Monday 7 February 2011

Why does one-step reasoning dominate in modern discourse?


Short answer, because there is nothing to underpin modern discourse.

One-step reasoning is scaffolding cantilevered over an abyss of nihilism: so there is no incentive to point out this fact.


By one-step reasoning I mean that a question posed in modern discourse carries the expectation that it be answered in its own terms, briefly (preferably in a single sentence), conclusively, and without reference to any other mode of discourse.

To question the discourse is to demolish it. Therefore:

It is not permitted to re-frame the question as ill-formed or prejudiced;

It is not permitted to refer to transcendental values ('the good' or evil; truth, beauty or virtue).

Hence the shallowness, rhetorical trickery, emotional manipulation of all modern public discourse.


Hence we simply get several or many incommensurable answers to any particular question from the discourses of politics, law, economics, the media, education, science, 'ethics', religion...

Which discourse prevails in a specific instance is simply a matter of which one is successfully imposed.

And there is no possibility of principled compromise, because there is no underpinning value (whether general or specific) which might be optimized by a compromise.

So, instead of compromise, we get horse-trading, deal-cutting, carve-ups and trade-offs.


But nothing can be done about it. Everyone is as bad as everyone else: and purportedly 'in-depth' analysis is merely distally incoherent at the third-step of reasoning, instead of at the proximate second-step.


We have now arrived at Ralph Waldo Emerson's desired state when he asks: "Let us having nothing now which is not its own evidence"

- that is to say, self-evident within an already-established mode of discourse.

No more to be said: nothing to say.



James Kalb said...

A good comment. Political discussion today consists of slogans, talking points, and one-liners, largely for the reason you suggest--the lack of an overall structure of meaning that's understood to be implicit in the way things are. Liberal theory accepts that situation and then tries to find neutral technical ways to resolve disputes. It fails, of course, so you end up once again with pure assertion but at a higher level.

Daniel said...

Mr. Charlton,

This seems to be on the right track to me, but I still am not completely sure what you mean by one-step reasoning.

Can you please give one or two real-world examples that you find typical of "one-step reasoning"?

Bruce Charlton said...

Daniel - surely you don't expect actual examples from *this* blog, do you ;-).

The only way these matters can be discussed is for the readership to provide their own examples (i.e. the 'dog whistle' method of communication, as PC mavens name it).

I simply mean the mainstream reasoning deployed by mainstream media - this fact implies that.

Intellectual media deploy two-step reasoning - this fact does not mean that (as dumb or evil people believe) but instead the opposite.

This explains why hate facts *must* be kept-out of the mainstream media (or buried behind boring and confusing obfuscation) - because one-step reasoning will lead the audience to non-PC conclusions.

Anonymous said...

I am currently reading Neil Postman's Technopoly and I am sure there is a link between his concept of glut of information, where people rely on revealed information and confuse trivial knowledge with wisdom and your observation that one step reasoning dominates today.

I am not certain how they are linked, but Postman pointed out that the technology shapes the way people in that society think and modern society is all about being told what is the truth and accepting it, instead of working toward it themselves.

Further, Postman also points out that an overload of information without controlling institutions means that people lose their reference point for understanding the world and will accept anything as truth.

As I said, I am not sure of the link, but as I was reading that book I was reminded of this post and I'm sure the processes Postman talks about lead to a lack of multi-step reasoning which you observed is prevalent today.

- Breeze

Bruce Charlton said...

I'm sure it is a major factor.