Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Principled Contradiction and the Non-Principle of Non-Contradiction

In response to my objection to those who object to denial of the principle of non-contradiction, Pseudonoma wonders
whether one shouldn't be careful to draw a distinction between someone who is willing to accept what to them "will sound like contradictions" and one who is willing to deny non-contradiction IN PRINCIPLE.
I think this fine as long as one doesn't make the distinction so carefully that one fails to notice that in the normal case these two "someones" are the same person. For the refusal to hear statements which (as they are formulated) contradict each other or themselves, typically justifies itself on the basis of the interpretation of non-contradiction as a principle. If I can test the logical cogency of a remark or set of remarks by applying the principle of non-contradiction, as though this remark or set of remarks were a particular case of what non-contradiction universally governs (namely, discourse)—if I can verify the validity of particular remarks by seeing how the square with this universal principle, then I can excuse myself from engaging essential dialectical situations with the same self-assured alacrity with which I dismiss the ravings of the man on the street who says he has just come back from the moon with a message for humanity. On the other hand, I will subject myself to these dialectical situations—which is to say, I will have the opportunity to learn—only if I do not think of non-contradiction as having the kind of applicability to the remarks I am listening to that a universal has to particulars: only, that is, if I deny that non-contradiction is a principle. And in what other way can anyone be willing to deny it?

All of this is really to say less elegantly what Pseudonoma himself says in continuation of his reply:
It may well be true that this person is "unintelligible"—at least in principle. However it also occurs to me that this only MAY be the case. There is perhaps more than one kind of denial—and for that matter, more than one meaning of a principle. One might indeed say that there is something contradictory about formulating non-contradiction as a principle—but this problem, which I first stumbled upon years ago in a tiny undergrad thesis, opens up, as they say, a whole can, not to say diet, of worms.
That tiny undergrad thesis, by the way, I blame for my having spent the last five years in fits of agony—that is, in a graduate program in philosophy.