Aristotelian Logic, Paradoxical Logic, and God

Aristotelian Logic

Since Aristotle, the Western world has followed the logical principles of Aristotlean philosophy. This logic is based on the folllowing three laws:

1) Law of Identity
A is A

2) Law of Contradiction
A is not non-A

3) Law of the Excluded Middle
A cannot be A and non-A
neither A nor non-A

"It is impossible for the same thing at the same time to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same respect; and whatever distinctions we might add to meet non-dialectical objections, let them be added."
- Aristotle

Paradoxical Logic

In opposition to Aristotelian Logic is what one might call Paradoxical logic, which assumes that A and non-A do not exclude each other as predicates of X.

Paradoxical logic was predominant in Chinese and Indian thinking, in the philosophy of Heraclitus, and then again under the name of dialectics, it became the philosophy of Hegel, and of Marx.

The general principle of paradoxical logic has been described by Lao-Tse: "Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical."

And by Chang-tzu: "That which is one is one. That which is not-one is also one." These formulations of paradoxical logic are positive: "it is and it is not".

Another formulation is negative: "it is neither this nor that". The former expression of thought we find in Taoistic thought, in Heraclitus and again in Hegelian dialectics; the latter formulation is frequent in Indian philosophy.

Paradoxical logic in Western thought has its earliest philosophical expression in Heraclitus' philosophy. He assumes the conflict between opposites is the basis of all existence. "They do not understand" he says, "that the all-One, conflicting in itself, is identical with itself: 'conflicting harmony as in the bow and in the lyre'. Or still, we go into the same river, and yet not in the same; it is we and it is not we". Or "One and the same manifests itself in things as living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old."

In Lao-tse philosophy, the same idea is expressed in a more poetic form. A classic example of paradoxical thinking is the following statement: "Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness the ruler of movement."

Or "The Tao in its regular course does nothing and so there is nothing that he does not do."

Or "my words are very easy to know, and very easy to practice; but there is no one in the world who is able to practice them."

In Taoistic thinking, just as in Indian and Socratic thinking, the highest step to which thought can lead is to know that we do not know.

To know and yet [think] we do not know is the highest [attainment]; not to know [and yet think] we do know is a disease. It is only as a consequence of this philosophy that the highest God cannot be named. The Ultimate reality, the ultimate one cannot be taught in words or in thoughts. As Lao-tse puts it, "The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name."

Or in a different formulation, "We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it the 'Equable'. We listen to it and we do not hear it, and we name it the 'Inaudible'. We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we name it the 'Subtle'. With these three qualities, it cannot be made the subject of description; and hence we blend them together and obtain The One".

And still another formulation of the same idea: "He who knows [the Tao] does not [care to] speak [about it]; he who [is however ready to] speak about it does not know about it.

Brahmanic philosophy was concerned with the relationship between manifoldness (of phenomena) and unity (Brahman). But paradoxical philosophy is, neither in India nor in China, not to be confused with a dualistic standpoint. The harmony (unity) consists in the conflicting position from which it is made up.

"Brahmanical thinking was centred, from the beginning, around the paradox of the simultaneous antagonisms - yet - identity of the manifest forces and forms of the phenomenal world..." The ultimate power in nature as well as in man transcends both the conceptual and the sensual sphere. It is therefore" neither this nor that". But as Zimmer remarks, "there is no antagonism between 'real and unreal' in this strictly non-dualistic realization".

In their search for unity behind manifoldness, the Brahman thinkers came to the conclusion that the perceived pair of opposites reflect the nature, not of things, but, of the perceiving mind. The perceiving thought must transcend itself if it is to attain true reality. Opposition is a category of man's mind, not in itself an element of reality.

In the Rig-Veda, the principle is expressed in this form: "I am the two, the life force and the life material, the two at once." The ultimate consequence of the idea that thought can only perceive in contradictions has found an even more drastic sequence in Vedantic thinking, which postulates that thought - with all its fine distinctions - was only a more subtle horizon of ignorance, in fact, the most subtle of all the deluding devices of maya."

God and Paradoxical Logic

Paradoxical logic has a significant bearing on the concept of God. Inasmuch as God represents the ultimate reality, and inasmuch as the human mind perceives reality in contradictions, no positive statement can be made of God. We see here the connection with the namelessness of the Tao, the namelessness of the God who reveals himself to Moses, of the "absolute nothing" of Meister Eckhart. Man can only know the negation, never the position of ultimate reality.

The teachers of paradoxical logic say that man can perceive reality only in contradictions, and can never perceive in thought, the ultimate unity-reality, the One itself. This led to the consequence that one did not seek as the ultimate aim to find the answer in thought. Thought can only lead us to the knowledge that it cannot give us the ultimate answer, The world of thought remains caught in the paradox. The only way in which the world can be grasped ultimately lies, not in thought, but in the act, in the experience of oneness. The paradoxical logic leads to the conclusion that the love of God is neither the knowledge of God in thought, nor the thought of one's love of God, but the act of experiencing oneness with God.

In the dominant Western religious system, the love of God is essentially the same as the belief in God, in God's existence, in God's justice, in God's love. The love of God is essentially a thought experience. In Eastern religions and mysticism, the love of God is an intense feeling experience of oneness, inseparably linked with the expression of this love in every act of living.

Extract from "The Art of Loving" - Erich Fromm

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