Thanksgiving Is Ruined
June 28, 2016
peas, and not peas
A few obituaries and appreciations of the late philosopher Morton G. White mention his 1950 article, "The Analytic and the Synthetic: an Untenable Dualism."
The article first appeared in John Dewey: Philosopher of Science and Freedom, a Symposium, edited by the great Sidney Hook, and published by The Dial Press. It was later collected in White's From a Philosophical Point of View: Selected Studies.
TiR's current favorite passage from the essay (pdf.) is this one:
A self-contradiction need not literally resemble in shape 'A and not -A' or 'Something is P and not -P.' All it has to do is produce a certain feeling of horror or queerness on the part of people who use the language. They behave as if they had seen someone eat peas with a knife. . . . But I have a few questions . . .
Who is supposed to feel the horror in the presence of the opposites of analytic statements? Surely not all people in the community that uses the language. There are many who feel no horror at seeing people eat peas with a knife just as there are many who are not perturbed at statements that philosophers might think self-contradictory. Who, then?
Among the commentaries on White's essay is a humbly enjoyable and nicely done 2009 paper in a seemingly short-lived West Virginia University philosophy journal, by one J. Alex Langlinais. The paper offers a way to think about this nest of questions through an alternative framework: "eating peas with a different fork." The upshot: "[I]t ought not matter whether we eat peas with a knife or a fork. What matters is that the peas get eaten."
Going even further, a letter-writer to a November 1870 edition of the Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener, Country Gentleman, Bee-Keeper and Poultry Chronicle (published from Fleet Street, London) potentially set up not only a sublation of the "horror or queerness" impasse called out by White, but a radical explosion of the essentialist, binary frame itself, with a still more expansive imaginary. S/he imagined a world of diversity populated not merely with "Ps and not Ps," but with "Peas and not Peas only -- Beans, Cauliflowers, and almost all other crops." Specifically, they were speaking in praise of wide applicability of the "furrow-system of growing."
Is it any coincidence that in the same year, 1870, appeared C. S. Peirce's groundbreaking "Description of a Notation for the Logic of Relatives, Resulting from an Amplification of the Conceptions of Boole's Calculus," his milestone first attempt at the working out of a formal symbolic logic? TiR thinks not. Obviously.
[Peirce's original paper, scanned from a copy at Harvard University, is here. Any consideration of "p" of course immediately brings to mind his chapter therein on "Elementary Relatives," in particular its highly suggestive analysis of their quaternion logical forms (pg. 50): "Let p be 'lover,' and q be 'benefactor.' Then this [formula above] reads, lovers of their own benefactors consist of self-lovers of self-benefactors together with alio-lovers of alio-benefactors of themselves." TiR won't further insult the reader's intelligence by spelling out the clear connections here.]
Regardless, the same letter-writing author ("J. Wright, Gardener to Hon. J. L. Melville," about whom TiR sadly can find no further information) sagely added: "Peas, like other things, are affected by circumstances, hence it is as well to speak approximately."
So, do peas contradict themselves? Very well, then.
[And is the above post merely a pppeaisce of pointless and puerile tomfoolery? Another rhetorical question.]