Basic Orientation
Book1: R-E Living & "Homo Rationalis"
Introduction: Most Important Book
Basic Methods In This Book
The Three Exponential Changes
Basics: Determinants Of Behavior
Basics: Ethics
Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention
Rational-Ethical Child Rearing
Rational-Ethical Belief Management
Rational-Ethical Government
Rational-Ethical Religion
What The Reader Should Do
Book2: Humanianity
Book3: Mind-Body Problem
Book4: (Future Possible Development)
Child Rearing Issues
Philosophico-Religious Issues
Psycho-Socio-Cultural Issues
The Twelve Articles
Relevant Autobiography


I believe that our species is just beginning to undergo a third exponential change. I believe this change is good, in that it will promote the survival of and the good life for our species. I believe that by becoming aware of this change, the reader will be able to assist in promoting it, and will also benefit with regard to his or her own personal life in doing so. This book is an effort to call attention to that change, and to foster its development.

It is important to note that "becoming aware of" this change means agreeing that the change is indeed occurring, and that "promoting the change" and "fostering its development" mean engaging in agreed-upon. coordinated behavior, that is, behavior based upon agreement about what should be done. I am in this paragraph attempting to call the reader's attention to the ultimate, extreme importance of AGREEMENT.

Because "agreement" is such an important phenomenon, I wish to clarify the meaning of the word, as it is used in this book. Actually, the word generally refers to three different phenomena.

The first kind of "agreement" is the existence of identical or close to identical beliefs in two or more individuals. The individuals may or may not be aware of such agreement between them. We might, for example, say, "They never met each other, but they were in agreement about this matter." Also note that the agreed-upon belief may be accurate, inaccurate, or somewhere in between ("somewhat accurate"). This kind of agreement is simply a state of affairs.

The second kind of "agreement" is the acknowledgement of one individual that his or her belief is the same as that of another. One individual may ask another, "Do you agree that X is so?" and the other might say, "Yes, I agree." His or her statement that he or she agrees is the act of agreement that this second meaning of the word is referring to. One individual would be "agreeing with" the other. Note that an individual might say he or she agreed, and yet not really believe what he or she was saying he or she believed. The other individual might later have reason to say, "But you AGREED (that such-and-such was so)?!!" This kind of agreement is a communicative act of an individual, reporting (accurately or not) the existence of a particular belief within him or her.

The third kind of "agreement" is the induction of the belief in another that one intends to do something. I may, by my words, by a nod of my head, by my signing a document, or perhaps by my silence lead another to the belief that I intend to do a particular thing (usually that is being requested of me). In such a case, I am "agreeing" to do it. In so agreeing, I may be assuming a "role" within my group (of two or more individuals). The other(s) will believe that I am going to engage in the act in question, based upon my behavior (statement, head-nod, silence, etc.). Others might have occasion later to say, "But you AGREED to do it?!!" This kind of agreement is a communicative act of an individual or group of two or more individuals that provides them or others with an increased ability to predict the behavior of those who have agreed.

Agreement (of all three meanings) tends to promote coordination of effort, unity of goal, effectiveness of action, and harmony. Disagreement tends to promote disorganization, slower decision-making, increased failure, and negative emotion within the group. (It is, of course, also extremely important that what we agree upon is accurate or correct. Agreement that is in error can lead to mistakes, and even tragedies.) I am talking about the concept of "working together," to bring about change, to create things, to make life better, to protect ourselves, to foster our survival, etc., which involves our agreeing on certain basic beliefs about the way the world is and about what we should do, letting each other know when we agree and disagree, and agreeing to do certain things (carry out our responsibilities, perform our roles, behave in predictable ways, etc.). In order to live together and just even to survive, a certain amount of such agreement is absolutely essential. In fact, humans have accomplished nothing important without some degree of agreement.

Now I am not saying that agreement about everything is important. I believe it is a fact of life that there will always be disagreement about a large number of things. But our quality of life, in fact our very survival, is dependent upon some degree of agreement, that is, agreement about certain basic things, including agreement about what we should do when we do not agree.

This book is an effort to foster such agreement about certain BASIC things, having to do with the way the world is and how we should live life.

But our species is faced with a problem. In order to clarify the nature of the problem, I wish to use a metaphor depicting the current status of our agreement among ourselves, as a species.

