Aporetics: Rational Deliberation in the Face of Inconsistency

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The word apory stems from the Greek aporia, meaning impasse or perplexing difficulty. InAporetics,Nicholas Rescher defines an apory as a group of individually plausible but collectively incompatible theses. Rescher examines historic, formulaic, and systematic apories and couples these with aporetic theory from other authors to form this original and comprehensive survey. Citing thinkers from the pre-Socratics through Spinoza, Hegel, and Nicolai Hartmann, he builds a framework for coping with the complexities of divergent theses, and shows in detail how aporetic analysis can be applied to a variety of fields including philosophy, mathematics, linguistics, logic, and intellectual history.Rescher's in-depth examination reveals how aporetic inconsistency can be managed through a plausibility analysis that breaks the chain of inconsistency at its weakest link by deploying right-of-way precedence based on considerations of cognitive centrality. Thus while involvement with cognitive conflicts and inconsistencies are pervasive in human thought, aporetic analysis can provide an effective means of damage control.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7368-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 The Nature of Apories
    (pp. 1-8)

    In Greek,aporíaliterally means an impasse, a blockage where there is no practicable way to go forward. The word eventually came to characterize any thing, situation—and even person!—who is difficult to deal with. In philosophy, it came to mean a puzzle, a perplexity, an intractable or at least deeply problematic issue. For present purposes, however, the term will be used in a more specific sense to characterize any cognitive situation in which the threat of inconsistency confronts us. Accordingly, an apory will here be understood as a group of individually plausible but collectively incompatible theses.

    A word...

    (pp. 9-28)

    An acknowledgment of contradictions in nature goes back to the pre-Socratics.¹ And if not Hegel himself, then at any rate many of his followers maintained the realization of contradictions in the world.² Marxists of various sorts have more recently been strident supporters of such a view. It is a major historic position that merits careful evaluation.

    Consistency is unquestionably a prime desideratum in inquiry, but there is nothing guaranteed about it. Individually plausible contentions often disagree with one another. As the ancient sceptics stressed, experience confronts us with an inconsistent world: sight tells us the stick held at an angle...

  6. 3 Counterfactual Conditionals
    (pp. 29-48)

    Imaginative impossibilities do not figure only in discourse but have even come to play an increasingly prominent part in modern art. But of course they are most prominent in discursive speculation and especially in the context of speculative suppositions where they have long played a prominent role—especially in matters of imaginative if-then hypothesizing.

    Surely things might have been very different. Caesar might not have crossed the Rubicon. Napoleon might never have left Elba. Surely we can reason sensibly from such straightforward contrary-to-fact assumptions so as to obtain instructive information about the consequences and the ramifications of such unrealized possibilities....

  7. 4 Variant Analyses of Counterfactuals and Problems of Probability
    (pp. 49-73)

    There exist several influential approaches to the analysis of counterfactuals that are very different from the aporetic strategy of the preceding chapters. The earliest of these was first proposed in the 1920s by the English philosopher-logician Frank P. Ramsey. It was effectively encapsulated in the following thesis:

    A conditional “Ifp, thenq” is acceptable in the context of a body of belief if acceptingqis required by the result of making the minimal changes in the body of beliefs required to accommodatep

    This minimal belief-revision standard for counterfactual conditionals is perhaps less of a specific tactic for...

  8. 5 The Aporetics of Counterfactual History
    (pp. 74-83)

    The primary aim of historical inquiry is to elucidate the past—to describe and to explain the course of past events. Now indescribingwe are, of course, engaged in a strictly factual discussion. Here there is—or should be—little room for fanciful speculation: Leopold von Ranke’s insistence that the historian’s concern is with “how it actually was” (wie es eigentlich gewesen war) stands paramount. However, in moving beyond description toexplaina course of historical events, it transpires that counterfactuals are an almost indispensably useful resource, and here aporetics once again comes to the fore. Thus we know...

  9. 6 Paradoxes
    (pp. 84-101)

    Paradoxes are the very model of apories arising when we have a plurality of theses, each individually plausible in the circumstances but nevertheless in the aggregate constituting an inconsistent group. In this way, logical paradoxes always constituted aporetic situations. For viewed separately, every member of such a group stakes a claim that we would be minded to accept if such acceptance were unproblematic. But when all these claims are conjoined, a logical contradiction ensues. Every era in the history of philosophy has seen a concern with paradoxes. To be sure, the pioneering Zeno of Elea (b. ca. 500 B.C.) never...

  10. 7 Philosophical Aporetics
    (pp. 102-119)

    The big issues of philosophy regarding truth, justice, meaning, beauty, and the like were encapsulated in Immanuel Kant’s summary of the key questions regarding one’s place in the scheme of things as a rational free agent:

    What can I know?

    What shall I do?

    What may I hope?

    What should I aspire to?

    However, thanks to the inherent complexity of the issues, the elaboration and substantiation of answers to such questions inevitably result in contentions that become enmeshed in aporetic conflicts. We have many and far-reaching questions about our place in the world’s scheme of things and endeavor to give...

  11. 8 The Dialectics of Philosophical Development
    (pp. 120-132)

    Plausibility aporetics affords some useful insight into the developmental dialectics of philosophy. Aporetics affords a means for not only mapping the cartography of the battlefield of philosophical disputation, but also understanding and explaining the dialectic of historical development in the field.

    While securing answers to our questions is the aim of the philosophical enterprise, we do not want just answers but coherent answers, seeing that these alone have a chance of being collectively true. The quest for consistency is an indispensable part of the quest for truth. The quest for consistency is one of the driving dynamic forces of philosophy....

  12. 9 The Rationale of Aporetic Variation
    (pp. 133-140)

    The definitive task of aporetics is consistency restoration. Confronted with an inconsistent set of otherwise plausible propositions in any context of deliberation, it is only sensible to seek to maintain rational consistency. Something has to give way in the interests of coherence. And in general the reasonable approach here is to employ situationally appropriate right-of-way considerations to break the chain of inconsistency at its weakest link(s). And this sort of problem arises in a wide variety of cognitive situations—rational inquiry not least among them.

    With regard to the standards of precedence and priority for apory resolution, there are three...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 141-152)
    (pp. 153-158)
    (pp. 159-161)