that proposition -- and all logic must have some original premise to clothe -- the idea of an infinitude of grades of intelligence follows inevitably. But it does not follow inevitably, we may see, that such beings are (a) called "adepts," (b) in close and direct communication with each other, (c) known to H.P.B., (d) her instructors. Whether a, b, c, and d are true, depends upon each individual finding out for himself; reason will not give him answers of this nature, so he must turn to direct experience -- to which intuition may turn out to be the key.
It is true that acceptance of the fundamental premise of the Third Proposition of Theosophy, and a pondering of its logical implications, creates a mental atmosphere in which a, b, c, and d appear more credible than they could otherwise. Given that premise, H.P.B.'s statements about a fraternity of adepts and her own particular instructors are seen to be not illogical. Yet there is an all important distinction, so far as reasoning goes, between establishment of any conclusion or statement as "not illogical," and "being logical." In the first case the conclusion or statement has successfully passed a negative test: logic has nothing ill to say of it. But logic cannot demonstrate a fact, it can only create lines of thought which tell us something about how to evaluate the facts we do encounter. It gives us, above all else, a testing laboratory similar to one functioning for the purpose of detecting false jewels. But in this case, the laboratory cannot proclaim any reported fact to be genuine -- it can only report an absence of logical contradiction to the reported fact.
Logic shows us those principles and general ideas which are consistent with our premises. Logic does not, cannot, demonstrate particulars, for it deals with universals. Plato is our first Western logician, both in time and in honor, and he restricted himself to the statement of ethical principles and the extension of their implications through the processes of reasoning. Aristotle, on the other hand, tried to develop science on the basis of logical reasoning -- and made an utter mess of things from a scientific point of view. His "facts" turned out to be no facts at all in the light of subsequent investigation, while Plato's reasoned extension of principles, upon which he and his readers can agree as premises, possesses the same validity to this day.
The identification of science with logic, so common in our time, is itself a cause of confusion. H.P.B. spoke to this point when she quoted from a volume of her day which criticized careless use of logic by certain physicists who seemed to think that the new men of science somehow gained the right to dictate new laws of thought (S.D. I, 485):Stallo's work, "Concepts of Modern Physics," a volume which has called forth the liveliest protests and criticisms, is recommended. ... "The professed antagonism of Science to metaphysics," he writes, "has led the majority of scientific specialists to assume that the methods and results of empirical research are wholly independent of the control of the laws of thought. They either silently ignore, or openly repudiate, the simplest canons of logic, including the laws of non-contradiction and ... resent with the utmost vehemence, every application of the rule of consistency to their hypotheses and theories ... and they regard an examination (of these) ... in the light of these laws as an impertinent intrusion of 'à priori principles and methods' into the domains of empirical science...."Thus, one of H.P.B.'s fundamental criticisms of current scientific opinion was on logical grounds, and her appreciation of proper disciplines of inference is here made obvious. Elsewhere in the S.D. she more than once quotes from a text with which she was familiar -- Logic, by Dr. Alexander Bain -- which establishes points similar to those argued by Stallo in the previous quotation. In fact, all of H.P.B.'s writings, including her many articles in Lucifer and The Theosophist, are honeycombed with criticism of conventional positions taken by both theologians and scientists -- criticisms offered on logical grounds. That is, adopting for the moment, and for the sake of criticism, the very premises which the orthodox of either persuasion profess to hold, she then proceeds to demonstrate that neither religious nor scientific dogmas follow inevitably from these original assumptions -- save in the case of such a "first premise" as original sin, which is not strictly a philosophical assumption at all.
We see, whenever the Occultists are bold enough to raise their diminished heads, that materialistic, physical science is honeycombed with metaphysics; that its most fundamental principles, while inseparably wedded to transcendentalism, are nevertheless, in order to show modern science divorced from such "dreams," tortured and often ignored in the maze of contradictory theories and hypotheses.
For instance, the premise that the writings of the New Testament constitute proof that Christ was a "Son of God," does not make legitimate a claim that Jesus was a special creation -- the only being to have enjoyed the paternity of deity. Similarly, the impressive psychological truths of the Bible need not lead devotees to deny the truths of The Bhagavad-Gita, the Puranas, the Vedas, the Upanishads, Pythagorean and Neo-Platonic writings, etc., for logic does not demand mutual exclusiveness. Nor, on the scientific side, did the discovery of certain laws of "natural selection" lead inescapably to the conclusion that the human soul derived its modifications and improvements for the interaction of geographical circumstances and physical adaptability. It is as if H.P.B., throughout, is making a running commentary upon the inevitable tendency of the human mind to stretch inferences beyond their legitimate scope. Extremes of bias, moreover, since they can be revealed by careful application of logical reasoning, may be gradually corrected by these means. The soundness of this approach is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the unwarranted conclusions of an older science and religion have been steadily modified by rational criticism, until the barriers between current views in both fields and those propounded by Madame Blavatsky have been eroded away in spectacular degree during the last hundred years.