Imagine a tree, with no leaves on the branches. The roots of the tree are not a part of this metaphor. We can take a look at a branch and regard it as a particular potential belief or opinion about the nature of the world or about what should be done. Its diameter reflects the number of people agreeing with that opinion, or having that opinion or belief. (One particular individual, of course, will have many beliefs, represented by many branches and twigs throughout the tree.) As we move toward the periphery, the branch keeps dividing, and each division becomes smaller. Thus, as we go out toward what we might consider the periphery of our knowledge, we see more and more divided opinion, with fewer individuals adhering to any specific belief. The trunk of the tree would represent, therefore, the collection, or set, of all those opinions upon which all individuals agree, about the way the world is and what should be done.

We do see examples of branches withering away and dropping off, while other branches grow in diameter. There are very few individuals at this point that believe the earth is flat. The opinions that were in turn based upon this primary opinion have also just about disappeared. The branch that survived and grew in diameter was the one representing the belief that the earth is more or less spherical. And many other branches coming off of this one, representing more specific beliefs based upon this belief, such as what the result would be of attempting to fly around the world, have grown in diameter.

The problem I am referring to, however, is that the trunk of this tree is to a great extent missing, at least with regard to general, basic opinions about the nature of the world and how to live life. We have a state of affairs in which there are an almost unlimited number of different opinions maintained by different individuals and groups, but hardly any set of opinions that all seem to agree upon. In fact, there is, I believe, a widespread opinion that there is no reason to expect a trunk to exist. Many believe that the trunk is neither necessary nor desirable. This phenomenon will be elaborated on later.

This book is an effort to bring about a sturdy trunk of the tree. I am attempting to pull together a very BASIC set of concepts that I believe can be accepted by EVERYONE, and that are of FUNDAMENTAL IMPORTANCE to our survival as a species and to the quality of our lives on this planet. I believe this will involve, however, the necessity to see the change in our species that is beginning to accelerate (the third exponential change), because it is recognition of this change that is essential to our necessary basic understanding about what we should do in order to foster our survival and the good life for us all.

Now how can it be possible that, in this day and age, I should be able to call attention to a set of extremely important phenomena that everyone can indeed see, but that, so far, no one else has seen?

The reader could understandably conclude that there is no reason to read further, because the likelihood of the basic premise of the above question is so low. But I believe there is indeed an answer, or more accurately, a set of answers. In fact, the question can be divided into two:

  • (1) Why would I, out of seven billion people, be the one to be able to see these phenomena?
  • (2) Why would "no one else" see these same phenomena?

First of all, of course, the above questions are exaggerations. All of the phenomena discussed in this book have indeed been seen and commented on by many, respected others. What, as far as I know, has not happened is that someone has pulled them all together in the manner carried out in this book. And what I am saying in addition is that doing so is very important and useful, and even crucial. Determining whether this is indeed so is the task of the reader.

I will now give my answers to the above two questions. (I do not believe that the answer to the first question is as important and complex as is the answer to the second, and I will therefore devote only one paragraph to it. But the answers to the second question involve the basic methods of this book.)

(1) The reason that it is I, rather than someone else, that is performing this task has to do with the details of my own personal life. Basically, I am one of those individuals who developed early in life a strong need to understand existence and myself in as basic a manner as possible. I was a nerd with mild social phobia, and I sought solutions through understanding. Very early, I became interested first in the physical sciences, then in the study of the mind, and finally in the big philosophical/religious questions. I was never satisfied with my understandings, because there were still disagreements in all these areas, and I maintained a need to try to see these questions resolved. By late teens, I knew I wanted to go into psychiatry. My early psychiatric orientation was psychoanalytic, because at that time there was still a belief that the most basic answers to questions about the mind and the self lay in that field, and I undertook many years of personal psychoanalysis. I soon expanded my interest and activities into social and family psychiatry and ultimately into child psychiatry. As the years went on, I developed my own anger prevention paradigm, or model, as I conducted marital psychotherapy, and I developed a model of child rearing that grew out of my efforts to help parents with their children, and also out of my observation of my own failures. Meanwhile, toward the end, I became a regular participant for many years in a philosophy discussion group (mentioned under "Acknowledgements"), in which the group code was that any and every belief that one proposed to the group was open to be challenged to the greatest extent possible. This group, it seemed, was one that very few individuals could remain in because of this code. The continual exposure of my ideas to this corrosive and cleansing process helped me to develop much greater clarity in my own mind and greater ability to explain to others my own ideas. But what happened that made the writing of this book seem so important was that I increasingly saw all of these areas coalescing into a coherent set of ideas, each area reinforcing what was developing in the other areas, and all of the areas having to do with the most distressing problems that all of us face, individually and as a species. During the course of this book, I hope to share this sense of coalescence and importance. In fact, that is what the book is all about. There may indeed be others who have had almost the same background as I have had, and maybe some of them have made similar efforts that I am not aware of. For me, it has become a challenge and a source of meaning in my life to attempt this act of grateful communication to my species.

