Logic and Violence

James Luchte
From: http://homepages.which.net/~panic.brixtonpoetry/logicvio.htm (http://homepages.which.net/%7Epanic.brixtonpoetry/logicvio.htm)

The narrowing of discussions of truth into discussions of true propositions (statements, sentences) excludes everything which makes truth intelligible and valuable.[i]

Moving into the New Century and the Third Millenium, there is as yet no consensus on the primacy or even the relevance of logic to philosophy. And even though the majority of academic departments in the English speaking world adhere to some variant of logical positivism or post-logical positivism - what is traded in the major universities as the "Anglo-American Tradition" - there are ongoing attempts by some in the so-called Continental tradition – there is no need to name names - to convince the children of the logical positivists that their Father's anti-metaphysical revolution was not only a failure, but that a more plausible criticism of metaphysics exists in the pragmatic realism of their faction of the Continental movement. This program is so serious, and the convergence between Continental pragmatism and Analytic philosophy so immanent that any dissenting voices are quickly silenced. The major dissenters and their heirs read as a list of usual suspects: Marx, Nietzsche, Lacan, Heidegger, Foucault... Bataille - the Dionysian camp of the Continental tradition ceaselessly haunts attempts by the pragmatists to exalt reason, consciousness, "experience" - and therefore - logic...

In the end, however, there is in this convergence no departure from the logical identity and a disciplining of temporality as a linear succession of discrete atomic identities. The question could be asked: which tradition, Continental or Analytic, has truly failed? Indeed, a spectral voice of dissent might suggest that the Continental "tradition" has been infiltrated by the enemy - but that would be too paranoid a gesture. Yet, everyone who is anyone pledges that he or she is an advocate of reason - it is only the explanation of its possibility and actuality etc... that differs. At the end of the day, however, it could plausibly be argued that such gestures of obedience to reason and logic merely rubber-stamp the trajectory of a logical discourse which enacts violence against the everyday and not-so-everyday phenomena of existence.

The question in the following concerns, on the contrary, the suppression of dissident voices in both the Continental and Analytic "traditions" in an effort to re-enforce - repeat - the logic of identity - of mere reason. While I have mentioned the usual Continental thinkers who have been rendered docile, a voice on the Analytic side that has been truncated is Wittgenstein. Not only is his early indication of the mystical ignored, but also all of his later writings and investigations, mostly expressed in his prolific Notebooks. Such scribblings cannot be reduced to the clear and distinct statements of Quine - and they cannot be reduced to variant versions of "and" and "not".[ii]

From a historical perspective, one can find the same battle being waged between Hamann, Jacobi and Kant et al. on the cusp of the French Revolution. The question of the authority of reason and logic echoed through the streets.[iii] Amidst the wake of the imagination, Kant won the day and, after more than two centuries, his alleged compromise continues to hold sway in the Continental School. And while many in the Analytic "tradition" still consider him too metaphysical or too ethical - his philosophy ceaselessly incites the longing for total revolution, his philosophy, in the spirit of Spinoza, requires that its evangelical excesses be tempered by an activist logical Reason. In the end, no one can touch the sanctity, authority, of logic or reason.

Ultimately, Kant is no enemy of the objectifying strategems of the analytic reduction. After all, the Kingdom of Ends "exists" only in the Noumenous Other. Kant never promised anyone a rose garden. That which is at stake, however, is more than the mere jockeying of trends and fashions - at the end of the day, as the logical positivists were too well aware, the question is the meaning of philosophy itself. We are each so many brands fluctuating in the market of logic and reason - even those who seek to carve out some breathing room for wider truths still cower in the face of the Law of Identity and the Law of Contradiction. They lurk in fear, hoping not to be branded with the deadly label of "relativism". Indeed, it has even become madness to seek a sense of truth which expresses an existence which is open to the Other, to disclose a sense of truth seeks to exceed logic. Yet, as Heidegger has disclosed in his 1928 lecture, The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic,[iv] it is such an openness to a manifold existence which is the historical and existential condition for the emergence of a logic disclosed as a reduction of the field of truth via a linguistic strategy of restriction.

In this way, the authority of logic, reason - and of sanity, for that matter - has for its condition of possibility the radical, principial exclusion of that which is Other, of that which stands as a contradiction to its stable, linear Identity. In the following, I will explore the relationship of logic and violence with respect to the logical reduction and restriction - partitioning - of the field of "truth". My overriding question may be stated succinctly:

Is the operation of exclusion which is entailed by the construction of a logical system a positive act of self-definition, or is this an act of violence, one which transgresses not only the ethical imperative of philosophical inquiry, but also the very pursuit of a manifold "truth" of existence?

