The most romantic grammatical error in the English language is the comma splice. There is nothing quite so lexically coquettish as the prospect of bringing together two utterly independent clauses, from the most disparate of origins, and joining them face to face in audacious effrontery to all that grammarians hold sacred. It brings blush to one’s cheeks just to think of how close they are–without a period, without a conjunction, without even so much as a lousy semicolon to keep them apart! So formidable! So bad! An editor would be remise to overlook a scandal like that, and that’s why they have rules to prevent such things. All parallel clauses must always dance at least an arm’s length away from each other. These sorts of rules can be burdensome at times. But no obstacle is insurmountable, love has a way of working things out.
Grammatical parallelism is the quintessence of romance.
If you start a sentence without knowing what you’re going to say, then you will probably get lost part way through, forget what you were saying, and not know what you were going to say.
This is the sort of English!
This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.
I cannot say I know who came up with the above epigram. It is generally attributed to Winston Churchill, and for our purposes, we will assume this to be accurate, but for a quick and interesting exploration of the ambiguity surrounding the quotation and its authorship, click here.
Regardless of its authorship or even of its various formations, the rhetorical purpose of the epigram remains clear: to point out the problem with never ending a sentence with a preposition. Sometimes, following that rule yields something that sounds much sillier than would have resulted from breaking it. And for this reason, it is now commonly accepted, by authoritative English grammars, that prepositions are okay words to end sentences with. Generally, if the preposition is not superfluous, it can be placed where ever it falls most naturally. (But notice, this means that saying ‘Where are you at?’ is still wrong. I guess the English-speaking world just isn’t quite ready for such a radical change. But write to your grammarian representative if you support the movement.)
I would like to point out one more thing about the epigram. The word ‘which’ as it is used in the epigram is called a ‘relative pronoun’. In grammatical theory, a relative pronoun is a pronoun that links a relative clause to a main clause. For example, in the sentence, ‘I enjoy reading this book, which is about grammar’, the ‘which’ is a relative pronoun referring to the direct object of the main clause, the book. In this example, the subordinate clause merely gives us further information about a noun that has already been clearly identified, ‘this book’, and so it is classified as ‘nonrestrictive’. If the subordinate clause were instead to serve in defining or restricting the object to which it is referring, it would be classified as ‘restrictive’, in which case, the restrictive relative pronoun, ‘that’, should be used instead. For example, ‘I enjoy reading any book that is about grammar’. Here, the subordinate clause restricts which books I enjoy reading.
So one distinction between the two types of clauses is the relative pronoun used; another is the syntax. Nonrestrictive relative clauses are set off with commas, and restrictive clauses are not. Hence, we have a problem with Churchill’s alleged quotation. It seems quite clear that Churchill intended to form a restrictive relative clause. Most formulations of the epigram do not use a comma, and it makes little sense as a nonrestrictive clause. If Churchill had intended a nonrestrictive clause–one that merely gives further information about something in the main clause–then we should expect the main clause to make sense without that information, just as my example, ‘I enjoy reading this book, which is about grammar’, makes sense without the nonrestrictive relative clause (in which case it would read, ‘I enjoy reading this book’). But, while it would be grammatically correct, it wouldn’t make sense for Churchill to merely exclaim ‘This is the sort of English!’ Just as in my example, ‘I enjoy reading any book that is about grammar’, removing the restrictive clause fundamentally alters the meaning of the sentence (in which case it would read ‘I enjoy reading any book’). Churchill’s relative clause is in fact defining what sort of English ‘this’ is.
So Churchill probably intended to use a restrictive clause, in which case, he used the wrong relative pronoun. He should have used ‘that’. But I imagine even fewer people would get the joke if he had exclaimed, ‘This is the sort of English up with that I will not put’. That’s even sillier!
Of course he could have just said ‘I will not put up with this sort of English’, but I suppose that’s too simple.
Many writers can relate to me who am tired of bad English.
My will will will wills will will.
The above is a complete sentence.
It means, “My will is going to wish (that) other wills are going to wish.” Theoretically this grammatical construct could continue ad infinitum:
My will will will wills will will wills will will wills will will …
The end of a sentence is not a very good place for prepositions to be at.
Don’t form sentences in the negative.
Yes, I realise the title is disgustingly long, but it had to compete with A Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, which is a German title in translation—so that’s not really fair.
FYI: ALL THE POSTS ON THIS THREAD MAY, from now on, BE FOUND UNDER THE ALUC CATEGORY. Thank you.