(2) The reason that we, as a species, have not yet come to an agreement regarding what I am going to point out in this book is, I believe, that there are three sets of problems that have interfered. The first two I will deal with in this chapter, because they involve the very method of thinking about and discussing these issues. The third is so much a part of what the whole book is about that I will be attempting to cover it in a more detailed manner throughout the whole book, rather than just in this chapter. The following three problems are what I am referring to:

  • (a) Some confusing characteristics of our natural ways of thinking about and discussing issues
  • (b) The inappropriate criteria generally used for legitimating propositions
  • (c) The "emotional" determinants of belief and agreement

There is one other, more general, reason that could be mentioned, and that is that the area or topic of this discussion is not of a concrete and specific enough nature that the above three factors would be overridden simply out of an obvious necessity to do so. In other words, we have not yet been forced, out of some sort of necessity, to overcome the above three factors in our discussions of broad, general issues, even though this has indeed happened in more specific areas of knowledge, where more immediate decision-making has been involved. However, I believe that this necessity is increasing rapidly. These statements will be better understood, I think, after the reader has read the remainder of this chapter, and especially after he or she has read the book.

I will now discuss problems (a) and (b), above.

Beginning with (a), "some confusing characteristics of our natural ways of thinking about and discussing issues," we need first to look at what the basic process of communication is. A way of looking at it is that one person wishes to evoke in the mind of one or more others, to some extent, a mental state (idea, image, fantasy, memory, emotion, motivation) that is similar to the one in his or her own mind, or similar to one that he or she has experienced and can imagine. If, in addition, the goal is the development of and acknowledgment of agreement about something, then there needs to result in the minds of those involved the belief that the mental state is indeed shared, that is, is similar. The tool used in this process is the symbol. The most important kind of symbol is the "word" (and collections of them as phrases and sentences). A more general discussion of symbols will be presented later in this book, but for our current purposes we will simplify and simply refer to "words." But in order for the communication to work, the words being used must evoke in the minds of the involved individuals, as much as possible, the same mental states. The words must mean the same to all involved in the discussion.

And it is precisely this criterion that is so often not met. Discussions may occur endlessly without this very basic requirement having been achieved. As two or more individuals communicate, they select the words that they are going to use according to an automatic, unconscious process that reflects their own past experiences, their own characteristic ways of speaking, their own nuances of meaning, their own impressions as to what ways of speaking will be most convincing, etc. The problem is that the listener may have a substantially different way of using words, relying upon different meanings and upon various connotations, such that when the listener hears the speaker, he or she has a subjective experience that may be quite different than the one predicted by the speaker. What the speaker "means" by what he or she says is not necessarily what the listener "hears" being said. It is as if each person has a different language, although the languages have the same words. Since the languages have the same words, the individuals experience the illusion that they understand each other, and they therefore conclude that they disagree. that is, have different beliefs.

There are three main reasons for this problem.

The first reason is that there are indeed often several, or even many, words and phrases that are used to mean approximately the same thing. As our symbol-using behavior, primarily our use of language, has developed over the past many thousands of years, it has naturally come about that in a given language (1) there are often several different words used for at least approximately the same thing and (2) the same word is often used for more than one thing. However, each of the words also tends to acquire additional meanings, these meanings potentially being different for different individuals. These additional meanings are often referred to as "connotations," as opposed to "denotations." The connotations are often evaluative. Therefore, when referring to the same basic phenomenon, two individuals may refuse to use the same word. For instance, some might attempt to refer to a personality trait of an individual by describing him or her as being persistent, being adamant, standing up for what he or she believes, being stubborn, or being closed-minded. Whether one disagreed with the individual would have something to do with which word or phrase one would use to describe the individual. Two individuals, who might otherwise come to realize that they are in agreement, may believe that they disagree, simply because they will not use the same word or phrase to mean the same thing.

A very clear example that I have often been faced with has arisen in my efforts to help individuals handle anger-containing situations more optimally by learning an anger-prevention paradigm. In order to do so, the individual has to be able to identify anger. The phenomenon itself (anger) can be of all degrees, from just a little to a whole lot, but it is quite common for individuals to have no term that refers to any and all anger, irrespective of its intensity. This difficulty has to be overcome in order to use the anger prevention paradigm.