But the role of logic in the presentation of Theosophy is by no means restricted to criticism or rebuttal of those who proclaim non-theosophical opinions. Two illustrations will indicate the dynamic role that logic may play in expounding the theosophical purview: William Q. Judge begins one of his chapters in the Ocean of Theosophy with a statement to the effect that unless we deny the immortality of the soul, there is no rational justification for failure to consider the doctrine of reincarnation. For those who do accept the probability of immortality, whether on intuitive or any other grounds, the task but remains for logical inference to show that reincarnation is, as Hume put it, "the only doctrine [of immortality] to which philosophy can harken." John McTaggart, of Cambridge, a famous metaphysician and logician of the early 1900's, contributed an impressive demonstration of this fact in his book, Human Immortality and Pre-existence. Utilizing the canons of formal logic -- too involved and specialized to be discussed with profit here -- he led his readers, step by step, to the conclusion implied by William Q. Judge. Similarly, C. J. Ducasse, defending the idea of reincarnation before the American Philosophical Association in 1951, used the science of logical inference to give plausibility to the idea of rebirth of the human soul.
To take one other illustration: When H.P.B. wrote that "the whole quarrel between the esoteric and profane sciences lies in the demonstration of the existence of an astral body within the physical," the implicit suggestion is that once the proof of an electro-magnetic design body is accepted, logical reasoning will lead men of science to reconsider the idea of immortality. In the works of J. B. Rhine, referred to frequently during recent years in THEOSOPHY, something of this sort is constantly occurring. In this case, the existence of a set of "inner faculties," independent of the physical organism is in a measure equivalent to admitting the "astral."
Thus we have all grades and degrees of attention to "doctrines of the soul" among those who have interested themselves in the implications of extra-sensory perception. Raynor Johnson's The Imprisoned Splendour has carried this line of reasoning farther than any book to date, branching off into a frank and open evaluation of the relevance of theosophic terms and doctrines as applied to realms beyond the senses.
Finally, in conclusion, while it was obviously never H.P.B.'s intent to present the whole of her teachings as part of a tight logical system, her uses of logic can be seen to be both manifold and significant. A student of H.P.B. is quite correct in concluding that many theosophic doctrines cannot be evaluated in logical terms -- can only, in fact, be received with an attitude of sympathetic attentiveness caused by one's recognition of the qualifications of H.P.B. and Judge as teachers. But simply because there is more than logic in Theosophy, it need not be concluded that the science of logical inference is unimportant. Quite possibly we all give up efforts towards logical reasoning too soon, and thus miss uncovering subtle connecting links of thought, which might, in time, bring us to a more direct appreciation of the meaning of specific doctrinal teachings.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
IMAGES AND REFLECTIONS
An image has two properties. First, it receives its being from the thing whose image it is, immediately and above will, for it is a natural product, sprouting out of its nature as a branch does out of a tree. Any face thrown on a mirror is, willy-nilly, imaged therein. But its nature does not appear in its looking-glass image: only the mouth, nose and eyes, just the features are seen in the glass.
Know, this impartible image of God which is stamped in the Soul is sealed direct in her innermost nature; this most fundamental, most noble part of her nature, is really what takes this soul-pattern, and that not by means either of will or wisdom.
The second characteristic of an image we note in its likeness to its object. And here observe especially two things. First: an image is not itself, neither is it its own. So an image received into the eye is not the eye itself nor has it any real existence in the eye but is merely suspended from and tethered to the thing it is the image of, whereto it entirely belongs and wherefrom it gets its being and is being that same being. Note well my definition of an image. There are four points to bear in mind, and haply others will occur to you. An image is not itself, neither is it its own; it is solely that thing's whose reflection it is and it is due to this alone that it exists at all. The image takes its being direct from the thing whose image it is, having one nature therewith and being the very same thing.
[Semantics. Semanticists. Words. Logic.
Theological Categories. Dogmatism.
Religious and Political Authoritarianism.
Excerpts from these 4 Books:
"People in Quandaries".
"Science and Sanity".
"Logic and Language".
"Language Habits in Human Affairs".]
[Part 20 of a 29-part series]
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