Acts of Reason
From the little research I have done, I have found that the concept of speech acts mostly has its origins in the philosophy of one J. L. Austin. Austin proposed the theory that certain forms of speech are actions in themselves. For example, whenever one begins a sentence with “I promise …” an action beyond the mere act of speaking is being performed—the act of making a promise. Likewise, whenever people persuade, inform, or rebuke using speech, they are performing speech acts. On the most basic level, a speech act is any form of speech by which an act beyond the mere pronouncement of words is performed.
Similarly, I should like to propose that there exist forms of thinking that may be called “thought acts,” or “acts of reason”. These include acts such as believing, assuming, and expecting. By the very thought, “this is true,” the act of belief is performed. The thought, “this will happen,” constitutes the act of expectation. These are forms of thinking that constitute actions beyond the mere act of thought itself; however, they are still only thoughts, or declaratives, found in the nonphysical realm of the mind. Notice that both in the case of speech acts and acts of reason, the acts that are performed are normative. Nothing physical takes place, for example, when a person makes a promise, but we still consider promising to be an action. Therefore, promising, like all other speech acts and acts of reason, is an action that takes place in the nonphysical realm. Hence the nonphysical is, in part, active.
This fits nicely with our usage of grammatical theory to explain the nature of the nonphysical. Declaratives may be active or passive just as they are by grammatical convention. However, it is important to realise that this is something of an extended usage of those terms. For example, suppose Mr. Smith looks at his dog, Charlie, and thinks, “Charlie is eating”. By doing this, Mr. Smith has performed an act of reason, and his declarative is active in two ways: (1) Just as grammatical theory would tell us, the declarative is active because the subject (Charlie) is performing an action (eating), but also (2) the declarative is active because it constitutes the act of believing (Mr. Smith believes his dog is eating). Let us call this first meaning of “active” “grammatically active,” and the second meaning, “functionally active”.
Activity and Passivity (Voice)
It must be understood that all thoughts can only be called active or passive in the context of a particular verb. Speech acts demonstrate this phenomenon more clearly: the speech, “I promise to love and obey” is active in the context of the verb ‘to promise’ but passive in the context of the verb ‘to run’ because the speech itself constitutes the act of promising, but not of running. Hence, if this speech causes a bride to run, it has not performed a speech act in so doing, though it has passively caused that action. (But of course it still performs the speech act of promising, and therefore is active in that context.) The same will be true of acts of reason. Every thought has a functional voice only in the context of a particular verb.
To better understand what it means for a thought to be functionally active, let us consider what it means for one to be functionally passive. In grammar, when a sentence is in the passive voice, its subject is being acted upon rather than doing the act. For example, if Mr. Smith had instead thought, “Charlie is being eaten,” his thought would have been grammatically passive. However, the thought is still functionally active, as we are using the term, because it still constitutes the act of belief.
The functional analogue of grammatical voice is simple. If a thinker is performing an action, his thought is functionally active, but if an act is being performed on the thinker, his thought is functionally passive. The functional voice of a thought is the same as the grammatical voice of the clause which describes the thought’s action and in which the thought is the direct or indirect object. For example, in the clause, “Mr. Smith believes the thought, ‘Charlie is being eaten,'” the thought is the direct object of Mr. Smith’s believing, and the clause is grammatically active (i.e. Mr. Smith is acting upon the thought); therefore, the thought is functionally active in the context of the verb ‘to believe’. However, in the clause “Mr. Smith is troubled by the thought, ‘Charlie is being eaten,'” the thought is the indirect object, but the clause is grammatically passive (i.e. Mr. Smith is being acted upon by the thought); therefore, the thought is functionally passive in the context of the verb phrase ‘to trouble’. Hence, believing is an act of reason constituted by the thought, but troubling is not.
This discussion might bring to mind a rather intriguing inquiry: Is not ‘troubling’ something that occurs in the mind? If so, should we not expect it too to be an act of reason? Indeed, I believe we should, but only when paired with a different thought, which in the context of such a verb, would be active. More on this later.