When there can be no agreement to use a word similarly, and no agreement to use the same word for the same thing, there can be no way of communicating accurately about the same thing. (And, of course, this problem is more likely to occur in broad, general discussions than in ones devoted to very specific, and therefore "well-defined," topics.)

The second reason consists of a problem that further intensifies the first one. The second problem is that there is often an erroneous belief, not fully recognized, that there is a "true meaning" of a word. This phenomenon is recognizable when individuals are disagreeing with one another as they are discussing the nature of some entity. They will claim that a particular word does not mean what the other person's use of it implies. Someone will say, "But that's not what (word or phrase) is!" or "But I don't agree that that is what (word or phrase) means!" An appeal to the dictionary is often made for determining the "real" meaning of a word, and often with disappointment when it turns out that there are several meanings listed, with perhaps none of them really satisfying the requirements of one or more of the participants in the discussion. There is a tendency to believe that, if we have a word for something, then there is, somewhere in the world, a something that precisely goes with that word, and that it is a matter of armchair analysis or empirical study to ascertain what that something is. This tendency is the very opposite of what should occur. We should recognize that the goal remains the conveying of a mental state from one mind to another, and that the best way of doing this is to agree, for the purposes of the current discussion, that a word will be used in a particular, specified manner. This would be called "defining" the word. In other words, the discussion should include an agreement on the definition, for the sake of that discussion. of any important words, rather than an argument about what the definitions of the words "really" are.

The third reason is that it is usually impossible to define words and phrases precisely.

Definition ultimately goes back to pointing to something while using a symbol (word or phrase) to represent it. (By pointing, we shall mean engaging in behavior to induce in the other either an experience or the memory or imagination of an experience.) The simplest example is that of pointing, say, to a chair and saying "chair." This is the way that we start learning the meanings of words. We learn to associate the word with the thing that we are paying attention to when the word is spoken. After learning the concrete meanings of certain words, we can begin to define other words in terms of these words that we already have defined. We can essentially point with words and phrases, saying, for instance, that "chair" is "the object in front of the table," in this way getting the other to look at the object, or evoking in the mind of the other the image of the object. If someone were to want to define "hunger," he or she would say it was the feeling that one gets if one goes a while without eating. This is a way of pointing to that feeling, recalling it to the other person's mind. As we continue to define the words and phrases contained in our definitions, a kind of pointing will still be involved, an evoking in the mind of the other a particular idea, image, set of words, etc. (As time goes on, we tend to think of the meaning of words as being only collections of other words, and only occasionally or vaguely do we go back to the basic sensory experiences and imaginations that the words ultimately make reference to. So the pointing we do is often to sets of words.)

Now there are two main inaccuracies involved in this process of defining.

The first inaccuracy comes about because whatever we point to generally has imprecise boundaries. A boundary is a concept that is a tool that helps us communicate and make decisions. It does not exist in reality; it is an arbitrary limit that we impose on our concept of the entity. It is an imprecise line that we draw around an entity, so to speak. For instance, the chair could be defined to include the paint on it or not. It could include the stains and dirt on it or not. If we used an electron microscope and other such equipment to study the atomic and subatomic structure of the chair, we would have to be quite arbitrary as to where to consider the atoms of the chair to leave off and the atoms of other substances, such as air or paint, to begin. The boundary of North Carolina is imprecise, as is the boundary between our atmosphere and space. The boundary of "anger" is also imprecise, as is that of "democracy." For most words and phrases, we will be able to find a shady area where it is not clear whether the contents of the area still fall within the definition or not. This inaccuracy may be said to result from the nature of the world, in that nothing in the world has precise boundaries.

The second inaccuracy,, somewhat like the first, is that when we attempt to define a word or phrase, first by naming the general set to which the referred-to entity belongs, and then by listing the properties that this more specific set (of one or more items) has that none other in the general set have, we will usually be able to find some items that may not be quite covered (pointed to) by the definition, but nevertheless may appropriately, for certain purposes, be included in the set to which the word or phrase refers. A doll house chair and/or a car seat and/or a three-legged stool and/or a box may or may not be included in our set of items to be referred to by the word "chair." This inaccuracy may be said to result from the nature of language, in that the decision as to what will be covered by the definition will be arbitrary, and can therefore vary. And when a word or phrase is defined, it is generally not feasible to make all the decisions one could conceivably make with regard to what shall and shall not be included in the definition.