Truth: Exit the Cave

My question can be re-written against the background of Plato's allegory of the Cave - and of its meaning and interpretation. To be brief: is logic the light of the sun in the attainment of truth - "Enlightenment" - or is it instead the shadowy cave of untruth? Alternatively, is the conception of escape proposed by logic, and subsequently projected upon the allegory, a futile and violent attempt to deny the human predicament of a shadowy existence? Are the shadows - the truth - and the light - shadows? Is logic a strategy of escape from the intensities and ambiguities of chaotic sensuality - and its regime of selection and exclusion - the cave?

It is certainly possible that the contenders in this dispute can each appropriate the allegory as a vehicle for the concretization of their own respective philosophical understandings and agendas. It is my task to disentangle this interpretive morass in order to detect traces of an intimate acquaintance with "truth" in each of the positions and orientations. Is logic the "truth" or is it violence against the "truth"?

The unspoken apologies are all too evident in the various attempts at self-definition or self-interpretation of logic or the logician. One would be hard-pressed to find a logic book that did not begin with an explicit reduction of the field of linguistic activity to that utterance or inscription which it designates as a "statement". Not any sentence will do, but only a select group or category of sentences. The confession on the part of these analysts is significant. Quine et al. are very explicit and honest about the relative irrelevance of their inquiries - in that they themselves have openly established the fact of their own reduction of the field of linguistic and logic truth.

A wish, prayer, command, question - none of these utterances, voices (logos), is admissible as a statement, as a logical sentence. In other words, most of human communication is excluded in principle. I do not have to do an etymological analysis of the word "principle" to detect that it indicates a systematic exclusion or incorporation of that which stands in contradiction to its trajectory and activity of identification.

Yet, if we take a quick look at the word, we find a meaning which entails a primal seizure of the polymorphous[v] topos[vi] of truth. Indeed, after its "work" is done, there is little talk about such questions of "origin" or "existence". Such questions, if they remain at all, are merely flushed into the Derridean vortex of linguistic dis-integration. The trace of the "real" world is poo-pooed as passe, as vulgar realism, "naturalism" or dogmatism in the Fichtean sense...

Yet, the strategy and trajectory of the erasure of the origin can never be as successful as its propaganda portrays. There are always artifacts, little pieces, traces, of evidence that exist as cracks in the teflon projection of its hegemony of principle.

As indicated in the early phenomenology of Heidegger, that which I deem as the world (amid my projection of the singular meaning of existence) may be in the end a mere projection like the rest. Yet, it is no mere entanglement in some matrix of solipsism. Such a charge (of solipsism) would be already giving too much to those who seek a logical criteria of "objective truth". Indeed, the charge could be levelled - and it was by Heidegger in his 1936 lecture course What is a Thing? - that logical and scientific objectivity is just another species of projection. The challenge is to ascertain that the truth of existence is not a clear-cut matter of ultimate certainty. We must be open to the play of interpretation. Indeed, this play is that of existence itself and our interpretations are finite attempts to indicate and express such a play. Such a state of play ceaselessly disrupts the vain attempts to segregate the subject and object in a clear and distinct manner. Even Descartes was forced to find refuge in a monotheistic logic of the One.

I am neither primordially alone, nor inevitably social, communal being. I am somewhere in between - suspended betwixt the realm of things and the realm of spirit, between the profane and the sacred. Indeed, in distinction from the escapists who see logic as path of exit from the Cave, as the attainment of a monism of logic and of the statement, the Allegory of the Cave can be seen to indicate a general economy of interaction, of existence. The allegory, especially in its parasitism on the contrast between light and darkness, may be interpreted in a different way than a clear-cut severance of the terms. Indeed, it may be argued that each of these 'realms' is merely an aspect amidst a more inclusive and open self-interpretation of existence. In other words, there may be a conception, "theory", or more accurately, a phenomenology of truth, as with Heidegger's aleqea, that is open to the intimate play of phenomena amidst an apprehension which is pre-theoretical - of the everyday and not-so-everyday.