Relevant Qualities of the Nonphysical
Recall this explanation of the nonphysical which I wrote in my post on the Axiomatic Law of Universal Congruity (henceforth, ALUC): “Things in the nonphysical behave in accordance with our cognition. For example, whenever one imagines a circle, it exists in the nonphysical, because all that is required for the spawning of an object in the nonphysical is the decision that it exists. If I decide that there is a circle of radius R, then there is.” From this we see that the nonphysical can be embodied in human cognition. We do suppose that the nonphysical is a realm of truths and falsehoods that exists with or without human awareness of it, but humans can also think about it, and in so doing, embody some part of the realm within their minds. For example, the properties of fractals were, for a time, normative facts sitting out in the nonphysical, waiting to be discovered, until finally they became embodied in human understanding once the proper math was completed. To be clear, let us henceforth refer to the nonphysical as it exists independently of humanity as “The Nonphysical Realm,” and as it is embodied in the minds of persons, it will be called “a nonphysical realm”.
(I wrote at the beginning of this post that acts of reason occur in the nonphysical; this statement may now be refined. More specifically, acts of reason occur in a nonphysical realm; that is, they occur in the mind of the person doing the thinking. Hence, when I say that a thought constitutes an act, I mean exactly that—a functionally active thought, as it exists in a nonphysical realm, is the same thing as a nonphysical act.)
Also notice from the above quote that human embodiment of the nonphysical is related to human will. As I have written, “all that is required for the spawning of an object in the nonphysical is the decision [i.e. act of volition] that it exists”. Hence, when Mr. Smith performs an act of reason in his mind, he is willing the spawning of a functionally active declarative in a nonphysical realm. Indeed, acts of reason are the purest forms of willed acts, for whenever people act on their wills, they first intend to do something, and then attempt to do it. But it is this second step that is often corrupted by misinformation and inability. Indeed, even the first step (of intending) can be corrupted by logical fallacy or falsehood of premisses; i.e. a person can intend to do good, and out of that willed act, intend to do something that he or she thinks is good, but is mistaken. In this sense, the relationship between acts of reason and general intentions of will is similar to the relationship between the intentions and the outcomes of a character’s actions in a play. In both cases, we often come across “purposes mistook fallen on the inventors’ head”. This is why Kant traces the character of a will all the way back to its noncontradiction with itself. That is, the quality of a will can only be determined by examining the self-coherence—or lack there of—of the will’s initial intention, the intention of being good or evil, from which all other intentions are derived within more specific contexts.
This point will be important later on, but I digress from my present purpose. What must be understood at the moment is that acts of volition are also acts of reason because intending is an act of reason. (This harkens nicely back to the model of the soul with two faculties: the intellect and the will. Without intellect, a will is just a random decision maker; therefore, in order for a will to be free, any act a will makes must also be an act of reason.) To justify the claim that intending is an act of reason, we will turn to the model of functional voice developed earlier, but first we must understand a nuance that further complicates our model of acts of reason.
Thinking is, by nature, paradoxical. As I have argued elsewhere, reality is infinite. Therefore, all passive thoughts and acts of reason are subject to infinite ignorance. However, as we have found in the ALUC post, “every understanding and misunderstanding of a given scope of reality is congruent to that of the whole“. Hence, the paradox of thought is as follows: Thinking is, by the nature of reality, required to be infinite, but by the nature of humanity, it seems it is finite; ergo, all human thought must be inaccurate—and in fact, infinitely inaccurate. But yet, we know, by the ALUC, that human understanding is congruent to accurate understanding, even with all its fallacies. Thus a dichotomy exists between the validity and falsehood of thought. To solve this paradox, we must understand the meaning of the mathematical jargon in this philosophical context.
Though it may seem a bit crude, it will be useful, for a moment, to think of the accuracy of human thought as a scalar quantity. Suppose that any given thought has a measurable quantitative parameter of “truthiness,” if you will. In theory, a perfectly accurate thought would have an infinite truthiness value (because reality, the truth, is infinite), but human thoughts have truthiness values that are lower than this. The question becomes: how much lower? Because human thought is subject to infinite ignorance, we know that its truthiness is infinitely lower than that of the theoretical ideal, but this fact alone does not tell us by what order of infinity human truthiness is less than perfect validity. For that, we must turn to the ALUC.
By the ALUC, we know that human thought is congruent to the theoretical ideal. In math, two systems are congruent when they differ only by a scaler multiple. For example, two triangles are congruent if each of the sides of one triangle relates to each of the respective sides of the other by a common ratio. Hence, a pair of congruent triangles can be derived from one triangle by multiplying the lengths of each side by the same number. Therefore, if human truthiness is both congruent to and less than perfect validity, it must be a fraction of the whole. Hence, the difference between human truthiness and perfect validity is a lower order of infinity than that which describes the magnitude of perfect validity.