So, probably most, if not all, definitions lack complete precision of meaning.

And because of this lack of precision, it sometimes happens that an individual will try to establish a definition to be used in a discussion, only to have another individual point out that the definition is unsatisfactory because the boundary of the definition cannot be precisely specified, or could be easily extended to include entities not meant to be included by the individual attempting the communication. The goal of the communication becomes lost as the individuals debate, and refuse to agree upon, the definition.

A major consequence of often having many different words for more or less the same thing is that we tend to choose words for their poetic overtones (emotional connotations), with the idea that doing so will evoke feelings in the listener that will aid in the process of convincing the listener. Poetry, wonderful and helpful in promoting empathy, nevertheless is often not really conducive to agreement, especially when there is already an impression of disagreement and a strong wish to convince. What would happen, for instance, to the agreement as to the certitude of propositions in Euclid's geometry if the entities (e.g., "straight line") were defined poetically (e.g., "that series of points that seeks the goal of intimacy most efficiently")? Political speeches, designed to convince, are good examples of this phenomenon, in which descriptions often contain words that have connotations of always being good, such as "courage," "loyalty," "faith," and "justice," or bad, such as "tyranny," "indecision," "greed," and "discrimination," even though the opposing viewpoint is quite respectable.

So consideration of the above three reasons for confusion and disagreement suggest that in order to reduce the likelihood of such failure in communication. we should:

  • (1) avoid using multiple terms (words and phrases) for the same thing within a given discussion,
  • (2) define any important words, or words that seem to anyone to have some ambiguity,
  • (3) recognize that our definitions are for the current discussion only, and
  • (4) require only that degree of precision of definition necessary for the current discussion.

It should be noted that the above approach to communication is designed only for particular kinds of communication, for instance, ones in which one individual is attempting to convey to others what is to be a way of understanding something in or about the world, that will possibly lead to improved decision-making by virtue of increased accuracy of such understanding. The above approach would not be suitable for literature designed to have an emotional impact on the recipient, such as would be true, for example, of poetry and fiction. We should not attempt to retrieve our astronauts with poetry, and we should not attempt to make love with definitions.

So, what I am talking about is the importance of using a consistent, well-defined frame of reference, in this case, a set of words with their agreed-upon definitions. And that is attempted in the book. And that is why the book has to be studied, not just read. If one just reads it, one will just get some interesting impressions to go along with all of the other impressions one has. But if one studies it as one might a geometry text book and increasingly sees how the words are defined and built upon one another, and then looks at the phenomena that those words refer to and considers the propositions being offered for proposed agreement, one will get a stronger feeling, hopefully, that the book is actually correct, not just interesting. And if this book is indeed correct, then it is, I believe the reader will agree, of utmost importance to us all, now and in the future.

Now, having discussed (a), above, namely, "some confusing characteristics of our natural ways of thinking about and discussing issues," I wish to move to (b), namely, "the inappropriate criteria generally used for legitimating propositions."

Much more will be said about "propositions" later in this book. At this point, let us simply consider that a "proposition" is a statement about something in or about the world.

What I mean by "legitimating" is "giving a reason for believing or agreeing." In other words, if I were asked why someone should agree with me, and I gave an answer, I would be proposing that answer as a legitimization of the proposition. It could be asked about any proposition (usually a sentence), "Is this proposition true or false?" Then, someone could state that it was true (or false), whereupon that person could be asked why he or she believed that it was indeed true (or false). The answer given would be the proposed legitimization of that proposition. What would be necessary for agreement would be that the other person(s) agree that the reason being given was indeed a compelling (legitimate) reason. If not, there would be disagreement about the criterion of legitimization. One example of my attempting to legitimate a proposition would be my showing that it was deducible as the third statement in a syllogism, the first two statements being agreed to already by those involved in the discussion. If someone did not agree with one of the first two propositions, or thought that the structure of my syllogism was faulty, then my attempt to legitimate the proposition would fail to meet a criterion of legitimization. The meaning of legitimating will become more apparent in what follows.

(The above paragraph was a simplification in order to explain "legitimization." Of course, two persons could agree, that is, have the same belief, but for two different reasons. They would be using two different criteria for legitimization.)

The problem, as I have said, is that it often happens that inappropriate criteria are used. The result of doing so is that there is failure to legitimate, and therefore to agree, when indeed agreement might be quite appropriate and actually beneficial.