Amid such a phenomenological awareness, Quine with his "ands" and "nots" is nowhere to be seen. In such a self-interpretation of human existence, I and others detect in the agenda of the logicians and the advocates of the authority of reason, a deductive strategy of the suppression of the phenomena. Not only is most of human communication eliminated from the reduced field of logic and reason, but the presumption is also witnessed that "truth" itself - the desire of philosophy - becomes quarantined in the linguistic asylum of the statement or judgment.

To remain within logic as an island of truth may indeed be a prison. It not only confesses to its restrictive agenda, but it also claims, via its purity and detachment - to be the ultimate criteria, system, and protocol of "truth". Can it be such a fountain if it has no existential relevance - outside of the already restricted field of discourse? If it cannot, its self-assertion amidst the general economy of existence, can only be interpreted as a phenomena of suppression, exclusion - of violence. The mere fact that logic is a post facto reduction of the myriad contours of existence and a suppression of the self-expression of existence would not be so offensive and problematic if there were not the further assertion that Logic becomes the sole arbiter of truth - the Standard of Truth.

Voices and Phenomena

If logic is a merely restricted field of "truth", and this field has been established as the sole criteria and standard of "truth", then there exists the terrain from which to question this self-assertion with respect to its limited ground. Is it possible to conceive or apprehend a different criteria of "truth" - beyond either the restricted statements of logic, or the mere silent and disconnected sense encounters amidst "Nature" or existence?

For the dissenters, the practice of laying down a regime of severance - of black or white as logical opposites is the other face of the violence of an original seizure of a monopoly on truth. It is the first-taking (principle) of logic which sets down the criteria, one that attempts ceaselessly to erase its own origin. For the logicians, this practice of exclusion is the act of constituting a system of meaning - of identity. Yet, the latter have already laid their cards on the table - they have restricted "truth", but have asserted that their own restriction is the very event of Truth.

Yet, this is an escapist - even nihilistic[vii] - "theory of truth" - the very structure of the antithesis between sense and idea is a post facto projection which abstracts from the situation of temporal and spatial existence. Before the dualistic scenario of sense and idea, of subject and object, there is a temporal, earthly existence. Such an existence already interprets itself, it becomes a phenomenon for itself. In its self-interpretation, it expresses itself via the myriad voices which erupt amidst this topos of existence. Instead of the routine scenario of a divorced subject standing over against the object of perception, Heidegger, Bataille and others have attempted to lay out a topos which is the self-expression of existence and not merely an object that needs to be described from the outside, from a fixed standard of reference. Distinct from the antithetical regime of severance in such an epistemological model, the voice of the dissenters indicates an intimate self-interpretation - a hermeneutics of a self who delves into the contours of this finite situation of his own terrestrial existence, of his own world, his own historicity.

Such an intimate self-exploration and interpretation - and expression - is not meant to be a solipsistic retreat into the self. This possibility is already excluded via the implosion or displacement of the criteria of logical severance. For Heidegger and Bataille, the self and world are inseparable, though not indistinguishable. Yet, I am amidst my world, and I offer a self-interpretation of myself as suspended and activated in the world, as an event of my world. In this intimacy, amidst a place before or more properly "outside" - "beyond" - logic, "truth" is that which is disclosed via an event of self-examination and expression - as a hermeneutics. In this context, any attempt to displace the intimacy of truth by a criteria of extra-terrestrial logical forms must be described as violence against this intimate self-interpretation. The temporal scenario of this intimacy already seems to exclude the illusory immortality of logic - such a delusion of stability, permanence - eternity - is thus to be considered impossible.

Yet - even though there is the disclosure of this event of intimate self-disclosure, such attempts to think differently or to deconstruct or implode the antithetical regimes of logical violence - are met with violence, surveillance, harassment, and silence. Logic and its advocates seek to eradicate resistance to its rule-structure via the suppression and containment of any extension of the field of "truth" and of possible questioning.



Mason, Richard. Before Logic, SUNY Press, 2000.

[ii] Quine, Willard Van Orman. Elementary Logic, Harvard University Press, 2001. Quine devotes much of this tract to obliterating any semblance of "natural" language in an attempt to purify discourse for a pure logical analysis of mere statements.

[iii] For an excellent discussion of this controversy over the authority of reason, see Frederick Beiser, The Fate of Reason, Harvard University Press, 1987.

[iv] Heidegger, Martin. The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, translated by Michael Heim, Indiana University Press, 1984.

[v] This word is borrowed from Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization.

[vi] This Greek term, indicates a place for the disclosure of truth amidst existence.

[vii] I use this term in the sense proposed by Nietzsche in his criticism of Plato and Christianity.