All this may sound a bit distant from the actual philosophical thread at the moment, so allow me to draw the connection: Recently, a friend of mine and I met and discussed the ALUC. Upon reaching the section about the limitlessness of conceivability, our discussion branched away from the piece slightly as we began to ponder the plausibility of human beings conceiving of the infinite. I leaned towards the belief that humans can conceive the infinite, and my friend took the other side. “Imagine a thousand elephants,” he prompted me, “now imagine one thousand and one elephants. What’s the difference?” His point was that when one conceives of anything on a very large scale, the detail of the concept is sacrificed. My mental image of a thousand elephants is the same as my mental image of one thousand and one elephants. This is because when I conceive “a thousand elephants,” I am not really picturing an exact number of elephants, but rather some large sum of them. However, as I argued, my mind does differentiate between the concepts themselves.
In calculus, there is a somewhat cliché idea that “infinity is a concept not an number”. This is usually taken to mean that we can’t treat infinity like an ordinary number (i.e. we can’t perform arithmetic with it), but we can understand it as an idea. Thus, in a sense, one cannot “wrap one’s head around” the infinite, but in another sense, humans must be able to conceptualise infinity by virtue of having a word for it. So, while I cannot conceive one thousand different elephants at the same time, I can think the thought, “one thousand elephants,” and differentiate it from the thought, “one thousand and one elephants,” both of which have different significances to me. In this way, a human thought can be congruent to infinite thought, which is necessary in order for it to be congruent to perfect validity.
In planning for this essay, it was at first my desire to write about acts of reason in terms of individual “rational processes,” or processes of the mind, rather than in terms of what we have hitherto been calling “thoughts”. A thought, as the term has been here used, is a declarative which exists in a nonphysical realm (a person’s mind), but people don’t always think in “thoughts” in this sense of the word. Sometimes people think more abstractly. For example, when a composer invents a piece in his head, he is thinking, but he is not producing concrete declaratives. Hence, thinking may take on various forms, some of which are hard to embody in words, but in all forms, thinking is made up of many rational processes. When Mr. Smith sees Charlie’s state of distress, his mind has to take in the empirical facts (the things his senses tell him about) and process them with a number of rational processes before he is said to be thinking, “Charlie is being eaten”. The declarative is itself a rational process, but it is made up of “smaller” rational processes.
Indeed, by the nature of reality we know that a perfectly true thought has, associated with it, infinite rational processes, each of which constitutes the act of understanding one of the infinite parts of reality. In this way, a perfect rational process must be made of multiple other perfect rational processes, each of which are made of others ad infinitum, thus forming an infinite, self-similar structure. Of course, human thought, being only congruent to accurate thought, does not quite form this structure, but creates a congruent structure.
This model helps us to fix some of the awkward uses of language that have been made thus far: Some may have found it strange to call “believing” an act beyond mere thinking. We may, indeed, be tempted to suppose that believing cannot be an act of reason at all, for the verbs to think and to believe are often used interchangeably (e.g. “I believe you are correct” or “I think you are correct”). And if believing is the same as thinking, then when Mr. Smith thinks, “Charlie is being eaten,” he is not performing any act beyond the act of thought itself, and therefore he is not performing an act of reason. But there is also good reason to suppose that thinking and believing are not always the same thing, for it seems it is possible to think something without believing it. The thought that Charlie is going to be okay may cross Mr. Smith’s mind without him believing it, for there is a difference between Mr. Smith thinking, “Charlie is well,” and him thinking that Charlie is well. Hence, it may have been slightly inaccurate to say that Mr. Smith’s thought was the act of reason which was being discussed. Perhaps instead, the act of reason is a different rational process in which Mr. Smith actually believes the aforementioned thought. This rational process, however, is impossible to embody in words. And so our language must be stretched when discussing acts of reason.
Perhaps we might say that the thought “Charlie is well” constitutes the act of believing only when it is believed. This works the same with speech acts. If an actor in a play says “I promise …” then he has not actually made a promise. He only truly makes a promise if he says the words in conjunction with performing the normative act. However, we still understand the words as being, themselves, the act of promising. They are the manifestation or embodiment of the act, though the act does not necessarily occur upon their verbalisation, but cannot occur without it. Likewise, Mr. Smith’s thought constitutes the act of believing if he believes the thought. It is in his thinking “Charlie is well” that he believes it, though he can also think those words without believing them.