I wish again to point to the problem that there is almost no universal agreement about general or basic ideas, nor even, at this point in our development, a belief that such agreement is indeed possible, or even desirable. However, I am taking the position that such agreement about certain general or basic ideas is not only possible and desirable, but, to a certain extent, ESSENTIAL.

Now how has it come to be that there is not only satisfaction with general disagreement, but even a positive valuing of it?

I believe the following general historical process has occurred. (My discussion will involve only western culture, with which I am most familiar.)

Certainly going back to our prehistoric past, we can assume that there was widespread disagreement, consisting of many different beliefs brought about by those processes involved in the development of superstition. As our species progressed, however, we began to learn how to do certain things that were helpful, and we allowed ourselves to learn from others. We could agree on more and more things. Still, however, there were vast areas of "knowledge" about which, especially in centers of trade, one could find quite diverse opinions. There was little distinction between superstition, mythology, religion, and what would later become "arts and sciences." Then there developed, primarily in ancient Greece, the belief that, with rational inquiry, one could achieve a kind of knowledge that was so superior that if one became adequately educated, one would indeed discover such knowledge and along with it the awareness as to why this knowledge had to be correct. The concept of absolute Truth arose. Absolute Truth would be self-evident and indubitable if the individual simply became enough educated to contemplate it. Of course, only the educated would have this capability of attainment of absolute Truth, and this led to the idea that only those who had attained it should be in charge of everything, hence the idea of philosopher kings. The thus educated of course were and would be a minority, who could not adequately be judged by the rest of the population.

This idea of absolute Truth became an important part of the Church for many centuries, and was inherent in the idea of "infallibility." It was legitimated by referring to the rules of logic, which would presumably show the properly educated person that the conclusions that were considered examples of absolute Truth could be "proven" to be so. Thus arose the criterion of legitimization called "proof." Only if something could be proven could it qualify as being definitely true, and there was the assumption that ultimately all that was true could indeed be proven to be true, at least in principle. (Actually, logical truth is only a property of a proposition in a system of logic. It has nothing to do with the accuracy with which a proposition states anything about reality, as will be discussed later.)

Of course there arose the complication that no one seemed to be able to propose ideas that could be shown to be provable, because before long someone else would show that the proof had loopholes in it. Extreme efforts were made to come up with a body of knowledge that was provable and therefore indubitable. Perhaps one of the most widely recognized efforts was that of René Descartes (1596 - 1650), who thought that, by systematically doubting everything, he could arrive at the ultimately indubitable, upon which a body of indubitable knowledge could be built by the use of logical proofs. This effort failed once again. One problem was that there could be no universal agreement regarding what was indubitable in the first place, or what such indubitable "knowledge" actually meant.

As science and mathematics grew, philosophers looked more and more at the nature of the language that was being used to formulate or represent our knowledge, and they began to regard many of the problems in attaining agreement to be inherent in errors in the use of our language. As more and more began to be accomplished in the area of mathematics and logic, the idea grew that if we utilized appropriate self-discipline in the use of our language, so that we used it as we do in mathematics and logic, then we could arrive at knowledge that could indeed be proven. This effort was that of the logical positivists.

Eventually, this effort was shown also to be defective, in that it became possible logically to demonstrate that there could be no set of logical procedures that would result in a complete system of ideas that would follow logically from some indubitable initial set of ideas. Part of the problem again was that there was no way of obtaining that initial set. Legitimating by proof failed.

Alongside this effort there developed another approach to the problem of legitimating knowledge, the "pragmatic" approach. This was a real advance, but it became misunderstood and distorted into our current predicament. The pragmatic idea was that we have work to do. We can sit around and debate forever, but we have to have food to eat, for instance, and we have to have fairly reliable knowledge as to how to get it. So the idea arose that we should no longer use "provability" as the criterion to legitimate knowledge, but instead whether or not the knowledge actually "worked." We came to realize that our methods of thinking and experimenting represented only "tools" to help us accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. So, if the idea worked, it was "true" to that extent, or in that sense. We could just forget about absolute Truth and the need to show that the knowledge was indubitable through a series of proofs.

And this idea was an extremely important and appropriate one. We have always placed great reliance upon it. Our science and technology are based upon it. If our beliefs about the nature of the world were accurate enough, then we could send people to the moon and expect to get them back, and we could walk around in skyscrapers without worry, and we could put ourselves in the hands of surgeons with the expectation of improvement. The basic idea of whether a belief worked or not meant whether, with that belief, we could predict what was going to happen.

