New Laws of Thought

Marc Torra

Overcoming the current crisis

Overcoming the present environmental crisis requires humanity to radically change its current social, economic, political, and spiritual systems, paradigms and worldviews, because they have disconnected and alienated us from nature, from each other, and even from ourselves (or better said “from our Self”).

To alienate someone is to make them feel isolated or estranged, as if they were separated from the rest. Rectifying such situation requires, as a first step, an understanding of the cause for such alienation.

This alienation results from a set of beliefs, which we inherit from: 1. Ancient Greece, especially the philosophical works of Aristotle, 2. The monotheistic religions, 3. The current scientific method.

Said that, we shall not fall in the duality of thinking that such alienation is bad an as such, the philosophies, religions and scientific methods that caused it are also bad. Defining things as being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is nothing else than another symptom of the same malady, which would do nothing else than alienate us even further. It isolates us in small groups, united by the belief that “what we believe is good and what the other believes is bad”.

This is the shadow of the previous philosophies (Plato and Aristotle), religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and methods of inquiry (science), which I am going to try to cast light upon. However, while exposing their shadow, I will also recognise their great contributions to humanity. I will do it this way because avoiding duality requires six of one and half a dozen of the other. For every blow with the stick, we need a carrot; for every shovelful of lime, a spadeful of sand. This is the only way to advance forward; the only formula to get the right mixture of lime mortar, on top of which we can keep on building what comes next.

Ancient Greece

Two tenets inherited from Ancient Greece have being most influential in isolating us from the rest:

  1. On the one hand, the Great Chain of Being; this is, the hierarchical structure of matter and life. The idea of ranking organisms goes back to Aristotle. This resulted in an anthropocentric (human centred) worldview, which perceives evolution as linear and bottom-up, from simple to the complex, with everything except humans deprived from consciousness.

The three traditional laws of thought began with Plato, were further developed by Aristotle, and refined by the scholastics of the Middle Ages. They could be defined as: 1. The law of identity: “Whatever is, is.” 2. The law of contradiction: “Nothing can both be and not be.” 3. The law of excluded middle: “Everything must either be or not be.” The law of identity tells us that things are composed by their own unique set of qualities or features, which the ancient Greeks called “essence”. Considering the laws of thought as “axiomatic rules of formal ontology” and defining ontology as “a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them” (Oxford Dictionary 2017b), it becomes self-evident that the three previous laws are dealing with the properties of things (a.k.a. their essence) instead of the relationships they define with other things. This results in the first essential trait of the dominant ontologies: their attempt to define things by their essence, instead of by how they relate to the rest. This tendency to define things by their essence is also present in Judaic, Christian and Islamic belief. The three monotheistic religions describe God as One, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. As such, God cannot be related to anything else, because nothing falls outside its domain. The result is an ineffable God. According to Boulding, “we always pay for generality by sacrificing content, and all we can say about practically everything is almost nothing” (1956, p.197). Therefore, not much can be inferred from a God that is everything, and whatever is said will necessarily fall under the domain of blind faith and doctrinal belief. The resulting “reality” is the Universe, a word that etymologically means: everything becoming (versus) one (uni). In contrast with the Hellenistic philosophy and the monotheistic worldview, there are other traditions that focused on the relationships between things rather than their essence. As a result, they do not define one principle, because The One cannot relate to anything else than to itself. They define two principles, thus creating a duo-verse. The name they give to those two principles is not relevant, because their nature is not defined by what they are but by how they relate to the other and how each relationship seeks balance. Thus, it is the relationship that defines the essence and not the other way around.