The Rational Process of Intention
The above argument was necessary in order to understand how intention is an act of reason. We might say that Mr. Smith intends to do something when he thinks “I will save Charlie”. However, some may not like this usage of language. It seems that Mr. Smith is likely to never think the words “I will save Charlie,” but rather, will simply intend to do it. Hence, intention is some abstract rational process which is hard to put into words. Therefore, in order to determine the functional voice of intending, let us use the method arrived at earlier, but represent the rational processes of intending as a variable. Suppose ‘A’ represents Mr. Smith’s intention to save Charlie. The clause which describes the thought’s action might then be worded, “Mr. Smith intends A”. Hence, Mr. Smith’s intention, A, is the direct object of an active clause, where Mr. Smith is performing an action, and therefore, intention is functionally active. Hence, acts of volition are necessarily acts of reason.
The Volitive Nature of Emotion
In my post, “A Philosophy of Love,” I arrived at the conclusion that love is an act of volition. I now wish to complicate this claim. Indeed, not only is love an act of volition, but all emotion is a manifestation of the will.
The only reason a person feels any emotion at all is because he or she chooses to care about things. If Mr. Smith hadn’t decided in advance to care about Charlie (to love the creature, in a sense) then he would have never been troubled by the fact that Charlie was being eaten. Thus, Mr. Smith’s being troubled is an extension of his will to love. This is why I began with a philosophy of love—all the other emotions are derived from love or the lack there of. Hamlet feels grief because he first chose to feel love.
Some may find this notion absurd. Surely, whether I like it or not, I will feel sorrow if, for example, my arm is chopped off. However, it seems evident that my sorrow over the loss of a limb is only made possible by my original decision to value my limbs and the things I can do with them. Inevitably, I will feel physical pain upon disarticulation, but any emotional pain is still a nonphysical act which takes place in a nonphysical realm, and must, therefore, be a willed act. The fact that emotional pain felt over the loss of a limb is volitive only strikes us as strange because the decision to value one’s body parts comes so naturally. It is like subscribing to a weekly news letter on the internet. Whenever you sign up for anything, the option to subscribe to the news letter is almost always checked by default, and so it is easy to passively decide to subscribe. (By the way, if you do not wish to be subscribed to this blog, click here.) Likewise, it is natural to passively decide to feel certain emotions.
This gives us good insight into the inquiry raised earlier regarding the functional voice of the verb ‘to trouble’. Recall that because the clause, “Mr. Smith is troubled by his thought,” is grammatically passive, his thought is functionally passive. What has not been said hitherto is that functionally passive thoughts may still be understood as acts of reason; however, they are passive acts of reason. Mr. Smith is passively deciding to be troubled. (Realise that the above clause is grammatically passive in the context of the verb ‘to trouble,’ but it is grammatically active in the context of the verb phrase ‘to be troubled’. That is, the act of troubling is being performed on Mr. Smith, but Mr. Smith himself is performing the act of being troubled. In some languages—Latin, for example—there is a single verb that means ‘to be troubled’.) This lets us differentiate between emotions that are actively willed and those which we passively decide to feel. For example if we say, “Mr. Smith loves,” then he is actively conducting an act of reason because the clause is grammatically active, but if we say, “Mr. Smith is grieved,” then he is passively conducting an act of reason. Hence Mr. Smith actively decides to love, but passively decides to be grieved as a result of that love. Notice that we may say, “Mr. Smith is feeling grief,” and find that he is actively feeling grief, but he is nonetheless passively being grieved. He has actively chosen to feel his grief by choosing to think about that which grieves him, but he as passively chosen to be grieved by such a thing.
And so, emotions, whether active or passive, are acts of reason. To feel is to think, and to think is to feel. Emotion is a form of reasoning; a complex construct of concrete thought. This construct must be congruent to the fractal that is reality. Hence in its theoretical form, an emotion is made up of infinite rational processes—though human emotion is only congruent to such a construct. And so art, the discourse of emotion, is the discourse of infinite reason. There is no need to temper emotion with reason or reason with emotion, because both are the same thing. Emotions are fractal constructs of reason.
Therefore, just as good philosophy must rely on sound reasoning, so must good art rely on fractal constructs of sound reasoning, on sound feeling. Just as we demand philosophy to be noncontradictory with itself, self-coherent in its reasoning, so must we demand that art be self coherent in its emotion. Hence, those who say, “there is no right or wrong in art,” are wrong. There is much philosophy to be written, but there is certainly also a right and a wrong in philosophy, and likewise, while there is much art to be created, there is also a right and a wrong in art.
Mr. Smith ended up saving Charlie and everything turned out okay … for now.
Was that an actively active act of reason?