So far, so good. But then a distortion of this basic idea came about. (Actually, it was there all along, but it became more overtly proposed.) The concept of "work" was expanded to mean more than just the ability to predict what was going to happen. It was expanded to mean the total set of outcomes of having the belief. In other words, the question became, "What will happen if I have this belief?" rather than "What will happen if this belief is accurate and I am faced with such and such situation?" And further, the question became, "Will what will happen be desirable?"

So the idea of legitimating beliefs according to whether or not they "worked" became a matter of legitimating them according to whether they "made life better" for someone. The meaning of "true" now became indistinguishable from "believed." A great sense of freedom was acquired for some by this line of thinking. Now, one no longer had to agonize over whether a belief was true (in the earlier sense) or not. If it made life better to have the belief, that was enough.

It was easy to see that what might make life better for one person might also make life worse for another. Therefore, it became "logical" to conclude that an idea might work for one person and not for another, and therefore that what was "true" for one person was not necessarily "true" for another.

And what is meant by "making life better"? We are basically talking about feeling better (or not feeling as bad). So, if believing something makes you feel better, then that belief is working for you. If someone doesn't agree with you, so what? What is true for that person is not necessarily true for you. He or she is "entitled" to his or her "truth," and debating the issue with that person is probably likely only to cause trouble, and certainly do no good. Agree to disagree, and go on. This approach to knowledge has been part of the "postmodern" position in philosophy.

Needless to say, this approach rapidly runs into trouble. What if that person or group believes something that causes him, her, or them to act in such a way as to cause me suffering or harm? Well, the best remedy then is to find others that agree with me and see if we can overwhelm this other person or group through some sort of force, whether emotional, social, political, or even physical or military. So we should band together to protect and propagate those beliefs that work for us and make us feel better. And those of us in our group had better be loyal to our group and not weaken our position by questioning our beliefs. The important value is not the approximation toward truth, or being able to predict more accurately and reliably, but the acquisition of power. The opinion becomes like a flag, around which a group may rally. Individuals in the group are supposed to espouse the opinion, not because of the ability of the opinion to withstand rigorous but friendly debate and whatever experimentation can be thought of, but instead because espousing the opinion is a sign of loyalty to the group. Belief, then, becomes an act of obedience.

Thus, this distortion of the basic pragmatic idea sends us backward in our "evolution" to behave in just the opposite manner from that which has worked so well in science and technology, where all ideas are subject to the legitimization criterion of whether they allow us to predict accurately what will happen. This distortion propels us backward to our basic tendency to solve disagreement by the use of force.

Above, I made reference to "friendly debate." This concept is an important one in understanding what is being advocated in this book.

Friendly debate, as used in this book, is a procedure whereby two or more individuals, who have different beliefs, each try to convince the other(s) of the validity of his or her beliefs while listening to the response of the other(s) in order to detect flaws in his or her own beliefs or in the presentation of them, the goal being that of increasing one's own wisdom and effectiveness in communication. The criterion of success is whether the beliefs in question are consistent with the rules of logic and the rules of evidence (to be discussed later in this book). Friendly debate is the procedure that is most likely to result in increased wisdom. Friendly debate is a very difficult procedure, seldom occurring among our species so far.

Unfriendly debate is a procedure in which the goal is to win or to achieve the appearance of winning, and the procedure is often characterized by efforts to suppress the other's viewpoints, distract the other from pursuing a logical presentation, or confuse the other and/or listeners by, for instance, misrepresenting the viewpoint of the other. Anger is generally present and is frequently manifested as hostile speech and hostile non-verbal behavior. Shouting down, ridiculing, abandoning and avoiding, injuring, and murdering are examples. Unfriendly debate occurs frequently, and generally leaves anger-containing memories. It is usually referred to as "argument," and sometimes even as "fighting." Some of "anger management" is the effort to convert unfriendly debate into friendly debate.

It can be seen that since there is the generally held belief that there is no absolute Truth, and therefore, presumably, that there is no reason for expecting agreement, unfriendly debate is considered by almost everyone to be a natural and acceptable kind of interaction (within varying limits of acceptability of hostile behavior), and since it almost never results in agreement, this fact seems to serve as evidence that the expectation of agreement is inappropriate, an example of the phenomenon referred to as the "self-fulfilling prophecy."

The above has been my presentation of some of the factors that have caused us to be unable to develop a set of general, agreed-upon beliefs and that have led us to come to accept the idea that general agreement (by everyone) is neither possible nor desirable. Yet, as I have already said, such agreement is crucial to our survival and well-being.

So now I will describe my basic method in this book for conveying my ideas, with the hope and intention of achieving agreement between myself and the reader. This method is based upon an effort to avoid the above-described problems in achieving agreement.

It will be helpful if the reader keeps in mind the analogy of the cutting of an orange. If one were to want to find out what an orange was like inside, and he or she could make one cut, it would probably be true that there would be greater information gained if the cut were made in one particular way. Analogously, there is more than one way to describe an entity or part of the world. One would hope to find an especially helpful manner of describing it, a way that produced the greatest clarity. One could also, perhaps, find another way of describing the world that had equal clarity, or that might even be better for certain purposes. What one would not want to do, however, would be to mix the different ways up together, or cut the orange with an irregular cut that consisted of parts of several different cuts, mixed up together. So I will be asking the reader to use words in a particular way in this book, and to refrain from adding his or her own meanings, words, and phrases while trying to understand what I am pointing to.

First, I will attempt to define, for the purposes of this book only, certain words in as simple a manner as possible, these words being basic for understanding the ideas that I am trying to convey. Furthermore, I will attempt to refrain from using more than one word to refer to the same thing. When two or more terms in general usage usually do mean the same thing, I may use both terms (often placing one in parentheses), indicating that they are synonyms. Note that this process of definition is one of establishing agreement. I will ask the reader to agree, for the purposes of this book only, to use certain words in certain fairly precise ways, with the prediction that if the reader does this, I will be able to convey to him or her some important and useful concepts.

I wish to reassure the reader that I will also try to choose meanings for these words that are as close as possible to our most usual usages. It is not my intention to take common words and assign very atypical meanings to them. It will necessarily occur, however, that some of the definitions that I will propose may be different than those that would naturally come to the mind of some individuals. The reader will need to adopt the definition proposed, for the sake of the book, and realize that some such differences may be present. These differences should not make it necessary to conclude that the ideas being expressed are not valid. The willingness of the reader to engage in this method is crucial to the successful communication of my ideas to the reader.

Second, I am proposing a change in the criterion for legitimization, and therefore agreement. I propose that the criterion be that a proposed idea be considered legitimate if everyone agrees that the proposed idea is the best one so far, with the understanding that there will always be a welcoming of a review of that idea to see if any better idea can be proposed. This change in criterion is based upon an observable fact about our existence, and that is that essentially everything can be doubted, and that most of the time we are limited only to doing the best we can in making our judgments. Notice that I am not anticipating legitimating my ideas by proving them. I am legitimating them by describing them in a clear enough manner that the reader will, I believe, say that the ideas are much more likely to be correct than not.

So, in this book, I will be asking the reader:

  • Is what I have said understandable?
  • Does what I have said sound right?
  • Is the reader unable to come up with a better idea?

If the reader answers yes to all three of these questions, then I would advocate that the reader tentatively adopt the idea proposed, always with the recognition that it will be replaced by any idea which subsequently seems better. The new criterion being proposed for legitimization is that, at this time, the ideas seem right (there is nothing that contradicts them), and no ideas can be found that are as good as the ones being proposed.

Let us agree, then, that our symbols, primarily words, and the rules for using them, are at their best only rough tools that we can use to communicate, and that all we can ever do is approximate perfect communication by using these tools as skillfully as possible. The fact that our effort will always have some imperfections, some rough edges, so to speak, should not deter us in our basic effort to make our lives as good as possible through continuing to strive toward the development of ideas that we all agree really work, namely, that really help us to predict the outcomes of our decisions and that help us to make our best decisions, ones that we are least likely later to regret.

There is one other proposal that I am making to the reader. If it appears to the reader that what I am proposing is not only probably correct, but also important to our species and/or important to the reader and those close to him or her, the reader should attempt to understand the ideas further and attempt to make use of them in his or her decision-making. Notice that one would no longer say, "Yes, but you can't prove what you are saying, so I don't have to listen to you anymore." It is my belief that we all suffer when this happens, and that it happens a lot. I am not advocating "blind faith" nor obedience; I am advocating recognizing an obligation to understand as much as possible about those issues that are important to us all. This would be being a good citizen. The bottom line is the advocacy to do the best we can in behalf of us all. The effort to understand may turn out to be our most important obligation.